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Friday Photo Feature: AmyB


On the day of my first sitting for my tattoo, I was meditative. This was an important day, reminiscent to me of when I went through the LDS temple for the first time; I had no idea what the experience would really be like, but I knew that I would emerge a changed woman.

My tattoo is large and bold. After being a conformist, agreeable, silent-in-so-many-ways girl for most of my life, I felt compelled to do something daring. This marking was a sort of initiatory rite into my new, stronger sense of self.

I chose a snake for several reasons. I was partly inspired by a book entitled “The Alphabet versus the Goddess” by Leonard Shlain, who writes:

Western culture has long reviled the snake, associating it with evil and temptation. But at the dawn of civilization the snake was a positive symbol of feminine energy. Egyptians perceived the snake as a beneficent, vital creature intimately associated with female sexuality, and by extension, with life.

Snakes also resembled three other important life-affirming images: the meander of rivers, the roots of trees and plants, and the umbilical cord of mammals. There can be no structure that better symbolizes the idea of a mother/nurturer than an umbilical cord. Its form resembles two snakes entwined about each other. Rising out from a placenta’s sinuous blood vessels, the umbilical cord might easily inspire the notion that snakes were vital to life. And, because a snake regularly sheds its skin to begin anew, it can easily be imagined as an immortal creature that does not die, and is thus a potent symbol of rebirth. Finally, the snake is associated with wisdom. Its eye is the opening to mystic insight and foresight. So connected in the Egyptian psyche were beneficent serpents and goddesses that the hieroglyph for goddess was the same as the one for serpent.


I love the life-affirming, powerful feminine symbolism behind the snake. But there’s more to the story. In many ancient cultures, the snake was a goddess symbol. When the Judeo-Christian religions took shape, the divine feminine was pushed into hiding; one of her powerful symbols denigrated. Shlain writes:

After woman has been created, [the Bible] tells the story of the forbidden fruit, which further diminishes women’s place in society. Yahweh instructs the first couple to make themselves at home in His Garden of Eden and to enjoy its delights– with one exception: they are not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge “lest they die.” Enter the Serpent, cast as a villain, but actually the only character in this morality play who speaks the truth. The Serpent tells Eve that partaking of the Tree of Knowledge’s fruit will not cause her death; instead the Serpent says, “In the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good from evil.” Intrigued by the prospect of such a wondrous gift, Eve “took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

The omniscient Yahweh pretends not to know what has transpired. When He confronts the first man with his breach of discipline, Adam blames the first woman. She confesses, but claims that the Serpent had beguiled her. Faced with the three culprits, Yahweh first curses the Serpent, pronouncing, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman.” In every earlier culture, the snake was one of the Goddess’s most potent power symbols: Yahweh’s first disciplinary act was to sever this ancient connection.
My experience in the Mormon church, and as part of the larger Judeo-Christian culture, has left me feeling a deep longing for connection to the feminine aspect of divinity. I have begun to find it in many ways, and choosing this tattoo as a symbol of my own inner goddess and my connection to divine feminine energy has been an important and exciting part of that.

“But I can’t believe you would put something permanent on your body like that!” you say. Paradoxically, this tattoo also serves as a reminder to me of the impermanence of life. It is not as permanent as most artwork. When I die, it will die and decompose with me. I am not permanently on this earth, which reminds me to live each moment to the fullest and be the best I can in the here and now.

I have transformed in so many ways in the past few years. I have claimed my spiritual authority and reclaimed the Goddess as part of my spiritual path. I have become more confident in myself. I trust my intuition. My heart and mind are more open. The low grade depression and guilt I carried for years have lifted. I have shed my skin and wizened up. I have a long way to go still, but now I have a symbolic companion to remind me of how far I have come and that continued renewal and rebirth is possible.

Photos of AmyB’s tattoo in earlier stages:

UPDATE:
For those of you confused about the directions of the coils, here’s a handy diagram for you:

If you would like to participate in a future Friday Photo Feature, please contact Jana at phddillyATyahooDAWTcom.

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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47 Responses

  1. Deborah says:

    Amy! I remember you telling me about “The Alphabet versus the Goddess” on a walk through mid-town. Oh, to find books that sear us, that open up our souls to new ideas. Love that. ALl this reminds me that a reunion is long overdue so I can see that serpent up-close!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful! And an inspiring story. Where did you get this done?

