Is Tattooing A Pagan Practice?
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Is Tattooing A Pagan Practice?

Paganism In Tattoo

Historically, tribal tattooing was associated with what was thought of as pagan practice. In Europe, whole clans and communities practiced tattooing on their members in what is seen as paganism in tattoo until the arrival and spread of Christianity. With Western efforts to convert inhabitants into Christianity thus began a decline in tribal tattoing.

The Christian influence was directed at seeking to discourage tattooing by references to Leviticus 19:28 of the Old Testament that supposedly forbids cutting of the flesh or putting marks on the body and tattoos are such marks. Hence, the reluctance of the populace to use tattoos except for Christian groups like the Knights of St. John of Malta whose members carried tattoos on their arms as a kind of badge of honor and identification. Therefore, this doesn't explain the point if tattooing was a pagan practice or not. After all the Order of the Knights of Malta was a religious group and was as proud of their tattoo as their emblem as they were of their religious affiliation.

Tattooing Among Catholics

At present, Roman Catholics across the world are significantly divided whether to follow Leviticus 19:28. After all, the verse in the bible is arguably not clear as to its meaning and application. Some people believe that this verse actually refers to bodies of those who have died instead of those of living people because the verse speaks of a prohibition to "cut" the flesh implying a mutilation of a dead body. Besides, markings (or tattooing) of dead bodies would obviously serve no purpose in life.

For its part, the Catholic Church doesn't seem to agree with such prohibition except perhaps when the tattoo designs or drawings blatantly or explicitly carry blasphemous messages or if they make statements that openly proclaim derogatory remarks upon the Church and its doctrines.

In any case, the popularity of tattoos nowadays is proof positive enough that there is more humanity and culture, rather than religiosity and dogma in the whole business of tattooing.

Tattooing In Islam

In the world of the Sunni muslims, Leviticus is an explicit law prohibiting the tattooing of the body. According to the Sunnis, the Prophet Mohammed is supposed to have declared tattoing to be a modification, hence, possibly a mutilation of the body. As such, it is a violation of God's will for if God has created a perfect being in the human body, any change or modification of it in any fashion would certainly contradict God's will.

During the Ottoman occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Catholic Croats of Bosnia used tattooing, especially of children, in order to protect them against a perceived forcible conversion to Islam. This is debatable.

Nonetheless, while the Sunni muslims shun permanent tattoos, as declared in the Hadith which denounces the changing of God's creation with any kind of modification, the Shia Muslim faction on the other hand believes tattoos are permissible and are not necessarily an infringement of God's wishes.

Tattooing In Judaism

Essentially, Jews generally follow Leviticus in observing the rule against tattoos. But other clerics and scholars claim that the interpretation has been stretched to include tattoos when the prohibition only refers to using the ashes of people who have died with which to rub on the wounds of the living.

Orthodox Jews are absolute in prohibiting the use of tattoos based on Jewish Law or Halakha which invokes Leviticus as basis for the rule. But conservative Judaism qualifies the prohibition.

When tattoos are applied to the body, the one who receives it is blameless while the person who applies or designs it must be held to answer under the law, thus distinguishing between a person who draws it on himself from one who receives it from another.

However, this conservative Jewish thinking is unacceptable to the orthodoxy which holds the view that blamelessness is only possible under a very tight environment such as happened to Holocaust prisoners during World War II who therefore had very limited bodily freedom if it mattered.

Tattooing in Hinduism

The tattoo in this case is more symbolic of beauty and aesthetic value than of religious injunction and significance.

Also, the Hindu tattoos commonly represent the locations where the important chakras of the body are located. Chakras are spinning wheels that regulate energy flow within the body and connect the physical body of a human being to his/her unseen parts, namely the soul, spirit and mind.


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