"As I mused, the fire burned"

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Archive for May 2017

Memorial Tattoo

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While receiving a haircut today, I happened to notice that my barber had a lovely tattoo on her shoulder. It was hard to miss, as her upper arm was about 2 inches from my eyes…which is, of course, the only way I can see anything without my glasses.

The centre of the image is a wolf howling, and then I noticed a large skull, apparently aloft looking at the wolf. The imagery was very unusual, so I asked if it had particular symbolism for her.

The present wide-spread use of tattoos is fascinating. I remember it was not that long ago when you would only see such ink on soldiers and sailors. My military time was surrounded by both men and women who had extensive ink – one man I worked with got a different tattoo for each deployment, and was working on his eighth the trip I was with him. Out of Afghanistan came the tattooing of blood type on your upper arm, just to make sure someone didn’t have to look to your dog tags (or ‘identity discs’ as we properly called them in Canada). Also out of that war came the practice of tattooing the names of friends who had been killed, as a living memorial.

It has a strange beauty in the permanent marking of a body to commemorate the dead, it is in a sense capturing a piece of that person literally under your skin – a deliberate letting of someone under your skin. The spiritual symbolism is pretty profound (even with the Old Testament prohibitions against marking of the skin).

In response to my question, she told me the tattoo was a memorial to her brother. When I boldly asked (and then realized that it was probably too personal and tried to retract the question) if the wolf was her brother, she indicated that days before his death they had seen wolves together and she always remembered that moment when thinking of him.

What I wanted to ask in follow-up was if she had ever thought about the significance of the wolf encounter (I did not as it was clear from a moment of prayer that it was not to be pursued in that moment).

Wolves are highly significant in most plains indigenous societies – the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) consider the wolf sacred, as Ma’iingan was created at the same time as man, and travelled the new creation together naming things (the name itself means the one put here by Creator to show us the way). Once the naming was done, Creator told the two that they would have to walk separately but that they were linked – what would happen to one would happen to the other. Wolf is a relative to the people.

The wolf is a guide and teacher, and in the Cree teachings brings the lesson of humility. It is said that when a wolf encounters a human they will always bow their head as an acknowledgement of their shared existence within creation. My barber’s association of the wolf with her brother was not mere happen chance from a spiritual perspective, for other teachings see the wolf as a spiritual guide, and particularly a guide for those who have died.

I’m not surprised to find these sorts of encounters, as it highlights that there is more of heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our sciences (stealing a line from the Bard). Each moment is shot-through with the sacred, and sometimes it is only in the rear view mirror that we see the significance of our past. A shared momentary encounter with the sacred may be the thing which carries you through great loss and sorrow, and was not a chance encounter, but a gift precisely because of the need that had not become apparent.

So, a chance encounter that led to some inspiration because of the profound beauty of a tattooed memorial to a family member gone beyond. I pray someday she (if she doesn’t already) will encounter the deep meaning behind those encounters.


Written by sameo416

May 14, 2017 at 6:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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