What is the symbolism of a swallow tattoo?

Symbolism of a Swallow Tattoo:

Here are opinions and answers from contributors:

  • Swallow tattoos are just that; tattoos of the swallow bird. Reading about it, they are the traditional tattoos of birds that are commonly seen on people.
  • The swallows are an old sailor's tattoo. Sailors got them for proof of the Navy and trust. I'm getting one on my hand next week. Sailors also got mum and dad with an anchor behind it.
  • Long ago, a sailor would get a swallow tattoo after successfully sailing a certain amount of miles (obviously a great deal of miles, but I'm not sure exactly how many).
  • Actually, all swallows return home to San Juan Capistrano every year. So the tattoos were used to say that you will always come home. They are a sign of loyalty, pride to both regions and people.
  • It is said in an old superstition, that when you see a swallow for the first time in a new year it is an omen of wealth. You're supposed to rub the money in your wallet while watching the bird, in order to ensure wealth in the future.
  • Sailors would have a swallow tattoo put on their chest after completing 5,000 sea miles and one on the other side after completing 10,000 sea miles. Many sailors still get authentic Naval tattoos.
  • Here is the origin of the swallow tattoo: there was a ship named the swallow, the men had a mutiny and the original seven mutineers had swallows tattooed on them so that they could identify each other. Out of this two things happened: 1. People got swallows tattooed on them and lied about being one of the original seven; and 2. The authorities heard of this identification and searched for the seven sailors who got swallows to throw them off the right trail. Since then sailors have gotten swallows for every 5,000 nautical miles, one on each side of their chest, when they would retire they would hang a string between the two birds and hang women's underwear and stuff.
  • The traditional tattoo means: A sailor gets a set of swallows on his chest. The story goes if he or she drowns; the swallows come down and lift his soul to the heavens.
  • Sailors would get swallows after sailing all seven seas. If they had one, they saved a man's life. It's a sign of trust, honor, dignity and respect. Nowadays, they mean nothing more than some random tattoo that someone gets that has no meaning behind it.
  • I've always heard that the swallows are a mark for sailing around the horns (the bottom of South America and Africa) or for crossing the Equator, both longitude and latitude.
  • Okay; the swallow is a tattoo that a sailor gets after traveling 5,000 nautical miles at sea, but the reason behind it is that a swallow is the "first sign that land is near". To a sailor the swallow means a "safe return home". Swallows are known to travel far distances out to sea during migration and would rest on boats close to shore which gave early mariners the first sign that land was indeed close by. The horizon is 12 miles from a boater's standpoint in the ocean (more if higher up) and swallows fly further then 12 miles out. The swallow is also known as a sparrow and was worn by the famous pirate "Jack Sparrows".
  • The swallows traditionally mean 5,000 miles for the first and 10,000 miles for the second. When I got mine done, in honor of my grandfather, I was warned by the tattoo artist to be aware that, in terms of jail house tattoos, the bluebirds, swallows or sparrows can also stand for white supremacy or white power.
  • I am surprised that no one has commented on the connection that swallow tattoos have to rock and roll or music in general. I have always connected the swallows with a love, respect and appreciation for music. Much like the swallows always returning to San Juan, their home. I've always thought the tattoo represented always being home when you're within the music.
  • I've always associated swallow tattoos with loyalty and fidelity - swallows choose a mate for life and will only nest with that bird and no other. Also they carry a message of hope, when sailors saw a swallow they knew that land was near.
  • I actually wondered about this myself, and by chance a homeless person in London approached me, wanting to sell "the big issue" (a magazine). He had two swallows tattooed on his neck, so I asked him the meaning, and he said; "It's kind of rude" and he whispered it to me, because my girl was with me and he was a gentleman. He said it meant "Live long and live hard".
  • I always thought that two swallows seen paired together symbolized freedom.
  • I heard that the swallow/sparrow tattoos are to commemorate a fallen friend or family member. I would assume any persona that the bird has i.e., devil horns, angel halo or even a knife through it would depict the dead person's personality or trait.
