The classic heart and dagger tattoo, synonymous with traditional style tattooing, is a design with deep and varied meanings. In this article we look to explore the age old allure of the heart and dagger design, tracing it back to its roots in early Christian artwork while examining its use in modern day tattooing.
Meaning of the Heart and Dagger Tattoo
Many wonder when looking upon this symbol, what does the heart and dagger tattoo mean? The heart and dagger tattoo possesses two strong pieces of juxtaposed imagery which perhaps is what has made it such a powerful long lasting symbol.
When dissecting the meaning behind the imagery we find that the heart serves to represent love, the seat of our emotions, a life source and a person’s inner most desires. The traditional dagger symbol typically signifies ruthlessness, death, sacrifice or betrayal.
Heart and Dagger Tattoo Meaning 1: Betrayal
Over the years, many have used the heart and dagger tattoo as a symbol of betrayal or devastating heartbreak.
The dagger itself is an ideal metaphor to use in the representation of betrayal, as daggers were the weapon of choice for assassins long ago. Due to the knife’s small size and ability to be easily concealed, daggers gained in popularity amongst killers. The manner in which the dagger was used to kill the victim only added to the sense of cutthroat brutality, hence why we see its appearance in the heart and dagger tattoos intended to display a sense of betrayal.
Heart and Dagger Tattoo Meaning 2: Erzulie Dantor the Voodoo Spirit
Though used often in Catholic iconography, outside of Christianity the heart and dagger can also represent the Voodoo spirit Erzulie Dantor, a bisexual female goddess believed to protect women, children and those society has cast away. Her wrath is feared within practitioners of Haitian Voodoo, as she is said to inflict revenge upon any who cause harm to those she watches over.
Heart and Dagger Tattoo Meaning 3: Athame or Ritual Knife
The symbol of the dagger also has uses within occult circles where it is referred to as an athame. The dagger is used in ritual settings to “cut cords” from another person, or direct psychic energy.
The dagger represents the male energy in a ritual, being used to draw the protective circle and to call upon the elemental guardians. For those interested in a more esoteric tattoo, consider the depiction of the three of swords from the Rider Waite tarot deck.
The Origin of the Heart and Dagger Tattoo
The symbol we know in tattooing as the “heart and dagger” traces its origins back to early Christianity emerging in various artwork and designs. This symbol has traditionally been called the “Immaculate, or Sacred Heart of Mary” and has been used to depict Mary’s divine love and beauty, as well as her suffering and earthly imperfections.
In religious symbolism the dagger through the heart depictingt the Catholic Sacred Heart of Mary is viewed as the embodiment of Mary’s pain at the crucifixion of her son Jesus.
An excerpt from Luke 2:34-35 may give us a clue to the reason for this:
"And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-- and a sword will pierce even your own soul-- to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."
The Heart Dagger Tattoo as a Traditional Design
When considering the design for your heart dagger tattoo, you might want to display it in a classic traditional style design. The tattoo gained its momentum and popularity within the style of traditional tattooing and has been depicted in endless different variations within the style.
Many of these designs featuring a heart with a knife through it can be traced back all the way back to the early 1900’s. Designs showcasing hearts with daggers have been a classic staple of traditional style tattooing, often associated with tattoo legend Sailor Jerry and depicted in traditional tattoo flash.
When the heart and dagger is done as a traditional style, the colors and lines appears vivid and bold, the perfect visual aesthetic to compliment the power of this symbol. Your best bet is to search for a quality artist who specializes in traditional style work to help bring your vision to life successfully.
The Heart Dagger Tattoo as a Modern Design
If you are looking for a tattoo that is more modern in design and approach, you can find a wide array of styles and variations for the dagger through the heart design.
One popular choice is the slightly altered heart with swords tattoo known as the “3 of Hearts”, which stems from the esoteric symbolism such as those seen in the Rider Waite tarot card deck. Instead of using a traditional style dagger, the design depicts three swords piercing through the heart.
Although the heart with swords symbol is not a new design, there has been a modern resurgence in tattooing of spiritual and occult related symbols showcased in various manners. In Tarot the three of swords card can represent heartbreak, emotional pain, forgiveness, optimism and the eventual release of pain.
If you are looking for a different approach for your heart with daggers tattoo, consider trying it in a style you love, or with a personalized design. Hearts with knives tattoos work excellent as all black designs if you’re not a big fan of color. There are no limitations when it comes to your intended design. When conceptualizing the tattoo, feel free to add any elements that you think would add to the personal meaning or visual aesthetic.
Quality Artists to Explore for your Heart and Dagger Tattoo
The most important first step in deciding on any tattoo design is to consult an experienced artist. Finding an artist or shop that specializes in your preferred style will greatly assist you in ensuring your new piece comes out perfect. Whether you prefer a more “old school” traditional style tattoo, or you’re looking for a more modern and contemporary piece, we’ve got you covered!
To help you along your journey, here are some experienced and high quality artists we recommend for your heart dagger tattoo:
Paul Dobleman of Spider Murphy’s Tattoo in San Rafael, CA
Rose Hardy of Kings Avenue in NYC
Mike Attack of Taylor Street Tattoo in Chicago, IL
Myke Chambers of Seven Swords Tattoo Company in Philadelphia, PA
Mick Gore of Gore Tattoo in Taoyuan City, Taiwan
Marcus Norrild of Death and Glory in Copenhagen, DK
Nikko Barber of Berlin Ink in Berlin, Germany
Koke Tattooer of La Bottega dei Tatuaggi in Rome, Italy