What is a Tattoo?



One of the first things that I realized when I went to sea, was that in foreign ports many of the crew would come back sporting new tattoos. But the ship’s officers, and I was apprenticed to become one, didn’t do things like that. So, of course, I didn’t either.

But, forty years later, after I had walked away from ships with all their rules, and a government and a school bureaucracy with even more, I started to take a more liberal view of things and to go on little Goddess-inspired “adventures”.


And one of the more unusual things I started doing in the late nineties was attending workshops given by Regiena Heringa, who was the sister of my long-time Tai Chi partner, Marianekke (Maya). And during one of the former’s sessions we were each asked to visualize a gift we would give ourselves to mark our spiritual journeys.

Afterwards, as we shared, I mentioned that mine would either be a dragon, Pegasus, the Flying Horse, or a butterfly which I thought would go on my butt because that is where I have the least body-hair. (I was later told that that was not a good idea given the nature of the tattooing process!). One of the other women present said “I see a butterfly.

Surprisingly, I hadn’t been in the car on the way home for more than five minutes, when a voice just came into my head and said “It’s a butterfly and you have to put it on your right shoulder.”

And what then came into my memory was an English children’s book by a woman called Enid Blyton that I had read soon after I learned how to read. In it was a story about butterflies with a picture of children running after them with nets. Memory says that the text read something like “If you want to catch the Butterfly of Happiness you won’t do it with a net. Instead, you have to sit down and wait until it comes and sits on your shoulder.

The butterfly is also the symbol of transformation.

The next day, I visited my friend Joanna in Almonte who is a medical intuitive and acupuncturist. She suggested that the butterfly was, in fact, one of my spirit guides. Hence I, rather than any tattoo artist, was responsible for selecting the shape and nature of the colours on the butterfly, and giving the guide a masculine name. (I don’t remember the one I chose, or even if I actually chose one). So I went to the library and got out a couple of butterfly books.

All I knew at that moment, and I long ago gave away my book on Greek mythology ~ and there wasn’t one in the library that day ~ is that I wanted eyes like those you see on peacock feathers ~  supposedly put there to commemorate a watchman who got killed ~ so I could put two on each wing. So then, if you will, since we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads, I could have my back symbolically protected.

The next afternoon I decide to clean up a coffee table on which I had put things when I moved in to the Tanguay Court condo last December. There, in the pile, I found a coloured photo of Sophie, one of my sister’s grand-children in an English garden standing beside a male peacock. So now I had my colours for the eyes.

And what immediately got my attention from the library books was how many different shapes butterflies all had. Consequently, the first decision was to decide which shape I liked best. Having done that, I then made a number of photocopies and got out a set of coloured pencils.

The following Saturday, I had a wonderful day making many versions, until one stood out. It is reproduced here, but the colours you are looking at are much more vivid than the gentler ones on my body. And then in Tone magazine which describes itself as a “forum for the conscious raising community in the Ottawa area” I saw an ad by a woman named Aura/Aurora for tattoos.  She lived in the Oxford Mills area on the way to Prescott.

I sent her a completed sketch. Four days later I picked up her proposed design which was absolutely beautiful. Obviously, for whatever reason, the universe wanted this to happen, so it will.

Footnote: And here is where a divine power looks after me. I originally wrote most of the above from memory a week ago. But then I found a March 1999 Newsletter which enabled me to correct some mistakes I had made and then be able to add this:

Things did not start out well: I was apprehensive about the level of pain; the stencil wouldn’t take, the colour didn’t seem to want to go where it was supposed to, and since, in this lifetime, we had only known each other for twenty-two days we were having a little difficulty communicating. I didn’t understand, for example, why she wanted me to focus my energy on the butterfly. However, once we really began the journey, and it was as if we were sitting together, in close contact, on a motor cycle, but with her driving from the back, while I just communed with nature ~ looking through the window at a young oak tree in a snow-covered field ~ my anxieties disappeared.

But it wasn’t until she answered my question with “She’s starting to look beautiful” that the light went on. Earlier, you will recall that Joanna had asked me to give this spirit guide a masculine name. But that’s not what was happening. Instead, Aurora’s female energy was flowing into my shoulder. And that reminded me of this triangle. “I” on the bottom left had come up with the first design. “She,” on the bottom right, had come up with the second one, but it was “Us” at the top of the triangle, who had agreed on the final version.

So we were once again merging energies. And that is the difference between my tattoo and the dockside ones, where there is no relationship; where neither person sees the Buddha within the other …. [As an aside, she had earlier told me I would be transformed by this experience] …. Even so, it never occurred to me that this would be a profoundly moving spiritual experience, which I now understand, based on the belief that works of art are creations in which their creators pour their souls, because what is now on my shoulder ~ and has been for all these years ~  represents the coming together of two individual souls….

When I left her home, I was greeted by a huge full moon, the like of which I haven’t seen for so long, rising above the trees, and that unlocked a whole bunch of other stuff. Later, I listened to some music but was still restless. So, at three-thirty in the morning I walked down to the local convenience store, ostensibly to buy some milk, but really to gaze up at a much softer and smaller moon surrounded by a huge halo which I guess we could call an aura,

Later, given her artistic skills she will make me a design for my newsletter which you will see at the end of the Beginnings section of this web-site. And you will notice that the butterfly motif sits in the middle of that page. Hence her energy went wherever the newsletter went, to bring happiness to others.

Footnote:  A few years later I wondered if I should get another butterfly tattoo to keep the first one company but decided not too. And she has never had a name other than The Butterfly of Happiness.