If you read my post yesterday, you'll know that I almost got run over before the day had properly started. I think that made me decide to do what I had to do next. I mean, life is short. Waiting for the perfect moment will have you waiting forever.
So I made a phone call, and seven hours later, I had this:
My father will shake his head and roll his eyes. He's not a huge fan of tattoos. I, on the other hand, love them. Not least of all because of the cultural connection I have to them.
It's widely thought that the pre-Christian Celts were a tattooed people. So too were the Germanic tribes. In fact, a large number of cultures from "barbarous" Europe were tattooed. This seems particularly the case for insular, western and northern European tribes - the tribes whose cultural decendents include the British, Scottish, Irish, Germans and Scandinavians.
As it happens, there's a lot of Celt, German and Scandinavian in my family history. Probably a lot of stuff I don't know as well, on a genetic level (let's save the discussion about the difference between genetic heritage and cultural heritage for a later date). Also, a fair amount of Homo Neanderthalensis. But that's a given.
I've been a huge nerd for all things pre-Christian Celt for a long while now. I studied it quite extensively in university. I would study it more in a formal setting if I had the money. As of now, I content myself with reading as many academic papers on the subject as I can.
This is also true for hominid evolution, largely because it bleeds into the field of Celtic studies.
My father's family comes from a region in France called Languedoc. It translates literally to Language of Oc. In this region, the native language is Occitan, of which there are many dialects. This language receives no recognition from France, who is pushing to destroy regional languages in favour of a unified French. An aside: this makes me incredibly sad. I do hope the language survives the French government's poor foresight.
Oc means 'yes' in the various Occitan dialects, with variations of course. It is also the bastardised name of a Gaulish diety of eloquence, noted by the Romans to be named Ogmios (Og and Oc as well). The name survives in medieval literature in various forms - Magog, Madoc, Macoc etc, all derived from Mac/Map Oc/Og, the Son of Oc/Og.
I digress. I just get so nerdy about this all.
Though the dialects of Occitan are all romance languages (in the same vein as French, Spannish, Italian etc), they have some interesting connections to the Gaulish that was once spoken there (Spannish also retains some of it's Celitc roots. Their word for beer, Cerveza, actually comes not from the German word, bier (from the Latin bibere (to drink)), but from the Brythonic Celtic or P-Celtic word Cervesia (Gaulish dialect)).
Prior to the Roman invasion of Gaul, the dominate language family in the region was Gaulish, a Brythonic Celtic language that survives in altered forms in the modern languages of Breton, Welsh and Cornish. Britain, too, was entirely Brythonic speaking before the invasion of Rome.
My maternal grandmother's family had a Cornish surname, though they lived in Norfolk prior to coming to Australia. They were decendants of the Britons - the Celts of Britain. My father's family are from France, and were decendants of Franks (Germanic) and Gauls (Celtic).
Somewhere in there is Norwegian and I remember hearing the word Swedish thrown around there as well, but I might be making up the Swedish thing.
And probably Romans, but I'm less interested in them. Sorry Rome.
So, is we follow these cultures to their pre-Christian roots, they're all noted for being tattooed warrior cultures.
All of that to say, I have a cultural connection to tattoos.
The tattoo above is tribal, believe it or not. It's not the hokey white boy wants a tough-looking tattoo kind of tribal. But it is tribal. The style is losely based on Pictish iconography.
The tattoo is blue, as you've noticed. The Celts were famous for painting themselves in woad, dye extracted from the yellow flowers of a plant in the cabbage family. The dye itself is blue.
You'll note that in the image of Pictish animal iconography, they have not included the hare. The hare is thought to be the symbol of Andraste, a Brythonic goddess of war (and probably sovereignty, as the two are usually closely related in Celtic mythology). Andraste was Boudicca's patron goddess.
For those of you who don't know, Boudicca was the British war queen, who razed three cities to the ground in a fight to rid Briton of Roman oppression. She was ultimately unsuccessful, her army failing against the more disciplined Roman units under the command of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. Suetonius, incidentally was an unusually cruel and oppressive governor of the province of Britain. His successor was much more conciliatory.
Classical sources note that before each battle, Boudicca would chant some kind of prayer or "spell" and release a hare.
Boudicca was queen of the Magni Ceni, a large, powerful Celtic tribe in the south east of the island of Britain. Their territory included what is today's Norfolk (more connections!). They were a client kingdom of Rome's until the death of King Prasutagus. That was when Rome decided to take the territory by force, flogging Prasutagus' wife, Bouddica, in a public display, and raping her two young daughters.
The things Boudicca's army did during their vengeful rampage across Britain were horrific.
I'm not sure I would have behaved any differently if that had happened to children of mine.
Anyway, Boudicca's memory has endured, and she is represented most often now as a protective mother, champion of the oppressed, and mother of the British. Of course, she has also been represented as a shrill, evil harpy. It really does depend on who is appropriating her image.
But Sonia, you say, why do you have a south-eastern icon done in a northern style?
Well, because I got this tattoo to celebrate the publishing contract I signed for Daughters of Britain, the historical fiction following the elder of Boudicca's daughters. In the book, Boudicca sends her daughters north to safety following her tragic defeat at the Battle of Wattling. They grow up there until, of course, Rome interferes.
So this tattoo is two things for me. It's an acknowledgment of my ancient cultural ties, and a celebration of a long held ambition relealised and my future.
It's also the start of a tradition.
So I'm hoping I sell Skylark for a decent amount. Then I can get a half-sleeve. MWAH HAH HAH HAH HAH!
That was a very long explanation for a very simple question. Sorry. I do get overexcited when I get a chance to talk about the Celts.
I'm such a nerd. Now I'm off to write more of Outworlder.