In the world of creepy-crawly insects, few give me the heeby geebies as much as a centipede. They look menacing, move fast, and some can be venomous, so why would anyone want a centipede as a tattoo unless it has a special meaning?
Centipede tattoos have spiritual and ancestral meanings to certain tribes and cultures. The most significant are omens of death, war, ancestors, and a connection between this life and the afterlife. A centipede tattoo means the bearer pays homage to their cultural belief.
There are so many different styles of doing a centipede tattoo, but in these cultures, the more traditional methods and styles will be prominent. Getting a centipede tattoo will almost certainly include a sacred, pre tattooing ritual making the meaning more significant. Let’s look at why the centipede tattoo meaning is so intriguing.
Centipedes – The Curious Creature In Anthropology
Chances are, if you look for a centipede, you’ll find it hiding under rocks, in crevices, or in decaying tree stumps. Because of this curious creature’s habits of living below, it has the association of being connected to the underworld or afterlife.
They like to remain hidden and only appear when it is time to hunt, feed or relocate. They love the dirt, and there are rumored to be more than 7000 species. That does nothing for my insect-related anxiety, but why is this information important, and what does it have to do with the meaning of a centipede tattoo?
The anthropological information is important because there are clues to why certain tribes see the centipede as mythical, mystical, powerful, and revered as a creature. They also immortalize the centipede as a tattoo on their bodies.
In rare cases, the centipede’s symbolic link with the underworld makes it ideal for connecting with the occult magic and other dark subjects.
What Are The Traditional Styles Of Centipede Tattoos?
Tattoos are a silent way for the wearers to connect with like-minded people. In diasporic peoples, tattoos are a way to re-connect them to each other, their ancestors, and their belief systems.
A few traditional tattooing methods are being preserved by a generation connected by a deep sense of preservation. Here are two examples of the oldest traditional tattooing methods
Batok – Philippines
The Kalinga people are an ethnic group that originates from the Philippines. Their tattoo traditions are unique, and there has recently been a return to their practices by diasporic Filipinos. Batok tattoos are a traditional method and style of tattooing, and many Filipinos are leaning toward this style.
Batok tattoos are applied by using a handcrafted needle made from animal bone, horn, or wood. The needle is tapped into the skin by a small hammer.
Hand Tapping – Native American Nlaka’pamux / Skin Stitching
A tradition almost forgotten for 150 years has been brought back to life by passionate Inuit men and women. The skin stitching does not follow traditional tattooing rules and is a sacred ritual for native men and women.
The hand tapping technique is similar to the Filipino Batok. Skin stitching is a more ancient method of tattooing where a needle is used to create a tattoo using ink dipped thread through the skin.
What Does The Centipede Tattoo Mean In Different Cultures?
In each ancient culture, animals and insects were closely connected to them spiritually and in symbolism. The centipede features in a few cultural tattoos as follows –
Centipede Tattoo Meaning – Native American
In Native American folklore and fables, insects and animals will always feature as a way to connect this life to a past or a future. It connects the people to ancestors or is used in complex mythologies.
The centipede is symbolic of power and evil and is a connection between the physical realm and the underworld. Having the centipede tattooed shows a shamanistic connection of the bearer to the underworld.
The Zuni tribe believes the centipede symbolizes great power, such as a tribal Chief. They carry poison and can kill other beings. They believed that it could travel between the two worlds, a taboo for humans. Typically Shamans may have a centipede tattoo.
Centipede Tattoo Meaning – Kalinga People
In the Philippines, the centipede is called bulbulun di mangayaw, meaning a friend of the headhunters, and is considered an omen insect. The centipede-style tattoos are called Gayaman.
The centipede tattoo design appears on the bodies of women and warriors in ancient drawings, cave paintings, and, more recently, pictures. The centipede is symbolic of a war party of soldiers, an ancestor spirit, or many ancestors in a canoe, resembling a centipede.
The centipede is also a symbol for safe travel in the Kalinga tradition, so having one as a tattoo will guarantee a safe journey to the bearer. The strongest warriors of any tribe would typically wear a centipede tattoo to symbolize their strength and abilities.
Centipede Tattoo Meaning – Samoan People
Called Atualua in Samoan, which means long god. The meaning of a centipede tattoo in the Samoan culture could be interpreted as a connection between the ancestors and their descendants.
Centipede Tattoo Meaning – African People
The centipede symbolizes power and ancestral connection in a similar fashion to the Kalinga and Native American tribes. In some African legends, they are considered to be messengers from the underworld who failed in their missions.
Centipede Tattoo Meaning – Celtic People
It is an uncommon tattoo symbol in Celtic traditions because it symbolizes death or is a harbinger of bad luck and death.
Centipede Tattoo Meaning – Eastern / Asian People
The centipede is a powerful Chinese medicine used to treat epilepsy-type convulsions and is revered.
Because of their carnivorous diet and aggressive nature, centipedes are seen as Apex, powerful and decisive. A centipede tattoo will carry the same meaning in Asian or Eastern culture.
In the Japanese tattooing style, a centipede tattoo meaning may be that of danger or intimidation. You might find that members of the Yakuza clans will sport a centipede tattoo.
A centipede tattoo is quite unusual and will certainly open a conversation. It’s a deeply spiritual symbol for many tribes of people globally.
It may be a great tattoo if you want to connect with your traditions or your ancestors more spiritually. You can decide if a Batok-style hand-tapped tattoo will be more appealing than a more realistic styled version.
Some of my favorite designs, tattoo books, and aftercare products, selected for you
Thank you for reading my article, I hope that you have found it helpful. If you would have trouble finding ideas for your tattoo, wonder what is meaning of design that you have found or what to buy for aftercare, to make sure that your tattoo will be healing quickly and easily, here are some of my favorite products in one place, hope that this will also help.
Design and tattoo ideas
For some ideas you can have a look at those 3 books with hundreds of designs that I use with my clients, they are available on Amazon for Kindle or in classic, paper version (links below):
- Great Book of Tattoo Designs, Revised Edition: More than 500 Body Art Designs (Fox Chapel Publishing) Fantasy, Celtic, Floral, Wildlife, and Symbol Designs for the Skin by Lora Irish
- The Big Book of Small Tattoos – Vol.1: 400 small original tattoos for women and men by Roberto Gemori
- Tiny Tattoos: Over 1,000 Small Inspirational Artworks by Rebecca Vincent.
If you would like to read more about the meaning of different tattoo styles and designs before you will decide what you would like to have, I can recommend a book that was really useful for me when I was starting my tattoo adventure – it’s “Conscious Ink: The Hidden Meaning of Tattoos” by Lisa Barretta (through the link you can find it on Amazon for around $10).
The skin at the tattoo site often dries out. To prevent it and speed up healing for my clients, I usually recommend one of those tattoo aftercare balms (you can find them on Amazon):