Spider Web Tattoos: Symbolism, Meanings & More

Spider Web Tattoos: Symbolism, Meanings & More

For a long time, spider web tattoos were solely related to negative connotations. However, as the tattoo industry has evolved it now has various positive meanings as well.

Unfortunately, the old-fashioned meanings are still widely known, so it is important to understand how your tattoo could be misinterpreted.

The design was originally associated with inmates to resemble their time in prison. The trend started in the United States of America in the 1970s and 1980s, and quickly grew in popularity.

The spider web tattoo is a strong indication of power, both good and bad, and acts as a common choice for many tattoo collectors.

History of the spider web tattoo


As mentioned above, the spider web tattoo has been a prolonged symbol of prison time. Although it started 50 decades ago in the 1970s, popularity reached its peak in the 1980s.


More and more inmates inked themselves with the design, ranking the spider web tattoo just below the teardrop tattoo to represent time spent behind bars.

The typical body part for the tattoo was the elbow, drawn with the web spread outwards from the tip. Spider web tattoos on the elbow are still most commonly associated with convicts, although nowadays it’s a popular placement choice simply due to longevity.

Native Americans

Another long-time association is with the Native American culture. This link dates back centuries within several native tribes to a very important figure known as ‘Spider Woman’. Spider Woman is a spirit who weaved protective webs over the cradles of newborn babies.

By doing this, the infants were guarded against any bad or harmful things that may come to them.


The Native American culture also relates spider webs to dreamcatchers, and as we’re all aware, dreamcatchers are believed to prevent you from having unpleasant nightmares. For these reasons, the spider web tattoo can now resemble protection.


A rather sad story has been used within the naval context to express sailors missing home. It tells of a sailor awaiting home for so long, that he stayed leaning against the side of the boat until cobwebs appeared.

The web represents their long wait. Again, this was often tattooed on the elbow. This now relates the tattoo to the feeling of missing or longing for something/someone.

White supremacy

Lastly, we have the darkest history of the spider web tattoo. Members of white supremacy groups would also ink the spider web onto their elbows to signify their loyalty. By the end of the 1970s, the tattoo would come at a great cost in the USA.

Several of the white supremacy groups had rules that must be followed in order to earn a spider web tattoo. It was a common requirement for members to first kill a minority, and only then could they be inked.


This only added to the tattoo’s negative connections, rightfully so.

What are the negative meanings of the spider web tattoo?

  1. Violence
  2. Murder
  3. Evil
  4. Prison
  5. Racism

What are the positive meanings of the spider web tattoo?

  1. Safety
  2. Balance
  3. Beauty
  4. Magic
  5. Wisdom

What do spider web tattoos symbolize?


Much like the sailors from the naval history section, the meaning of longing or waiting still resonates with people today.

It could suggest that the wearer is missing family, friends, or a previous episode of their life. It can even be used to symbolize a part of your life that you feel is incomplete/lacking.

Hard times

Tattoos of a spider web with something stuck in the middle of it, (normally a fly), tell of a struggle that you have experienced in your life that was hard to overcome, or perhaps that you are still trying to overcome.

People often relate this to addiction, such as drugs or alcohol, but it is not limited to only this.



As mentioned above, Spider Woman, a spirit from Native American culture provides safety to newborns, but this isn’t the only relation that the spider web tattoo has to protection.

In a twisted sense of it, a spider web in a way is a protective force that binds all living creatures together, no matter the background.

Our existence can be seen through this metaphor, that we are all in this together and must look out for each other.


The spider’s technique of weaving webs is unique and brilliant. It’s a natural creation that is essentially the key to their survival. This motif can be transferred to people to express our own creativity.

The creative meaning of the spider web tattoo doesn’t necessarily solely relate to artistic abilities. It can simply stand for a creative way of life, mindset, or clothing style.


Being trapped

One of the main uses of a spider web is to trap prey. The contents of the webs are very strong, making it impossible for any entangled prey to escape.

Therefore, another meaning for a spider web tattoo is to symbolize that the wearer feels trapped in a situation in their own life. This could be anything from social, financial, political, or spiritual matters.


Fate is not one of the better-known meanings, but it can be used when looking at a different perception of being ‘caught’.

Opposed to feeling trapped, as discussed above, it signifies being caught in the path that fate has chosen for you. This meaning is known to be particularly popular with biker gangs, showing how life brings things together in an unforeseeable way.



On the other hand, death, in general, is probably one of the best-known meanings for the spider web tattoo.

This is because it signifies several different aspects of death, for example; taking the life of someone else, the loss of a loved one, or a personal near-death experience.

The spider web tattoo is also commonly accompanied by the black widow. The black widow is one of the most poisonous spiders in the world, and a bite from one could end up fatal.

Aside from this, the female black widow will also kill and eat her mate once she no longer has a use for him.


At the end of the day, a spider web tattoo can have whatever meaning defined by the wearer. Public perception may vary, with some people only being aware of the negative meanings rather than the modern positive ones.

But ultimately, body tattoos can be considered a form of art – and art is as broad and as subjective as the spider web tattoo.


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