First things first, you can't actually see the glory of an Egyptian blue lotus flower under a moon because they only bloom during the day. Secondly, they aren't actual lotus flowers, which are from the Nelumbonaceae family. They're a type of waterlily, which is the Nymphaeaceae family. (Thanks, Wikipedia! I LOVE sounding like I know more about botany than I actually do–it really helps my Spathipyllum wilt with panache.) Both of them found their way into my brain via spiritual routes, but the Egyptian blue lotus found its way onto my arm at least partly out of contrarianism. You see, I wanted something to commemorate the completion of my yoga teacher training a few years ago, but I had very mixed feelings about that chapter of my life, so I wanted some distance from the traditional Indian lotus.
I didn’t want to invite opportunities for me to have to verbally unpack the way something sacred and vital and essential was so inextricably connected to what I fear most about myself, the entitled white Western consumption, my own slow embarrassing creep from Anarcho-Karen to standard-issue athleisure and chai. Here I’d spent my twenties in and out of ashrams, gnostic masses, and super cool spirit quests and suddenly I was a yoga mom in the same slice of suburbia where I’d spent my adolescent nightmares, trying not to bump into SUV’s in the parking lot before I joined the other mostly white mostly women for some Krishna Das and down dog, realizing that nothing had changed.
I had always been a middle class white woman surrounded mostly by middle class white women afforded the time and luxury of formal soul-searching. The only difference was that as I aged, I began to question what was capitalism and what was colonialism and what was whose to teach and whether spirituality should ever be in business with business. Sure, most of the religious, philosophical, and academic institutions I had engaged were non-profit endeavors run by committed, lifelong students and stewards, but that simply isn’t true of what was happening with yoga as an industry, as implied by the word industry. Patanjali could not have foreseen Lululemon.
Was American hatha yoga basically a more athletic and female-driven prosperity gospel? Possibly. Was my own spiritual experience including and outside of yoga at least partially purchased from highly profitable white teachers who were not financially contributing to the communities from which they adopted their lineages? Absolutely. So I wanted just a little distance, a lateral hop from the yuppie middle class white women with chai over to the intersection of hippie middle class white women with drugs. Over to the Egyptian blue lotus.
The Egyptian blue lotus flower was apparently a big deal in Ancient Egypt. The Internet’s most reputable historians suggest that it was mixed with wine to produce a hallucinogenic beverage used in rituals, and as a gnostic I especially love ancient rituals no one documented very thoroughly until the Internet. Leaving things open to possibility means leaving yourself open to actual gnosis. Having said that, my own experience drinking tea I made out of dried flower petals that I purchased on Etsy was fairly underwhelming–think cacao ceremony more than ayahuasca journey–so my affiliation remains mostly symbolic. A lotus that isn’t Indian to remind me of my yoga that wasn’t Indian.
I mentioned little to none of this to my tattoo artist, Martin, when I went in for the initial consult. Nevertheless, sitting with him for the design was better than therapy, and I say this as someone who has done a lot of therapy. He had the mark of a true empath, which is acting empathic without telling people you are empathic. I won’t delve too deeply into our conversation, but I felt very seen. The questions he asked me about my design indicated a sincere interest in who I was and a reverence for the fact that receiving a tattoo is an intrinsically significant act, coinciding consciously or unconsciously with some personal development or self-proclamation.
In my case, it went well beyond yoga. It’s the first tattoo I have gotten in over four years, which is easily the longest break I have had since I was sixteen. In those years, I have moved twice, dropped out of seminary, changed jobs, watched my babies turn into kids, recovered my sisterhood, lost friends, and, of course, lived through the same pandemic, political turmoil, and social unrest that has befallen all of us here at the end of the world as we know it. If there was ever a lot of weight going into a tattoo, it was this one. Martin lifted it easily and compassionately.
Placement of this tattoo was fairly straightforward. I had some writing on the inside of my right wrist that had been illegible for years. It was a reminder en francais not to get too depressed, so that combined with being an amorphous blob made it pretty lame for such prominent real estate. Whether your reasoning is from superstition, common sense, aesthetics, or magic, I think most of us can agree we shouldn’t be performing most of life’s tasks through the lens of a blurry foreign language on our dominant hand. So the lotus had to cover the blob. It also had to either incorporate or end below another tattoo on my forearm, a small single line anchor. Martin was careful to photograph and measure my wrist and show me what he had been working on. I loved his initial design, and he added details as we talked.
