A tattoo can be one of the most meaningful personal decisions you ever make. When you are planning your new piece of artwork, it is a wise idea to look deeper than the initial image.
What does it mean today? What has it meant in the past? What does it mean to you? Will it remain relevant to you in the future?
There are a wide range of symbolic tattoo ideas for men. From ancient religion and histories that set the foundation of the world, to the contemporary culture of today there are inspirational and significant options for everyone.
To facilitate your choice, here are the top 43 best symbolic ideas for you to apply to your next tattoo decision.
1. The Egyptian Ankh
In the times of Ancient Egypt, this image represented eternal life in the underworld that existed after death. Some have also taken it to represent the god of the sun.
2. Scarab Beetle
Another image from Ancient Egypt, the scarab traditionally symbolized creation. Because of its feeding habits, which involve rolling a ball of dung, the ancient people saw it as a creator. Today, it can represent the creative drive and the need to make your own way in the world.
3. Bear Tattoo Art
Because of this animal’s natural abilities, the American Indians saw the bear as an embodiment of power and might. Many other ancient peoples saw this animal the same way. In the modern day, it could be seen as the desire to return to Nature.
4. Wolf Tattoo Designs
Like the bear, this is another animal that shows mighty powers. As its nature indicates, the wolf has been seen as a protector and guide. It also embodies the ideas of intelligence and courage. Other meanings include the call of the wild.
5. Endless Knot
The Celtic endless knot, is full of historical meaning. Because it does not have an end, it was seen in the past as representing eternity, a long and happy life, the cycle of birth and death, and the cycles of the world.
6. Chakra Tattoo Depictions
Chakra tattoos are a wide and diverse subset of the tattoo world, far too vast to cover here in detail. Simply put, they enable energy for a vast array of applications in your life.
7. The Christian Cross
Symbols of one of the most impacting religions of the world, for a member of the Christian or Catholic faiths, the cross can be the one of the most meaningful symbols of all. For others, among many other meanings, the cross is a sign of contradiction, as its four arms stretch onward with no stopping.
8. Mjolnir: Thor’s Hammer
Dating back into the mists of time, the Thor Hammer usually signifies sacred things or making things sacred. Today, the symbol represents the entire religion of Asatru, with all its philosophy and ideas.
9. Dharmachakra / Wheel Of Dharma
With its eight or twenty-four spokes, this image has many historical meanings for the Indian religions. Many times, it symbolizes the virtues necessary to life. In non-religious contexts, it can symbolize a ship’s wheel, making it once popular among sailors.
10. Eye Of Horus
The ancient Egyptians saw this stylized eye as signifying protection, healing and care. However, since it is an eye, it can mean many other things, depending on the person. Overall, the eye is wide open for interpretation.
11. Fleur De Lis
A stylized lily, due to its associations with heraldry, France, and kings, it is a sign of opulent power. It can also be taken as a symbol of France and the pageantry of old. If simply taken as a lily, it can mean innocence and purity.
The mythological nature and history surrounding the phoenix has made it into an image representing rebirth, transformation, passing through fire successfully, and renewing oneself through difficulties. Popular culture has continued to cultivate many of these meanings.
13. Trinity Knot / Triquetra
Depending on each person, the triquetra has very different meanings. For Christians, the three points represent the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while the knot shows that They are One. Others take it to mean the three vital elements of the world: earth, air, and water.
14. The Lucky Horseshoe
Generally recognized as a good-luck token, the horseshoe tattoo can carry an identical meaning. In addition, the iron of a traditional horseshoe was understood to shield homes and people from evil spirits.
15. Vegvisir/The Viking Compass
Hailing from Iceland, this magical staff traditionally assured a safe passage through wind and rough weather, even if the bearer did not know the way. It is a unique symbol.
Composed of a serpent eating its own tale, this sign has implications from long ago to this day. Originally signifying self-sufficiency, the cycle of life, and introspection, over time it came to represent alchemy’s secret rites.
17. Triskele / Triple Spiral
Springing from Celtic traditions, the triple spiral’s essential meaning is man’s competitive drive and the march of progress. This is because it seems to be moving. Competition and progress are also moving. Take man into account as the third element and you get the triskele.
Intimately connected with the ideal of death in a mighty battle, the Norse valknut consists of three interlocking triangles. It symbolizes the ideal paradise of the Norsemen: a hall of mighty warriors served by pretty maidens forever.
The five-pointed star or pentagram has many meanings, most concerning dark matters. The Wicca and Neopagans use this symbol in their rites. In the Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance worlds, it signified dark magic and spirits coming to man as he called on them.
