We all have seen them, Pagans sport them as decorative badges. Tattoo, (tatu) indelible ink inserted into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment for decorative or other reasons.
I had always thought of them as simply body adornment, something added as a whim and often regretted later. A few years ago I had a talk with Pagan friend Brett and heard the story of each of his numerous tattoos. I came to realize for many Pagans, they are the story of their spiritual journey. Each ink addition for him represented a step, or event, revelation or accomplishment along his spiritual path. A constant reminder of his journey.
Recently I got my first tattoo, at age 57. It was an entitlement of initiation within my tradition. As a craftsman and artist, I have imbued my spiritual inspiration into my work. When I heard of Kore, a spiritual tattooist in South Minneapolis, I knew she could offer the experience I wanted.
Kore’ (Tatus by Koré,- Soul Surfacing Skin Designs in a Safe and Sacred Space), has been decorating the community since 1990. She offers only custom work because she believes that tattoos are a reflection of the individual, hence “Soul-Surfacing Skin Designs ” .
“Jamie Somers was an inspiration to me because she was one of the few well-known woman tattoo artists. All the women in the San Francisco Bay Area at that time, that were into martial arts and spiritual type things, would go to her. She would do readings on them, and all her tattoos were very spiritually done. I met her in Berkeley/Oakland, where I was living and doing martial arts at the time, and she invited me back to her shop. I said I didn’t want to be a tag along, and she said, ‘Your not, you are a participant, you are involved’. Then later she was killed in New York, run over by a bus on her bike. She was there helping her son train for the Olympic Games. He was devastated, never rode his bike again. The day she died, I could feel the transmission. She was
unique, and nobody tattooed like her. She actually worked with Ed Hardy and he took a lot of her stuff, she was very innovative and didn’t do traditional tattoos, she did the spiritual stuff. I was very inspired by her. When Jamie passed away, I wanted to continue her trademark of tattooing custom designs with a spiritual connection. ”
“Pat Martynuik, of Picture Machine Tattoos in San Francisco, CA, hired me as his apprentice in 1984. I worked with Pat from 1984 until 1986, and I was the only woman Pat ever apprenticed. ”
Kore’s shop is compact,an intimate space, and beautifully decorated. Photos, drawings, and some of Kore’s paintings cover the walls. Small shrines catch your eye as you explore. Mellow music drifts through the shop, setting a relaxed mood.
You won’t find the standard books of countless off the rack tattoo designs. Just a selection of past work to browse through. You can bring a sketch or idea of the design, or let Kore’ interpret your desires. She does ask that first, be SURE that you want a tatu! Second, know either where your tatu belongs on your body or what form it will take (the design).
“When they are ready for the ritual they come to me, and then its me, them, and the ritual. All three of us. Sometimes the tatu takes over. People may say, I hate yellow, I hate yellow, but their tatu tells me that they must have yellow. It may be they had to have their room yellow as a kid. I say, I hate to tell you but your tattoo wants yellow! They needed it to see it in a different way. It gets so deep. It can be a little thing like this that is huge, that transforms someone. There is so much healing that takes place. You have to be a warrior to sit at this table, you have to be ready to go through something. I’ve known people who have gone through twenty years of therapy and not changed.
Tattoos are like; Whack, Hello! Wake up, like right now! This is a 7000 year old ritual, one of the oldest in the world.”
Nels: Are you a men’s or a women’s tattooist?
“I am a professional tattooist, but so much more than that. I don’t run a shop where you pick something off the wall and get it done while you are drunk. I didn’t want that stereotype to follow me. I pay attention to what they pick, and where they want it, meridian lines, and what they need. It has to do with helping the person transform or harmonize with something about themselves, over something. Release something, or bring something in that helps them so that they feel more peaceful, or powerful, or safe, or loved. Whatever it is. Each person is unique and different, and I work differently with each one.”
Gone are the days of dark backroom “parlors”. As of Jan. 1 2011, all tattooists in Minnesota must be state licensed.
“The process caught some artists by surprise. You must complete a certification course and apply for the license. Some shops have had to temporarily close, and are still closed, because they weren’t on top of the process and didn’t get the license in time.”
Minneapolis also licenses the establishments themselves. If you are under the age of 18 you CANNOT get a tattoo in Minnesota—even with consent of your parent or guardian.
”Most tattooists are proud of their qualifications, and their current license must be prominently displayed. It is your assurance of basic health conditions and safety.”
Kore has a wall of photos from what she calls her “Special Tribe of Women”. These are women with significant scars, emotional and / or physical. Women who have had breasts removed or reconstructed through surgery. Kore has pioneered the tattooing of scar tissue.
“When I first agreed to tattoo on a reconstructed area, I had no idea how the skin would react.“
She developed the technique of tattooing a nipple image on to reconstructed breasts, and now gets surgeon referrals regularly. The transformation of what must have been a constant reminder of fear, pain, and anguish into a symbol of strength and beauty is truly magic!
Tattoos, like most things in life are what you choose to make of them. If you wish to have yours be a ritual memory, that reminds you of your journey each time you see it, visit Kore’ !
A poem by Koré Grate 8-13-87
some call it Pain…or Permanence…
I call it soul-surfacing.
The ink slides into the emptiness and brings forth the line,
the shadow, the colors from within, into the outer layer we call
“skin.” Our covering, our protection, letting go to the Tatu.
“Omakase” means “put your trust in me”
The creation is a three-way endeavor.
The Individual, The Artist, and The Tatu…
working together with trust.
Forming the ritual, all three must be involved, with whole hearts. The birthing always brings both pain and joy.
But the best part I know, is the strength that comes from going through this ritual, and coming into this tribe.
Souls surfaced; reclaim and unveil in order to heal and continue. Walking in beauty and knowing Change is the only constant in life