The West was slow to catch up with the rest of the world when it came to tattoos. When sailors popularized the practice around the 17th century they developed a culture deeply steeped in tradition, storytelling, and symbolism.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was completed in 247 BC and has since been named one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.
For thousands of years lighthouses have protected ships from running aground and guided people back home, so it’s hardly surprising that they hold so much symbolism today.
For sailors, a lighthouse represented safety, salvation, and home. Today, lighthouse tattoos serve as reminders to seek guidance, to provide leadership, and to find the best path forward.
Lighthouse tattoos are full of history and meaning, both to the modern-day owner and the sailors who lived centuries ago.
Lighthouses have been a deeply symbolic image for thousands of years.
Lighthouses have long been used to protect sailors and to provide safe passage across rough or dangerous seas. Because of this rich history, lighthouse tattoos carry intense symbolism.
They can represent a path forward, and the need to keep moving onwards. They can remind you to follow a guiding light, or even to be the light to guide others to safety.
Lighthouses suggest safety, solace, and salvation. They serve as a reminder that there is a way through even the worst storm and that hope burns brightly ahead.
History of lighthouse tattoos
Tattoos have a long and complex history. They can be found in many ancient cultures spanning the globe and have even been found on prehistoric mummies.
In the Western world, tattooing was first introduced by sailors to mark their passage across the sea.
Lighthouse tattoos were a popular choice for sailors and remain an emblem of traditional sailor-style tattoos today.
For the sailors in centuries past – the appearance of a lighthouse on the horizon may have literally saved their lives.
This might explain their popularity as tattoos. If a sailor was lucky enough to have had a safe journey, then a lighthouse may have represented their return home, or their salvation onto dry land.
Whether guided by a deeper meaning or not, a lighthouse is emblematic of a life spent at sea. Today, although lighthouses are no longer in common use – their symbolism has lived on.
Positive meanings of lighthouse tattoos
For sailors, a lighthouse tattoo represented a return home or maybe even their fortune being made.
Over time as lighthouses have mostly fallen out of use, their meanings have changed to center around more general life lessons and reminders.
Some positive meanings associated with lighthouse tattoos are:
- The importance of finding or providing guidance to those who are lost.
- Offering protection and safety in moments of danger.
- Finding hope after a period of darkness or loss.
- Taking pride in stability and leadership when life gets tough.
- Seeing a clear path which leads to better things.
Negative meanings of lighthouse tattoos
Of course, the meanings behind tattoos can vary, and what may be negative for one person may be a positive association for another. Here are some of the potentially more negative symbolisms associated with lighthouse tattoos:
- They could represent a need to reach out for help.
- A lighthouse tattoo can remind us that we can’t do it on our own.
- Lighthouses may be associated with solitude and a desire to be alone.
Are lighthouse tattoos popular?
Although they are iconic, lighthouse tattoos aren’t particularly common. There are a few reasons for this. First, they tend to be quite large so can be costly and need a big area of skin available.
Second, because these tattoos tend to hold a lot of meaning to their owner they are rarely used as a filler or flash pieces.
Tattoo trends come and go, and lighthouses haven’t really had their moment like other designs such as compasses or city skylines.
Maybe their time will come, or maybe they will forever be favored by people with a story to tell.
Where is the best place for a lighthouse tattoo?
Because lighthouse tattoos tend to be quite big, they will need a large and relatively flat canvas. Popular places for a lighthouse design on the arms include the forearm or inner bicep.
If you’ve run out of space on your arms, or are looking for something easier to hide, then the calf or thigh make a good alternative tattoo site.
You don’t have to stick with convention though! More minimalist designs are on the rise and can give you more freedom when choosing a location for your new body art.
Simple line drawings or abstract designs can be more easily modified to take up less space, so make a good alternative if space or money aren’t on your side.
What are some styles of lighthouse tattoo?
Lighthouse tattoos exist in almost every style you can imagine but are most often seen in realism, traditional or old school, and blackwork styles.
The best way to choose a style is to find an artist you like and see what they can come up with, if you’re going for a larger piece then it’s worth investing in it to make it truly your own.
Sailors were the first people to popularize lighthouse tattoos and many artists emulate this with the inclusion of other traditional sailor motifs such as swallows, anchors, or waves.
It’s unusual to see a lighthouse portrayed on its own, but if that appeals to you then go for it!
Everyone gets tattoos for different reasons, there is no right or wrong motivation for investing in some beautiful new artwork.
Lighthouse tattoos have a fascinating history, both as emblems of a sailor’s lifestyle, and as a modern symbol of protection.
You may feel that a lighthouse represents the story of your life or serves as a reminder to seek guidance in tough times.
Or you may just like the aesthetic of the lighthouse and be interested in their association with sailor culture and adventure. Whatever the reason behind a lighthouse tattoo, they make a fascinating addition to a collection.