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Tattoo designs - P >> Pelicans

Pelican Tattoos - The pelican is a spirit guide that teaches us about self-sacrifice. Getting a pelican tattoo is a statement that one yearns to be charitable and less competitive. It says, 'I am buoyant, able to rise above my troubles.'

For being big-boned, drably plumed, rather ungainly and awkward on land and not very glamorous, the pelican has made quite a respectable name for itself is the annals of symbolism. The ancient Egyptians may have had something to do with it. They believed that the human embryo in-utero was nourished directly with its mother's blood, and that pelican mothers did the same in time of famine by employing her beak to rip open her breast so that blood could flow into the mouths of her babies. (No one has ever reported seeing a pelican do any such thing.) But for this, the pelican became a symbol of readiness to help others in their time of need.

Pelican tattoo designsAnd these apocryphal legends about pelican heroism can be traced back at least as far as a text titled the Physiologus in the second century A.D., in which the 'meanings' of many animals were detailed -- including the phoenix -- so the pelican and its amazing mothering skills are in powerful company, if entirely mythic. The same book describes how the pelican kills her disobedient young, but is able to resurrect them three days later, once again with an infusion of her own blood. After which the mother dies. This fantastic story may have settled into mythic oblivion had not St. Augustine taken it as fact. Consequently, the pelican became a popular heraldic motif on coats of arms, both religious and secular.

The Pelican's symbolism grew over time to include self-sacrifice, devotedness, philanthropy, and the bounty of nature in general, from which all living things draw their sustenance. Christians take the good pelican a few steps further, granting it full status as a symbol of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, for giving his life and for the atonement he made through his passion and death.

The ancient society of mystics called the Rosicrucian's were sometimes called the Knights of the Pelican.

Literary heavyweights through the ages have honoured the pelican. Dante, in his Divine Comedy, refers to Christ as 'our Pelican'. And Shakespeare did the bird proud in his Hamlet: "To his good friend thus wide, I'll open my arms / And, like the kind, life-rendering pelican / Repast them with my blood." A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (1575) shows her with a pendant depicting a pelican, said to symbolize her selfless love of her subjects.

Big-beaked, broad-winged, flying low and in formation over the world's shorelines in search of fish, the Brown Pelican species can be seen plunging from high in the air to snag a fish under water. The other six pelican species can be found on inland lakes and rarely dive for their fish. Pelicans are gregarious and social creatures and breed in colonies. Pelicans will also hunt for food as a flock, and will co-operate to drive shoals of fish into shallow water where they can more easily be scooped up by a line of waiting pelican bills. The pelican's bill, with its elastic pouch is what most people often associate with the pelican, and a pelican with its bill stuffed to overflowing with fish has long been seen as a symbol of plenty. The Australian Pelican has the longest bill of any bird in the avian world. Small fish are swallowed whole, but larger fish are flipped into the air and swallowed head first, the better to slide down the gullet.

Despite its large size and inelegant shape, the pelican is an extremely efficient flyer and is able to easily fly distances of up to a 100 miles (160 kilometers) in search of food by skimming along the shoreline in large, V-shaped formations to take advantage of onshore breezes and naturally-occurring air thermals.

Pelicans have long congregated around ports and fishing fleets in search of an easy meal. Fisherman have long considered the pelican a fellow fisher, and the association with Jesus Christ as a fisher of men's soul, has served to further strengthen the pelican as a Christian symbol in many cultures, especially around the Mediterranean. The sight of a flock of pelicans hovering above the rear deck of a fishing boat as it returns to port is a familiar one all over the world. As the fishers clean their catch and discard the offal and leftovers, the pelicans make short work of the remains.

While most birds incubate their young by keeping them close to the breast, the pelican protects her eggs under her webbed feet. She's basically standing on them, and if they're cracking more often in modern times, it's because DDT is rendering the shells thinner and more susceptible.

Pelican Inspiration Gallery - Click here to get inspired!Just as the pelican at rest tends to tuck its beak down into its breast, a certain type of still or retort with tubes bending down toward it's 'belly' is called a 'pelican'. Alchemists adopted the pelican as their symbol for their mysterious Philosopher's Stone, the legendary element, which, when added to baser metals like lead, was said to turn it into gold. Once again, it was the belief that the pelican had mysterious life-giving powers that tantalized the alchemists into honouring the pelican as a symbol of the striving for purification and perfection. As a tattoo symbol, the pelican is the 'gold standard' for devotion and good deeds.

Get inspired by some really great images and photos in our Pelican Inspiration Gallery

See also: Bird Tattoo Index, Pirate Tattoos

Tattoo designs - P >> Pelicans

Tattoo Symbol Index - A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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