The thunderbird is a very popular tattoo design. Most people know a little about the Native American mythical creature that it depicts, but not a lot of people know about its symbolism.
This post delves into the origins of this mythical creature and the meaning that it carries. It also looks at some of the different styles of thunderbird tattoo.
Origins of the thunderbird
A number of indigenous people across North America have depicted the thunderbird in paintings, in quillwork and in carvings (both notably on totem poles).
These include the Sioux, the Arapahoe, the Ojibwe and the Anishinaabe just to name a few tribes.
According to legend, the thunderbird is a huge bird that commands the overworld much like a god. It creates thunder by flapping its wings and creates lightning by flashing its eyes.
By helping to bring rain, this mighty supernatural being helps to water vegetation and create life.
There are some stories of this creature being able to turn itself into human form by opening its head up like a mask and taking off its feathers.
Some tales also claim that the thunderbird is so strong that it can lift a whale out of the water and that it lives high above the highest mountains.
Like many mythical birds such as the roc and griffin, it’s appearance is most likely inspired by the eagle.
Most depictions of the legendary bird are from below with its wings spread and its head in a profile position. However, there are other depictions with its head facing forward as on totem poles.
Different meanings for the thunderbird tattoo
There are a number of different meanings that this tattoo can have. These could be worth considering if you’ve been thinking about getting this image in ink.
The thunderbird commands the sky and helps bring rain to the earth. It is therefore a being of great power.
Many Native American chiefs would historically choose the thunderbird as their crest, further solidifying its association with power.
Some people choose this tattoo to show that they are a person of power and authority. Others may choose this tattoo as a way of feeling more powerful and confident.
As already mentioned, this mythical creature was said to have been able to lift up a whale. It is therefore a creature of great strength.
The thunderbird tattoo could be used as a symbol of physical strength or one of mental strength.
You may have overcome huge struggles in your life or you may be the type of person that likes to constantly challenge yourself with tough goals.
Either way, it could be a way of showing your inner strength and your willingness to not give up.
As powerful and as intimidating as the thunderbird may be, it serves to protect the human race.
Not only is this creature supposedly the bringer of rain, but also a defender against the malevolent spirits of the underworld.
Getting this tattoo could therefore be a symbol that you are a protector of the people.
Alternatively, the tattoo could be a symbol of protecting oneself – a symbol that you are now able to fight your own demons.
The Thunderbird is a mother-nature-like figure. It is the creator of storms and rain. It is therefore a symbol of nature and its might.
This tattoo could be a symbol of respect for the natural world. If you find beauty in rain and storms it could be a perfect representation of this.
Do you have Native American ancestry? For many people who may have Iroquoi or Ojibwe blood in their veins, this tattoo could be a great tribute to one’s ancestral roots.
Of course, you don’t have to have Native American ancestry to get this tattoo. It could simply be an appreciation for those who populated the land before.
Are there any variations of the thunderbird tattoo?
The thunderbird tattoo tends to be drawn in one particular style. This usually involves the thunderbird with its wings outstretched as if viewed from the ground flying overhead.
It’s head is in a profile position either looking to the left or the right. It is usually a direct imitation of the drawings made by the indigneous peoples of North America.
While small details may be changed, artists will usually try to keep a tribal appearance to it so that it’s distinctly different to an eagle tattoo.
While most people stick to this traditional design, there can be slight variations worth considering. Some of these are described below.
Long-winged vs short-winged
The thunderbird is sometimes depicted with long outstretched wings and sometimes with wings shorter and closer to the sides.
The long-winged variant tends to be stretched over an arm or over the top of the back, while the short-winged variant may be placed on the wrist or the back of the neck.
The long-winged version can display a sense of more outward confidence, while the short-winged version may show more inward confidence.
Black and white vs multi-colored
The black and white thunderbird is popular. It is sometimes blocked-out like a silhouette. In other cases, a stencil design is used and it may be filled in with patterns.
Colors are sometimes incorporated into the thunderbird tattoo. These tend to be basic reds and blues to maintain a tribal feel.
However, you could try experimenting with kaleidoscopic colors for something a bit psychedelic and different.
Lightning vs no lightning
The thunderbird is sometimes depicted with bolts of lightning. This could be above the wings or below the bird.
Bolts of lightning may be used to distinguish that it is indeed a thunderbird and not simply an eagle (which can have American patriotism symbolism which may not be desired).
Lightning is another symbol of strength and so could be used to emphasise the meaning of strength.