Kraken Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Kraken Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

In the world of skin art, sailors travelling around the world helped to spread the popularity of tattoos, and today we’re going to talk about a famous creature that featured in many of them. We’re talking, of course, about the Kraken.

A large, octopus-like creature that was said to drag sailors and even whole ships down to a watery grave, this beast is the stuff of legends, so let’s talk about Kraken tattoos, their history, meanings, and their designs, to give you a better idea of what exactly this creature meant to the seafarers of yore!

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What is the History of Kraken Tattoos?

When you hear the name ‘Kraken’, many of us assume that it’s a Greek myth, largely in part thanks to the stop-motion creature developed by Ray Harryhausen for the 1981 movie ‘Clash of the Titans’. While this beast certainly qualifies as a ‘Kraken’ for movie buffs, the real monster was quite a bit different… and also, Scandinavian!

While Harryhausen’s monster had 4 limbs, the ‘real’ Kraken was a disputed thing, with some believing it amounted to a giant octopus, while others saw it as a whale with a large mouth, capable of swallowing ships whole.

The octopus-interpretation was the most common and we believe this is due to etymology. Take the Norse words ‘at kraka’, which meant ‘to pull in a downward motion’ and ‘kraki’, which was a term for anchors and for boat hooks, and you have a general express that fits the modus-operandi of this monster – it pulls things into the sea.

Understandably, the thought of a giant octopus latching onto your ship and pulling men off of it one-by-one was a common fear of medieval era sailors, who likely tattooed the beast as a skin-art talisman to keep the vile thing away from them and their ships. It’s a scary thought and a curious nautical tradition which continues to this day.

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What Do Kraken Tattoos Symbolize?

Kraken tattoos symbolize many things, such as power, the mysteries of the depths, or even protection from what awaits below. Depicted alone, it can represent a lurking danger, armed ‘to the teeth’ with not 2, but 8 arms to accomplish its nefarious intent.

Shown with a ship, it’s not necessarily a ‘monster’, but represents the dangers of a life at sea. Even in these modern days, ships are lost every day, because we’ve still never mastered the sea completely. Tsunamis, vicious undertows, storms, and strange creatures that we have yet to discovery still await in this kingdom that covers most of the planet.  

It’s a sobering thought that sailors and sailing enthusiasts are still quite aware of – as beautiful as it is, the sea is still quite the wild frontier and it could take you anytime and drag you down into the cold, dark depths.

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What Do Kraken Tattoos Mean?

Most commonly, Kraken tattoos are worn by love with a love of and a healthy respect of the sea. As far as ancient nautical symbols go, it’s hard to beat the mythology behind this gargantuan beast, and it’s a symbol that other sailors and even the ‘uninitiated’ can instantly recognize.

Seeing Kraken tattoos doesn’t always mean that you are looking at a sailor, of course. Sometimes this fearsome beast is worn simply as a symbol of stealth and power. This was a horror that could not only sneak up on your ship, but who might destroy it in the process and no one could save you.

Fans of Scandinavian mythology might also choose to wear a Kraken tattoo, and in that case it simply demonstrates a love of ancient tales, and movie buffs might go with Harryhausen’s interpretation of the Kraken as a homage to the almost ‘lost art’ of stop-motion specials effects that paved the way for our CGI today.

The actual meaning of your own Kraken will be up to you, so give it a good ponder before you commit to the final design, but no matter what you choose the underlying overtones will definitely be those of ‘silent strength’ and fear – unless, of course, you turn that on it’s head and have a little fun with your Kraken!

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Characteristics and Styles of Kraken Tattoos

As far as characteristics go, most Kraken tattoos are either the ‘Clash of the Titans’ classic beast or they resemble a giant octopus. For the latter, to drive home the fearful aspects of this creature, a ship is generally included, with the size of the beast suggesting that it is quite large enough to take it down.

The Kraken is pretty versatile as far as coloration considerations – you could depict the tentacles and the cold, dead eyes in stark black and white, or go with full color. Either would be just as effective. For styles, you’ve got a lot of options as well.

Fear of giant squids and octopi was something that sailors feared around the world. The Japanese tattooing style, for instance, would be a perfect fit as sailors of Japan were afraid of this beast as well. They called it the ‘Akkorokamui’ in a perfect case of ‘same horror, different name’.

You could even go with New School style and inject a bit of exaggerated humor into your tattoo. Think about your basic composition and then flip through some styles in your artist’s portfolio and also on the internet – oftentimes that’s all it takes to turn a ‘good idea’ into an amazing one.

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Where Do Kraken Tattoos Usually Go?

Kraken tattoos most often are depicted on the arm. This could be the forearm, upper arm, or all the way up to the shoulder. Nautical tattoos typically went here, for high visibility (remember, sailors of yore found out about tattoos first and wanted to show them off), or they were part of elaborate backpieces.

You can put yours anywhere that you like, of course. Someone might choose a Kraken taking down a ship on their hip, as a way to say that when they take a lover, they are the ones who decide when they’ll be letting go.

As a backpiece with Japanese tattooing style, you might choose to leave the skin bare on the left, while an elongated, graceful kraken tattoo graces the right side. Spend as much time thinking about the placement as you do the original design, because the right place can really make all of the difference.

If you’re not sure, ask your artist – an experienced skin artist knows what parts of your body will be perfect, bases on the size of the image and the shapes involved – so it’s worth the time to ask.

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Some closing words on Kraken tattoos

Since the first man and woman took their chances on a boat against the turbulent seas, fear of what was waiting underneath has captivated them and the Kraken myth is right up there at the top. With 8 tentacle arms, covered with suckers that will stick even in death, it was understandably frightened.

To this very day, certain folks are still attracted to the imagery, so if you love the sea and the ancient tales of the beasts which haunt it, then consider a Kraken tattoo. It’s got the history and heaps of symbolism that you simply don’t see every day!

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