Mystifying Moon Tattoo Designs & Meanings
With such a rich symbolic history and virtually endless design options, it’s no surprise that Moon tattoos are incredibly popular.
In this article, we’ll explore the various meanings behind Moon tattoos. We’ll also share some of our favorite design ideas, including a huge gallery to guide and inspire you.
Moon tattoo meaning
The Moon has fascinated humanity since times immemorial. It’s only to be expected that over the centuries, a series of myths and symbolic meanings would develop across cultures.
The fact that the moon goes through different stages lends it the symbolic meaning of renewal. Viewed from the Earth, the Moon can ‘disappear’ entirely before gradually becoming full again.
Of course, we now know that this is the result of the way in which the light from the Sun bounces off the surface of the Moon.
The apparent phases of the Moon that we can observe come from nothing more than the angle that the Moon makes with the Sun.
Still, the symbolic meaning of renewal and regeneration is relevant nonetheless. Therefore, a moon tattoo can mean the belief in constant change, new opportunities, and starting over.
Interestingly, specific phases of the moon have their own meanings in a spiritual context – we’ll explore those in the next section.
Subtlety and influence
As we all know, the Moon shines at night. Or does it?
As a matter of fact, the Moon doesn’t produce any light of its own. Instead, what we perceive to be light emission is actually just a reflection. The Moon shines because it reflects the light from the Sun.
For this reason, it has acquired the symbolic meaning of subtlety and passivity.
However, moon tattoos can also symbolize influence, and a quiet, subtle power. After all, despite its passivity, the Moon is responsible for something as immense as the ocean tides on Earth!
Reflection and dreams
Now, on to a different kind of reflection: the Moon also symbolizes contemplation. The age-old image of a person gazing at the Moon deep in thought is a great example of this meaning at work.
Dreams, both literally and figuratively, are also associated with the Moon. Here, the connection is obvious: the Moon is usually visible only at night, when most of us sleep – and dream.
A Moon tattoo can therefore be a mark of a person identifying as a dreamer and an independent thinker. It can also be a reminder to take a break every now and then to reflect on our lives and the world around us.
Apart from the Sun, the Moon is the only astronomical body that’s easy to observe from Earth.
As such, it often makes us think of the wider Universe and the endless expanse of which we are merely a minuscule part.
A moon tattoo can therefore be a reminder of the endless nature of the cosmos and our tiny part in the Universe.
This is not to say that it means we’re insignificant – it’s just a prompt to avoid taking the petty realities of life too seriously.
Femininity or masculinity?
In general, the Moon is most often associated with femininity – as the opposite to the masculine Sun.
The relationship between the Moon and the Sun is a great example of the Chinese yin and yang philosophy. The symbol of yin and yang represents two forces that both oppose and complete each other. In this context, the Sun is the yang (male) side, and the moon is the yin (female) force.
However, in some cultures, the Moon takes on the role of a masculine force. For example, many Native American tribes treat the Moon as a representation of masculinity.
In the end, where it comes to the meaning of a personal tattoo, it’s up to you how you choose to interpret the Moon as a symbol.
Phases of the moon tattoos
Depending on how the light from the Sun hits the Moon, we perceive it as going through different phases. In a spiritual context, these phases each have a distinct meaning.
Waxing Moon tattoo meaning
A waxing Moon is only partially illuminated, but ‘growing’. This is to say that the next night, there will be more of the Moon visible, rather than less.
The waxing Moon in a tattoo represents motivation and refinement, as well as progress.
A waxing crescent Moon is particularly associated with intention. Meanwhile, a first-quarter Moon – waxing, half-illuminated – means decision making. Finally, a waxing gibbous Moon – 3/4 illuminated – signifies refinement.
Waning Moon tattoo meaning
When the Moon is waning, it’s going through the opposite process to waxing. It’s becoming less and less visible each night.
The symbolic meaning of a waning Moon is that of the passage of time and a moment for reflection and re-organizing your thoughts.
A waning gibbous Moon is symbolic of gratitude, last quarter – forgiveness, and waning crescent – surrender.
All phases in one tattoo
A tattoo that shows all phases of the Moon in one design usually means the passing of time and renewal. These make for equally popular Moon tattoos for men and women.
These designs are usually linear in shape, either vertical or horizontal.
Vertically, they fit really well onto the arm, leg, or down the length of the spine. Horizontally, they’re a great choice for chest and back tattoos.
Full Moon tattoo ideas and meaning
The full Moon is and completely illuminated, and looks perfectly round when observed from the Earth.
Full Moon tattoos carry the symbolic meanings of the height of power, completion, achieving clarity, and realizing one’s desires. It can also mean the release and achievement of goals and intentions.
Interestingly, the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox is known as a Harvest Moon. The next full Moon after that bears the name Hunter’s Moon.
As a tattoo design, a full Moon will look great on its own or as part of a larger scene.
The forearm is a common placement for simple full Moon tattoos.
This design can be placed just about anywhere – the only thing to keep in mind is that the tattoo can’t be too small.
If the full Moon is scaled down too much, the details will be lost and it may just look like a sphere, no longer be recognizable as the Moon.
