Charcoal & Thorns || My Handpoked Tattoos

Published on Apr 20, 2020 | Last updated on Jan 2, 2023

Welcome back to my blog! Today I’m writing about my charcoal tattoos, including my reasons for getting them, their meanings, who tattooed me and how I feel about them two months later. I hope you enjoy it!

Ancient Ink

Humans have been tattooing their bodies since thousands of years. 5 300 year old Ötzi, the Iceman, had at least 61 tattoos on his body, and is currently the oldest tattooed human mummy yet discovered [learn more here]. Nevertheless, the practise itself is much older and we know that mainly due to the findings in the archaeological record. For instance, a tattoo toolkit from the Upper Paleolithic was found in Mas d’Azil site in France, implying that this practise has existed for at least 18 000 years. Other evidence suggests this practise have existed since the Middle Stone Age, around 100 000 years [see more here].

the vision in the cave

I’ve always loved to adorn my body with piercings, something I’ve been doing since I was about 18 years old, and sometimes I would consider about getting a tattoo. However, the fact that a tattoo is a permanent adornment always made me question what kind of thing I’d actually want to mark in my body. Is there really any image or symbol I love that much I’d like it to be tattooed on my skin? For many years, the answer was just a simple no. However, this changed when I visited Font de Gaume cave near Les Eyzies, in France.

Visiting that cave marked me in ways I can’t really explain in words. Inside that dark and cold womb, the energy of the Ancestors was very strong. I remember being mesmerized by all the cave paintings but one in particular had a special effect on me. As soon as the guide pointed her flashlight to the cave wall and I saw that tectiform for the first time, I had this immediate image in my mind of this symbol tattooed in my left wrist. I saw it so clearly, I left Font de Gaume knowing in my heart I had to do it. However, over the next months, I started doubting myself… should I really do it? What does that symbol mean anyways?

Neolithic house

Neolithic house in Kierikki Stone Age Centre, Finland

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m in Kierikki, Finland, in my 3-month long prehistoric skills immersion. There I meet Hanni Airikka (my tattoo artist), who turned out to be one of the most badass women I knew as well as a lover of prehistory and ancient tattooing with a background in primitive technology. In one of our conversations, I share with her the cave story and my doubts about if I should get the tattoo or not. Very calmly, she replied, “I think you should do it”, and suddenly all questions disappeared. I was not going to brush that vision off as nothing special. I was going to listen to it. I was going to get a tectiform tattooed in my left wrist.

My Tattoo Artist » HANNI AIRIKKA

Even though I was decided to get the tattoo, it didn’t feel right to just enter any random tattoo shop to get it. I wanted it to be done in a meaningful way, connected with the Ancestors and the land. I started researching more about handpoked tattoos and tattoo artists in my country. However, I couldn’t find anyone that was right for the job, and thus I kept postponing it… until the opportunity to go back to Finland – to participate in a Winter Stone Age Experiment – arose! I talked with Hanni about the possibility of getting the tattoo with her while in Finland and she said she was happy to do it! Yeaah! 😊 I felt that waiting had been all worth it as I couldn’t think of a better person than Hanni.

Hanni Haapaniemi Airikka

Hanni Airikka in her handmade reindeer clothing… yup, she’s that cool | Photo by Elina Helkala

The Meaning behind my tattoos

When Hanni asked me about what I wanted to tattoo, in my mind the tectiform was the one. However, me being myself 🙄, I decided to once again delve into all kinds of ice age symbols (one of my favourite things to do) and I found that the penniform was also calling me… I just didn’t know why. I imagined it on my chest, moving, like a flower opening and stretching upwards. Suddenly I was once again doubting myself and my choices. I shared my ideas with Hanni and she very kindly offered to tattoo both prehistoric symbols! I was just in awe with the idea and of course couldn’t refuse such an amazing opportunity, so I said yes 😊

On the night before the tattooing day, I meditated a lot about those two symbols to connect as deeply with them as possible. That’s when it clearly came to me the meaning behind each one of them. The tectiform connects me to my Ancestors and offers me stability, protection and a portal to my Ancestral home where the hearth is always alive and tended. The penniform connects me to my womanhood, to my own body and the power within me. It helps me heal my self-esteem and my relationship with myself, as well as connect me to all the women that came before me. Both of them help me feel more grounded, connected to the Earth and to the Old Ways.

