The Real Meaning Of An Arrow Tattoo

An arrow is arguably one of the most attractive emblems you can get inked on your skin. A world of meaning resides in this seemingly simple symbol that draws cultural significance from global history.

Archery is an ancient sport — the earliest form of the bow and arrow dates back to at least 71,000 years ago – and has played an important role in weaponry and battle across many civilizations. Additionally, the arrow's utility as a measure of direction makes it a longstanding valuable tool. 


Most prominently highlighted is the arrow's association with the Native American culture. As noted by World Archery, traditional tribal communities came up with "an extended symbolism for the arrow as part of a variety of non-verbal communication," with different aspects of an arrow signifying something remarkable about life. A broken arrow, a bundle of arrows, a feathered arrow — all contain some noteworthy wisdom. Here, we dive into the details and significance attached to the many renditions of arrow tattoos to give you some well-rounded ink inspo.

A single arrow tattoo shoots you forward in life

Keep it classy with a single, simple, straight arrow. The arrow — no matter how minimalistic — communicates immense power and meaning. The symbol's Native American connection may resonate with many tattoo seekers, who are drawn to its antique significance. As noted in "The Tattoo Dictionary," the arrow figured as a "hugely important symbol that quite literally meant life," its scope expanding from warfare to sustenance (via HuffPost). Consequently, a host of meanings are subsumed within a solo arrow symbol. Courage, perseverance, progress, and focus are some common themes associated with such a tattoo, per Tatt Mag


While a lone arrow can be paired with other relevant designs — like a heart, diamond, or compass — such a tattoo all by itself too is deeply purposeful. According to Self Tattoo, a single arrow signifies independence, and could be reflective of the bearer's own strength.

It's a very empowering tattoo to carry around as a mark of how far you have come through your struggles. The inherent movement in an arrow, meanwhile, is a constant reminder of your ability to change and becomes a suitable way to remind yourself that you are making some fresh starts in life. 

Crossed arrow tattoos are popular among BFFs

If you're wanting to immortalize a friendship with matching tattoos, then look no further — this is the one for you and your bestie! Opting for crossed arrows, especially when done with a companion, signifies companionship and a forever kind of love. As mentioned in tattoo guru Trent Aitken-Smith's book "The Tattoo Dictionary," a show of crossed arrows symbolizes an "alliance" (per HuffPost). In Native American culture, a display of crossed arrows declared friendship or allegiance — sentiments that will certainly never go out of style. 


Crossed arrows are increasingly gaining popularity as a mark of something sacred. According to Martha Stewart, crossed arrows are even making a major appearance on the wedding scene, with designers playing around with elegant designs on invitation cards and stationery items. Who can forget, meanwhile, the symbol proudly sitting above singer Miley Cyrus' right elbow? Per Seventeen, artist Kat Von D, of "LA Ink" fame, is credited with inking crossed arrows on Cyrus. 

A simple bow and arrow tattoo signifies balance in life

Bow and arrow tattoos are evergreen, not just because fo their aesthetic but also for how heavy they are with meaning. World Archery defines the bow-and-arrow pair as "mankind's first piece of advanced technology," noting how archery became emblematic of both magic and power, especially in the Native American culture.


According to Joseph Marshall III, author of "The Lakota Way of Strength and Courage," among the native Lakota tribe, a bow and arrow pictured together represent the balance of life (via NPR). While the arrow associated with the sun is masculine, the bow associated with the moon carries feminine energy.

This simple symbol, which essentially draws from defense weaponry, projects many life values we would all do well to remember. Per TattooSEO, a nocked arrow pulled back and ready to be shot from a bow signifies tension or conflict in one's circumstances. The struggle it represents could simultaneously be a reminder to keep pushing forward by aiming for better things to come. On the other hand, an arrow being released could be a signal of breakthrough or liberation.


TatRing notes that the movement in this tattoo "marks the end of waiting" after a period of relative inactivity. Additionally, an arrow at rest on a bow can indicate that peace has been achieved (via Byrdie). 

