The swallow, like the bluebird, is a symbol of hope. As a nautical tattoo design, the swallow has been sometimes mistaken within popular culture for the bluebird, and the two very different species of birds – the Barn Swallow and eastern Bluebird, to be exact – have quite similar colouring, with bright accents of blue and and orange, verging to both red and yellow.
In ancient times, the swallow was associated with the ‘imperishable’ stars and the souls of the dead. According to Greek legend, secret texts told how to transform into a swallow, something the ancient deities liked to do. It was also a totem bird for sorrowing mothers who had lost a child. To kill a swallow was very unlucky, as the swallow carried the souls of children who had died. An ancient Egyptian artwork depicts a swallow on the prow of a barque as it enters the Underworld.
The nautical star is a very old modern tattoo, going back at least a century or more. Back in the days of yore, before modern navigation, sailors would navigate in part by the stars in the night skies, in particular the North Star in the Northern Hemisphere, and various other constellations of stars in the night sky. In the Southern Hemisphere, sailors had to use different stars and the Southern Cross became quite well-known. Sailors would then tattoo nautical stars on them because they relied on the stars to take them home, and being superstitious, they hoped their star tattoos would get them home safely as well.