Last Updated on March 22, 2023
Getting a tattoo can be a big decision for some people, while others worry about it less.
When you get a tattoo you often have to compete with the inquisition you will get from your family and friends: ‘what does it mean?’ ‘Is it significant to you in some way?’
These questions may be very easy to answer for you as your own tattoo has its own meaning and significance to you personally, while others will simply claim it is for the art or ‘it just looks cool.’
Both answers are totally viable, but many people do often find tattoos are a symbolic representation of a specific event or idea in their life.
For instance, chain tattoos have started to become more and more popular.
To understand the meaning of the symbol we have to understand why people get chain tattoos and what they mean to different people.
These tattoos can come in many visual forms such as an unbroken chain, a broken chain, a lock, and chain, or even a necklace potentially. Each symbol has its own significance and meaning to a person.
Once we understand the significance of one tattoo it can help us understand why we might be getting a tattoo ourselves.
Or simply, you may just want to learn about why someone may get a tattoo of a chain, if they are close to you, or you are just interested! Read our guide to the symbolism of the chain tattoo to learn more.
What Do Chain Tattoos Represent?
Chain tattoos can represent a myriad of different themes and ideas due to the many different uses of the chain in normal life.
Most commonly, the chain symbolizes freedom or bondage, whether that is being free from an idea or entity or showing your bondage to an idea.
Chains are also used in the biking community, can represent slavery or incarceration, and when broken can represent freedom.
A chain tattoo would rarely represent the negative side of these contexts such as being chained to a partner or ideology, as this doesn’t seem like something you would want to remember if you did feel this way.
Alright, tough stuff out the way first. Many African Americans have some recent history of slavery in their family due to the colonization of Africa during the Western imperial period where slaves were sold as goods and used for free labor.
As chains were used to shackle the slaves together so they couldn’t get away, the chain and broken chain are pretty symbolic within this area.
While some choose to move on from their ‘slave history’, some African Americans find it important to remember those who died for the cause of emancipation and honor them with their tattoo.
Some simply want to remember that human atrocity is never far away, and want to recognize history for what it is.
Conversely, a white person may get a chain tattoo to symbolize their recognition of the oppression of African Americans during this period, and to remember the mistakes that were made.
On the other hand, a broken chain could easily represent a move away from the history of slavery.
A broken chain symbolizes freedom so this could be a way for an African American person to remind themselves that they are free and to remain strong in a world where racial oppression is still ripe.
Those involved in some form of modern slave trade may also utilize the symbolism of chains to recognize and remember the toils and experiences of their bondage and how they now are a free person.
For those who have been incarcerated in some form of prison or jail, the chain can also have a sentimental meaning for them.
In prison, they use chains to bond the prisoners together to stop them from engaging in combat with guards and stop them from running away when outside of their cells.
So the chain can have some strong significance for a past prisoner.
An unbroken chain could be a recognition of how they are still affected by their time in prison, that the experience has never left them.
It could also be a symbol of institutionalization, that the prisoner may have left prison but still hasn’t shaken the routine and regulations imposed on them for so long.
A broken chain could be a symbol of freedom for ex-convicts.
If they have changed their ways the broken chain will symbolise that they have broken free from the behaviors that enabled criminal activity and never want to return to the bondage of prison.
A chain tattoo can also signify a strong relationship with another person, in terms of friendship, marriage, and familial relation.
Having a chain tattoo could remind you that you have a strong bond with a partner that cannot be broken. Similarly, chains can symbolize the innate connection we have with family members which aren’t garnered but rather are something that exists from birth.
Did you know that Siddhartha Gautama’s (the Budhha’s) son was called ‘Rahula’ which means ‘chain’.
Some might find the symbolism of chains and relationships to be a bit strong, the idea that you are chained to your wife can be taken the wrong way, but for some people, it helps them remember why they are ‘chained’ to a person. In the same vein, a chain tattoo can symbolize a soul bond.
Two chain links can also be interpreted as the symbol for infinity (8), the two have interchangeable symbolism in this context. In the same way, a chain tattoo can symbolize a similar bond with a friend or even a pet.
Chain tattoos that have a lock on them can symbolize secrets. Maybe you have taken a secret with you and plan to keep it until the grave, the lock and chain can be a reminder to keep this secret.
Equally, if you are a part of a secret society, such as the Freemasons, etc, then this lock and chain will symbolize your dedication to this secret society much like it would a religion.
Faithfulness To A Dead Partner
For some people, this lock and chain can symbolize how their heart has been locked away.
Perhaps because of some event in their life, or perhaps because their partner has died, this tattoo can be a reminder of a commitment they made to a previous partner or a symbol of their A-sexuality.
A Key To The Heart
Similarly, the chain and lock tattoo with a lock could symbolize your dedication and faithfulness to an existing partner.
They may have a tattoo of a key on their body that is related to yours. This reminds you of both of your commitments to each other, married or not.
The lock and chain can also symbolize chastity. This can help those who chose chastity to remind themselves of their commitment.
Many people who practice chastity use rings for the same purpose, but the permanent nature of a tattoo may be desirable in this context.
A chain and lock tattoo could help those who have been sober for a long time to remember how they have put their drinking days behind them and made a commitment to stay sober or are recovering addicts.
Some bikers, both motorcyclists and cyclists, will recognize the chain as part of the biker community. Those in biker gangs and motorcycle clubs will associate the chain with that culture.
So many bikers and motorcyclists get chain tattoos to show the commitments they have made to their clubs.
In many motorcycle clubs, you make a lot of serious commitments to be part of the club so the chain has a lot of symbolism as well as practical uses within the community.
A chain tattoo of any kind could also be a symbol for the duty reserved for military service. If you have served some form of military service in your life you may associate the concept of chains with duty.
A chain tattoo may symbolize your duty to protect your country and how your personality and principles are chained to your national identity.
Sometimes a chain tattoo can simply be a tattoo of a necklace. Many Christians and Catholics like to get rosary beads tattooed around their neck or around their wrist to symbolize their dedication to their religion.
The rosary beads are a big symbol of our bondage to God, and in the same way, an actual chain tattoo would symbolize this as well.
Patterns And Determinism
The chain can also symbolize the concept of patterns, the idea of a chain as a number chain for example. For a lot of people, a chain can symbolize the idea of determinism.
The idea is that all events are somewhat linked together and happen in some form of recognizable pattern.
The symbolism of a chain (not linked together) can represent this idea, like how we use the term ‘a chain of events.
So chains can represent many positive ideas to different people. A chain tattoo usually represents the idea of being bonded to a person or idea in some sort of way. This usually has positive connotations rather than negative ones.
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