Here at Inked Magazine we love October because it gives us an opportunity to hone in on and write about all of our various macabre passions. Today we're going to talk about executioners!
Specifically, medieval executioners. Even more specifically, the guy in a big black hood with an even bigger axe who was ready to separate your head from your body in one clean blow.
Legend has it that they wore the mask as a way to avoid being identified by the masses that would show up to witness each execution. Personally, I don't buy into this at all. Even if you're hiding your face, people are going to be able to recognize you by different features, especially if they're going through the day-to-day life alongside you in your small little village for 365 days a year. Or, they'd notice that there was only one person who didn't show up to the execution and, well, at that point it'd be pretty easy to narrow it down.
No, here is what I believe—they looked fucking badass wearing a black hood with no shirt. That's it. It's an incredibly scary image to see right before you die, and it isn't that pretty much the entire point of an executioner having a uniform in the first place?
It's particularly interesting that the executioner motif worked its way into being a staple of American traditional tattooing. Many of the most prominent motifs have roots in either Japanese tattooing (your dragons, tigers, koi, etc.) or naval tradition (anchors, swallows, clipper ships, etc.). And while there are plenty of morbid tattoo motifs—looking at you skulls—the medieval executioner seems highly specific. The rise of electric tattooing happened a good 400 years after the executioner's heyday, so it's odd to see so many of them.
But on the other hand, it makes perfect sense. There are so many tattoo motifs built around the concept of bad luck or being dealt a bad hand, typical gallows humor. One can't think of a better way to portray gallows humor than by tattooing the guy that actually hung up on the gallows and pulled the lever to set everything in motion.
Another fun little thing about these executioner tattoos is the way they're all very similar, yet each has its own personality. This is one of the reasons I fell in love with American traditional tattooing in the first place. Since flash was the backbone of the art form, tattooers often find a way to put their own spin on designs that had been done 10,000 times before. Looking through the gallery below you'll see more than a handful of tattoos that likely draw their lineage back to the same piece of flash hanging in some shop somewhere, and they do so without the artists who created them even having the slightest idea this is the case. Something about that really resonates with me. It's cool.
Enjoy this gallery of executioner tattoos, friends!