  3. G says:

    that is gorgeous!!!
    I discovered the snake’s original symbolism while reading Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter. It really struck me the part where she discusses how in christianity, (the male) God puts enmity between the snake and the woman (separating her from her feminine powers and intuition).

    As i have considered a tattoo… a snake is one of the symbols I have considered… for exactly the same reasons you did.

  4. D'Arcy says:

    I know tattoos and this is one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. Did you design it yourself?

  5. Anonymous says:

    uh, you’re LDS and you got a tattoo?

  6. Ana says:

    Thanks for sharing, Amy. Tattooing is something I have no desire to do, myself, and so it’s really interesting to read your point of view and learn how important it has been to you.

  7. G says:

    so… nitty gritty details (from someone going through the ‘homework’ process myself).

    how did you find your artist?

    did you work together with the artist on the design, or do it all yourself, or tell him/her what you want and let them do their magic?

    how long did it take (one session, several sessions)?

    how much did it hurt?

    if you don’t mind… what was the price range.

    you can email me the answer to any of these questions if you don’t want to answer them here:
    galendara at msn dot com

    thanks.

  8. justpassingby says:

    I am fairly indifferent about tattoos, but If I were to get one that big, I would at least make sure it was drawn properly.

    The fact that you can’t follow the body of the snake from head to tail and include all the coils seems like a huge oversight to me.

    For something that major, you should have at least made sure it was anatomically correct.

  9. jana says:

    justpassingby:
    I can follow the coils, so I’m not sure what you mean. FWIW, I think it’s a bit easier to follow them starting at the tail than starting at the head.

  10. AmyB says:

    Deborah- Books that sear us. What a perfect description for my experience with that book! Yes, we’ll have to get together so you can see it up close.

    My tattoo was done by Regino Gonzalez at a studio in NY called Invisible NYC. Part of the reason I picked the place was because it is an art gallery/tattoo studio. I loved the whole aesthetic. I described what I wanted, and why, and my artist drew it.

    G- I’d forgotten about the snake symbolism in Dance of the Dissident Daughter. I new I’d read about it other places. Thanks for the reminder, I’m going to return to that book and do some re-reading. I’ll email you the nitty gritty deets.

    I was a little hesitant at first to let Jana post pics of my tattoo, because I know it’s controversial in LDS culture. I’ll just say I think that’s for each person to work out for themselves, and I’m happy with my choice.

  11. Kaimipono says:

    You already know that I think your tat looks great, Amy. And you’ve briefly mentioned some of your reasons behind it, before. But your articulation here of your thought process is really great — it puts the pieces together in a way I hadn’t realized before.

    You tat looks great (and pictures really don’t do it justice), but it’s even better because of the underlying meaning. I love the way you’ve taken these ideas and woven them in to your own spirituality — like the tail of a snake, winding and complex and beautiful. Symbols are important only for the meaning we give them, and you’ve imbued this one with important and personal meaning. You really can’t ask for more than that.

  12. Sister Mary Lisa says:

    Amy ~

    Your tattoo is beautiful. So is your description here of what led you to decide on that particular image. I love how you are finding a connection to the divine feminine in such a beautiful way.

    Beautiful.

  13. Sister Mary Lisa says:

    Could I say ‘beautiful’ more that that?? Heh.

  14. Anonymous says:

    how can you be LDS and have a tattoo or even AGREE with getting a tattoo? Have any of you lost your morals? your beliefs? this is outrageous!

  15. lillith says:

    Anonymous:
    How can you be LDS and be so judgemental? Have you lost your morals? Your beliefs? This is outrageous!

  16. Lessie says:

    Wow, that’s amazing. I didn’t know that about the snake symbolizing female divinity. Alas, I am absolutely petrified by snakes. I would have to find some other way of symbolizing such things. But really, that’s an awesome, incredibly bold move. I wish I had your courage.

  17. Brooke says:

    I say good for you, Amy! While a tattoo may not be the way I would privately/outwardly (depending on where I got it) manifest my desire to connect with the divine feminine, I’m completely happy for you. Like you said, each person has to work it out for themselves. I’m still pretty early on in my journey and have a lot to figure out. The story of your tattoo is hugely inspiring. I also found inspiring the way it reminds you to live each moment to the fullest.

  18. G says:

    justpassingby… hmmm, looking hard here and not seeing whatever anatomical problems you are worried about.

    I was just thinking how superbly the artist was able to subtly capture the five-point leaf motif with the coils of the snake… connecting it back to the symbol of the trees (tree of life?) and plants and other life affirming images that Amy referenced.

    just amazing.

