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Feather Tattoos: Designs, Ideas, and Meanings

Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.

The beautiful feather tattoo design is highly sought-after among those who admire body art and Native American traditions and heritage. The feather design holds deep symbolic meanings to whomever wears it, men and women, who choose it as a symbol to represent their beliefs and heritage or to display some spiritual aspect.

Hawk Feather

Hawk Feather

The Feather as a Native American Symbol

Birds figure prominently in many Native American creation myths and the feather has always been an important symbol to them, often included as a design feature in their headdresses, clothing, weapons, tools, jewelry, and Ojibwe dreamcatchers.

Most Native Americans ascribe to animism, the belief that all natural things in the universe have spirits. Animists believe that souls exist in living things (people, animals, and plants) but also in rocks, feathers, and other natural phenomena—they believe that every part of nature is alive and has an inherent quality, virtue, power, and wisdom.

Feathers are perceived as gifts falling from the sky. When one falls to earth, Native Americans believe it carries with it all of the energy of its former attachment to the bird, wind, and sky and represents the power of the thunder gods, wind, and air. Native American chiefs would wear many feathers during ceremonies to represent their connection to spiritual realms, and warriors were given one as a special gift when they were exceptionally courageous or honorable in battle.

They believed that birds can act as spirit guides, walking you through the different stages of life: Teaching, guiding, and offering protection. Eagle feathers are one of the most honored and hold great symbolic significance.

Meanings of Different Types of Feathers

birdmeaning

eagle

sacredness, strength, courage leadership, and prestige

crow

skill, cunning, balance, and release from the past

blue jay

happiness, fulfillment

falcon

speed, soul healing

hawk

protection, strength

owl

silence, speed, vision

raven

creation, wisdom, knowledge

hummingbird

love, beauty, intelligence

dove

peace, love, gentleness

pheasant

prosperity, wealth, success

turkey

abundance, fertility

peacock

beauty, pride, all-seeing

Feather Symbolism in Christian, Celtic, Egyptian, and Other Religions and Cultures

The feather was also symbolic in ancient Christianity, believed to be a symbol of virtue, mentioned many times in the Bible. Verse four of Psalm 91, for example: “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.” You may see three of them curved into a signet ring— one represents hope, one faith, and one charity.

It was also symbolic to the Celts whose druids wore feathered robes in ceremonial events. The Egyptians believed that they were associated with the sky gods. Many other cultures and religions ascribed special spiritual or symbolic meaning to them.

Birds of a feather flock together.

The Feather as a Spiritual Connection to the Dead

Feathers can also be associated with those who have passed away. Some cultures believe if one falls on your path, it is a sign that someone you know has passed on to the afterlife or that someone who died is trying to communicate with you.

Other Interpretations

  • Dream: Did you know that they are also symbolic in dreams? Which makes sense, given their place in dreamcatchers. Some believe that white ones symbolize a fresh spiritual start. The type of feather dreamed matters to its interpretation, but in general it might suggest a thought, a goal, or an ideal.
  • Color: A white one can also represent innocence, while red is said to symbolize passion and love, and yellow and orange ones usually represent intelligence.
  • Number: One of the most common designs is the single feather, but other designs incorporate more than one, and some depict an entire wingful. The meaning of the number of feathers depicted is up to the wearer.
  • Type: Some of the most common types used are the eagle, peacock, egret, ostrich, swallow, and turkey. The table above gives more common meanings for some of these types, but the meaning of any tattoo is up to its wearer. Some wearers choose angel feathers. This might represent protection from a higher power.
  • Beauty: Some people may choose a tattoo not because of any symbolic meaning but just because they think it's beautiful.

There are many different styles, designs, and meanings for a feather tattoo, so you have plenty of choices and options to think about.

What a Feather Tattoo Might Represent

As you have already read, the feather is very symbolic to multiple cultures and civilizations, and in each context, its meaning is slightly different. Below is a partial list of various ideas they might represent:

  • Truth
  • Speed
  • Lightness
  • Flight
  • Ascension
  • Dreams
  • High spirit
  • Purity
  • Freedom
  • Courage
  • Bravery
  • Hope
  • Promise
  • Journey of the soul
  • Travel
  • Magic
  • Levitation
  • Weightlessness
  • Communication with the other side
  • Freedom

Of course, the meaning of the tattoo depends on the wearer. One of the best things about the feather is that fits nicely in a variety of different places on your body. The arms, legs, sides, ankles, upper back, lower back, upper shoulders, and behind the ears are all possible locations.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all.

— Emily Dickinson

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Comments

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on June 06, 2012:

David, thanks for taking the time to comment and drop by. I am glad this article was useful for you. I appreciate the feedback. Come back anytime and take care. Would like to see a picture when you get it done if possible.

david on June 04, 2012:

Hi! thank u very much for information. was interesting to read. im looking for some feather tattoo already year. u help me a lot to decide what i wanna..

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on April 30, 2012:

PDX, thanks for taking the time to come by. I appreciate your comments and feedback. I can't wait to see this hub. I will be looking for it.

Justin W Price from Juneau, Alaska on April 24, 2012:

very interesting. Had no idea feathers had so much meaning! I'm working on a hub talking about about my tattoos along with some advice and pointers... I hope you'll find it interesting!

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on February 13, 2012:

Insidiousglamour, thanks for taking the time to drop by and check out this article. That is a beautiful tattoo. It is always great to hear from those who wear tattoos for symbolic purposes. It is an honor. Take care.

insidiousglamour from Bowge IX on February 11, 2012:

Wow thanks so much for this informative article. I have several tattoos myself, all stemming from personal meaning. I never realized that feathers were such an intrinsic part of the belief systems of so many cultures. I always associated them with Native Americans. I love the pictures you included also, especially the 18th one from the top, where the left shoulder is covered with this gorgeous bouquet of colorful feathers. Great read!

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

AE, thanks again my dear friend. It actually still surprises me how many they truly are, literally thousands! I love the history about them.

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

Hyp, thanks for taking the time to come by. The ankle is a great place for a colorful feather tattoo.

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

Frank, I appreciate all your support. Thanks for being a loyal fan of it. See you around.

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

Alocsin, thanks for another visit my friend, thanks very much.Hope you enjoyed it and thanks for all your support.

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

Gypsy, thanks again friend. They can be added to all sorts of different things when you think about it. I really like the peacock feather.

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

MM, thanks for dropping my friend and hope your doing well. Thanks for the kind words. Have a great day.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on January 30, 2012:

These are beautiful. I like the one on the foot with the ankle bracelet. I am still amazed at how many different tattoo designs available. Thank you again..

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on January 30, 2012:

Some of these are beautiful. I have a small feather tattoo on my inner ankle but it is not as detailed and lovely as these.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on January 30, 2012:

you just keep doing this type of hub right.. love the feathers thelyricwriter :)

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on January 30, 2012:

I needed to do a double-take on some of these feathers. They looked real. Voting this Up and Beautiful.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on January 30, 2012:

Voted up! I'm a feather fan. Meaning I collect any nice bird feather I find. I have quite a few and they have brought me some good luck too.

Movie Master from United Kingdom on January 30, 2012:

Hi Ricky, the work and fine detail on these feather tattoo's is amazing...

An interesting and informative hub as always with great pictures. Every one I read takes me that little bit closer to getting my own tattoo!!

Voting up and best wishes Lesley