Martin pointed out that if it wasn’t a cover-up, he wouldn’t tattoo me there because the constant motion of the wrist doesn’t lend itself to the preservation of tattoos in the crease. This made me wish the Angelino tattoo artist who did the French script had been more like Martin. C’est la vie. I was twenty-one and probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. That’s one thing I want to highlight about this tattoo experience. I have dozens of tattoos from at least half a dozen artists. This was the most anyone has ever bothered to explain anything. Logistics discussions are pretty standard practice before you get the work, but the combination of actually being able to see the part of my body being tattooed with his explanations of his actions, tools, and techniques as he did them throughout the entire session taught me more about tattooing than all of my other pieces combined.
I also just really enjoyed talking to him. Tattoo artists have frequently led me to question myself with their total disinterest. Granted, there was a LOT of common ground between me and Martin to discuss, but he didn’t HAVE to. I have sat for many uncomfortable hours of like-minded strangers digging holes in my flesh without uttering more than a few words to me. With Martin, I easily could have spent the day chatting without getting a tattoo. I actually found him through his studio, Gypsy Moon, which is owned by an artist and local musician named Jasper who I know socially from explicitly magical circles, so, of course he’s cool.
None of this is to say that your choice of tattoo artist should have anything to do with their interests outside of tattooing. You should definitely pick them for their eye, technique, and skill, all of which Martin has with or without his super cool altars and the many magical symbols scattered across his skin and world. He also has a fine arts background and can talk to you about color theory and the history of the artform and his own growth and experiences in the field.
In terms of the tattooing itself, Martin has a great hand. He worked standing, which was nice for positioning my arm. There was, as always, the first few minutes of a new tattoo when you remember it actually hurts a lot, but, once my body sunk into what was happening, we were smooth sailing. I could have napped. I learned some hot tips in the process, like witch hazel helps to close pores and sprayable bacitracin with lidocaine is my new best friend both for healing tattoos and addressing the minor wounds of my screaming children.
When we weren’t chatting, I was zoning out to Martin’s music choice of the day, My Chemical Romance and other emo of the aughts, which was perfect for someone like me who worked at Hot Topic in college back when malls were a thing. My college boyfriend, The Threat, and I fell in love with each other and Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge simultaneously. MCR is not in my everyday listening mix, nor is The Threat in my everyday social mix because I am afraid I might find out his penchant for vikings and paintball have led to an Alt Right bend later in life, and I’d rather leave the memories pristine just in case. I feel deeply bonded to Martin because I squeaked “THIS WAS MY JAM,” when “The Sharpest Lives” came on, only to then awkwardly have to sit through the dead-accurate lyrics describing a smart, desperate, drunk hot mess. He was probably mostly focusing on my tattoo and not how shameful it is for that song to resonate so completely with a person. If the quality of the tattoo is any indication, he was definitely focusing on the tattoo.
It came out beautifully. Pictures don’t do it justice. I’m including one here from right after the work was finished, so it’s still pretty raw. I’ll update this post later with a picture of how it looks once it’s healed. Right now it’s in that gross sunburn-vibe phase where every time I wash, clean, or lubricate it, little flecks of colored skin go everywhere, and you definitely don’t need to see that.
The cover-up is at the base where the green leaves sit. He did this part freehand, which was a treat. I am absolutely planning to have my next tattoo from him be a total freehand. Before he had even begun filling in the leaves with color, you could barely tell there had been another tattoo there, and once he was finished, there was absolutely no sign of it. It’s a very skilled cover-up.
In our initial consult, he picked up that I was a bit of a fireball, so when I arrived he was excited to show me the gorgeous orange-red he chose to create a sort of mist rising from the flower. He also contributed the idea of including zodiacal symbols at the top, which I love as a sense of self-awareness and authority coming from my dominant hand, the writing hand of a writer.
My favorite part is the color in the bloom of the lotus. The purples and blues he chose are gorgeous and match the look of the actual flower beautifully. He was able to bring so much light into the stamen–uh-oh, I’m pretending to know about botany again–and the center of the flower. It creates the effect that it’s glowing from the inside, which I have to imagine is part of the reason the flowers became so deeply associated with the sun god Ra. The level of detail in there is bonkers, and it easily falls into my top three tattoos.
All that being said, I can’t recommend Martin or the Gypsy Moon shop highly enough. It’s clean and gorgeous inside, soft and feminine and comfortable in a way that made me feel like I didn’t have to either play it like a dumb girl who doesn’t even know how she stumbled onto a tattoo OR like a hardened badass who got her first ink in the womb of a dragon she promptly murdered. I could just be myself, which was amazing because this tattoo in so many ways was about being and being ok with myself, my past, and the fact that I am always growing on my path.