Why charcoal ink and thorns?

When I found out it was possible to tattoo with bone needles/thorns and ink made out of charcoal, I was hooked. That was my dream tattoo! One without any machines and with natural materials that had very likely been used by our Stone Age Ancestors. So I aimed for that. I found a tattoo artist that is very experienced with this method and I followed all her recommendations before, during and after the tattooing itself. I was fully aware about the method, possible risks and how different it is from the mainstream way. I made my conscious decision and I couldn’t be happier with it.

When discussing the process with Hanni, she suggested I would prepare the charcoal myself with the wood of a tree I connected to. The mere thought of tattooing these sacred symbols with ink made of sacred trees almost brought tears to my eyes. Personally, I have a close connection to Oaks (Quercus sp.), so together with my husband, Pedro, we collected dry wood from a Cork Tree and a Oak Tree. I really wanted to include Holm Oak as well, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible this time. The wood was burned in our fireplace and then the resulting charcoal travelled with me to Finland. Later, I turned it into a very fine powder that would be used for the ink.

hawthorn needles for charcoal tattoo

Initially I thought I’d be tattooed with bone needles, but Hanni suggested Hawthorn thorns. I immediately said yes as it was equally fascinating and beautiful in my eyes. How amazing to find out that the landscape provides natural needles just like that, not only in hawthorns but also in certain cactus and other plants… this way, Hawthorn too became part of this story.

Almost 2 months later… how do I feel about them?

Honestly, I couldn’t be happier! They look so natural and beautiful. They are so organic it’s almost like I was born with them… like they have always been part of my skin, a birth mark. Hanni was truly the best tattoo artist I could ask for. She was super kind and empathic, helping me a lot in all decisions regarding design shape, size and location by sharing her knowledge and experience with me. I think we had a lot of fun delving into prehistoric art books 😄 also, she got me chocolate to keep me going while I was being tattooed, which I have to say was the best idea ever! I truly can’t recommend Hanni’s work enough. If you’re interested in being tattooed by her, you can contact her here.

I cannot finish this post without saying how grateful I am to all those involved in this journey… to the Ancestors, Oak, Cork, Hawthorn, Pedro, Hanni, Hanni’s family and everyone else that supported and encouraged me… thank you so much ♥️

If you want to get your own charcoal tattoo… read on

If after reading this post, you feel inspired to get your own charcoal tattoo, I get you! It’s a beautiful ancient method and I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel compelled to get your own tattoo this way. However, I feel it is important to remind you that this method requires you to be fully aware that charcoal ink is not mainstream ink, that handpoking with thorns will result in a different look than metal needles, and that it’s always possible that your body doesn’t react well to the ink for some reason (which can happen with any ink anyways). If you feel sure that this is what you want for yourself, then the next step is to find a trustworthy tattoo artist that knows what she/he/they is doing and that follows all hygiene recommendations.

Woman with charcoal tattoo on chest

I hope you’ve enjoyed this new post about my charcoal tattoos! Let me know if you have any questions about it. Be aware I’m no tattoo artist myself, so I might not be able to answer specific questions regarding the method itself.

If you’re curious to know more about the Winter Stone Age Experiment I was part of in Finland last February, make sure to check this, this and this! Much love and take care, Filipa 🌸

Hello there! My name is Ana Filipa Piedade and I am a portuguese hide tanner and ancestral skills student, practioner and teacher who finds a lot of joy in sharing about traditional living skills with others. I hope you enjoy this space!

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