Skip to main content

Tattoo Ideas: Symbols of Growth, Change, New Beginnings

I have thirteen tattoos. I think they're all pretty cool (and definitely don't qualify as "bad-quality").


I once went to a psychic who told me I was living the equivalent of two lifetimes in one. She said that at some point, these lifetimes would diverge, and I would have to make a decision. I would be faced with a moment of great change, and the path I went down would have an enormous bearing on the rest of my life.

She was right. I often look back to that time and think to myself, If only I could go back to that moment when the road first forked, maybe I could rewrite destiny. Despite that fleeting, fanciful thought, I firmly believe that destiny needs no rewriting. The decisions I made were the ones that needed making, and everything that happened did so because at some point before birth, I must have decreed that it needed to occur.

I don't necessarily need a tattoo to mark that time of transition—I gave myself enough scars over those long-ago years to prove it. But now I have the wisdom and knowledge that only comes through struggle and survival, and for the rest of my life, I will have the strength of one who endures. If you are considering getting a tattoo to mark your personal evolution, read on.

Symbols of Change, Growth, and Evolution

acorn (or seed)

lotus flower

red-breasted robin

alchemical symbols


sakura (cherry blossoms)



Sanskrit symbol for nirvana

caterpillar or cocoon

ouroborus (snake or dragon eating its own tail)


an egg

moon (in any phase)

sun or sunset

Celtic knot

the Magician or Death Tarot cards


koi fish

nautical star

yin yang


Phoenix Tattoos: Symbol of Rebirth

The phoenix is a mythological bird that symbolizes rebirth and renewal. Usually depicted with a colorful plumage and a tail of many colors, the phoenix is destined to live 500–1,000 years. At the end of its life, it builds a nest around itself which then ignites into flames. The bird burns, right along with the twigs, and nothing but ashes remains.

But this is not the end; from the ashes, a new, younger phoenix rises, and it will go on to live a new life. This pattern continues indefinitely.

This image can symbolize the end of one life and the start of another, or it can symbolize the death of some aspects of yourself that needed changing to allow the birth of a newer, more conscious persona.

Since no one has seen a phoenix, no one knows precisely what one looks like, so you have some creative freedom in your phoenix design.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

— Maria Robinson

Caterpillar and Butterfly Tattoos: Symbols of Transformation

The butterfly has diverse interpretations across many cultures.

  • In Japan, it is the personification of someone's soul, and it is believed that butterflies carry messages from the dead to the living.
  • In China, two butterflies flying together are a symbol of love.
  • A black butterfly can signify impending death, or it can be a sign of good luck, depending on where you are or who you ask.
  • At a literal level, a caterpillar that enters into its self-made cocoon and emerges as a beautiful butterfly is the ultimate example of personal transformation.

Things do not change; we change.

— Henry David Thoreau

Ouroboros Tattoos: Symbols of Remaking

The ouroboros (derived from the Greek words oura, meaning "tail," and boros, "eating") is an ancient Greek symbol that translates roughly as "one who eats its own end." It is usually depicted as a serpent or a dragon, arched in a circle and swallowing its own tail.

Even abstractly, from a distance, the ouroboros design looks like an unending "O" or a mysterious 0. The ouroboros is symbolic of the cyclical nature of all things. We are constantly redefining and re-creating ourselves, we are eternally returning. We have to devour and absorb the past in order to learn from it, move past it, and evolve.

When sufficient spiritual growth has been reached, it uncoils and moves up the spine to create heightened awareness. This will enhance psychic vision and leads us to enlightenment.

Red-Breasted Robin Tattoos: Symbol of Growth

The red-breasted robin symbolizes growth in all areas of life and the rebirth of the spirit. The robin's red breast is seen as the life force that resides within.

Growth does not often occur overnight; it can be a slow, trying process and the results are not always immediate or apparent. Stick with it, however, and keep the happiness of the robin's song in mind. Approach life with a joyful, open heart, and all the growth you crave will come to you in time.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

— Gandhi

Lotus Tattoo: Symbol of Spiritual Evolution

Many Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Shintoism included) see the lotus as a symbol of spiritual evolution. The plant's growth can be seen as an allegorical elevation: The seed sprouts at the bottom of a pond and then pushes up through the layers of rocks and mud and water to the surface, where it finally blooms into a beautiful lotus blossom. This is a metaphor for mankind's struggle and evolution from a low and rocky bottom into spiritual awakening.

In the Hindu religion, the sacred lotus (called the Padma) represents, among other things, spiritual awakening, and the unfolding of its leaves depicts a soul's expansion.

For Buddhists, the lotus symbolizes the unity of body, spirit, and mind, and is often depicted with eight petals that represent the Eightfold Path, eight practices for achieving nirvana or spiritual enlightenment.

The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.

— Charles Frédéric Dubois

The lotus blossom with Sanskrit that says Om, Shanti Shanti (peace).

The lotus blossom with Sanskrit that says Om, Shanti Shanti (peace).

Koi Fish: Symbol of Endurance

Koi fish have many meanings, but one of the main things they represent is the ability to overcome adversity. Koi are admired for their ability to survive, climbing waterfalls and braving strong currents, enduring cold and heat, yet often managing to live long lives (the oldest koi lived 226 years).

Which Changes or Major Life Events Could You Mark With a Tattoo?

birth of a child

financial gains or losses

overcoming victimhood

break up or divorce


political shifts

a break with the past

imprisonment or freedom


changes in identity

illness or recovery

sexual awakening

death of a loved one


spiritual awakening or growth

epiphany or mental breakthrough

menopause or midlife

survival of any kind

emotional or psychological breakthroughs

moving or leaving home


the end of an addiction

new job or career change


falling in or out of love

a new resolution, goal, or plan


Change is the only constant.

— Heraclitus

Escher's Metamorphosis

Escher's Metamorphosis

© 2011 Jaclyn Popola


Whillow on August 08, 2011:

As a recently established tattoo studio I thank you for having great design ideas and information for us all to see and learn from for FREE. I will definitely follow you and have now decided that I may share my tattoo journey as well. Keep us informed and keep adding your excellent work.