Â Knife and Dagger Tattoo designs and symbols are a reoccurring theme and image (that means they pop up a lot!) in many different tattoo genres and eras, and are often tattooed by themselves as a singular object or as an integral part of a gruesome tale!
The ancient Aztecs used special ceremonial daggers to cut the still beating hearts out of their human sacrifices as they paid homage to their Gods. Such a dagger represented the fearsome and capricious power of the Gods.
Throughout the Middle East, in Babylon, Mesopotamia, Persia and many other cultures, knives were used to kill animals on special altars to sacrifice them to the Gods. The image of a knife and blood-letting and death are all firmly intertwined. The ability to spill blood, the very essence of life, is an extraordinarily powerful image and a very potent symbol. At its most primal level, the knife or dagger represents Death.
Daggers and knives are present in many Military tattoos because of their use as a weapon – perfect for close fighting and because of their silence. Special Forces Units are particularly prone to using daggers in their regimental and unit crests. The symbolism of a knife or dagger tattoo in a military design is very similar to that of a sword, with perhaps a slightly less noble pedigree. The knife or dagger represents ferocity, quickness, tenacity and death at the hands of another. The knife can also represent an assassin.
As a weapon, the knife and dagger go back to the most ancient of times, and the sword evolved as a weapon in an arm’s race to make the biggest, most dangerous and most powerful dagger. All knights and noblemen carried daggers as weapons in addition to their spears and lances and swords, because a knife or dagger was literally a fighting man’s last line of defense. When you and an enemy were face to face, when your spear was thrown or broken, when your sword was struck from your hand, you still had a chance – you reached for the knife or dagger in your belt.
But the knife or dagger was more than just a weapon to a fighting man, or make that any man at all. It was also the primary tool in his arsenal. Knives were used to skin animals, fashion shelter, sharpen sticks to make in to other weapons, and most importantly, to eat with! The knife was the utility tool of its day for the better part of the history of mankind. Even before the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, men were making lethal knives chipped out of flint and attached to bone or antler hilts.
Because a knife had so many uses, and was used by every member of early cultures, the rich and wealthy, the powerful and the Nobility, soon began to decorate the hilts of their daggers with gold and jewels until they became potent symbols of rank. A Nobleman displayed his wealth and his rank when he used his best dagger to spear a piece of meat when he sat down with his peers. A bejeweled dagger was a powerful status item.
Even today, an integral part of a Scots ceremonial dress when wearing the traditional kilt, is a dagger – similar to the Scottish dirk – or Sgian Dubh (pronounced “skeen doo”), thrust into the hose. A man might have to take off his sword when entering a home or castle, but he was still armed in case of unexpected danger or treachery!
Sikhs also wear a ceremonial dagger, the kirpan ( as part of the five K’s), as a symbol that they are warriors for their faith.
And daggers and knives were such a prominent part of life, that many traditions that we take for granted today, started because of their very prevalence.
Men began shaking hands when greeting each other to demonstrate that they were not concealing a dagger.
Expressions such as, “I was stabbed in the back”, meant you had been taken unawares, and betrayed from behind. Knives and daggers even had their place in romance, to be “stabbed in the heart”, was to be betrayed by love.
These kinds of images are very popular in Old School tattoo designs, and in New School tattooing today.
Knife or Dagger Dripping Blood – symbolizes, “I have a knife and I am not afraid to use it.” On other words, the design symbolizes the willingness to take action, to be bold and fearless. And to strike fear into the hearts of others. It is the sign of a person not to be taken lightly.
Knife or Dagger though a Skull – symbolizes Death. This tattoo is often used as an amulet or talisman for protection. In many cultures, particularly in Southeast Asia, warriors often get special tattoos that are meant to repel a knife attack. A Burmese tribesman with a magical tattoo goes into battle knowing he is impervious to the thrust of a knife. In Prison Culture, such a tattoo may represent a man who has committed murder.
Knife or Dagger Through the Heart – symbolizes betrayal in love, often though infidelity. It may also indicate a certain cynicism about the possibilities of romance and true love, and the tattoo then becomes a symbol or irony.
Knife or Dagger Through a Human Head – a common tattoo for soldiers going to war. During the Second World War, many soldiers after Pearl Harbor got a tattoo of a knife plunged through an Asian or Oriental Head. While we could not help but see that as racist today, you have to consider it in the context of the time and place.
Skull with a Knife in its Teeth – symbolizes action. You often see tattoo designs were Skulls, Demons, Pirates – all figures of power and terror – are portrayed with knives clenched in their teeth. There is no clearer way to symbolize, I am ready for anything!
Knife or Dagger Tattoo that appears to enter the flesh, the tip often reappearing – symbolizes that an individual has been wounded in life, or expects to be. Like the knife or dagger tattoo through the heart, this tattoo design indicates a certain cynicism or world-weariness. An acknowledgement that life is hard and often unfair.
Culturally Significant Knives and Daggers – Because special knives play a role in so many different cultures, getting a tattoo design of that knife or dagger is a way for an individual to celebrate their ethnic heritage.