Blessed with a Sak Yant

I’d been looking to get a new tattoo for a while now and had various thoughts about what I wanted with no real designs pinned down or finalised and no real meaning behind any of them.

I had heard about Sak Yant tattoos from researching my trip to Thailand and had seen them before this but didn’t know a huge amount about them so I started looking into them and felt really drawn to the idea and the history and symbolism behind them really resonated with me. These tattoos are magical and offer protection and good luck to the wearer.

Sak - Tattoo

Yant - Yantra, a chant

There are many different Sak Yant designs each with their own specific meanings, so if you are thinking about getting one it’s worth looking into what they symbolise and which one you feel represents you the most. My husband Kieron and I decided to get the same Sak Yant, the Ha Taew. This is one that we felt fitted us both but that we also liked the design of.

The Ha Taew is one of the more popular choices for Sak Yant helped by the fact that it was the one that Angelina Jolie received back in 2004. This isn’t something that factored into our decision process as it was only once we were looking into this design that we discovered this.

The 5 lines/pillars representing 5 magical spells or chants. There are 3 or four main versions of this and they are often changed and adapted depending on the person’s fate/destiny.

  1. The first row prevents unjust punishment and leans in your favour when the area is grey, cleans out unwanted spirits and protects the place you live in.
  2. The second row reverses and protects against bad horoscope constellations and bad fortune.
  3. The third row protects you from the use of black magic and anyone who tries to put a curse on you.
  4. The fourth row energizes your good luck, success and fortune in your future ambitions and life style.
  5. The fifth row is to gain charisma and attraction to the opposite sex. It also is a boost to the fourth row.

Source: Sak Yant Magical Thai Tattoo

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Ha Taew Sak Yant. Image via sak-yant.com

At the end of each of the lines is a Unaalome which is an ever decreasing spiral. It symbolises the distractions we encounter on a daily basis and how with time we become wiser leading to the straight line pointing upwards signifying the path to enlightenment/nirvana.

By getting this tattoo you are also given rules to follow which can vary between masters. Some make more sense than others, and many clearly apply to monks over the average person, but in general I think the idea is to lead a good and honest life in order for the magic and protection to work.

Here are the rules:

  • Do not kill a person with intent. (No problem)
  • Do not steal for your own personal gain. (Again, not something I would usually do)
  • Do not lie to harm others. We all tell white lies and there is a difference. (I wouldn’t lie and say I don’t tell white lies, but I can’t think when i’ve lied in order to harm anyone)
  • Do not have sexual relations with another’s partner. (I’ve already made this promise to my husband on our wedding day)
  • Do not spit in the toilet. The toilet should be a clean place and not to keep it so, shows disrespect to oneself and others. (Ok..)
  • Do not swear at or disrespect your parents in any way. (I love my parents and wouldn’t want to do that to them)
  • Do not speak about people behind their back in a manner likely to cause them harm.(Again, causing harm to people is not something i do)
  • Do not over consume alcohol and become troublesome to others. Keep in control. (At least I can still drink!)
  • Do not walk under sexual underwear. The reason for this is to avoid temptations and distractions that the opposite sex can bring. Monks themselves are not allowed to touch a woman’s skin for this very reason and when a monk tattoos a female, he will wear surgical gloves or place a cloth between him and her skin. (I’ll try my best?!)
  • Do not partake in evil deeds. Avoid all contact with such happenings whenever possible.(No worries!)

Source: Sak Yant Magical Thai Tattoo

I’ve also seen others that include not eating gourds (watermelon, pumpkin), not sitting on a broken urn, not eating at a wedding/funeral or eating left-overs. Some are ones that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with such as eating left-overs, I don’t want to be wasteful! But I did follow these for at least 3 days.

Considering my Sak Yant

Firstly the decision to get this tattoo wasn’t one I took lightly. Knowing that there was so much meaning behind them I wanted to make sure I understood what I was having done and that I was going about it in the right way. The last thing I wanted was to end up looking like a stupid Westerner disrespecting an ancient tradition (I hope I have avoided this!).

I know of two main ways that you can get your Ha Taew or any other Sak Yant. Only one of them will give you the blessings and magic.

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Sak Yant. Photo via sak-yant.com

Tattoo Shop

There are many tattoo shops all over Thailand offering both machine and bamboo methods of tattooing. However what you will get may be a beautiful looking tattoo, but it will not give you the protective and magical properties you may seek.

Whilst I was researching I did go to a tattoo shop to see what they were offering. They showed me a template design of the Ha Taew that they would transfer onto my skin and follow with the machine or bamboo stick. They also wanted to charge 4000 baht (£102) and said it would take around 1.5 hours.

