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Feathers are a powerful symbol in many different cultures, but their meaning varies depending on the context, the type of bird and the plume’s color. Feather tattoos make for stylish unisex designs, although they’re preferred by women. They’re versatile and can be adapted to suit a range of design styles. However, before getting a feather tattoo, it’s a good idea to know about the greater significance of some birds, along with the cultural association of feathers.
What Do Feather Tattoos Mean?
A Symbol of Freedom
Feathers generally represent freedom due to their association with birds that are free to fly and glide gracefully in the sky. For instance, a falcon feather represents flight and greatness, while an eagle feather reminds us to reach heights in our lives. If you want to spread your wings, a feather tattoo can be a great representation of being free.
Honor and Courage
Feathers were awarded to Native American warriors who won a battle, associating them with boldness and courage. In many tribes, an eagle’s feather is often displayed with dignity and pride. It’s said that if the feather dropped during a dance, a ritual is performed before picking it up again. In some regions in Africa, the feathers of the Bannerman’s turaco are given to people for recognizing their courage.
Grace and Beauty
Some birds are known for their beauty and grace, especially the peacock with colorful feathers that they use to attract mates. In Feng Shui, peacock feathers are believed to invite the energy of beauty in your life, which makes them ideal in tattoos. A swan feather symbolizes elegance and sophistication, due to the bird’s white plumage and graceful movement.
Death and Rebirth
For some, a single fallen feather tattoo can represent loss or even rebirth. It’s likely because of its association with birds that symbolize death and rebirth. Throughout history, ravens and crows have been the omens of death. In most Native American tribes, owls are believed to foreshadow death. Just because these birds are associated with death, it doesn’t necessarily convey a bad omen.
In fact, some believe that death isn’t the end but a beginning of a new life. In Japanese cultures, cranes are associated with rebirth and healing. It’s even believed that folding 1,000 paper origami cranes will make your wishes about good health come true. A phoenix feather can represent rebirth since the mythical bird itself embodies revival and change.
Hope and Spiritual Growth
Birds traverse the land, sky and sea, so it’s not surprising that feathers remain associated with the natural world, including the gods and the spirits. For some indigenous people, a feather is a form of communication from the higher heavenly realm. Some also believe that feathers have spiritual power and are associated with the past and present. Many people in Western culture see a feather as a sign from the angels.
Feather Symbolisms Based on Its Color
Feathers can also hold different meanings depending on their color. Here are some of them:
- Red feathers represent courage, power and passion. Having a red feather tattoo can show the world that you’re getting stronger each day, and you’re living your life passionately.
- An orange feather can symbolize creativity and harmony. If you’re going through a rocky stage in your life and in need of some change, an orange feather tattoo can be an inspiration.
- Reminding us of the color of the sun, yellow feathers symbolize happiness. If you want to burn brightly and spread some joy, a yellow feather tattoo is a great choice.
- Are you looking for a tattoo that can attract luck in your life? Green feathers are associated with good fortune and prosperity.
- Pink feathers represent love and romance, making them the perfect tattoo to bring more love in your life. Also, it can be a great reminder on how love can heal wounds.
- White feathers are associated with protection. For some, a white feather tattoo reminds them that they’re being guarded by guardian angels.
- Black feathers represent death but they can also be a great reminder of changing your old habits that are holding you down—and to move forward.
Types of Feather Tattoos
Apart from their unique meaning and message, feather tattoos are beautiful and versatile in designs. Whether you’re looking for a colorful design, or something black and white, here are some tattoo ideas to inspire you:
A Single Feather Tattoo
A single feather tattoo design will let you choose the bird’s feather that embodies your personality. Do you want to channel some darker, gothic vibe? Think of a raven’s feather that reminds us of the Celtic deity Morrigan who is both mystical and fearsome. If you want to get a little flamboyant in your body art, opt for a peacock’s feather.
Watercolor Feather Tattoo
If you like to show off a bit of color, then think of a watercolor feather tattoo that looks feminine and artistic. Most designs feature smears of color and minimalistic splatters, reminding us of watercolor paintings. They’re definitely eye-catching and unique, perfect for playful personalities.