A broken arrow tattoo actually has a non-violent meaning

Broken but beautiful: No maxim captures the essence of a broken tattoo better than this one does. Rooted in the social ethos of the Native American culture, the broken arrow tattoo — like its other arrowed counterparts — holds deep and varied significance.


For starters, an arrow split in two pieces can symbolize peace, as noted in "The Tattoo Dictionary" by Trent Aitken-Smith (via HuffPost). Such a symbol is also said to carry the weight of a truce or accord in times of war, whether it be with an external force or your own good self. As Wild Tattoo Art observes, a broken tattoo heralds "an end to a long conflict," but could also have a more direct connotation of heartbreak. A simple broken tattoo could potentially speak volumes about the emotional condition of its bearer.

But just as much as it signifies somberness, a broken tattoo could very well be the harbinger of new beginnings. Per TatRing, a design like this can be a literal show of a person "breaking away from old patterns and starting anew" — no matter how small or big this leap is!


A compass arrow tattoo points to your ideal direction in life

If you are seeking for on embarking upon a new direction in life, then a compass rose tattoo might just be the perfect thing to help guide you on your journey. According to National Geographic, the compass is thought to have originated in China, where it was used as a spiritual magnetic instrument when planning the environment as per the laws of feng shui. Though its design has undergone several changes over the years, the essence of the compass as a navigation tool, both literally and symbolically, has remained unchanged. The utility of a compass hinges on an inbuilt arrow that always points north — the direction of progress (per Tattoo Stylist). The arrow and compass device, therefore, are symbols that cannot thrive independent of each other. 


While the compass has long been a mainstay among travelers, adventure-seekers, and sailors, holding the promise of good luck, it has since become popular with just about anyone searching for a foothold. The arrow by itself also contains great meaning, since the only direction it points is forward, making it a strong harbinger of positivity during difficult times. The compass arrow tattoo can easily be adapted to personal tastes and interests, resulting in interesting designs that feature other symbols such as maps or hearts (via The Trend Spotter). 

Nothing says love like a heart and arrow tattoo

A heart and arrow together appear as one of the most defining symbols of longstanding love. In tattoo form, it is commonly depicted as an arrow piercing a heart diagonally and is a sign widely flaunted on the bodies of loved-up couples or even lovelorn singles. This emblem of romance is typically called the Cupid's arrow tattoo, named after the mythological god of love (per TatRing).


Cupid, the eternal mascot of Valentine's Day, is a figure from Roman mythology and also manifests in the older Greek mythology as Eros, according to Time. His origin goes as far back as 700 BC, with his various manifestations as a handsome man and a cherubic boy all relating to desire. Interestingly, this symbol was also prevalent among armed forces officers and sailors away on duty as a reminder of their loved ones back home, according to Byrdie.

Cupid's essentials — a bow and arrow that he shot at people to invoke love in their hearts — have become staples on holiday cards and arms alike. Tatt Mag notes that one rendition of this symbol is represented as a bow and arrow drawn back, aimed at a heart. This could be a signifier of heartache, or even heartbreak, reminding one to tread carefully in love. Meanwhile, a minimalistic arrow topped with a heart could make for a sweet tattoo indicating your search for love.


From unity to motivation, a set of three arrow tattoos says a lot

If a tattoo with a single arrow is too bare for your taste, then might we suggest flaunting three arrows together? This artistic design, commonly inked on the forearm where its appeal shines through in full glory, carries over a wealth of wisdom from history.


According to TattooSEO, "motivation and forward thinking" are two underlying characteristics when all three arrowheads point in one direction — into the future, so to speak. Meanwhile, one or more arrows pointing backward could indicate a balance between the past and the future. An interesting bit of history from Japan also imparts meaning to the motif of three arrows, per Tricycle. A 16th-century warrior named Mōri Motonari is believed to have taught his sons the value of unity by asking them to break a bundle of three arrows (which they could not).