  • It just means that they were a "Hard Man" back in their day. Everyone that I have ever met with a swallow tattoo has been at least a bit psychotic.
  • A swallow tattoo used to be worn by sailors back in the day. When you were out/lost at sea and you saw a swallow you knew you were close to land because these birds are never far from shore. They would follow the birds to safety or to home. I think the idea is that when you had the swallow marked on your body it would always help you find your way home.
  • They indicate that you've gone to prison and done your 'bird'.
  • From what I've heard and researched, swallows on the back of the hands are supposed to give you faster hands, such as in a fight or at work. These tattoos are much more common in Great Britain. I've never heard of them meaning racism or white supremacy before.
  • In Scotland it usually signifies a spell in the infamous Bar-L or Barlinnie prison in Glasgow.
  • I grew up in a bad area in Australia and a grandfather of a friend of mine came from England. He was a very hard man and the whole family was very tough and underworld related. I remember being a kid in their house when the grandfather was there and I asked him what his tattoos meant. He looked down on me with a hard face and said in a thick English accent (they moved to Australia in the 70's) "It means I can walk into any pub and put my hands on the bar and if anyone would want to fight, then I would fight them". He was a big guy and I had heard rumors of him tearing people apart. So I guess that they kind of mean courage, strength and loyalty. Oh yeah he was also a "Teddy Boy" in England, but I am not so sure what that is.
  • The swallow tattoo in England means "these fists fly". It's mainly seen on old guys now who used to be good fighters or well know hard men back in the day of the Krays, etc. Now younger people get them because they think they're tough. But the bright new ink used nowadays doesn't give the same look as the original tattoo.
  • I had a few tattoo artists tell me that sailors would get one bird tattooed on themselves after crossing the equator and the other when they came back.
  • My Dad has a swallow tattoo on his hand. When asked about it, he said he got it when he was 13 because it was the cheapest in the shop!
  • Swallow tattoos on a man's hands and neck originated in British prisons from the term 'jail-bird'. It simply means you have been to prison and served your 'bird'.
  • Freedom.
  • The swallow tattoo on the hand symbolizes that you're a swinger.
  • The swallow's wings are so long that the bird never reaches the ground. It always flies high above everything else on earth. Prisoners are known to tattoo themselves with a swallow when they leave prison as a symbol of freedom.
  • The swallow tattoo means a sailor completed 50,000 nautical miles.
  • If they're on the backs of the hands, it means you'll be faster and stronger in a fight. it's mostly in Great Britain and Australia though.
  • In Great Britain, the swallow tattoo on your hands means you've earned your 'wings' in a UK prison, i.e. you have been inititated into male-male sex rituals. Because of this it has also now become a popular design for gay celebrities such as Boy George, Mark Almond etc.
  • It also has a certain literal homo-erotic meaning, especially for sailors who have been at sea a long time without women.
  • If they're on the backs of the hands, it means you'll be faster and stronger in a fight. it's mostly in Great Britain and Australia though.
  • It's a symbol of good luck - traditionally nautical - for adventurers and travelers who will always find there way home. I have a swallow tattoo, someone told me it's the mark of
  • I got a swallow tattoo based on Egyptian mythology: During the Old Kingdom, swallows were associated with stars and therefore the souls of the dead. Chapter 86 of the Book of the Dead specifically instructs the deceased on how to transform into a swallow. In Spell 1216 of the Pyramid Texts, the pharaoh describes how he has "gone to the great island in the midst of the Field of Offerings on which the swallow gods alight; the swallows are the imperishable stars." The imperishable stars were those near the North Star that never seemed to rise or set, and therefore were "constant". The swallow also appears in paintings of the solar barque as it enters the underworld. The swallow is usually shown on the prow of the boat. In this context, the bird appears to be an announcer of the sun's approach. In Egyptian love poetry, the swallow declares the dawn of new love.
  • I got it because it symbolizes change, independence, and respect. The history of the swallow goes back much further than people realize.
  • Bluebirds and swallows are traditional nautical tattoos with a long history of use. They symbolize happiness and good fortune. The swallow was a tattoo a sailor got after traveling 5000 nautical miles.