Tattoos of St. Olaf Photos by Carol Luna Morales alongside student submissions

Andrew DeBoer ’23

On his forearm is a shed that was on the cover of a children’s book titled “Andrew Henry’s Meadow,” in which the titular character — who bears Andrew’s own name — runs away and builds a house in a meadow. Andrew’s mother, who owns a children’s bookstore, brought him the book, which they believe found its way to him.

His first tattoo, located on his shoulder, is dedicated to his mother who has a love of birdwatching. Orioles, the bird depicted on his shoulder, often arrive at his house.

Faith Geode ’22

A eucalyptus branch for calm and a lavender flower for peace — both of these plants also grew on Washington Island, her family's favorite vacation spot up in Door County.

Stars for Harry Potter, because she has loved the books since she was a child and wanted a simple but meaningful homage to this totally captivating world.

P.J. Johnston, Visiting Assistant Professor of Global Christianities, Department of Religion

My tattoos are traditional Thai sak yant tattoos given by an ajarn, a layman or monk who learned secret mantras (Sanskrit or Pali syllables with special powers), yantras (geometrical designs with inherent spiritual energies) and rituals for activating them from a teacher in an ongoing lineage. Sak yant art blends two religions and cultures: Thai animism — in which animal tattoos lead to possession by powerful non-human allies lending one the strengths of that creature — and Buddhist tantric traditions from India, which draw upon mantras and yantras for their powers. Developed originally by the powerful Khmer culture of neighboring Cambodia, sak yant mantras are in the Pali language sacred to Theravada Buddhism, still often written in older Khmer script; others are written in standard Thai script or Lanna script. Though the tradition is changing, sak yant tattoos were traditionally given only to men and are the most popular among persons in dangerous lines of work, such as soldiers, Thai boxers, professional drivers and others — particularly in underground occupations — whose work exposes them to physical violence and pain. Getting these tattoos today is often a difficult rite of passage proving one’s manhood, as they are restricted legally to adults. As a middle-aged genderqueer man from a culture with no religious rituals celebrating gender transition, I appreciated the rather belated ritual acknowledgment of my manhood!

The bottom sak yant is called Ha Taew, or five lines, and is written in the Khmer script, possibly going back to soldiers of the Angkorian period. Its lines protect one’s home from evil spirits, repel negative karma and bad luck, protect against sorcery and curses, bestow success and good fortune and enhance charisma and sex appeal. The upper sak yant is an animist tattoo called Nok Sarika Koo, representing two divine golden-tongued lovebirds entwined around a single heart to bestow metta, or loving compassion, and persuasion. It therefore also represents all the good things that persuasion can bring, such as success in teaching, interviews, negotiation, sales, entertainment, singing and musical performance and romantic seduction. It is written in the Lanna script of Northern Thailand, where both tattoos were given by Ajarn Nikom in the Chiang Rai province.

As I work in the field of comparative theology to transform Christianity into a more inclusive tradition, borrowing insights and practices from other religions and hoping to empower marginalized persons through my work, I am happy to incorporate a sacred tattoo tradition in my very body which promotes the blending and deepening of the symbols of diverse religions and cultures into a new harmony. This grants divine power, blessing and protection to the bearer — and perhaps visual inspiration to others too.

Kenna Nguyen ’23

I did this tattoo myself in my dorm on a random Tuesday of my first year. It was the first stick-and-poke I've given myself, so I guess it was also a practice tattoo. It means absolutely nothing and looks like crap, but I love it.

Ariel Byerly ’21

My mom has one that goes with mine. Her’s says “Jeg ga henne vinger,” which translates to “I have her wings,” and mine is “Hun lærte meg å fly,” which translates to “She taught me how to fly.” My mom told me to spread my wings and fly before I left for my year-long exchange in Norway. We wanted to have something that symbolizes how close we are and a time when that saying was very important in our lives.

DeA Brown ’21

The owl is a trash polka tattoo, a surrealist tattoo style originating from Germany which represents wisdom and bravery. DeA’s been through a lot in life, and instead of choosing the more traditional safety pin or phoenix, DeA chose an owl instead to represent perseverance and safety.

