Compass Tattoo To Give You Direction – A Guide For 2023

Compass tattoo has been a long time staple choice in the tattoo community. Why is it such a favorable choice to include in tattoo designs?

Compass is an instrument for navigation and orientation. The first compass was invented in China during the Han Dynasty between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD. At first, it was used for divination, fortune-telling and geomancy, for finding precious gems and in Feng Shui but in time people discovered that it can be used for navigation and orientation.

As the compass points in four directions (North, South, East, and West), the compass is an important element of sailor life, helping their ships sail through the stormy seas on their way home from a long journey.

The compass holds meaning for a traveler, being a symbol for guidance, the ability to point you in the right direction.

Fitting symbol for a tattoo for an adventurer, no?

Every Tattoo Has A Story – What Does a Compass Tattoo Mean?

The compass symbolized reasonableness, because its arrow always points strictly to the north, and neither the weather nor any other external processes affect its being straight and clear – just as the reason and logic should be.

It was a break through invention that helped push the Age of Sail and helped ships reach their destination easier.

With their close connection to sailing and naval themes, compass is commonly combined with ship tattoos.

Prior to the compass, the people were orientating themselves only with the help of sun and the moon, which later explains how the sun compass was inspired.

Throughout history, north has symbolized progress and advancement (whereas south symbolizes things going wrong).

Apart from this meaning, the compass also symbolizes:

  • Guidance – following your North Star, or navigating your life’s journey towards your True North is where compass always pointing to the north symbolizes guidance. It will without fail always lead you to where you need to go.
  • Orientation – in the past, having a navigation tool like a compass meant you knew which direction you were facing. This means you always have orientation and knowing where you are headed.
  • Travel – when staying in one place, you can always find your way around the known ways of your local area. But travelers need to make sense of unknown paths, new challenges and finding their way to their destination. This is were compasses come into play, making them a staple in every suitcase.
  • Independence – using a compass signifies independence and the willingness to move out of your comfort zone. Wearing the compass symbol is a sign of independence and confidence that comes from knowing that no matter what, you’ll always find your way. You can mix it in with an eagle tattoo, since it also bears a similar meaning.
  • Safety and protection – compass was seen as a symbol of protection since ancient times, as it has a clear and useful function to the sailors to get them out of challenging times, such as getting called by the mermaids.
  • Luck – compass is a device that will bring luck to a lost person,
  • Motivation – a compass leads a traveler where they need to go, it helps you to move and shows you the way to follow your path.

The Symbol Of The Compass Rose

A compass rose, sometimes called a wind rose or rose of the winds, is a figure on a compass, map, nautical chart, or monument used to display the orientation of the cardinal directions (north, east, south, and west) and their intermediate points.

Today, a form of compass rose is found on, or featured in, almost all navigation systems, including nautical charts, global-positioning systems (GPS), and similar equipment.

That said, the directions represent: infinite possibility, the present, the past, and the future.

For those adding a compass rose to their tattoo, it usually means that they want it to symbolize the guidance to their true north and to navigate the journey unfolding before them.

The compass rose represents spiritual direction, awakening and discovery.

Importantly, it has little to do with just the flower rose meaning.

The Story of the Four Directions

The four directions – north, east, west and south – have had a long standing and important role in the folklore around the world.

In Chinese Feng Shui, each direction correlates to the Chinese zodiac animals:

  • North (rat) – adaptability, charm, creativity, sociability, wit.
  • East (rabbit) – trust, sincerity, love, compassion.
  • South (horse) – physical strength, health, adventure, loyalty.
  • West (rooster) – confidence, business, energy, persistence.

In ancient Celtic symbolism and tradition, the cardinal directions were acknowledged in several ceremonies and festivals. Here is a brief outline of these directional representations:

  • East – air, communication, new beginnings, new growth
  • South – fire, energy, passion, creativity
  • West – water, emotion, psyche, movement
  • North – earth, home, security, fertility

Native Americans have their own meanings of cardinal directions that you can use in your Native American inspired tattooThe Lakota, for example hold to the following guideline:

  • North – wisdom/thought
  • East – salvation/spirit
  • South – beginnings/purity
  • West – conclusions/fullness

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

This well known phrase is the second line of J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem “The Riddle of Strider” from The Fellowship of the Ring.

So, here is the full quote:

All that is gold does not glitter;
Not all who wander are lost.
The old that is strong does not wither.
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

In Tolkien’s epic fantasy works is the wandering souls are an important element, even though he does not always celebrate them. Indeed, he often warns against the danger of wandering far from guidance.

When one wanders, one should still be keen enough to know when to continue wandering in a particular direction or when one’s fate is in jeopardy. That may come through the assistance of maps, compasses and guides.

But one big takeaway from this lyric not all who wander are lost is the concept accepting even what is deviant from current societal norms

The perception of (ab)normal behaviors continue to change over time (e.g. living together before marriage, smoking in public, gender roles, etc.).

When we meet someone, who seems to be aimlessly drifting, we should consider they are on a personal quest to find their real self.

One other way to look at this is that those who are willing to face the adventure, to wander off the hardened road, have the the faith to follow one’s heart (true north).

Best Compass Tattoo Placements

Compass tattoo design, depending if it’s a single element, or a part of a big elaborate navy scene, can be inked on different body parts.

Many will use compass in combination with maps or anchors and that is when the inner forearm, shoulder or a calf is a great placement to have enough room for all the intricate details. For a larger scene it can even be a full arm tattoo sleeve.

This is where many styles can come in, from realism (for the maps) all the way to geometric style for a more abstract design.

Smaller, simplistic compass tattoo designs fit beautifully on the wrists, triceps and chest, making it a great option for a girl’s tattoo.

If you are looking just for the compass on a vintage map, you can also go for the chest, or upper back.

Compass Tattoo Ideas

To help you with your research for your next tattoo design, we went on a hunt through Instagram to find the best compass tattoo ideas.

Take a look below to check them out all:

Are you looking for a custom compass tattoo design? We got you.

Our expert tattoo artists will provide a quick initial draft to get you going.
Happy inking ❤

Milena Petrovic

Milena Petrovic

Co-founder of Tattoo Stylist

About the author

Milena has decided to start an organization that will create a safe environment for everybody to get their first, second or third tattoo and to encourage young people to transform their ideas into tattoos safely, with talent and vision.

You can find her writing about tattoos on Quora or updating our Pinterest profile with awesome tattoo ideas!

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