Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Proliferation of Björk's Tattoo -- Part One

by Mark Burbey

Whether or not one is a Björk fan, one of the first things you notice about her is the unique tattoo on her upper left arm. Called a Vegvisir, it is generally defined as a Runic compass; Sunnyway.com says that it "means ‘direction sign’ or ‘see the way’. This charm helps prevent one from getting lost. It is a ‘brun rune’ or sea charm.” The site goes on to say that it belongs to a family of “Viking era ‘magical staves’ (that) one might scratch or draw on the inside of one's helmet. This one can also be drawn on one's forehead with saliva or blood.” In an interview in the July 1995 issue of Rolling Stone, Björk said, “"It's so I don't get lost," she says coquettishly. "If the Vikings had bad weather or fog, they used to draw it on their foreheads with a piece of coal. I thought that was a bit much, so I put it there.”


In the encapsulated yet concise Björk saga found at Björk.com, it tells of “when Björk was 17, she and her friend Didda, the poet, decided to get a matching pair of tattoos on their left arms. They chose a 1000-year-old rune compass consisting of specific runes, ‘so that I always know where I’m going. It means I will never get lost in the fog, and I never have!’ Björk says. They went to the only tattoo parlor in Iceland and had the same thing done. ‘It was a bit of a ritual experience,’ she said. Later on she had another tattoo done; ‘A spidery design behind the ear which is a symbol I made for KUKL.’” (It looks more like a star to me, but who am I to argue with Björk.com?)


Others have been similarly inspired to get Vegvisir tattoos, but this is especially true of Bjork fans. Speaking for myself, when I was considering what to get as my first tattoo, it was suddenly so obvious that it had to be what I refer to as “the Bjork tattoo.” When people ask me what it is, I give them the “it’s a Viking compass” story, but then confess that I have it because it’s the same tattoo Bjork has, and that having it makes me feel like I have a piece of her with me wherever I go. This is not to say that I dismiss its symbolic value as a means of preventing one from getting “lost in the fog.” The fact that I have tattoos at all is to express myself and to keep me centered about my goals and maintaining the courage to carry them out.


Bjork fans are a special breed because they are drawn to her for reasons that reach beyond her music. Since childhood, Bjork has followed her own path, following her own very unique muse. And whenever people have said she was weird or strange or eccentric (which continues to this day), her attitude has always been, “If people get it, that’s great, and if they don’t, they’re missing out.” It’s this attitude of believing in oneself and not letting others define who you are that people – especially creative people – find very inspiring.

A young fan/musician named Sara is a perfect example, and her story likely exemplifies the experiences of many others.

Quite a trail of travails led to her Vegvisir tattoo, including: her parents putting her on a regimen of Paxil (“a vicious anti - depressant/anti-anxiety” medi- cation”) at the age of 15, only to be given Remeron when the depression got worse, followed by being taken to a psych ward by police when the Remeron caused her to sleep for “22 hours a day for about two weeks straight.” After spending about 8 hours in the psych ward, “being analyzed for only 2 of those hours and having to sit with a little girl who swore to me that I was sitting next to a man that clearly did not exist, they decided to ‘let me go’ and had me take the dose I was on every other day. That attempt lead me to insanity…I begged my mother to let me keep taking this medicine because I never saw myself coming off of it, given the past experiences.”

Despite always having “been the advanced student,” Sara had just turned 17 when she “decided to drop out of school…the classes I left behind included college courses such as: Calculus, Human Anatomy and Physiology, Medical Science II, English AP…and this was my Junior year. So…dropping out of high school because of a medication that I felt like I didn't need, but DID need to live…it was devastating and I lost all hope in my once bright future. All the horrible side effects were getting the best of me. I had broken down my personality and realized I had none. My mind wanted to associate the pain with not having the drug instead of recognizing the drug was doing this to me.”

