What is a Sak Yant Tattoo?
What is a Sak Yant?
The Sak Yant Tattoo is a Traditional Tattoo applied by a holy man, while chanting prayers using a Steal Needle in either Ink (visible) or oil (invisible) that is ended with a Magical Blessing. The Sak Yant Tattoo offers protection to the wearer and serves as a Talisman of Affirmation for a personal quality, quest or goal.
The Traditional Bamboo Tattoo from Thailand
สักยันต์ – Sak Yant
Sak – meaning “to tap” or, “to tattoo”, and
Yant – meaning “Yantra”. Originally derived from the Sanskrit word “Yantra”.
Sak Yants the Thai name for the Tattooing of Sacred geometrical designs on the skin. Yant (or Yantra, as they are call them in the west), are only to be tattooed by Buddhist monks, or Brahmin Holy men . The Yant tattoos have developed over the centuries under the influence of several different religious philosophies. The Yantra designs that already existed in Hindu India were adapted by the Thais as Buddhism arrived from neighboring India.
What are Sak Yant Tattoo’s used for?
Thailand is 98% Buddhist with a long history in belief in magic and the supernatural. Sak Yants are seen as the strongest form of protection against such forces. In addition they are used as a personal Talisman for creating change in personality, life circumstances and achievement of goals.
Spells & Curses
Good fortune and Luck
Avoid bad Habits
Attraction and Charisma
Power and Authority
Comparison and Kindness
About Sak Yant Tattoos
The History of Sak Yant Tattoos
The Four Elements
All across the world in the past, cultures have developed magical systems based on the four elements they thought made up the physical properties of the world. They are, earth, air, fire and water.
Cultures such as the ancient Greeks, Romans and Incas, and later the Wiccans, and mystics of the West, the idea that these four elements – earth, water, air, and fire – made up all matter was the cornerstone of philosophy, science, and medicine. The elements were “pure” but could not be found in that state on earth.
Everything was made up of some combination of earth, water, air, and fire. Indian tradition follows this belief before the ancient Greeks and later influenced the Khmer empire. The empire was dissolved into what is now known as Thailand and Cambodia. As Buddhism made its way into the Khmer empire, a fifth element was added that of spirit or Buddha.
For hundreds of years, Thai and Khmer warriors where renowned and feared for the magical markings tattooed on their skin. These markings were a mix of Buddhist psalms and prayers, and shamanistic spells and sorcery that had survived the Religious transition from the pre-Buddhist, Hindu era and had been incorporated in the belief system of the newly born Buddhist countries.
Since the days of King Nareswon, in the golden era of Ayuttaya, Thai soldiers not only sought protection in the power of Sak Yant and also the wearing and praying of amulets. In World World 2, Korean and Vietnam war, Thai soldiers were nicknamed “Taharn Phee” (ghost soldiers) by the allied forces because of their Sak Yant tattoos and amulets. Many Muay Thai Boxers (”Nak Muay”) seek the magical powers said to be afforded them by Sak Yant tattoos.
What is a Sak Yant Tattoo in Today’s World
A Yant is a Sacred geometrical design that provide powers of protection and various blessings through Buddhist psalms and magical formulas. The Buddhist psalms written in Thai or Khmer script around the yant are know as “Khata”. A Khata is also known as “Mantra” in other meaning, the word Mantra is a Sanskrit word meaning “Prayer”.
The Sak Yant Tattoo has become ingrained in the Thai culture as a way to provide protection and gain good luck through the mystical side of traditional philosophies and the Buddhist influence. Usually the Monk or Ajarn who preforms the Sak Yant has studied the magical side of the ancient traditions and incorporates charms and magical blessings in addition to the design of the Sak Yant itself. This additional learning comes from the pre-Buddhist era, and while not strictly part of Buddhism, it is part of the traditional culture of Thailand.
Who can give Sak Yant Tattoos?
The Sak Yant is a combination of Tattoo design, Prayers administered as the tattoo is being made, and a final blessing to charge and activate it with the power of the Sak Yant Masters. It takes Sak Yant Masters years of training in the magical art’s and living a good and Spiritual life to gain the knowledge and power to create these personal charms. For a Sak Yant to be real they must be done by a spiritual trained and qualified Sak Yant Master. Sak Yant Tattoos can not be done from a tattoo shop!