  19. Caroline says:

    I think it’s beautifully done, Amy.

    What strikes me about your decision is that this tattoo is deeply meaningful to you. I think that’s the most important thing.

    I suspect that we all want to symbolize our identity and beliefs in some way. For me, it’s by keeping my birth name. For others, it’s by wearing garments and white shirts to church. However we choose to make this very personal journey, my hope is that we could at least respect each others’ decisions (that’s directed at you, anonymous.)

  20. Anonymous says:

    Without judgement, I think tattoos are ugly both when they are new and really as time goes by. You can get a touch up later but as your skin wrinkles so does your symbol. I’m sure your not concerned about that considering you feel a sense of “breaking out.” LDS or not a tattoo is ugly to me personally. I don’t need a religion to tell me such menial things. My son calls them a “tramp stamp.” but then he has 3 sisters and a father with tattoos.
    To each his own.

  21. JohnR says:

    AmyB, a striking, mesmerizing tattoo. Thanks, too, for bringing up The Alphabet versus the Goddess–it was on my “must read” list for a long time, but dropped off somehow. I’m adding it back on now.

    I’m fascinated by the power of inscribing mystical symbols on the body. Even in Christianity and Mormondom, the Revelation of John talks about the name of God and the Lamb written on the foreheads of the saved, and the Book of Mormon asks if we’ve written the words of God on our hearts. Let that imagery sink in. In my favorite Japanese ghost tale, a Buddhist priest is protected from harmful spirits by having the sutras written all over his body (his assistants miss his ears, which are ripped off by the vengeful ghosts).

    So I love that by inscribing this serpent on your skin, you’re writing something into your heart; at the same time, you’re taking something internal and releasing it to the surface, where the whole world can see and react to it–to the deeper, inner you–how they may. I find this both powerful and inspiring.

  22. Heather H. says:

    Amy,
    Are you active in the Church? Can a tattoo keep you from going to the temple it you get it after you have been endowed? I’m new to this blog and so far I’m enjoying the thought provoking content and dialouge.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Nice tat.

    The snake as a symbol of female divinity dates back to ancient Indian scriptures. The Vedas were written about 1200 BC and refer to it as Kundalini. Many traditions address this divine power in one form or another, the Chinese call it Chi, the Japanese Ki and Christian mystics called it the Holy Spirit.

    This power was visualized symbolically as a coiled snake or a pair of coiled snakes lying dormant at the base of one’s spine. When awakened this energy rise up the spine. This is the caduceus symbol of physicians and may have been the meaning of Moses’ Staff.

  24. wry says:

    You know I love it. And I’m inspired by your confidence and your re-seizing of your Self. Truly.

    Like SML said, *Beautiful*.

  25. Justpassingthrough says:

    Congratulations – you now blend in nicely with the bikers and trailer queens.

    The path to finding God and our true selves is revealed when when beauty, righteousness, light and truth converge. This smacks of defiance. Sorry, babe, it’s ugly.

  26. JohnR says:

    Just Passing Through: You forgot sailors and yakuza. Tsk, tsk. What decade are you stuck in, honey?

    Defiance has always been in style. Jesus, Martin Luther, Anne Hutchinson, Ann Lee, Joseph Smith, Susan B. Anthony: the ultimate rebels in their day. Their truth and beauty was a little too cutting edge, too risky for most of their contemporaries.

  27. Caroline says:

    Heather,
    I don’t know for sure, but I’d be shocked if a new tatoo led to someone denying a temple rec. After all, there are no temple rec questions on that topic. And it’s unlikely that a bish would even know about it if it was easily covered by clothes.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Snakes make my skin crawl, and your’s is no exception. If you are happy with it and it if makes you feel more empowered, I say more power to you!!! I sincerely doubt that God is going to judge any of us based on what we have on our bodies—- I think He is more interested in what we have going on with our spirits and thoughts.

  29. Zenaida says:

    I just found out that tribal tattoos are allowed for Pacific Islanders because of the cultural significance. I would, however, be interested to hear what reaction people within the church have had. I’ve grown up hearing, “no tattoos, one set of earrings, our bodies are temples.”

    BTW, I do think your tattoo is amazing.

  30. Anonymous says:

    your tattoo isnt that great, hope you didnt pay a lot for it. the head looks retarded. in the BOM it says not to get tattoos, why would you ruin your morality on such stupid worldly thoughts? do you think jesus got a tattoo?

