Another nautical tattoo, the swallow was commonly found on the arms of sailors.
The swallow tattoo is said to have been a British creation and based on the barn swallow. The story goes that if a sailor had a swallow tattoo it meant he has traveled at least 5000 nautical miles. It was considered to be a kind of badge of honor. Two swallows meant 10,000 nautical miles, so a real veteran!
Another more commonly known meaning behind the swallow tattoo is one of superstition. It was apparently thought that a swallow is a good luck symbol that would help ensure a sailors safe return home. This is commonly said to be because of the fact that if a sailor saw swallows then it meant they were reaching land. It’s far more likely they would have seen a seagull to be fair so I doubt the legitimacy of that particular piece of reasoning. A more plausible reason is that the swallow actually returns to the same location every year to mate.
There’s a little add on to this swallows returning to mate story that I found rather nice! In this version the sailor would get a single solitary swallow before they set off on their voyage. Then when they safely returned home they would get a second swallow as if the original swallow had returned and found its mate. If they didn’t make it home however it was said that the swallow would take their soul to heaven.
As with most bird tattoos the swallow symbolizes freedom or spreading your wings and traveling somewhere new.
There’s one final meaning that was created in Glasgow, Scotland that I find particularly charming! Apparently having a swallow on the back of your hand in this city back say 40-70 years ago meant “this fist flies”. It was worn as a warning not to mess with them!