Monday, October 23, 2006

The Proliferation of Björk's Tattoo – Part 2

by Mark Burbey

In the first part of this article, my research regarding the literal proliferation of Björk’s tattoo – a rune compass called a Vegvisir – led to the heart of what makes Björk so inspirationally unique and beyond. In addition to the tattoo’s connection with Björk, its origin as a Viking compass is commonly analogized as a symbol of staying on course in ones journey through life. For some, it serves as a veritable lighthouse in what would otherwise be the debilitating darkness of derailing despair.

On a site called TATTOO CONFIDENTIAL, I found an entry by someone who identifies himself simply as “Grig” and who tells how he came to acquire a Vegvisir and what it means to him. The son of an alcoholic mother and abusive father, Grig felt at 16 that he was “alone in the world,” and writes that “even though religion was banned from my house, I decided to make a pact and set my own moral standards.” Also banned from the home was “discussion about my ethnicity, which was Swedish, because my father hated all relatives, hated where his parents came from, and so on. Having a Swedish heritage was somewhat of a taboo topic. But my mother encouraged me to explore it, and secretly, I’d read about Vikings and so on in the library. My mother committed suicide when I was 18, and my father wanted to get rid of that side of his life, so I was on my own the last year of high school, living with friends, and trying to sort out my shattered dreams of going to college now that I had to work to survive. I still held onto my ethnicity and self-imposed moral codes as part of my identity.”

He discovered the Vegvisir when a friend gave him a book that described it as “a Nordic symbol made of runes used by Vikings to find their direction in conditions of bad visibility when the Polar star was not visible. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the image was kind of in the back of mind for a long time as a direction to find my way through my foggy life. I got married to a wonderful woman, and had a son, both of whom I love very much.”

When considering a tattoo (his wife had two), he “did a lot of research, but I waffled for quite a bit, because I wanted something that ‘felt right.’ One night, while I was sick with some horrible flu, and bored to death but too weak to get up, I thought about the tattoo, and the image of the compass just went ‘pop’ in my head. I looked it up on the Internet and found out that the Icelandic singer Björk had one. I also found the Aegishjalmur (symbol for Invisibility in Battle) charm, but Björk’s seemed more artistic. I decided to ‘wait it out’ to see if it was some fad, or if people thought I got one because Björk had one.”

A year later, he “felt like it was missing” and decided to go for it. He “settled on something similar to what Björk had because there were a lot of photos available on the web, I like her poetry and music, and it was asymmetrical, like myself. I also decided to wear it on my left arm, to encourage the right side of my brain to find direction in the “left side” arts, since I am trying very hard to become a writer; my day job is a UNIX Sysadmin (system administrator), which pays the rent, but it’s so logical and structured, and I feel it might lead me astray.”

“When it was done,” he says, “it felt right, like an old friend I had lost was now back, and I felt a piece of me that had been missing for so long was home at last. I feared I’d have pangs of regret, but all I keep feeling is a sense of calm and wholeness.”

Much like Sara, the girl in Part One who found that Björk, her music and the Vegvisir helped her use her instincts to mend her life and build a brighter future, “Grig” found that the symbol helped him deal with the pain of his past and acted as a signpost toward a life of greater creativity.

An even more telling tale is that of artist Brent Berry, who, after surviving a diagnosis of cancer and the rigors of chemo therapy, found that he was unable to return to his work. “As a part of recovering I was supposed to be avoiding stress,” Berry said. “LOL, right? How can you avoid stress under such conditions? My mom had died a few years earlier from the exact same thing and my dad died from cancer just as I was finishing my chemo, so at the time I believed I had been handed a death sentence” As incapacitating as his treatment was, however, Berry survived his ordeal, only to find himself confronted with an ailment medicine couldn’t cure.

“My family and friends were great support, but inside me,” Berry said, “a big part of my true self was missing and I could not find it. The only thing I knew that would help relieve stress on a daily level was to get back to doing my art. It was the only thing I had ever been good at and I believe it's my purpose in life. I felt I needed to do my artwork now more than ever, but with everything I had been through it now seemed impossible. I was unable to find any inspiration at all! So many things I had liked before meant so much less to me. The whole world seemed different and even though it had been 6 years since the treatment, I was still suffering the after-effects of the strong chemicals I had been given – basically poison! Not only did I not feel well physically, but my mind was constantly overwhelmed with fear, uncertainty and depression. How could I ever feel inspired to do artwork again? Well, that's when the miracle happened. Yep, Björk!”

Berry doesn’t like to dwell on what he calls “the awful details,” and hates to even say the word cancer, but including it here only heightens the significance of Björk’s profound influence upon his healing process. After hearing Björk's music for the first time, he listened to it for a few days and found that he “had a lot of new energy and was restless! I love all kinds of music but no music has ever effected me like this! I thought to myself, ‘How could this music be so different than what I liked yet sound so much better?’ Her music was a breath of fresh air. For the first time in years, I felt the urge to start doing artwork again. For 6 years, I struggled to get inspired, but no matter what I did, I just couldn't get motivated. Björk and her music inspired me to start doing artwork again! It wasn't just something I wanted to do; I need to do art to be who I am and to stay alive! I was so happy to be back at it that all the first things I made were influenced by or related to Björk or her music. I've always liked Viking lore and I have a longboat tattoo on my arm to honor the Danish part of my family. I was surprised to see a Vegvisir on her arm and so a lot of my first images have variations of Vegvisirs in them." Berry's Björk-inspired art and more can be found at

“It may sound silly to some, but it seems to me that Björk is a special gift to the world and she has some kind of unique quality that not only inspires but also heals! Her tattoo, the Vegvisir, means so much to me. It not only symbolizes the lady who inspired me do art again, it also literally is a compass to me because it she has given me direction and helped show me the way to go at a time when I really was lost!”

Björk fans are often derided for their seemingly fervent adulation of the pop star, but testaments such as these from Sara, Grig, and Brent Berry go a long way toward illuminating that which is the magic of Björk.

Next: More Vegvisirs, and other tattoos inspired by Björk...

If you have a Björk tattoo of any kind, either a Vegvisir or something inspired by her or her music, please send jpegs to and I will feature them here on Björk Zine. Please include a few words about what inspired you to get it, what went into designing it, what it means to you, and anything else you want to say about it. Thanks!


Blogger •VJESCI• said...

.fantastick.not much I did not knoe as far as the symbol itself but for the rest of the world who may have no grasp on symbology very illuminating post I am sure.

.you may want to post a link within this post to your "part one"

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