Coffin Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Coffin Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Some of us like to have a bit of ink with impact, and coffin tattoos definitely bring this to this table. It seems an odd choice, but it’s definitely one that we all recognizes, and today we’re going to get to the bottom of the symbolism and meanings when it comes to coffin tattoos.

It’s one of the oldest designs that you can find and we can definitely say that it hasn’t lost any of it’s bite over time!


What is the History of Coffin Tattoos?

When you think of the oldest coffins around, your first thought might be the Egyptians, with their stone sarcophagi dating back to as early as 261 B.C., but in Shaanxi, China, the oldest coffin found was made of wood and dates back over 5000 years!

Funerary customs do vary, of course, but many cultures have used wooden and stone coffins, and they’ve definitely developed a lot of symbolism and even a bit of mystique around them. After all, it’s basically a vessel for our worldly remains and if there is an afterlife, then the coffin is surely the first door.

While we can’t say with authority when the first coffin tattoos were done, with associations all around the planet of these grim boxes seeing us to our final rest, you can probably count on the first coffin tattoo being quite far back in history.

One of the most famous coffin depictions is a Viking one. Odin has an 8-legged horse called ‘Sleipnir’, that is said to allow him to travel between the worlds – but as Odin is also a god of riddles and death it might interest you to know that an 8-legged horse is suspiciously similar to 4 men carrying a coffin!


What Do Coffin Tattoos Symbolize?

Coffins symbolize quite a lot of things. Death, of course, is the most obvious, but depending on how it is depicted, even this meaning can be broad. For instance, coffin tattoos are commonly used as a way to remember and to mourn someone whom we’ve lost.

Coffins also represent the afterlife or may even symbolize a warning, that all who come to challenge the wearer of this symbol might find themselves soon in a pine box of their own!

Writing something on the coffin changes the symbolism, too. Putting the names of your fears, for instance, on a coffin is a powerful statement, letting all who see it know that you have identified the things which are holding you back and have ‘laid them to rest’.

They can symbolize power and ego, especially in case of fancier coffins such as the famous Egyptian sarcophagus. On these coffins, the face of the person inside is depicted on the exterior, and the inside were packed with everything he would need for the afterlife – in-between the mummy’s bandages.  Coffins are much more than just boxes, as you can see!


What Do Coffin Tattoos Mean?

As with any tattoo, you are going to be personalizing it, so while we can’t predict your specific tattoos meaning, we can tell you some of the most common ones. A coffin with the lid open, for instance, might mean that the owner is unafraid of death and lives their life to the fullest.

Coffin tattoos with names on them are commonly worn as a grim memorial, for the loss of someone that was very important to the tattoo’s wearer. The Sleipnir example, from Viking mythology, is the sneakiest way to wear your coffin tattoo, as it looks like a horse with 8 legs.

Bad habits that have been laid to rest may also be commemorated or you might even choose coffin tattoos for the shock value! Some black and white movie buffs have even gotten coffin tattoos from old horror or even horror comedy movies.

It’s a bold choice, so have a little fun with it, and start by figuring out if it will be displayed alone or with another symbol to accentuate the meaning. Once you’ve got that start, check out the style that your artist does best and see what your tattoo could really be. Prepare yourself to be amazed!

Where Do Coffin Tattoos Usually Go?

Coffins have a basic, distinct design that means you can go big or even very compact. The arm is probably the most popular place for these, but there are certainly ankle coffins and for those who like a bit of gothic style, a hip-coffin is also an excellent choice.

With a back piece, you can go with a highly detailed coffin tattoo, and if you are doing something that has a bit of history behind it, such as a sarcophagus, then this might just be the perfect place!

One choice for the heartbroken is even a coffin tattoo above the heart, though it would have to be some serious heartbreak for that one. Once you have your design and intent down, then you won’t need to worry – the perfect placement will come to you and you’ll have no doubts!


Characteristics and Styles of Coffin Tattoos

Coffins are so ingrained in our history that you’ve really got an enormous amount of choices if you want them. Plain, basic wooden coffins are quite common, but Sarcophagi are also out there, and even photorealistic modern coffins.

While the colors are traditionally somber, they don’t have to be, and those with a good sense of humor might well have a colorful coffin in mind and that’s okay – this is your tattoo and that means that it’s your rules!

If you do go the colorful route, then check out some Watercolor tattoos and prepare to be inspired. Some of the colors that can be done are really amazing and if you are looking for a ‘fun’ coffin, then New School tattooing can definitely add a comical zing to go with all of that mind blowing color!

Just check your artist’s portfolio – you might be surprised at just how many styles and surprises that they have up their sleeve that they can put to good use for your tattoo.


Closing comments on Coffin tattoos

Today we’ve taken a brief exploration into the symbolism and meanings of coffin tattoos. While often worn as memorials or for the shock value of them, they are hardly limited to a binary interpretation like this, so you’ve got a lot of ways to say just about anything that you like.

Just think on your design awhile first – after all, coffins are pretty scary even in this modern day, so take your time to make sure that yours says exactly what you want to tell the world!

Leave a Reply