This symbol has a much wider meaning that a causal eye might see. It signifies four major things: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. It is integral to the Hinduism and Buddhism ways of life.
21. Jesus Fish
An old symbol of the Christian religion, these are some of the easiest tattoos to personalize. The styles have very different meanings, but they generally come back to the main theme of self-sacrifice and all-encompassing love that the first fish sign signified.
22. Semicolon Tattoo Ideas
The simple semicolon is a powerful sign of mental health struggles and needs. Started in 2013 by a social media outreach, it signifies a breaking down of barriers around this area of health.
23. Peace Sign
Like what it signifies, the peace sign is eloquently simple and powerfully moving. Popular around the world, it speaks to the universal, deep, human longing for peace in all areas of life.
24. Symbolic Boar Tattoos
Wild and yet recognized, the boar takes on realms of meaning. Courage, strength, determination, and fearlessness surround this image. It can also signify the hunted, yet unbowed, trait of the outlaws and people beyond the accepted world.
25. All Seeing Eye/The Eye of Providence
The all seeing eye is very like the eye, but with a deeper meaning. A Masonic symbol, it displays ideas of God and Man’s relationship, climbing to higher wisdom, and the power of the state. Other interpretations depend on the images and overall design.
26. Anchor Tattoo Design Ideas
A symbol of hope and last resorts, an anchor tattoo has many predecessors. A popular design among sailors, old and new, today the anchor means much the same as it has through the ages. Other ideas behind it include loyalty, strength, and stability.
27. Arrow Tattoos
Depending on the style and arrangement of an arrow or arrows, this simple symbol can signify many things. A single arrow means defense of loved ones or things. Two arrows pointing at each other can mean aggression or war. A broken arrow communicates peace. And the list winds on…
Light, inner strength, and the universe are all packed within this little circle. Small and imperfect, it also reminds you that everything has its flaws and drawbacks, but they are all in the end worth the effort.
Protective and courageous, this dog and lion cross serves as both a guard and a shield against evil. They often signify a courageous and heroic person behind them and their abilities.
30. Japanese Dragon
The powerful dragon contains the meanings of wisdom, strength, cunning and elemental force. These meanings make them a popular choice for tattoo artwork.
31. Koi Fish
Koi embody the masculine characteristics of determination, endurance against great odds by a show of force, and the desire to grow beyond your nature. A lesser-known symbol, it adds elements of surprise and discovery to the image.
32. Lion Tattoo Concepts
The king of the beasts, the lion embodies courage, royalty, power, and more. Depending on the religious or cultural backstory you choose, there are many different variations on the lion’s inner themes.
33. Mountain Tattoo Designs
Steadfast and serene, the mountain in its purest sense signifies a completed accomplishment. It can be over a human flaw, a journey finished, or a skill mastered. The deeper meaning depends on the tale behind the towering peak.
Mystery, illusion, complexity, and diversity all entwine in the octopus’ slippery arms. Other meanings include an open mind to the world, the ocean’s mystery, and the natural abilities of the creature.
35. Olive Branch
From the very beginning, as some creation tales tell us, the olive branch was a symbol of new life, fresh beginnings, and a token of peace. When other elements are added, such as birds, it takes on new depths of meaning.
36. Celtic Shamrock Tattoos
Seen as the Luck of the Irish, the shamrock is a bow to that culture and perhaps to a shared heritage. It also has Christian religious meanings and, because it is good grazing for livestock, indicates prosperity and abundance.
37. Shark Tattoo Ideas
The king of the waters, the shark represents powerful stealth, impressive focus, and amazing self-awareness. A tattoo of a shark also symbolizes protection against the powers of the ocean, as the king of the seas is guarding you.
A skull image’s predominate message is that death is nigh. But that can mean more than what meets the eye. Depending on what the story is behind it, it can mean anything from living every day to fearlessness in the face of death and more.
39. Tree Of Life
As its name indicates, the tree of life symbolizes immortality, the cycle of the world, and the endurance of Nature. Many times, the roots touch the leaves, strengthening the imagery.
The power of three, a shadow of the meaning of the all-seeing Eye, and, depending on the position of the point, masculine or femininity. And all this is within the three points of the triangle.
41. Yin Yang
Balance in all things, the beginnings of the universe, and the necessary tension between the ways of the world and the ways of men. The simple yin yang symbol captures all this and more in its circle of white and black.
All the cycles of four are caught within the sunburst of the zia. The four seasons, the four directions, and the four stages of life are just a few interpretations of this symbol.
43. Nordic Runes
Full of mystery and might from the ancient days, Nordic runes are full of power. As with many of the preceding symbols, this cannot be ever fully explained, for there is too much behind them.