There are people who define them ‘‘a form of art’’, whereas others see it as a way to disfigure one’s body. Yet, behind tattoos which are so much in vogue, there is something else. And this something is more disturbing. Only a few of us know the etymology of the word tattoo. It derives from the English word “tattoo” coined by the English adventurer James Cook, the legendary captain who plied the seas in the middle of the 18th century. The term derives from two idioms used in Polynesia: ‘‘Ta’’ which means ‘pattern incised on skin’ and ‘‘atua’’ ‘spirit’. This is enough to make us understand that tattoos, perceived by most of the people only as a images, have occult origins.
Obviously, this practice is much more ancient. In some caves, for instance, were found frescoes representing painted or tattooed men. We are talking about 60,000 years ago, about traditions in which aboriginals injured themselves and painted their bodies to testify their status or to keep away spirits (this is where the term comes from…). It is certain that Egyptian mummies of the eleventh dynasty (2065-1745 B.C.) had tattoos. Also Otzi, the hominid found in 1991 in a glacier in South Tyrol (Italy), who is more than 5,300-year-old, had 15 incised images on his body.
Yet, despite being widespread both in antiquity and today, tattoos are not well thought of by religions. Not only by the Christians – which we will be discussing shortly – but also by other religions. As to Islam, most Muslims consider a permanent tattoo to be haram ‘‘prohibited’’ or a ‘‘taboo’’. According to a hadith (a story) by Abu Juhayfah the prophet Mohammed cursed both those who make tattoos and those who get them. According to another Hadith, a person with tattoos is someone who has chosen Satan and rejected Allah. in particular, this is the position of Sunni Muslims; whether everyone agrees or not, especially the Shiites, is a different story.
Also Judaism is contrary to that practice. Orthodox and traditional Judaism, in fact, is based on two verses of the Bible. In particular, on Leviticus \19.27 and 28: ”Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you”. I am the Lord”. At first, the ban certainly concerned pagan customs in the event of death, but its meaning spread over time.
And the Church? In the IV century San Basilio warned against tattoos describing them as a pagan practice associated with the apostles of Satan. In 787 Pope Hadrian reiterated their absolute ban during the Council of Calcutta, in England. In the Christian world, prohibition of tattoos took the cue from Constantine (325 A.D.) when he said that tattoos “ravaged what was created in the image of God”. Over the centuries this warning was repeated several times. Let us try to understand the reason why…
According to the theologian Simone Iuliano, “when one agrees to get a tattoo, a pact of blood is established between that person and the tattoo master, life is open to any spirit the latter is bound to, we allow it to enter us. Through this consent of blood – Iuliano explains – a passage is open to allow demons to come inside us. This is the main problem. When we get a tattoo, we open the door to demonic spirits of torment, unclean spirits, even if the tattoo is not the consequence of an act of rebellion, but merely an aesthetic expression. And getting tattoos with Christian images and symbols makes no difference”.
The clarification is important because also in Christian tradition exists the practice of marking indelibly one’s body. Among Coptic Christians, for example, the practice of tattooing is widespread to emphasize their identity in countries such as Egypt and Ethiopia that have a Muslim majority. The most commonly used symbol is a cross on the face or on the wrist. A sign that is particularly dangerous at present, considering the growing influence of the fundamentalists.
Also in the Sanctuary of Loreto, in Italy, there are “friars markers” who – upon request – mark indelibly one’s visit to the place of worship. Many young people get marked with sacred images in order to testify, also visually their choice of faith, a little like crusaders. And even today, many orthodox pilgrims in Jerusalem get tattoos with crosses in the shop owned by the Razzouk family, which has been in this kind of business for about 300 years now.
Yet, in spite of this popularity, there is still perplexity about it in the Christian world. Don Gianni Cioli, professor of moral theology in Florence, summarised them as follows: “Reserves can be traced back to three main reasons. The first one is that tattoos can be, especially if practiced without due caution, dangerous for our health.
The second reason is that at present fashion is often linked to a culture of transgression and to a tendency to provocative and eroticized exhibition of one’s body, which is undoubtedly problematic for Christian morality. The third reason is that, sometimes, this culture has its roots in the esotericism and even Satanism; an apparently harmless symbol proposed by a tattoo master might have hidden meanings a Christian should abhor”. It is not a case that exorcists are experiencing difficulties in working with tattooed people; during the prayers for liberation, the marked areas cause a sensation of burning. Testimonies, not suppositions. And this, especially to a Christian, should give food for thought…
Freely based on Acts of the International Conference of Exorcists