We saw it in the 90's, and now it's back and bigger than ever! Alternative clothing brands such as Dolls Kill, Killstar & Blackcraft are merging modern day street style, with occult symbolism. Although this trend has spread like wildfire, it does raise a few eyebrows among the fashion community.
"Is it respectful to wear symbols borrowed from other cultures and spiritual movements?"
The biggest reason behind this is the assumption that the symbols are being used for "decoration" without the wearer having any knowledge of what the symbols actually means. As the designer it is always best to do some research! Pairing certain esoteric symbols together on one item may not always be the best idea. The most important thing when working with these symbols is to know what they mean and to get it right. To take some of the guess work out for you we've compiled a list of generally safe symbols you can adorn yourself with without offending anyone, while still pulling of the creepy occult vibe!
• TAROTS Tarots are the most popular Western divination system. It’s not a religious symbol nor a spiritual symbol. Tarot cards are also fun because one deck can go up to 78 cards, giving you tons of choices!
• CATS Black cats are the most esoteric animals in the world. They are witches guardians or "familiars" and date all the way back to Ancient Egypt. Of course, you can also wear wolves, owls or any other creature of the night. But black cats win hands down.
• CROSSES We know that the cross is a religious symbol. But, if you’re worrying about using it because of the Catholic religion, worry no more. The cross is actually a pagan symbol, and it comes from the wheel of the year. It has been part of so many cultures and religions, from ancient to modern ones, so you can safely use it.
• MOON The moon is connected to all female Goddesses, therefore pagan cults and witchcraft. Wicca is particularly linked to the moon phases. However you decide to use moons, it is highly unlikely you wil shock you parents with this one.
• OUIJA Totally unrelated to religions and cults, you can wear as many Ouija boards as you like. Another common symbol related to séance boards is the planchette. It’s the small thing used to point letters on the board, it’s very similar to a guitar pick after a few rounds of steroids.
• ANIMAL SKULLS Bird skulls are very common, especially for silver jewelry.
If you want to go the route of using more religious or cultural symbols, we have also provided a brief background on some of the top choices.
• TRIANGLES Triangles are used as symbols for many things, and their popularity extends beyond tattooing Harry Potter had an influence on their increased popularity in the last 10 years (we know, we know. But it’s true!) In Christianity, God is a Trinity, so the triangle is often used to represent that. Planetary symbols are typically triangles with different lines and shapes inside and out. The orientation of the triangle is very important, because an upside triangle means something completely different from a point-up triangle (solid base, stability.) Two triangles pointing in two opposite directions make a hexagram. The most famous hexagram is the Star of David, but it was used before and it’s common in occult circles as the representation of opposites, like male and female. Finally, triangles are commonly used in alchemy to designate the four different elements.
• EYE OF PROVIDENCE The famous all-seeing Eye of God, it’s an eye inside of a triangle. It refers to the divine providence, and the power of God to watch over us and protect us in every moment. Nowadays this symbol is often associated with Freemasonry, and it’s at the base of many conspiracy theories. The eye is represented shown atop an unfinished pyramid on the Great Seal of the United States, indicating the influence of Freemasonry in the founding of the United States. The Eye of Horus is another version of the Eye of God, and it’s probably the earliest known example.
• RUNES Runes are an old alphabet of which the oldest inscriptions are found in Denmark and northern Germany. It’s likely that runes weren’t used only as a writing method, but mostly as magical signs. The world itself means “secret”. Today they’re associated with magic and divination although there’s no evidence this was their primary use. Runes are usually engraved on clay or stone and mixed in a small bag, then they are thrown out or pulled out in order to be read. Every rune has a specific meaning, so if you like the look of runes, look into their meaning first.
• MANDALA Mandalas are spiritual and religious symbols representing the universe. They’re used in Hinduism and Buddhism and they represent a round shape, often with a square shape inside or outside, always with a radial balance and a certain symmetry. The basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Mandalas are a microcosm of the universe, and they’re known to have a soothing effect on the human nervous system, thus why they’re also used in colouring books for children. You can also include other symbols inside the mandala, and you can totally design your own or have your tattoo artist design a unique one for you.
• PENTACLE The pentacle is perhaps the most popular occult symbol, a star inside a circle. It’s a protective symbol, or a seal. It represents the four elements with the fifth being the spirit, and the universe around them. Modern pagans and Wicca made this symbol super popular. For them it’s not only an amulet or a symbol of protection, but also the representation of the Goddess and our connection with the Mother Earth. A point-up pentagram usually represents spirit over matter, while an upside pentagram represents spirit descending into matter. This has been simplified in good and evil, but the choice is up to you.
• HAMSA HAND An open right hand, often depicted with the Eye of God right in the middle. The Hamsa hand is common to many religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The legend behind it is different, but its meaning and use is the same: it’s a symbol of protection, whether it is represented with the fingers pointing up or down. This symbol is very common in North Africa and throughout the Middle East as an amulet, it can be seen hanging on the door in many houses. It also represents strength, patience and power and it keeps evil away.