A fire will burn someone, but also provide them with warmth. It gives light, while it simultaneously destroys homes. Fire and flame tattoos can be a warning or an encouragement. This dichotomy makes the fire tattoos, or the addition of flames to an existing tattoo design, incredibly interesting.
By adding flames to another symbol, the meaning can change or be emphasized. This is an incredibly effective way to update older tattoos. By adding flames to a heart that symbolized a relationship, you can change the original tattoo to mean the relationship is over, having gone up in flames, or that the relationship is better and more passionate, all consuming like fire. In the Eastern tradition, fire is considered to be masculine and is usually associated with Yang, or the masculine aspects of the universe (in comparison to the feminine Yin).
Fire is so important to human development. Fire provided ancient men with light to brighten the darkness, warmth to survive the cold, cooked food to expand their diet, protection form other men and predatory animals, and the ability to smelt metals into tools, which revolutionized hunting, farming, and building. Without fire, humans would not have survived to become the species we are today. Perhaps more so than any other individual invention, fire and the ability to control fire was one of the greatest human advancements. But fire is not completely under human control.
Even today, wild fires destroy hundreds of acres of wilderness, consume entire neighborhoods, take thousands of lives, and have even demolished entire cities. This is where the symbolism from fire is derived. When fire is constructive and beneficial, it can help shape the world, but when fire is destructive and harmful, it can be all consuming.
In a broader sense, fire is one of the four elements, including water, earth, and wind. Fire has a significant spiritual importance in many cultures. Fire has a major impact on rituals, ceremonies, and stories within Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Paganism, Buddhism, and mythology. Because fire purifies whatever it burns, it is often used in ceremonies of cleansing, rebirth, and purification. Interestingly, fire is mentioned in stories of damnation and curses, alongside traditions of renewal and enlightenment. The hearth is the fireplace of the home, around which families traditionally operated. The hearth was considered the heart of the family, because without it the family would not survive. But, strangely, this very hearth often led to the death of the entire family when the fire spread and became uncontrollable. Likewise, fire is used extensively in witchcraft, but was also the primary method for disposing of witches.
Flames can stand alone as a tattoo design and are incredibly flexible. The can be made into any shape or to fit any location required. Flames by themselves can stand for power, passion, or intensity. Furthermore, flames do not have to be incorporated into an existing design. A burning candle is a symbol of wisdom and light in a dark world. Great and ancient scholars worked long into the night, writing and reading by the light of a candle.
Phoenix birds and dragons are usually tattooed with fire, as this is a significant aspect of the folklore surrounding these mythical beasts. The dragon creates fire, defending itself and fighting with flames, while the phoenix destroys and regenerates itself through flames.
Flames are also a appropriate way to cover an unwanted tattoo and a skilled tattoo artist will be able to create a custom design in order to achieve the desired effect. However, it should be noted that yellow tattoo ink will not cover darker colors, so the flames will have to be adapted in order to provide coverage, depending upon the design of the original tattoo. This also provides great meaning to the tattoo – it has been purified or removed by fire and the person has undergone a renewal and rebirth. This is accurate in both a physical and philosophical sense.
Flames can be tattooed in a variety of ways and are favored by men and women as a design element. Usually, flames will be stylized, as realistic looking flames are difficult to achieve with a tattooing and require a great amount of skill and talent. Flames are typically tattooed in shades of oranges, reds, and yellows, but other colors might be chosen to further illustrate the meaning or because of stylistic preferences. Black flames are not uncommon and seemingly contradictory blue flames can represent chemical fires or magical fires, along with green or purple flame designs.