Of all the animals tattoos, bat tattoos are probably considered the creepiest and most sinister. Western civilization, mostly due to European legends, tends to regard bats as unclean, and a sign of darkness and death. Legends often portray the bat as a form of the devil and, of course, as a vampire. Bram Stoker’s 1897 book Dracula, in particular, solidified the bat as an evil creature.
Some of the legends may be based on truths. For example, bats are night creatures. They shun the daylight, and even avoid bright moonlit nights. But, of the 900 or so species of bats, only three are vampire bats that drink blood. Their food of choice is cows and, due to the anticoagulant in their saliva, they can feed off the animal for 20-30 minutes. The other 890+ species satisfy themselves with fruits and bugs. Not very frightening.
Early Christian art, which depicted angels as having bird wings, similarly depicted demons as having bat wings. Early Christian beliefs, found in the writings of St. Paul, actually said that women’s hair attracts demons – so they should leave it covered during church. This lead to a longstanding tradition that women wore hats to church, and the longstanding but untrue myth that bats fly into hair. With such a history, it’s no surprise that a bat tattoo will conjure up images of night creatures, bloodsuckers, and other such macabre interpretations.
Unless, that is, you are in China, where the bat is seen as a symbol of happiness and good fortune. An image which contains five bats, no matter how they are arranged, represents the five types of happiness – peace, riches, love of virtue, long life, and happy death.
Native American mythology seems to compromise between the two interpretations above. In this culture, the bat is seen as both a symbol of death (because of the night) and a symbol of rebirth (because bats sleep with heads down, just as a baby is before birth). The bat represents the need to die a “ritual” death before developing into a new being, and was often a key animal in initiations for shamans.
Then, of course, there is the Batman bat – which has its own distinctive look. Whether you use the silhouette-in-yellow-oval version characteristic of the 1960’s TV show, the version with Batman’s head and the word BATMAN spelled in the wings, or the new angular V-shaped version popularized by the latest “Batman Begins” movie, the symbol will always have its own stand-alone meaning. It means Batman.
For more information on bat tattoos and Animal tattoos, see the resources listed on our Reference Page.
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