There are endless variations of the heart tattoo. Many people emblazon a heart with their lover’s name as a permanent tribute to their love. Others use the heart as a symbol of respect and admiration for family, such as the “Mom” heart tattoo. People find the permanence of a tattoo to be strongly symbolic, as sort of a monument to the endless nature of their love or feelings that do not fade away. Fortunately, for those who make mistakes, tattoos can be altered and covered up, and even removed entirely.
The heart with a dagger through it is another common variation, with interesting origins. A pierced heart may modernly be symbolic of a broken heart, betrayal, or love withheld. The dagger is symbolic of stealth and secrecy: the classic weapon of the assassin. It is effective only in close range, and on a symbolic level that is very appropriate because the harshest wounds and the deepest hurt can only be inflicted on us by someone who is intimately close to our hearts.
These wonderful love-related metaphors associated with the dagger through the heart conceal an even more interesting origin of the tattoo: the dagger through the heart as a symbol actually finds its beginnings in Christianity as the Sacred Heart of Mary. In Luke 2:35, Simeon prophesies over Jesus and speaks of what salvation will come through Him and says to Mary, “…and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” The rendering of the Sacred Heart of Mary with a dagger piercing the heart is symbolic of Simeon’s prophecy coming true.
Perhaps even more interestingly, Voodoo lore, which often co-opts symbolism associated with Catholicism, also attributes meaning to the dagger through a heart. It is a symbol of the Voodoo loa (which can be interpreted roughly as a Voodoo “goddess”) Erzulie. Erzulie is the feared and loved symbol of beauty, female energy, and vengeance.
Like any tattoo, the heart tattoo can have as much or as little meaning as its bearer attributes to it. It is interesting to dig deeper into the origin of some of these more enduring designs, such as the heart tattoo, to find out what lies beneath the basic assumptions we make about such tattoos.