Feather with Flying Birds Tattoo
Make your body ink more personal by incorporating other images and symbolism to the feather design. Most of us associate flight with freedom and optimism, so this tattoo is great for those who want to symbolize their personal transformation and progress in reaching their personal goals.
Infinity Feather Tattoo
Whether it is a memorial tattoo or a dedication to your special someone, incorporating an infinity symbol to your feather design makes everything more meaningful. Infinity symbol represents eternal love, and adding the name of that special person to your tattoo will signify that your love for him or her will never end.
Symbolism of Feather in Different Cultures
Numerous cultures around the world regard feathers as a powerful, mystical symbol. Here are some:
In Ancient Egyptian Culture
In ancient Egypt, the white ostrich feather represented their goddess Ma’at, along with the concept of truth, justice and cosmic order she embodied. It’s said that she used the feather in a soul ceremony in the afterlife. Also, the Egyptian god Osiris had a crown decorated with ostrich feathers and a gold sun disc.
In Native American Culture
Birds have played great roles in several Native American creation myths, and feathers have always been associated with the spirituality of the Native American people. It stems from their belief in animism, in which all things possess spiritual essence. Some even perceive feathers as gifts from the sky, embodying the power of their gods.
To show their connection to spiritual realms, Native American chiefs wear feathers during their religious rites. They believe that eagles have a special connection with the heavens since they fly so high, so an eagle’s feather is often used as a symbol of honor. On the other hand, hawks symbolize protection and strength, while ravens represent wisdom.
During the 60s and 70s, Ojibwe dream catchers started to gain popularity in their culture. This handmade willow hoop decorated with feathers and beads is believed to protect them from evil spirits and bad dreams.
In Chinese Culture
In Feng Shui, feathers are associated with protection and luck. In the twelve Chinese zodiac animals, roosters are the only birds included, and they’re associated with the yang or masculine energy. There was even an ancient tradition of releasing a rooster loose in a home before moving in as well as decorating the roofs with rooster statues. A rooster’s feather is also seen as favorable.
In African Culture
Feathers are deeply associated with love and marriage in some ethnic groups in Africa. In Venda culture, feathers are used as wedding bands, while the Voortrekkers incorporate them in wedding dresses. There’s even a ritual in Zulu culture, in which a marriage ceremony includes the feathers of a bird, the lilac breasted roller, in uniting two people together.
In Oceanian Culture
The indigenous people of Oceania—Polynesians, Australian Aboriginals, Melanesians and Micronesians—have used feathers as human decoration for centuries. Most of them are headdresses and costumes for ceremonial dances and performances. The dhari is a crested headdress decorated with feathers from various birds, and worn by men during warfare.
For Marquesan Islanders, rooster feathers are highly prized, as they’re commonly incorporated to ornaments worn at festivals and ceremonial events. In Hawaii, feathers are made into helmets, capes and cloaks, which are only worn by chiefs and nobility. It’s said that royal feather work represents their connection to their gods, as well as to the mountain forests where the native birds reside.
Celebrities with Feather Tattoos
If you’re looking for some serious feather tattoo inspirations, these celebrities all showcase feather tattoos:
- The Greatest Showman’s star Zac Efron has two feathers tattooed on his bicep. It’s been around for a few years now and looks cool.
- Singers aren’t only expressive in their music, but also in their body art. Rita Ora had her feather tattoo done by Bang Bang, while Leona Lewis boasts a light blue feather tattoo on her left shoulder.
- American rapper Cardi B is no stranger to tattoos. She sports a huge peacock feather on her thigh, which is recognizable in most of her music videos.
- Paris Jackson is noted for her commemorative tattoos, paying homage to her father Michael Jackson. Behind her right ear, she features a pair of crisscrossed feathers with brown and turquoise beads.
- American singer-songwriter Kesha has several tattoos on her feet, and one of them is a feather tattoo that symbolizes her bravery and courage.
- No matter what age you are, there’s a feather tattoo for you. In fact, Isabella Cruise, daughter of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, got hers while she was just 19.
As we have seen, feathers have several meanings, and they can change depending on the wearer’s intention. They symbolize different characteristics of certain birds, and are mostly associated with courage, honor, grace and beauty. Whether you want to remind yourself of your freedom, or connect with spiritual qualities associated with birds, feather tattoos are a meaningful choice.