by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist
A few posts ago I mentioned that I was trying to determine the meaning of a tattoo that adorns the left arm of Demarcus Cousins (UK men's basketball player... #15... Big Cuz... who will need dental work after our most recent game...). The tattoo is big and it features a spider web with a star in the middle. I think I can also see a large spider below the web, and the words "stuck in" on top. Here's the best picture I could find on Google Image Search (AP Photo/Ed Reinke):
Since I posted this topic on the blog, I haven't made much progress in solving the mystery. A couple of people told me that they saw the blog post, but that they don't know anything about the tat. I also asked Demarcus about the tattoo on his Facebook fanpage, but of course, crazed fans like me rarely get responses on those kinds of pages (especially when there are over 10,000 fans on the page!).
So I did a little research about spider-web tattoos in general. Interesting stuff. It turns out that a spider or web tattoo can carry a variety of meanings, or none at all.
I remember that a long time ago I was told that spider-web tattoos, especially those that appear on elbows, are racist in nature, and are meant to symbolize acts-of-violence that the wearer has committed. I always thought that this was a myth. Predictably, an internet search did not help me to determine whether or not this was true. I'll mark this one as "apocryphal."
I found some of the best info about spider-web tattoos at www.tattoosymbol.com, where the motto is Think About the Ink. There, I learned that spider webs are sometimes used as a part of dreamcatcher tattoos. According to the site, the original dreamcatchers of legend may have been created by Spider Woman, a figure from Anishinabe mythology. The site mentions other mythological connections as well: the spider is an important symbol in Japan, Africa, the Bible, and Buddhism.
I read on several other sites that the spider-web tattoo traditionally symbolizes time spent in jail: if you are incarcerated, you are stuck in the system. Hmmm... if I am seeing it correctly, Cousins' tattoo features the phrase "stuck in." I don't think he's been in prison. Does he feel like he's trapped in something? Life? The Game? The Dribble-Drive System™?!?
It seems, though, that many times (maybe, most of the time) spider and web tattoos do not carry any meaning, or else they carry a meaning that is non-traditional, and unique to the wearer. Heck, people sometimes get spider tattoos because--believe it or not--they like spiders, as shown in our previous blogpost by Andy Boring, Tattoo Taboo: Insect body art.
Regarding spider tattoos, SGOSMB (Some Guy On Some Message Board) may have said it best:
Well, the spider web tattoo can mean any thing:
1. You've killed, hate, or hit a minority
2. Drug or substance abuse addiction
3. Jail Time (prison tat)
But, the best I think, is:
4. It means what you want it to mean...
By the way, most of the spider-web tattoos that I have seen depict the webs of orb-weaver spiders. Most of the world's spiders do not build organized, circular webs. Instead, most spiders build dense, messy webs, or no webs at all. Only the orb weavers and a few other types of spiders build flat, circular webs.
Read more about orb weavers and their webs at the Critter Files: Orb-Weavers.