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Elephant tattoos aren’t common, but they’re inspiring and stunningly beautiful when done right. Known for their majestic size, dignified behavior and associations with memory and wisdom, elephants are deeply symbolic. Here’s a look at the meanings of elephant tattoos, placement options and cultural implications of elephant tattoos.
What Do Elephant Tattoos Mean?
Elephants are seen as highly symbolic creatures, especially in Eastern countries and philosophy. Here are some of the meanings associated with the elephant:
1- A Symbol of Wisdom
There’s a saying that elephants never forget, and because these majestic animals live to ripe old ages, they’re associated with wisdom. In fact, studies reveal that the memory of elephants helps them survive in the wild as they’re able to remember the places to go in times of danger. They know who to trust and who to avoid. In African legends, the elephant is depicted as the wise leader who settles disputes between other animals.
2- Strength and Power
It’s not surprising that the gentle giant has become a symbol of unmatched strength. After all, these are the largest land animal. Herds of elephants are always led by females, which adds a touch of feminine power to elephant symbolism. This has inspired many women to get an elephant tattoo. Some think of elephant tattoos as a source of strength in times of trouble, as these creatures carry their weight no matter how heavy they are.
3- Protection, Fidelity and Loyalty
With their strong family values and social bonds, elephants have become a symbol of familial love, protection and loyalty. Drawings of elephants have been found in many ancient rock carvings, and some historians suggest that early humans looked towards the family structure of these creatures as a guide for their own. For this reason, elephant tattoos are a great option for those who want to protect and honor their family.
This also makes them an excellent symbol for couples, as they represent fidelity and loyalty, two important factors in any successful relationship.
4- Good Fortune and Prosperity
In Feng Shui, jade elephants are used as a good luck charm. Not surprisingly, the Chinese character for luck has the same pronunciation as the word for elephant. In Eastern cultures, elephants are associated with the rain clouds that bring bountiful harvests. Also, Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of abundance, is often portrayed along with four elephants.
Types of Elephant Tattoos
An elephant makes a fine choice for tattoos and can be adapted to suit many designs. Here are some tattoo ideas to inspire your next ink:
1. Small Elephant Tattoo
No matter how big they are, elephants look great in small tattoos. If you want something modern and minimal, think of elephant silhouettes, outlines and geometric designs. Small elephant designs will look great anywhere, from your forearm to wrist, ankle, or even back.
2. Elephant Family Tattoo
Since these giants are family-oriented, an elephant family tattoo is a great to show your unbreakable bond with your loved ones. They’re great if you want to pay tribute to your child, spouse or partner. In addition, an elephant family tattoo can be used to show the importance of motherhood for women, as well as to emphasize the image of a strong woman.
3. Mandala Elephant Tattoo
In Eastern cultures, both mandalas and elephants have a strong spiritual significance. However, these designs have more detail, so they’ll look better in larger tattoos. While elephant designs will look exceptional on any part of your body, think of your shoulders, chest or back for more elaborate tattoos.
4. Artistic Elephant Tattoo
If you want something unique, think of abstract art, geometric structures and even colorful designs. Some go for an elephant head or silhouette, but it’s filled with artistic details instead of a real depiction of the creature.
Where to Place an Elephant Tattoo
Because elephant tattoos are versatile, they can be placed on any part of the body, depending on the design.
For dramatic elephant designs, opt for the back, chest or arms. These will make the most impact. For a more subtle option, you could consider finger, hand, wrist, ankles, lower back and so on. Consider a design that allows the trunk of the elephant to follow your body’s natural curves, for a more organic and natural feel.
If you’re looking for something wild and suggestive, consider a penis tattoo featuring an elephant. It’s easy to see how this would work.
However, note that tattoos on your hands and fingers can fade too soon, so it’s recommended to use only mild soaps when washing your hands. Avoid harsh chemicals and detergents which can impact the vibrancy of your tattoo.
Elephants in Different Cultures
In Greek Culture
When Alexander the Great invaded India, it was the first time Greeks met elephants in war. The region was the Punjab, ruled by King Porus who was said to have 100,000 war elephants in his army. The elephants made Greek horses tremble, but in the end Alexander’s soldiers defeated the Indians.
After Alexander, it became fashionable to have a few war elephants in Greek armies. During 279 BC, General Pyrrhus invaded Italy, using armored elephants. His success is known as the Pyrrhic Victory. Eventually, elephants became a symbol of the imperial power in Europe.
In 13th-Century England
Henry III of England was the famous recipient of large-mammal diplomacy. He received an African elephant from Louis IX of France. It’s said that the elephant was acquired by Louis during his crusade to Palestine.
In 19th-Century France
Napoleon Bonaparte constructed several monuments to celebrate his victory and show his military prowess. One of them was the Fountain of the Elephant, also known as the Elephant of the Bastille. It was a monument in Paris that existed between 1813 and 1846. Even though it was intended to be built out of bronze, it was never made into the permanent bronze sculpture that Napoleon had imagined.
In Phoenician Culture
In 218 BC, the Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca invaded Italy, crossing the Alps from Gaul with soldiers and African elephants. Surus was the name of the last war elephant in his army in Italy. He continued to win several wars till the Roman consul Marcellus wounded his war elephants in a battle in 209 BC. The symbolic importance of the creature was evident in a series of Hannibal’s coinage.
In Thai Culture
From spectacular temples to statues, elephants play an important role in Thai culture. In fact, this gentle giant was chosen as the national symbol of the nation. During the 1500s, the Thai used these creatures in battles, fighting against the Malay, Khmers and Burmese. White elephants were used by the royals, and Thai kings even gifted them to their rivals.
In Indian Culture
In Buddhist tradition, the white and gray elephants are highly symbolic. The former represents a calm and strong mind, while the latter reflects a cluttered mind. In Hinduism, the Hindu god Ganesha is depicted with an elephant head and a human body and is said to be a remover of obstacles and the giver of fortune. For this reason, Hindus have made elephants as a sacred symbol and even the representation of their god.
Celebrities with Elephant Tattoos
Many celebrities have chosen elephant tattoos to express themselves and they wear them with pride. Here are some of them:
- To commemorate her trip to Cambodia, Lucy Hale opted for a cute elephant tattoo on her forearm. It said that her whole squad got the same tattoo. If you’re a minimalist, a coin-sized elephant tattoo like Lucy’s would be perfect for you too.
- At the Save the Elephants charity dinner in London, Cara Delevingne flaunted her elephant tattoo by artist Dr. Woo of Shamrock Social Club. The tattoo featured on her forearm showcases a swirly elephant design.
- Shawn Mendes is known for his preference for tattoos with hidden meanings, so it’s not surprising that he’s added an elephant tattoo to his collection. The small tattoo is featured on the side of his middle finger, depicting an elephant that looks cool and adorable.
The elephant has a longstanding influence on many cultures as a symbol of wisdom, strength, power and good luck. It’s no doubt that these gentle giants will remain a popular choice in tattoos for their powerful symbolism.