Blood Moon tattoos
Occasionally, a lunar eclipse occurs, causing the Moon to appear dark orange or even red. This event is often called a Blood Moon.
Because a total lunar eclipse is a relatively rare phenomenon that’s quite unsettling to see, a whole host of superstitions and spiritual meanings has arisen in connection to the Blood Moon.
In most cases, the Blood Moon was seen as a bad omen, indicating an impending catastrophe.
Due to a superstition expressed in the Book of Revelations, the Blood Moon is even believed by some to be sign of the Apocalypse.
Nowadays, people who practice Wicca or consider themselves pagans believe the night of a Blood Moon to be a moment of great significance, bearing increased magical power.
For most of us though, the Blood Moon is a rare phenomenon that’s fascinating to observe. Beyond the spiritual meaning, then, a Blood Moon tattoo is a sign of being unique and independent.
Moon tattoo ideas
Moon tattoo designs come in a wide variety, from simple, minimalistic black tattoos to full-color illustrations depicting entire scenes.
When planning your Moon tattoo, consider the following ideas.
Animal Moon tattoos
The Moon makes us think of the night, and all the nocturnal creatures that begin their activities once the Sun goes down.
For this reason, it’s a popular choice to combine the image of a Moon with that of a nocturnal animal in a single design.
As far as choosing the specific animal, consider the scene you want to create and the meaning behind the creature.
Owls often appear in these tattoos. Wolves are a common addition to Moon tattoos for guys.
Owls carry the symbolic meanings of wisdom, protection, hope, the afterlife, and transition.
Meanwhile, wolves are associated with loyalty, independence, and strength. For more details, check out our dedicated articles on these animals in tattoo art.
You could opt for an abstract design that somehow combines the Moon as a symbol with a depiction of a specific animal. For larger tattoos, consider a more realistic, moonlit scene.
Tree and Moon tattoo
A tree and the Moon together in a single design carry associations with nature and a quiet night outdoors. Depending on the art style, this combination can also have a dark, gothic feel.
Trees are symbols of growth, life, and wisdom. Combined with the symbol of the Moon, they create an atmospheric scene of quiet reflection.
This combination of elements looks great both in a simple, all-black style and as part of a colorful, more complex piece.
Man on the Moon tattoo
Variously described as the Man on the Moon or Man in the Moon, this phrase refers to the image of a human face or figure seen in the surface of the Moon.
Of course, this is just an optical illusion. The human brain has an in-built tendency to seek out familiar shapes in just about any pattern.
Still, the idea that a face or a figure can be seen ‘on’ the Moon has inspired countless artists and storytellers, most famously Georges Méliès in his milestone of a film, A Trip to the Moon.
There is a rich mythological and spiritual history of belief in the Man in the Moon. For example, the Inuits believed him to be the keeper of souls of all living things, and the shamans supposedly had the ability to visit the Moon to consult with him.
Meanwhile, in Chinese and Japanese cultures, the Man in the Moon is a deity representing love. He is known as Wu Kang in China and Gekkawo in Japan, and he’s believed to unite lovers by tying their feet together.
A tattoo with a face on the Moon can be a reference to personifying the Moon in such a way – as a benevolent force with a mind of its own.
However, more commonly, this kind of design represents creativity, a belief in goodness and virtue in the Universe, and a sense of infinite wonder.
Moon and star tattoo
When including the image of a night sky in a design, it’s common to add the stars as well as the Moon.
Adding a star to a more simplistic Moon design will help to identify the sphere (or crescent) as the Moon, so it’s a great solution for very small tattoos that need a bit of extra definition.
As a symbol the ‘star and crescent’ combination has a long history, reaching back to classical antiquity. In the 18th Century, it became the symbol of the Ottoman Empire – and it remains a feature of the national flags of Ottoman successor states, such as Turkey, Algeria, and Tunisia.
Since the mid-20th Century, the star and crescent have become the primary symbol of Islam.
The Moon features as an element in a large number of tattoos that imitate illustrations or paintings.
These designs range from realistic, 3D renditions to simpler styles. They look great both in full color and as a black-and-white image.
Small Moon tattoos
Moon tattoos don’t have to be large. In fact, a carefully chosen design can be small enough to fit on your finger or behind your ear. A good tattoo artist will be able to help you come up with a suitable idea.
The key to choosing the right design for a very small tattoo is cutting down on the detail. Highly intricate designs won’t look good when they’ve been squeezed into a space that’s too small.
Also, they won’t age very well, becoming blurry and distorted after a few years.
Instead, try to choose designs that are as simple as possible for small tattoos. The crescent phase of the Moon is recommended since just the outline is enough to make it clear that your tattoo depicts a Moon.
Meanwhile, if you’d opted for the outline of a full Moon – well, you’d just get a circle!
A small Moon tattoo can gain expression and creativity through the use of color or texture.
Hopefully, you’re now well-prepared for choosing the perfect design for your Moon tattoo. The symbolism is so broad and the space for creativity so large that you really can’t go wrong.
For more inspiration, have a look through our huge gallery of cool Moon tattoos!