The oyster is a creature that piques curiosity and wonder. It often appears open and closed in tattoo designs, with or without a precious pearl inside.
The oyster has been used in many works of art throughout history and also has various associations in different cultures.
This humble sea creature evokes wonder as it has the power to turn simple sand into a priceless pearl. Pearls themselves, also carry significant meaning in a tattoo design.
If you’re considering an oyster tattoo, it’s interesting to explore the various meanings and symbolism of this fascinating mollusk to help you decide on a design.
The meanings and symbolism of oyster tattoos
Oysters are depicted in artwork as both an edible shellfish as well as a mystical symbol in different religions and cultures. It can carry many meanings both as a food and as spirit animal.
Its hard exterior protects its soft, delicate insides, protecting a beautiful pearl within. This makes it very versatile in tattoo designs.
It demonstrates both masculine and feminine characteristics and can represent various aspects of your personality, lifestyle, and mentality.
Strength and resilience
Oysters may appear small and humble but they actually show a great deal of strength and resilience. Although soft inside, they have a tough exterior which protects them against predators.
Their shell will immediately snap shut if they believe they’re under threat and it’s pretty difficult to prise them open again.
This can be inspiring to us all. It teaches us not to succumb to outside threats or pressures. Even with so many everyday challenges, we can still defend ourselves and find the strength and motivation to carry on.
Secrecy and wonder
A closed oyster can represent secrecy and wonder. While the shell is closed, it’s impossible to see what’s truly going on inside.
In the case of these curious mollusks, there could even be a pearl hidden within. In fact, pearl diving is pretty challenging for this reason.
All the while oysters are lying quietly on the sea bed, they could be processing sand into a precious gem, almost effortlessly, with no one the wiser.
Peace and tranquility
Oysters are quiet and peaceful animals. They live in harmony with many other sea creatures. They are filter feeders, meaning they only eat small pieces of algae or phytoplankton in the water.
They don’t prey on any other animal and are calm and nonviolent. Instead, they become one with their environment. This is a nice idea to convey with a tattoo.
An oyster could represent the idea of remaining calm in a chaotic, challenging world. It symbolizes balance, and can even encourage us to find the good in a bad situation.
Birth and transformation
In classic artwork, shellfish have often been used to represent the concept of birth and transformation. The metamorphosis that occurs within an oyster, turning sand into a pearl, is the perfect example of this.
The birth of Venus di Milo also depicts a similar idea. Although she is technically standing on a scallop shell, she is rising forth from the sea.
For this reason, sea shells such as these are associated with birth. Oysters can also represent femininity, the womb, and creative force.
Symbolism in history and culture
The oyster has had various meanings in different cultures and history. It has been considered an aphrodisiac since the ancient Greek and Roman eras.
It was eaten in order to boost virility. Nowadays, it is still widely believed to increase sexual desire in both men and women.
Oysters also have religious significance and have been associated with Greek, Roman, and Celtic goddesses of the sea.
In Chinese symbolism, oysters represent the justice and law of cosmic life. In the bible, the Parable of the Pearl, the image of a pearl illustrates the great value of the Kingdom of Heaven, and hidden treasure.
Oysters and pearls, therefore, both have a variety of meanings and these can be conveyed depending on the type of tattoo design you choose.
Oyster tattoos are very versatile. They can be drawn both open or closed, with simple lines, or filled with various colors. It’s your choice whether you include a pearl or not.
You could also opt for a design with hands holding an oyster shell, for example, or surrounded by seaweed, kelp, or algae.
It’s also possible to create a more whimsical design by giving it a face. Oysters also feature in the Disney movie, Alice in Wonderland, for instance, where they are innocent, curious creatures.
There are several options you can get creative with. You can build an entire under sea scene using natural-looking lifeforms, or more abstract designs.
Because oyster or pearl tattoos are usually fairly small, they work on various parts of the body. If you choose the ankle or hand, for example, a pearl could be used to symbolize luxury.
As far as where to get your tattoo, this is really up to you as you could choose anywhere from your abdomen, collarbone, chest, hip, forearm, wrist, or shoulders.
Popular accompanying designs
The most common accompanying design is, of course, a pearl, and you can choose a tattoo with or without one depending on the effect you want to create.
Pearls are very precious, full of meaning, and can be designed in a range of ways with bright, or subtle colors. Pearls depicted within a partially open shell can add the idea of mystery and secret.
You could add more to the design such as a pearl diver, or mermaid, reaching for the pearl. There really are many additions you can make to an oyster tattoo according to the size, style, and colors you personally prefer.
If the meaning and symbolism of the oyster truly resonate with you, then you could consider one for your next body art design.
This simple creature can be used in a number of ways to express beauty, strength, fertility, peace, and wonder. If you’d like to learn more about tattoo designs and their meaning, check out our blog.