The Book of Threes deems the number three to signify wholeness — a triad of a beginning, middle, and end — or the harmony between the mind, body, and spirit. The site notes that "from this primordial triangle all figures derive." Counting important milestones by arrow tattoos is also a trend worth considering. Some people opt for a triple-arrowed design in honor of important family members, like their number of siblings or children. Three tattoos converging at a single point or tied together in a bundle are popular renditions of the design.


The Sagittarius arrow tattoo is one for astrology fanatics

The arrow motif is a predominant element in the Sagittarius zodiac sign, given that the ninth astrological house is closely associated with archery. In fact, "Sagittarius" in Latin literally translates to "archer," which also figures in its visual representation, according to Britannica. The sign manifests as a centaur — a mythical half-man, half-horse entity — with a bow and arrow in hand, a composition that goes back to the 11th century BCE.


A minimalistic depiction of Sagittarius could come about simply as a bow and arrow, sans the centaur. Aside from the significance of a bow and arrow symbol — from balance to defense — the traits associated with the zodiac sign can also factor into a tattoo. Per Allure, Sagittarius spirits (born between November 22 and December 21) exhibit archer-like attributes; they're brave adventurers and wisdom seekers, unafraid of change.   

Since the symbol finds context in the mystical field of astrology and horoscopes, one can play around with other details when designing a Sagittarius arrow tattoo. As shown by Mr. Inkwells, an attractive bow-cum-constellation tattoo that depicts Sagittarius in two ways makes for a meaningful choice. An imprint of Jupiter, the sign's ruling planet, could be another addition. Or you could always go for a simple, small Sagittarius tattoo — like the one Rita Ora sports behind her ear.


The unity is strong in a tattoo of a bundle of arrows

One can never have too many arrows! The image of a bundle of arrows is steeped deep in Native American tradition and history. A straightforward implication of a quiver of arrows is that the bearer is battle-ready, armed with the defense they need (via TatRing). In native tribal culture, the bow and arrow were key tools of weaponry during armed conflict. As such, the symbolism behind a full bundle of arrows isn't just physical but also hyperphysical to the effect that warriors were naturally required to leverage the strength in unity when fighting enemies. The essence of loyalty is also core to the concept of a tattoo showing a bundle of arrows.


With an arrow bundle, the sacred number is five. According to Chronic Ink Tattoo, a bundle of five arrows hearkens back to the heroic Iroquois League. The Iroquois, or Five Nations, was a tribal confederacy of five groups prominent during the 17th and 18th centuries in North America (via Britannica). They are noted for having retained their autonomy in the face of colonization and are reportedly recognized as one of the oldest participatory democracies in the world. All that is translated pictorially in a bundle of arrows — now that makes for one weighty tattoo, if you choose to get it! 

The direction of an arrow tattoo makes a difference

As simplistic as an arrow tattoo may look, it is likely to be replete with symbolism that is equally deep. An interesting feature in this equation becomes the placement of the arrow and the direction its head is pointing towards. Drawing its meanings significantly from American Indian cultures, arrow tattoos can reflect greatly about your life at present or the life you are aspiring towards, depending on where they are facing. As per Thought Catalog, a straight arrow pointing left is believed to ward off evil. An arrowhead pointing to the right carries similar connotations of protection. If you have faith enough, then these sideward arrows could well become sacred talismans that ensure your safety everywhere you go (without the added stress of you ever forgetting them behind). 


TatRing, meanwhile, states that an arrow directed downwards is an indication of peace, quite similar to the ideas of truce or amnesty represented by a broken arrow tattoo. A careful placement of such a tattoo could even mean far more — when placed on the forearm, for instance, a downward arrow could pictorially represent your energy being released into the world. An arrow pointing skyward, on the other hand, can be encouragement to look up with hope when the going gets tough. Sound wisdom, we'd say! 

A curved arrow shows movement toward change

The versatility of an arrow allows it to be represented in endless ways. If ever in life you find yourself gravitating toward making changes — whether positive, difficult, strenuous, or impactful — your situation can be reflected through a curved arrow. Yes, we know, we know — the saying is "as straight as an arrow." But, once in a while, the arrow bends and when it does, it communicates a meaningful message.