At some point during all this, she discovered Bjork when she saw her “wear the swan dress to the Oscars. I had never really heard of her, but then all the journalists and paparazzi bashing her for wearing it made me question them. I looked her up and saw all these ingenious photos and I was quick to listen to her. I bought the newest release at the time – VESPERTINE. I swallowed her voice and emotion and it stayed inside of me. I ended up building a collection of all of her songs, bought DANCER IN THE DARK, and then started looking into her philosophy on life. I saw in one video she explained the song 'Isobel.' "

Sara responded to the song’s message of acting on instinct instead of logic, which led her on a new trajectory of self-healing. “I am a very independent spirit, and I feel that with mind power and will I can over come anything really; anyone can. And if anything, this has made me stronger.”

This is where the Vegvisir comes in. “Nobody really understood how I could randomly get up, drive to a tattoo shop and get a tattoo while I was simultaneously having problems with much smaller tasks. But either way, I had to prove to myself that no matter how tough, confusing, and painful things got for me, through all of this there was a right way and I needed to see it, and live it. While getting the tattoo, I am sure it was my endorphins rushing, but I felt the best I had ever felt…even up to the last day I stopped physically withdrawing from the Paxil. About a week after getting the compass, I took the tests for my GED and ended up making almost a perfect score.”

As she continues to examine the events of her past and how best to tackle the future, she said, “I look at my Vegvisir and realize that it was the right thing to do…and I just need to keep going the right way until I am out of my "state of emergency"…which is beautiful and for now, because I am in it. It is where I want to be.”

Next: More Björk tattoos, and amazing Björk art...

Meanwhile, click the twitching Vegvisir for some letters of comment...!

Letters of comment!


7 Comments:

Blogger Flan said...

Hey..!!

sorry, i don`t speak spanish very well. I was on the internet when i fpound your blog... it realy interesting and complete !!

I have the Vegvisir too.. !!

i'm from chile, in south america. Bjork is so special for me that u tatoo the Vegvisir on mi left arm, because it is conected with the heart ... Bjork always is in my heart... the Vegvisir pass between my veins and stay in my heart...

well, im sorry if you don`t understood y message, i try to do my best english xD

here is my bjork's forum... http://bjorkchile.forumsplace.com , my msn salmoncito@gmail and my fotolog ( Xp ) http://www.fotolog.com/isobel_behaviour

4:58 AM  
Blogger rasmusgirlfree said...

I HAVE THE BJÖRK TATTOO TOO, SINCE ONE YEAR BUT WITH THE LINES MORE LARGES...

IT'S MY OWN MODEL...


WWW.BJORKTATTOO.SKYBLOG.COM

8:16 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Ah, what a relief! I have had this tattoo (with a bit of my own design surrounding it) for a number of years now and despite being completely enamored by it and it's meaning for me, I have copped a lot of flack for "having the same tattoo as Bjork", as if it was some kind of lack of creativity or thievery that led me to getting it (certainly not the case!)
Stumbling across this site and finding people who also have this tattoo has reignited my passion and pride for my own, and one of the most influential women in my life to date...so thanks.

4:57 AM  
Blogger gsmattingly said...

Strange thing is I saw vegvisir on sunnyway.com site and didn't even realize Bjork had it. I enjoy her music a lot but must admit not delving quite that deeply. Was looking for more info today and found this site. (Actually looking for pronunciation). Anyway I got vegvisir and aegishjalmur yesterday.
Vegvisir
Ægishjálmur

3:21 PM  
Blogger ramon galvan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Jade Graham said...

. Organized crime has existed in Russia since the reign of czars in the form of petty theft and burglary. compass tattoo meaning

8:37 PM  
Blogger Justin Foster said...

I too was inspired by bjorks tattoo, but it led me down a rabbit hole of investigation for the source. What I found was a slightly different design although the meaning of it accurate. The references to Viking and drawing it on foreheads does come up on other Icelandic symbols, but not this one. Really it dates to around the 1600s (not Viking). Two references say only that it should be kept or worn, whilst the other says "under the left hand".
Sunnyways site is full of misinformation. Better is http://users.on.net/~starbase/galdrastafir/galdrastafir.htm (its mine - shameless self promotion)

5:21 PM  

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