Happy Solstice to all. I’m home sick and feeling bad about missing my druid grove today. Instead of being out under the trees with my favorite druids, I’m home writing about my tattoo. This one is all about actually doing the work to make it happen – taking a vision and turning into something real.
In early November of last year, I went to Mr. Nettle and said, “I need to get a tattoo of a deer skull on my lower back.”
“How big?” Mr. Nettle is an artist who occasionally does commissioned tattoo designs, and he already had that faraway look that means he’s working out an image.
“What do you think?” I asked. “I was thinking something small, it’s really just symbolic…”
He shook his head. “No, that won’t work. Wouldn’t look right. That’s not the place for a small tattoo – you want something small, put it on an arm or leg. Back tattoos need to be bold. Here’s what you need.” He picked up a Sharpie and proceeded to sketch with it on my back. “Like this.”
I twisted to look in the mirror. With a few lines, he’d sketched out the basic design. Nasal bones just at the top of my sacrum, eye sockets on either side of my spine, antlers sweeping up to parallel the curves of my lower ribs.
“That’s… big.” I said. I’d never been tattooed before and had imagined myself easing my way into it with something small and not so challenging.
“I think it works really well with your anatomy,” he said, “and anything smaller wouldn’t.”
It was immediately apparent that he was right.
“You could put it somewhere else if you want it smaller. It would work as a shoulder piece.”
“No, it has to be lower back.”
“OK,” he said, “Get me some reference photos and I’ll start to work on it.”
“Can I ask why you want this?”
“The King of the Faeries told me to get a lower-back tattoo of a deer skull.”
We’ve been married almost ten years now, which is why he merely said, “Well, then I guess that’s what you need to do.”
Later, when he started work on the drawing, he asked me, “Is there anything you want to tell me about this god I’m drawing for you?”
“Not really,” I said, “I’d rather you came to it without any of those concepts. He said, deer skull, so deer skull is all you need to do. We can talk more about it later.”
“OK. I just thought you should know that he’s there when I work. I keep falling into a trance and there he is. I’m going to make this into a painting as well.”
It took a few months to get the design finished, find the artist, and save up the money to do it, but by March of this year, I had several nice pencil drawings, an acrylic painting of a deer skull, and an appointment with a talented and skilled tattooist. The day before my appointment, as I was coming home from work in the evening, I was startled to find the jawbone of a deer on the ground in front of the back garden gate, in the alleyway.
I live in west Philadelphia, in an urban residential area. We don’t have deer here. There are some in the parks not far away, but they certainly don’t venture into the neighborhoods. And you don’t find deer bones just laying around. It does not happen. It was, in fact, so perfectly improbable that my first thought was that someone (human) was messing with me. Someone had to have known that I was about to get a deer-skull tattoo, someone had to have found this thing and placed it here just for the purposes of making me say “Huh?” Someone… I stood there with the thing in my hands, wondering. But, after sifting through potential suspects, there was nobody who could have – nobody who knew what I was doing who also had the opportunity to swing by my house and leave me a surprise. The bone had teeth marks on it and looked to have been gnawed on at some point by something, probably a dog. Two of my neighbors who share the alleyway have dogs. Maybe a dog found it in the park, brought it home, and dropped it along the way so it fell right by my gate. Really, it’s the only, um, rational explanation for how it could have gotten there. On the night before I was to go get a magic deer-skull tattoo that the king of the faeries told me to get.
I am sure there are people who would consider this a meaningless coincidence. I am, you might have guessed, not one of those people.
The next day that I sat down without so much as a flicker of doubt, and only a tiny amount of fear, for what would be a five-hour session. We did it all at once – I wanted to get it done and the tattooist didn’t have a problem with that. You’re going to ask, so I’ll say, yes, it hurt. Parts of it (going over the spine, the sensitive skin just under the ribcage) hurt a whole lot. I was hoping to have some sort of ordeal-induced visionary experience, but mostly it was hours of discomfort and boredom. I’m not complaining at all – that’s just how it was. And even though it hurt, in the middle of the fourth hour or so while I felt like the touch of the needle was like the touch of a lit cigarette and I was woozy with exhaustion, I found myself discussing what my next tattoo would be. It hurt, yes, but that wasn’t really a bad thing. It just was.
It healed up well and came out perfectly. I love it. I feel… improved by it, in some indefinable way. I get weird comments on it (my favorite so far is, “Nettle, that’s one hell of a tramp stamp!”) I love that it moves and stretches with me and never looks the same from one moment to the next. I thought about including a picture here but decided that I’m not really comfortable with that – putting a picture on the Internet is sort of like releasing it into the wild and I’m not sure I want to do that with a bit of my own flesh.
Here’s the painting Mr. Nettle did for me:
The tattoo is pretty much exactly this, only done in shades of black, brown and gold on a pale (me-colored) background.
Next post: what it all means! Well, maybe. I don’t really know what it all means yet, but I have some thoughts.