The triangle has many meanings dating back to ancient civilizations. It is one of the oldest and most widely used symbols, so much so that many of the non-triangular symbols we use today actually derived from a triangular symbol. Getting a triangle tattoo, therefore, will have a lot of meaning to yourself and everyone who sees it on your skin. Here are some of the most common triangle tattoos and their meaning.
The Three Triangle Symbol: The Valknut
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Three triangles interlocked together form the valknut, an Old Norse word which roughly translates to the “knot of slain warriors.” The term, however, is modern, as archaeologists don’t really know what ancient Germanic tribes called this symbol or why they were etched or marked on artifacts.
Plenty of scholars believe that it has to do with the Germanic mythology about the god Odin. The most prominent appearance of the valknut appears on a golden ring which dates back to the late eighth or early ninth century. It was also found in the Oseberg Ship, a Viking ship found in Norway with parts dating back as early as the year 800. You can also find the valknut symbol etched on image stones of Stora Hammars I and Tangelgarda, found in Sweden.
Today, the valknut is used in modern cultures that look towards Germanic paganism and Heathenry. If you are a believer or a supporter of this lifestyle, this triangle symbol would be a good choice for your tattoo design. However, because this symbol is so ancient, the valknut has more meanings than just paganism. Because of its relation to Odin and its presence in burial gifts, it’s possible that the symbol is somehow related to death in ancient cultures.
Whether you’re planning to get this as a memento mori or use it as a symbol for paganism, beware that because of its vague origins, you may be subject to misinterpretation which can cause anger and confusion from people who mistake your valknut for something else. For example, the swastika is actually an ancient Sanskrit symbol that points towards well-being, prosperity, and luck, but not many people are keen on getting that as a tattoo because of its association with Nazism. In that same vein, some white nationalist groups have used the valknut to represent their heritage. And because of its vague symbolism, the German government does not treat their use of the valknut the same way some Nazis sport the swastika in public.
The Masculine Triangle: The Blade
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Triangles are used to symbolize both male and female sexes. When the triangle is pointed upwards, it is the male symbol also known as the “blade.” It symbolizes male force, fire, dominance, aspiration, and male principles. Most ancient civilizations were strongly patriarchal, and while gender roles dictated that women were supposed to stay home (the Spartans, for example, required boys to start military training at the age of seven, while women were raised to attract male mates), men had to be the dominant sex.
As such, an upwards triangle symbolized ambition and dominance. Eventually, it came to have phallic connotations, and the bigger your triangle was or the more triangles you have, the more of a dominant man you are. In fact, you can still see this practice being played out today. If you look at the United States Military Army rank and insignia, you may notice that a Private has less upward triangles than a Sergeant. While both men and women can rank up in the military, the symbols used are a show of male dominance and a hierarchy practiced in the army.
The blade is also a derivation of the male sex symbol, defined by the upwards triangle pointing to the upper-right corner. This symbol is lined to Mars, the Roman god of war recognized for his masculinity, strength, and skills that men are expected to be.
The Feminine Triangle: The Chalice
On the other hand, the female symbol is known as the “chalice,” which is an inverted triangle pointing downwards. While the blade is a phallic representation of masculinity, the chalice represents the womb and softer representation of women. It is the oldest symbol of feminine divinity as well as the genitalia of a goddess.
Because it represents a chalice, women and femininity are often represented by water, which flows downward to bless and give life to people. While men are linked to Ares, women are linked to Venus, the Roman goddess of love. As such, women are expected to be beautiful, soft, hospitable, and caring. The downwards triangle has also inspired what became the feminine sex symbol. This symbol points downwards and has a chalice at the bottom of the circle.
The Religious Triangles
Ancient religions and civilizations have used triangles to represent their religious views. In Christianity, the triangle represents the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is also applicable in other myths like in Egypt (Osiris-Isis-Horus) and the Greek (Zeus-Poseidon-Hades) or Roman (Jupiter-Neptune-Pluto).
The Star of David (and Why You Shouldn’t Get This Tattoo If You’re Jewish)
Earlier, I mentioned that an upwards triangle represents men while the downwards triangle represents women. When combined, the two form the Star of David, which represents a balance of two opposite forces similar to the idea of Yin and Yang. The blade represents men, fire, and dominance, while the chalice represents women, water, and submission.
United, the star symbolizes a balance between the two. While this symbol is popular as a Jewish symbol, it is also used in Hinduism and Buddhism to represent balance. However, if you’re practicing the Jewish faith and want to have a Star of David on your skin (or any tattoo, for that matter), this goes against your own religion.
The Jewish faith believes that tattoos were practiced by heathens and idolaters. And as stated in Leviticus, they are prohibited from etching tattoos onto their body. Even if you were to get a tattoo not for the sake of idolatry, Jewish people may find your tattoo spiritually impure, which is why the Torah forbids the practice of tattoos.
The Triforce Symbol
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For gamers and fans of the iconic The Legend of Zelda video games, the Triforce Symbol is a popular choice for tattoos. The Triforce, also known as “The Golden Power” or “Ultimate Power” in the game’s ancient literature, represents the essence of the Golden Goddesses: Din, the Goddess of Power; Nayru, the Goddess of Wisdom; and Farore, the Goddess of Courage. These three goddesses created the land that became the Kingdom of Hyrule. They are also the creators of the Triforce, a relic the three left behind after creating Hyrule.
The Triforce consists of three triangles: the Triforce of Power at the top, the Triforce of Courage at the right, and the Triforce of Wisdom on the left. No god can use the Triforce, but any person who holds the Triforce can make a wish, regardless of their intentions. This wish will remain true until they die.
After the three Golden Goddesses leave, they task the Goddess Hylia with protecting the Triforce. After she is no longer a goddess, she passes down the Triforce her descendants, The Royal Family of Hyrule. Thus, the royal family’s crest features the Triforce symbol.
Gamers who get this tattoo not only use it because of their love for the Legend of Zelda games, but also for what the Triforce represents. In the game, someone with all three Triforces create perfect balance and providence.
A Simple Triangle
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If you’re thinking about getting a simple triangle tattoo, that does not exempt you from the different triangular symbols I just mentioned. Even just a simple triangle etched on your skin can have a lot of meanings. For starters, it is connected to the number three which, in many cultures, represents balance and true wisdom. It can symbolize time, and getting a tattoo of a triangle means that you are the product of your past, present, and future.
A triangle can represent three traits or values you love. It can symbolize three things you like. If you have three siblings, three best friends, or three pets, a triangle is a simple but touching way to honor them. If you want a memento mori, a triangle can also symbolize the three stages of live: childhood, adulthood, and death.
A triangle can also symbolize that you have or are currently aiming to reach your highest point in life. There are a wide range of triangles – equilateral, isosceles, scalene, acute, obtuse, or right – and symbols that it can really represent anything. So, if you want to keep a secret meaning behind your tattoo, a simple triangle has so many meanings that it’s easy to keep its true meaning to yourself.
Triangle tattoos are an interesting choice for those looking to get inked. But when searching for designs, be wary of the meaning behind eye-catching triangles, as it’s likely they have a deeper meaning behind them. A simple triangle is best for people looking for a minimalistic but thought-provoking tattoo, but if you’re looking at more complex designs, make sure the meaning behind it isn’t something that’s going to be misinterpreted.