DeA got the Linkin Park tattoo first as a kind of typical teenage band tattoo. The smaller tattoo symbolizes one of DeA’s favorite songs, Perfect Machine by Starset, which grounds DeA when DeA dissociates or is in a dark mindset. “It’s really hard to keep the things you like about yourself after [going through] trauma, but I was able to.”

Fricka Lindemann ’22

I've been living in a primarily English-speaking environment since I was 16, and will probably spend great parts of my life speaking a foreign language. While I've gained a decent level of fluency, my brain will always be wired to my mother tongue, German. My tattoo is an ß, or "Eszett," which is the only letter that is only used in German. It reminds me of the uniqueness of the language, my family and a different version of myself, one that I cannot translate.

Ashley Sarpong ’23

Ashley got her first tattoo on her eighteenth birthday and came up with the symbol and general concept herself. The moon, which is the biggest part of the piece, represents her as the night sky. The star represents her family, and the triangle is a symbol for friends and significant others. Ashley believes that you can’t be fulfilled within other relationships unless you are balanced and love yourself. The tattoo is a reminder to herself to be balanced so she will be able to uphold other relationships in her life.

Devin Campos ’22

This tattoo, named “Knife Boy” was inspired by a societ propaganda film. Other pieces were also done on her own out of boredom while in class.

Her Grim Reaper with the Latin words for “Not all of me will die” was done just because Devin found it funny, and looking at it, it does bring a smile.

Her pomegranate piece was done by the same queer Hispanic artist who was so excited to do the piece that they decided to color it rather than leave parts of the piece in black and white. It was an ode to Devin’s classics major, it being a classic tattoo, and she loves the once-believed idea that the uterus looks like a pomegranate.

Her tattoo of the black, three-eyed cat was done while studying abroad last interim for her classics course in Italy. The funniest part of the tattoo was that she originally meant for it to have one eye, but she indicated three by speaking Italian incorrectly, all while being served multiple shots of espresso.

Grace LaNasa ’21

A few of Grace’s pieces were done for the purpose of wanting to get a tattoo in every country she visits. The Kiwi piece was done in New Zealand, as she wanted to get something to represent her trip. She got it the day before she had to leave the country, and the art was done by an apprentice at the shop.

This tattoo is of her “flower bois,” which are a reminder to be happy and are just generally adorable. Although she didn’t want to get tattoos on her arms,she did want to cover up scarring on her arms to remember that although she had a bad past, there will be a happy future.

The lotus with the Buddhist hand was done in Japan during her trip abroad for her Asian studies major.

The goat piece, which Grace often refers to as her baby, is her star sign, Capricorn. Her favorite tattoo artist completed the piece. She believes goats are an embodiment of herself and hopes to be reincarnated as one in her next life.

Rachel Burkell ’23

Rachel wanted to ensure that her first tattoo was something meaningful, and since then the majority of her other tattoos were just for the sake of art and for her love of flowers. Being in her favorite language, German, she chose a phrase roughly translated as an older way to say “Do it yourself.” The one on her right shoulder was done the day after her eighteenth birthday as a triumphant way to signify her aging out of childhood.

Her love of flowers is most prevalent in her “Forged” tattoo.

Her sunflower thigh tattoo is dedicated to her godmother.

Lena Dahl ’22

The one on my ribs is the latest one that I got this summer! I usually wait for the summer to get tattoos, because that's when I am able to come home to Thailand and get them done here. This one says “nangfah,” which means “angel” in Thai, and I wrote it in Thai cursive — Thai cursive doesn't actually exist, but I like that it looks a bit more abstract. My “nangfah” tattoo reminds me that although I can be my own demon sometimes, I know for a fact that I, too, am my own angel.

Morgan Ward ‘23

For his first tattoo Morgan wanted to get something that represented his love for marine biology while also being his favorite animal, the manta ray.

Syd Garrison ’23

As their favorite fruit, a fig, their tattoo is also a reference to the passage of “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath.

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story...”

Sylvie Weissman ’21

Sylvie’s “6.19” tattoo is the anniversary date for her breast reduction surgery, and is a reminder to do big things. It is a symbol of the fact that even when things get painful, big decisions can lead to life-changing results.

The larger piece is a testament to what she loves in life: books and film. The stack of books is a symbol for her love of literature, and the TV is for her love of as well as ability to analyze film.