Qualified Sak Yant Masters are either Buddhist Monks, or Sak Yant Ajarns (Ajarn means Master Teacher). Almost all Sak Yant Ajarns learned to administer the Thai Tattoos while they were Monks at a Temple. Not everyone wants to be a Monk their whole life, and those men who want to still be holy, without the restrictions of Monk-hood, become Ajarns.
Sak Yant Monks and Sak Yant Ajarn Masters both command the same level of respect in Thai society. Many Monks from Temples who do not have a Sak Yant Master will happily go and Visit an Ajarn for their Sak Yants. Ajarns are able to develop their artistic skills, and learn different magical systems, making them generally more flexible and relaxed in their approach.
Learning to become a Sak Yant Master
In Thailand the Sak Yant is associated with Buddhist Monks in Temples and Ajarns (learned Masters) who have usually served their time as a Sak Yant Monk before leaving to pursue the scared hermit magical life. There is years of training to become a Sak Yant practitioner and in-depth study of the magical arts is required.
The Sak Yant Master must learn Pali, the sacred Buddhist language, the ancient Khmer alphabet, the yantra designs and the Blessing chants that go with each. In northern Thailand many also learn and use the ancient Lanna language and script, and many Sak Yant Tattoos in this region use this script over the Khmer style.
In addition they power of the Sak Yant is drawn from the Sak Yant Master and they must learn and practice throughout their lives meditation techniques, to harness the magic that is used in the scared blessing. Only after their masters feel they are ready, are they given the Ruesi mask, signifying they have gone from being a student to being a Master.
The years of study it requires to become an authentic Ajarn of Sak Yant Monk means that each Sak Yant Design can be altered especially for the individual. It is also the reason a Tattoo Shop, is not the best place to obtain one as they are copying the text of a scared blessing meant for someone else. It is also the reason we at Sak Yant Chiang Mai, can not 100% tell you what a photograph of a Sak Yant means. While the designs used are similar, the ancient text and blessing is a deeply held trade secret among the Sak Yant Masters.
About Traditional Thai Tattoos - Ruesi and Thai Monks
The Ruesi Connection to Sak Yant Tattoos
In Thailand, before Buddhism became the predominate religion, the locals practiced a form of animism religion, that worshiped (and feared) the role of animal spirits and ghosts. Ruesi legend has it, was a hermit sage that was a master magician and held power and control over this world.
Ruesi lived in the jungle, and since this animal worship has remained a part of the Thai culture and belief system was integrated into the magical side of Buddhism. When a Monk becomes an Ajarn, Ruesi often becomes the primary influence and teachings in relation to the Sak Yant Tattoo.
The Sak Yant Temples and Monks
Long ago, education especially about Spiritual and Magical matters took place in Temples. For many Thai people in order to learn to read and write, you had to become a Monk to learn these skills. Learning the magical text’s and blessings of traditional Thai Tattoos was no different.
Usually a Temple will call out for help to a Monk preforming Sak Yant Tattoos when they require funds to build and extend their Temple grounds. The Monk will relocate and provide Sak Yants until funds have been raised and extensions built.
The Sak Yant Tattoo and Buddhism
The Sak Yant is strictly not part of the original Buddhist traditions. As Buddhism influence expanded and spread across Asia and the world, local and pre-existing traditions and religions that had no direct contradiction with Buddhism were integrated into the style of local Buddhist teachings. Sak Yants came from these previously held traditions in Thai (and other Asian) cultures as part of the Shamanistic traditions that already existed.
In today’s Thailand, not all sects of Thai Buddhism incorporate the ancient art of mystical Sak Yant tradition and Monks from these schools of thought will seek out an Ajarn or Sak Yant Monk to obtain one for themselves. Generally almost all Thai Monks accept the validity of Sak Yants even if the tradition is not part of their particular school of thought. Monks with an interest in the Talismans magic of Sak Yant will externally learn the art and operate from a Samnak (Sak Yant room) off location to the Temple and order they belong.
In city areas, the Sak Yant began to lose favor with the influx of Christian Missionaries and the social elite adapting to Western influence in the late 19th century. While still popular among the rural communities, and with people in dangerous jobs; the resurgence of the Sak Yant really took off when Angelina Jolie received her Sak Yant Tattoo. On very rare occasions you may run across a Monk from this era who has a personal opinion that the Sak Yant is not part of Buddhism. In fact the current head Monk of Thailand is actively trying to suppress Sak Yants being done at Temple locations.