Living Sacred: Sacred Tattoos and the Four Elements

Back in January I did something I’ve been planning for almost five years: I got my first tattoo

The Intention

I decided to get a tattoo just before my 30th birthday and, filled with youthful ignorance, assumed I knew exactly what I wanted and just needed to find the right person to do it. You see, I knew in my bones that if I chose to have something inscribed on my skin it would be a visceral and sacred expression of my lived experience. I needed a tattoo artist who would understand and uphold this for me.

A woman (Keli Tomlin) pressers her face to the branch of a tree, her eyes are closed, she is peaceful
© Althea de Carteret

Around the same time I was, rather helpfully, cultivating a new friendship with a local woman who was a bespoke tattoo artist and, along with her husband, owned a cool, quirky tattoo studio near to home. I knew Mim would be the perfect person to tattoo me when I verbalised to her my dream of having a sacred tattoo, and she didn’t look at me askance or with laughter in her eyes; in fact she thanked me for verbalising something she felt too.

 

Although she didn’t identify as a spiritual person, she fully recognised that her role as a tattoo artist and her relationship with her clients had a quality of the sacred about it; a process of transformation and manifestation that was, however you chose to approach it (for fun, for meaning, or simply for the pleasure of wearing art on your body), an experience of deep connection and shared inspiration.

 

Mim and I don’t share spiritual beliefs, but her recognition of and respect for the sacred space and quality of the tattooing experience resonated strongly with the Sacred Celebrant in me. I booked a meeting and excitedly shared my idea with her and that’s when she taught me that choosing a tattoo can also be a sacred lesson in patience.

 

 

The Journey

She asked me lots of questions, aesthetic questions on style, colour, shape and size. As a wordsmith, these are aspects I often gloss over, but Mim knew it was important for me (because by then our friendship was growing and she knew me pretty well) to have a say in all the parts of the finished product.

 

So I went away with plenty to consider and then, life happened! Time passed and the answers to the questions she’d posed just wouldn’t come. Gradually I came to accept that the image I had chosen, while it spoke to a single part of me (a part I can now see was rooted in my own insecurities), just wasn’t expressing me at my core.

 

It took five more years of wandering down many internal paths and design possibilities, before I finally found what I was looking for, at the tail-end of 2019. During that time I’d changed a lot as a person and honed the qualities of who and what I was and how I wanted to show up in the world; including becoming a professional Celebrant.

 

When I reached down to the very core of my spirituality, my beliefs and what inspired me the most, it found one thing… or rather four.

 

A stone chalice filled with water stands on a mossy old bench, beside it is a heart shaped stone, a ceramic pendant with a swirl motif, a piece of quartz crystal and a small bunch of flowers. A small altar by Keli Tomlin
© Althea de Carteret

The Four Elements

The Four Elements – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water – have been part of my spiritual practise and life experience for as long as I can remember. Long before I started creating outdoor weddings or knew what paganism or ceremony were, I enjoyed dancing in the rain and walking barefoot through the woods. I clearly remember the joy I felt when I discovered Wicca in my late teens and the pleasure of finding deeper meaning in very real, very present aspects of Nature and life.

 

Over the years my personal faith and spirituality transformed a great deal. For years I had no spiritual practise at all, at other times I was actively involved in group celebrations for the pagan community. Most of my life I have been curating my own path taking inspiration from the different people and possibilities that I intersected with. Today I refer to myself as green-spirited, a term I borrowed from my teacher Glennie Kindred, which seems to resonate most strongly with my lived experience.

 

But always at the heart, the presence and reality of the Four Elements never wavered. They are the touchstone I return to whenever my connection is wavering. They are the source of immense inspiration and extraordinary experience. They are my connective point through which I access the greater mystery and wonder of the natural World and its incredible balances and cycles.

 

altar

The Core

If you hire me as your wedding Celebrant, or come along to one of my events, the Four Elements come along with me, always. Sometimes they will be proudly acknowledged on the altar, represented and actively welcomed, encouraging us to be fully present. Sometimes they will be the heart of the reason we have gathered; because I love nothing more than sharing their beauty, wonder and potential with others. Sometimes they will be all around us, if we meet in Nature, and you may notice me giving a silent nod of respect to this tree, or that patch of wildflowers. Sometimes you wouldn’t know the Elements are with me at all… at least that used to be the case.

Now thanks to the incredible Mim at Underwood Tattoos there will always be a visual and visceral expression of my deepest inspiration, on my skin, for all to see.

 

An inner arm tattoo with six symbols including one for each of the four elements - earth, air, fire, water - and a crescent moon. Behnd the arm is a tree covered in ivy.

 

It was a painful pleasure to have the work done and I am so very grateful for Mim’s patience and encouragement these past five years, and during the inking itself. She didn’t flinch when I set up my small altar on the windowsill during the session, instead welcoming my expression of faith and the sacred with an open-hearted acceptance.

It felt wonderful to be held in space, in my wholeness, along with the very core of my spiritual self and to see my heart’s desire made real. I wonder if this is how my clients feel when I bring their dream ceremony to life? I hope so. It was a wild and wonderful place to be.