Finding the perfect design for your new tattoo can actually be a pretty difficult thing to do; after all, you’re getting a permanent image drawn onto your body to last you a lifetime. And, in the process of finding the perfect design, you come across the ‘spider web’.
Now, at first, this seems to be a harmless tattoo design depicting a spider web, nothing more or less. So, you assume it’s something related to, well, Spiderman. Although in some cases that might be what the tattoo depicts, it is often far from that symbolism. Spider web tattoos generally carry tons of meaning, both positive and negative.
But, truth to be told, the design is generally associated with negative meaning and references. So, what does the spider web tattoo mean? In the following paragraphs, we’ll discuss the meaning of the tattoo, as well as take a look at some tattoo examples. Therefore, let’s get started!
The Meaning Behind the Spider Web Tattoo
Let’s be honest; one of the most frequent tattoo designs people get while in prison is the spider web. That is why the design is not only associated with incarceration, but also with gangs, violence, murder, racism, and other negative things. But, spider web tattoos can also have a positive meaning, which is why we want to tackle both sides and explain both the negative and the positive.
Imprisonment / Incarceration
For decades, the spider web tattoo was one of the main indicators that someone has spent a long time in prison. Even nowadays the tattoo is associated with imprisonment. It is believed that prisoners started getting their spider web tattoos as early as the 1970s, although the symbolism was around prior to the seventies.
Quickly, the design became so popular among criminals that, alongside the ‘teardrop‘ design, it became the most demanded tattoo to get in the prison, or upon one’s release from the prison to ‘commemorate’ the time of being locked behind bars. So, we would say that the spider web tattoo, in this case, simply symbolizes one’s time spent in prison; it doesn’t have to be a direct indication of the severity of one’s crimes.
Some of the tattoo interpretations and meanings also include this;
- In some areas, one apparently ‘gets the right’ or ‘earns the right’ for a spider web tattoo if they’ve killed a minority person.
- It is not unusual to see spider web tattoos on people proclaimed to be racist or belonging to extremist groups.
Racism and White Supremacy
It is no secret that decades ago people would sport their spider web tattoos to display their Aryan belonging or White Supremacy. In this case, as well, the tattoo indicated the wearer has killed a person from a minority group, establishing power over them as powerful members of the ‘White group’. Sure enough, this is a no-brainer when it comes to negative symbolism. The tattoo in such a case is simply perpetuating racism, and as such symbolism is even present today.
If the tattoo is placed on the elbow, side of the neck, on the back, or even behind the ar and directly on the face, chances are you’re looking at someone who is truly racist and believes in White Supremacy.
But, why would anyone get such a tattoo? Well, apparently, racist people like to keep their ‘enemies’ far away. So, from a distance, you can notice the tattoo and simply avoid the person completely. That is their goal. But, rightfully so, the tattoo has received negative attention, negative symbolism, and negative references.
This might be the main symbolism of the spider web tattoo; the struggle. It symbolizes one’s struggle in the complicated ‘web of life’, as it is believed. Even in this case, the spider web often represents prison bars, but it can also depict one’s struggle with drugs, addiction, criminal activity, and even one’s willingness to leave all the negative behind and start a new life.
It can also depict one’s struggle to escape financial issues, the economic system one’s stuck in, struggle within the political system, etc. This kind of spider web tattoo can vary between positive and negative, but it surely leans to a more positive, recovering meaning. It simply shows that the wearer ‘wants out’, but struggles and is unable to. The tattoo as such then becomes quite personal.
Interesting fact: In Russia, if one gets a spider web tattoo, it means the person is ‘confessing’ a drug addiction. In this case, the tattoo often features both the spider web and the spider. Also, depending on the location of the tattoo, the meaning can change; for example, if the tattoo is placed on the neck, it symbolizes repeated solitary confinement for breaking prison rules. Without a spider, the spider web can symbolize that the wearer is a thief as well.
Native American History and Symbolism
Not to make everything negative, we had to include different, positive interpretations of the spider web design, one of which includes the Native American interpretation. In the Native American culture, especially Cherokee and Navajo Indians, the spider web was always seen as a positive thing. For example, many see a spider web and immediately associate it with entrapment, danger, victimization, and so on.
However, the Native Americans see the spider web as nature’s attempt to teach us about guidance, illumination, and endless creativity. Thanks to the repeating patterns in the spider web, Native American associate it with one’s endless creativity, the possibility of creation, and the complexity of life.
Moreover, there are numerous Native American myths that speak about the spider web and its role in the creation of the world as well. The Navajo Indians specifically associate the spider web with the Sun and its rays, as they seem to have a similar visual appearance.
In other Native American tribes, the spider web is seen as protection. For example, the so-called Spider-Woman is a known Native American spirit believed to weave protective spider webs over newborns to protect them from everything bad. There is also a direct link between the spider web and the dreamcatcher belief.
So, Should I Get a Spider Web Tattoo?
Now that we know a bit more about the different meanings of the spider web tattoo, we are sure you’re wondering whether you should get one yourself. Now, considering the negative connotation, it can be hard to say, hey, go get that tattoo done, why not…
But, we think that a spider web design can be properly modified to create something unique to you, positive in nature, or even darker, depending on the emotion behind the tattoo. So, here are some things you should consider before actually going for the spider web design;
- Do your research, regardless of the design of the spider web (whether it is custom made or inspired by some other design), to see whether it has any negative associations and connotations.
- To avoid the direct negative connotation, avoid getting the tattoo in the elbow area, the neck, the back, behind the ear, or even on the hand and fingers. These are the locations used to display spider web design associated with racism, White Supremacy, imprisonment, gangs, crime, etc.
- Combine the spider web design with other symbols to modify the tattoo into your own, personal story. We recommend you check out the designs combining the spider web with roses, hearts, Gothic symbols, or even butterflies, to distract from the spider web.
- We do not advise getting traditional Native American iterations of the spider web design as a tattoo; unless you’re of Native American origin. Otherwise, you’d be committing cultural appropriation, or stealing other people’s culture and tradition.
And that’s it! Now you know about the meaning and symbolism spider web tattoos generally carry. Of course, it is up to you to make a final decision about your tattoo’s design, but being informed and doing your research is essential. A tattoo is something that will be there, on your body, for the rest of your life. So, doing your research may help you avoid a lifetime of discomfort and tattoo cover-ups in case you get a tattoo with a negative association. For more information about spider web tattoos, feel free to talk to your expert tattoo artist as well!