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Today, the symbol of the swallow can mean many different things around the world

Sailors symbol

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The swallow tattoo was a symbol used historically by sailors to show off their sailing experience, usually tattooed on the chest, hands or neck.


A sailor would have one swallow tattooed before setting out on a journey, and the second swallow tattooed at the end of their tour of duty, upon return to their home port. It is also said that if the sailor drowns, the swallows will carry their soul to heaven

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Seeing swallows was a sign that their travels were nearing an end. Because these birds never traveled far out to sea, their sighting meant that land was near and the long voyage was coming to an end. This fact led many sailors to start adopting swallow tattoo designs as a symbol of hope and a successful finish to a long journey. As a follow up to this story, having a tattoo depicting 2 swallows indicated going on a very long journey (10,000 nautical miles or more) and a swallow tattoo with a dagger through its heart symbolized a memorial for a friend lost at sea.

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The swallow also represents love, care and affection towards family and friends


The bird also represents freedom and hope

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Swallows on the hand may be a symbol of prowess in fighting (this fist flies)


Some see the swallow art as a symbol of success or triumph.

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Others decide to get swallow bird tattoos to signify the return home after a long departure

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Another popular meaning is that of freedom, as some people released from prison have chosen this bird tattoo as a sign of their entrance back into society (done their bird)

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Yet another interpretation is for an everlasting love and loyalty, related to the fact that swallows mate for life.

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Around the world

Legend says that the swallow is a great friend to man, having brought fire. This explains the forked tail, said to have been burnt in the process

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In ancient times, prior to swallow tattoos gaining prominence, the birds themselves were associated with the all-powerful gods, as well as the souls of the dead. For instance, according to Greek and Roman mythology, deities were able to change their form into a swallow. On the other hand, grieving mothers considered the bird to be sacred, as it was thought to carry the soul of their deceased children. Consequently, killing a swallow was deemed unlucky.


Similarly, an ancient Egyptian artwork depicts a swallow as it enters the underworld, however, Egyptian poetry made a departure to a more positive tone, describing the swallow as bringing the first sign of a new love. The Egyptian god Isis was said to change into a swallow at night


In Persia they consider the swallow signified the separation of friends  and so represented separation & loneliness


During the yearly pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, the swallow was considered to be the symbol of faith and steadiness,  helping to drop stones onto the heads of Muslims enemies


In classical Chinese paintings, the swallow represented happiness and the arrival of spring, and was often depicted as part of the flowering peach branch. Additional portrayals show the bird as: daring, risk-seeking, and a symbol of change for good in the future.


Despite a mostly favorable characterization of swallows as representing lifelong partnership, in Japan, swallows symbolized unfaithfulness and were described in legends as flying through the house while carrying tidings of displeasure and bad luck from the gods


I love swallows… and have put them in in a few on my illustrations

(Tattooed with a tattoo machine onto natural veg tan leather)


Swallows & Triangles