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Freaky-Fabulous Octopus Tattoo Meaning and Symbolism

Got my first tattoo at 18, then waited 32 years to get another. Meanwhile, I'm the editor of TatRing, a body art website.

Fabulous octopus tattoo by Oleksandra Riabichko @oleksas.tattoos in Germany.

Fabulous octopus tattoo by Oleksandra Riabichko @oleksas.tattoos in Germany.

Octopus Tattoo Ideas, Designs, and Meanings

Octopuses are magical creatures. They live from the coastal shallows down to depths of more than 300 feet. A 600-pound octopus can squeeze through a quarter-sized hole. They have no bones and eight arms studded with suction cups! Mind-bogglingly intelligent, superhumanly dexterous, and oddly unfathomable, they're like unicorns or fairies, only out in the open for all to see.

There's just something weird and otherworldly about them. A group of scientists recently published a paper that seriously suggested that octopuses might have come from outer space. It's a controversial idea, one that doesn't have a wide following in scientific communities, but still, the existence of this paper underlines the idea that there's something instinctively "other" about an octopus.

Then there was that thrilling news story about Inky, the octopus that escaped from New Zealand's National Aquarium by busting out of an aquarium, dragging itself across the floor, jimmying open the drainpipe, sliding down 50 meters, and releasing itself into the sea, and anyone who read that story was struck by the cold, hard fact that octopuses are of off-the-charts geniuses.

Anyway, octopuses are freaky-fabulous. No wonder you're considering an octopus tattoo.

By @yustecore_tattoo at @alexoruetaestudio

By @yustecore_tattoo at @alexoruetaestudio

By Özge Canoğlu @ozgecanoglu on Instagram.

By Özge Canoğlu @ozgecanoglu on Instagram.

What Does an Octopus Tattoo Mean or Represent?

  • Physical and Mental Intelligence and Dexterity. An octopus can unscrew a lid, flip a switch, use a tool, and plot and carry out a crazy escape scheme.
  • Tenacity and Devotion. It probably has something to do with all those suction cups. Once an octopus grabs onto something, it's hard to get it to let go. An octopus might guard her brood of eggs for 4.5 years, which makes her maternal patience longer than any other creature's.
  • Illusion and Magic. A huge, hulking octopus can magically camouflage itself, pretend to be a fish, fit itself through a tiny hole, and disappear into a cloud of ink: Now you see it, now you don't. If it loses an arm, it can grow another. Not only that but the severed arm will move and act like it is still attached.
  • Freedom or Escape. Like Houdini, it seems as though these creatures might be able to free themselves from any enclosure or setting.
  • Changeability, Adaptability, and Flexibility. Its soft, boneless body can shift into any shape. It can change its own texture and color in a snap to blend into any background.
  • Symmetry and Balance. Because they both have eight arms (or legs), they might represent a mandala or a spiderweb, and since octopus and spiders both have eight limbs, they might represent similar ideas.
  • Regeneration, Creation, and Transformation. Like lizards and their tails, an octopus can leave an arm behind if they need a quick escape. It makes something out of nothing.
  • A Combination of Strength and Sensitivity. Octopuses are an amazing combination of opposites. Those soft, boneless arms that can rip oysters apart. Those rubbery suction cups that can hold up to 35 pounds.
  • Rule-Breaking and Nonconformity. They do not conform to any rules or forms. They walk on land, even though they shouldn't be able to.
  • Otherworldly, Otherness, "Other." There is just something bizarre about the octopus—its body, its talents, its existence.
By Oleksandra Riabichko @oleksas.tattoos of Munich, Germany.

By Oleksandra Riabichko @oleksas.tattoos of Munich, Germany.

Tattoo by @taras_shtanko in Kyiv, Ukraine

Tattoo by @taras_shtanko in Kyiv, Ukraine

Octopus-Skull Tattoo by @timmietattoo

Octopus-Skull Tattoo by @timmietattoo

What Does the Number 8 Mean in Numerology and Tarot?

  • In numerology, eight—more than any other number—emphasizes career, business, money, authority, and the material world.
  • Although it is driven and motivated towards results in the material world, 8-ness isn't selfish or greedy. It uses money as a powerful tool, a means to an end, an energy to fuel the game.
  • The qualities associated with 8 are ambition, forward motion, authority, drive, control, discipline, assertion, ambition, efficiency, organization, management, and discipline. Picture eight arms all working diligently and independently toward a united goal.
  • Eight is also about cycles, progress, revolution, and evolutions.
  • All you have to do is look at the number's shape to understand its fundamental balance. An 8 is curvy, fluid, stable, symmetrical, It is formed with one single, smooth, confident gesture. Lay it on its side and it turns into the symbol for infinity: ∞. It ends where it begins: it is a closed loop of energy, constantly renewing.
  • An 8 balances creation and destruction, material and spiritual worlds.
Andrew Wilson @andrewwilsonart Main Street Tattoo (Newmarket, Ontario) @mainstreettattoocompany

Andrew Wilson @andrewwilsonart Main Street Tattoo (Newmarket, Ontario) @mainstreettattoocompany

The History of the Octopus or Kraken Tattoo

In many mythologies, you'll find multi-tentacled creatures from the deep.

  • In Norse mythology, the Kraken (of ancient Scandinavia) lives off the coasts of Norway and Greenland.
  • The Cthulhu, a alien imagined by H.P. Lovecraft, had a gigantic octopus head.
  • Giant cephalopods, octopuses or squids, have important roles in literature: Melville's Moby-Dick, Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, and Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
Octopus Tattoo by Adam Sky, Resolution Tattoo Studio, San Francisco

Octopus Tattoo by Adam Sky, Resolution Tattoo Studio, San Francisco

Octopus Shoulder Tattoo

There's something about the shape of an octopus that makes it perfect for a shoulder placement. The way it drapes so symmetrically, the long curling tentacles, all make for a lovely shape when inked on the top of the shoulder. Like an epaulette.

Symbols That Combine Well With Octopuses

  • Nautical motifs: boats, anchors, nautical stars, shells, treasure, maps, pirate motifs, etc.
  • Water, waves, or the color blue.
  • Spiders or spiderwebs: Maybe it's the eight limbs, or maybe it's their symmetry.
  • Tools, pens, and other instruments. After all, those eight legs need something to hold.

Design Ideas for Octopus Tattoos

What color ink?

Since the design can be so complicated on its own, most people choose to keep the color simple and monochrome. Blackwork is, of course, the most popular choice, followed by blue, red, and pretty much any other color you can imagine.

What style?

An octopus could be tattooed in any style, but you mostly see them done in old school, traditional, or realistic.

What about you?

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