No one know when the first tattoo was given, but tattooing goes back centuries. Many ancient tattoos were abstract designs, meant as an attractive ornament on the face or other parts of the body, or as part of a ceremony or rite of passage. Modern tribal sleeve tattoos can incorporate designs and motifs from a range of different cultures or original patterns from the tattooist's imagination.
Runes and Symbols
Incorporate runes and other symbols into your tribal sleeve tattoo to give it additional personal meaning. Simple runes such as the Alquiz symbolising protection (in the shape of a Y with an extra line between the two branching top lines) or the Berkana (like an upper case B with triangular hoops) symbolising new growth can add meaning to your tribal tattoo. Choose a rune that corresponds to your name for another layer of meaning. For example, if your name starts with a B and your tattoo symbolises personal growth to you, a Berkana can suggest both.
Animal and Nature Motifs
Tribal tattoos often incorporate abstract motifs from animals and nature. Dragons, snakes, bats, suns and moons and other designs from nature and mythology are commonly represented in the complex, intersecting shapes of tribal tattoos. Some tribal tattoos also use parts of animals to give the design interest. A tribal sleeve tattoo could represent dragon claws, bear paws or bat and bird wings, for example, rather than an entire animal.
Religious and Spiritual Motifs
Tattoos often incorporate religious and spiritual designs, and tribal sleeve tattoos are no exception. From crosses to yin-yangs to symbols of the zodiac, any symbol that is personally meaningful to your belief system can work in a tribal tattoo. Do not feel limited by the most common style of a particular symbol; there are usually countless variations. If you wish to incorporate a cross into your tribal tattoo, for example, you can pick from dozens of styles, representing different saints, religious traditions or belief systems.
If you are merely interested in a tribal sleeve tattoo that looks good, don't waste your time thinking about symbolism. Instead, find a friend whose tattoos you admire and ask where he got them. Go into the tattoo parlour and look through their designs. Tattooists have binders full of photos of their best work, as well as stock designs called flash. A good tattoo shop might have hundreds of tribal sleeve tattoo designs featuring motifs from Maori, Japanese, Celtic and other cultures so, whatever your taste, you should find something to your liking. If you find yourself admiring parts of a few different designs, describe what you want and ask the tattooist to combine them.
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