According to Archery & Bow, an arrow may bend on the way to its target. This phenomenon comes about due to the energy it absorbs via the bowstring releasing it into the air, and it is referred to as the archer's paradox. Owing to this particular technicality, great meaning can be read into a curved arrow tattoo. 

For one, the curve or bend in the tattoo is a graphic representation of the arrow's everlasting association with movement (via Wild Tattoo Art). It implies that the arrow is in flight, moving to a destination different from where it began its journey, and it can help give the bearer a sense of direction in wherever they are headed (hopefully onto bigger and better things). The curve of an arrow tattoo caused by tension is also emblematic of how our situations — even the stressful ones — shape our lives and how we persevere through them.


A feathered arrow tattoo is more than a pretty design

Feathers and arrows together figure as important imagery in Native American culture and, today, feature prominently on the arms, backs, and other body parts of tattoo aficionados. Besides its aesthetic nature, a tattoo of a feather appended to an arrow is actually steeped in historical meaning. American Indian communities affixed bird feathers to their arrows, in a technique known as fletching, for better accuracy (via the University of Iowa). Feathers gave arrows better flight direction and prevented the weapon from collapsing, which would have cost lives during war.


Feathers have been central to native cultures beyond archery too, figuring in aboriginal headdresses and outfits too. A feather is an ultimate symbol of harmony between human and nature. It was presented to warriors in honor of the valor they displayed during war, which indicates the feather's association with strength, wisdom, and power. 

Tatt Mag further notes that the significance of feathers transcends to Egyptian mythology and religions like Christianity too. At once, a feathered arrow tattoo immortalizes the values of precision (depicted through the sharp arrowhead) and softness (depicted through the light feather) that, many a time, are the combined qualities needed to push through a conflict. There's also a deeply emotional meaning to the symbol – feathers on an arrow signify the passing of someone you held dear and can be inked in honor of their memory. 


A diamond arrow tattoo says you're unbreakable

So what if real diamonds are outrageously expensive and our budget is tight? Diamond tattoos for the win! Much like they enhance the beauty of the wearer, diamond designs maximize the deep meaning reflected in arrow tattoos. As one of the hardest substances found on earth, diamonds have long been a symbol of purity and health.


Diamond Rocks recognizes the significance of the precious carbon-based stone commanded in ancient Greek culture, considered to be pieces of stars, associated with the quality of being unconquerable and invincible. The 1971 Sean Connery film wasn't lying when it said: "Diamonds Are Forever."

When paired with an arrow, the diamond takes on a different personality. In tattoo art, arrows are often depicted piercing through a quadrilateral (symbolizing a diamond) as a symbol of great personal resilience (via Custom Tattoo Design). Since the diamond is an exceptionally hard gemstone, an arrow shooting through it would signify that the bearer is ready to take on difficult challenges and move ahead with courage. This tattoo design is a powerful reminder of the immense power humans wield and are capable of expressing in the face of adversity. 


A tattoo of an infinity arrow symbolizes eternity

We have mathematician John Wallis to thank for creating the infinity symbol, which is now popular in far more than just math textbooks (per Britannica). The infinity symbol is straightforward enough in its design, but its significance runs deep. An enduring mystical reminder that so much around us is eternal, the infinity sign has emerged as a popular tattoo choice with variable meanings. Add to it an arrow detail and its metaphor becomes that much more significant. An arrow that runs in the shape of infinity could, very simply, depict the idea of persistence, per Tatt Mag. As life goes on, we continue rising up whenever conflicts knock us down. At a metaphysical level, the infinity arrow also carries an aspiration toward enlightenment or greater spiritual awakening (via 


A subjective reading of tattoos allows us to perceive this symbol as it suits us. For instance, an infinity arrow tattoo could well signify everlasting, timeless love the bearer has for someone. (How about a "Toy Story" quote to go along with it: To infinity and beyond?) Or, as noted by TatRing, one could also get this tattoo as a tribute to the ancient ouroboros symbol that shows a serpent caught in an infinite cycle of death and rebirth, signifying the rhythm of life.