  31. bigbrownhouse says:

    Jesus didn’t have a tattoo as far as we know, but he had several piercings.

    (sorry…forgive me…that was horrible…couldn’t help it)

    I think it looks great. I really like the visual impact of one big image.

  32. chiming in says:

    Anonymous:

    Can you give me the scripture reference in the BOM where it says not to get tattoos?

    And one more question: Do you think Jesus left snarky comments on blogs? Because if not, you might be ruining your morality with such stupid thoughts….

  33. chiming in says:

    Oops, change my previous comment to read “stupid _worldly_ thoughts”

  34. Anonymous says:

    Leviticus 19:28

  35. bigbrownhouse says:

    Leviticus. My favorite book in the whole Book of Mormon.

  36. Deborah says:

    Hey, we play nice around here — debate is welcomed; drive-by blogging that is simply aimed at caustically belittling someone else’s beliefs or choices is not OK.

  37. Deborah says:

    (don’t feed)

  38. Anonymous says:

    so, because it isn’t in the book of mormon we don’t count it? I wasn’t aware of that…

  39. JohnR says:

    Deborah, I’m going to try very hard not to feed the trolls. *assumes angelic pose*

    It hit me when you mentioned the “drive by”: AmyB has chosen to share something deeply personal with the rest of us. It’s a courageous act that leaves her open (and it’s the antithesis of the cowardly, nameless drive-by), and I’m glad that the majority of commenters respect her vulnerability, even if they would do things differently themselves.

    This respect for the relationship and for the humans behind the posts is one of the things I love about discussion here on Ex2–there is often disagreement, but there is also an investment in the blog’s community.

  40. JohnR says:

    In case anyone is concerned about Biblical admonitions against tattooing, Leviticus 19:28 is preceded by commandments that would make eating black pudding and trimming/shaving one’s beard crimes against God. If Leviticus denounces tattooing, it equally condemns BYU’s dress code.

  41. Tanya Sue says:

    AmyB-I love that you did something that makes you feel so empowered! I hope it continues to make you feel that way through-out your life.

    The snake doesn’t scare me, it is the thought that you went through so much pain to get it that does….

  42. AmyB says:

    John, I thought your first comment was stunning and have re-read it several times. I also appreciate your recognition of my vulnerability. It is a deeply personal thing I’ve shared, and something that’s very meaningful for me. I knew there would be some negative reactions, but I’ve also felt so safe at ExII that if there was anywhere I could do this it would be here.

    I do appreciate that the vast majority response has been positive and civil.

    Tanya Sue, it didn’t hurt all that much. 🙂

  43. Kate says:

    It’s well done but made me think of the poem by Ted Kooser:

    TATTOO

    What once was meant to be a statement—
    a dripping dagger held in the fist
    of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
    on a bony old shoulder, the spot
    where vanity once punched him hard
    and the ache lingered on. He looks like
    someone you had to reckon with,
    strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
    but on this chilly morning, as he walks
    between the tables at a yard sale
    with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
    rolled up to show us who he was,
    he is only another old man, picking up
    broken tools and putting them back,
    his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

  44. tifflynn says:

    Amy,
    Thanks for sharing. I appreciate your willingness to be so open. I know it must have been scary for you. I don’t know who is cowardly posting anonymous posts but you are making mormons look uneducated and rude. If you don’t like it move on with your life please.
    Amy-I am glad you feel better about who you are. I’m sorry there was so much guilt before I don’t know why you felt that way for so long but I hope you never feel that way again.
    Sincerely,
    Tif

  45. ianstalter says:

    I read this Shlain book recently at borders, was cool how he showed how religion changed from female to male with the advent of writing apparently the egyptians had a great deal of respect for female authority perhaps because of their image-related writing system ianstalter.wordpress.com

  46. Kobra says:

    Hi, that is nice work and a great story to go with it. I am looking for a tattoo artist to make a snake tattoo on me. I have a good idea of what I want, and I know someone personally who does tattoo’s, some right some wrong. Any tips you have to make sure he get’s it right?? Did you enjoy the experience? I don’t want it to be like the regular barber shop horror, telling them I want 5mm and get 1mm in the end.. coz that makes me want to get a 6mm and shoot.. but don’t worry, most times in stead I be a needle king..

  47. Katrina says:

    I LOVE this post. Amy, thank you for sharing your tattoo and the reasons behind it with us. I am also planning on a tattoo that will have divine feminine symbolism. 🙂

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