By this point I had already learnt that you need to go to a Monk or Ajarn (ex monk/teacher) in order to have the proper blessings and protection of the Sak Yant so it felt a bit icky to get it done in a tattoo shop where all the meaning would be lost. Also when you go to a Monk/Ajarn they will change certain things in the design to make it magical and more relevant to you but the design they provide in the shop will have certain things changed that render the tattoo without protection. This is why they will not call these tattoos Sak Yant as they technically aren’t. I also didn’t like the idea that my tattoo would be a carbon copy of maybe hundreds of other people’s who had sought their Ha Taew in this way.

 

By a Monk or Ajarn

Traditionally your Sak Yant will be applied by a Monk or Ajarn/Ajahn/Arjahn (ex-monk/magical teacher). They will be experienced and highly knowledgable in the art of Sak Yant. We would have liked to go to a monk but unfortunately we were unable to find somewhere suitable when we were looking because of time frames.

Some Buddhist temples, one of the most famous being Wat Bang Phra in Bangkok, will tattoo sometimes hundreds of people a day. I have seen conflicting information as to whether you are allowed to choose your Sak Yant as in some places it will be the choice of the Monk to bestow the Sak Yant he believes you need based on things like your aura or any conversation you might have if you get that chance. This means you may not know which one you have been given until after he’s finished. However I have also heard that for an extra fee in some places you can choose the Sak Yant that you want.

Another thing to note is some Monks choose not to tattoo women and will not touch them however some will use gloves or a towel to get around this. If you are female it is worth looking into whether or not the temple you are going to has Monks that will tattoo women. On the other hand Ajarns will tattoo women as they are not practicing Monks.

Arjahn Thoy

We knew we were going to be in Bangkok on the last day of our honeymoon and had heard about Ajarns in Bangkok that do Sak Yants. After failing to book in with a couple of different ones because of them being out of Thailand at the time or being unable to find information about how to contact them we came across an Ajarn called Arjahn Thoy. We messaged him on Facebook and he got back to us saying we could come in at 1pm the day we before we flew back. We were so happy!

Before booking in with him we did do our research trying to see previous Sak Yants he had done (Facebook was good for looking at this) and also reading about other people’s experiences including this blog post by Davis. We had seen a lot of Sak Yants by different monks and Ajarns and although the design was secondary to the reasons we were getting it it was still important that it was going to look good. The last few images of Arjahn Thoy’s Sak Yants looked great so we went ahead.

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Arjahn Thoy. Image via That Dang Farang

Our Sak Yant Experience

The night before my Sak Yant tattoo I could barely sleep as I was so excited. I also couldn’t stop researching it interested in the meaning it held for other people personally and making sure I was making the right decision and had chosen the right one for me.

We travelled to Wat Tong Nai which is the temple that Arjahn Thoy works from. We arrived earlier about 12.30pm to make sure we weren’t late but also because we knew we had to give offerings to Arjahn Thoy and weren’t sure exactly where/how we would get these. From being in contact with Davis he told us to just turn up with money and that you could get everything there. We were expecting to pay around 2000 baht as he had paid this amount for his Sak Yant but that had been a while ago and I saw more recent posts from people saying it would be around 3000 and that this was still overpriced.

When we got there we were approached by a lady who told us to come back at 2pm so we went off and returned then. At 2pm we were sent away again to come back at 3pm. There is really not much to do around this area apart from a coffee shop across the road so it was quite a long wait.

When we went back about 2.30pm we were told to sit inside to wait and that it would be 5000 baht each (£114)! We were shocked that it would be this much, especially as usually it is just a donation. This was more than the tattoo shop had wanted. We told her that we were expecting 3000 baht and she seemed surprised at how cheap this was. We even mentioned other people had got it for 2000 before and eventually she accepted 3000 baht. We also gave 300 baht each as a donation to the temple. There was no mention of offerings and there was nowhere to buy anything even though we did ask about this. We assumed it wasn’t expected although the language barrier was a problem and I did feel uncomfortable about not having anything.

We had an opportunity to look through Arjahn Thoy’s tattoo books to choose the design. When he arrived we stood up to Wai and greet him properly and he motioned for us to be seated.

He sat and started getting ready for the Sak Yant. He uses the bamboo method. Generally real bamboo isn’t used anymore, they use a metal rod which you can change the tips on. They produce the same results but are much more hygienic. We saw him change the needle and pour out clean ink in a new bowl and we were happy.

Kieron went first. Arjahn Thoy first drew straight lines onto Kieron’s shoulder with a red pen. These were marking out where each of the 5 pillars would be drawn. This is all of the drawing he did, the rest of the tattoo was done completely freehand.

This is one of my favourite aspects about my Sak Yant, the fact that no one anywhere has or ever will have the exact same one that I have. This one is unique to me. Even Kieron’s is completely different with regards to shape and size and placement compared to mine even though they are both Ha Taew and applied by the same master.

After drawing the lines he started the drawing on the Ha Taew using one hand to balance the stick against to line it up with the place he needed it to go and the other hand tapping the stick to apply the ink. It’s extremely precise.

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Kieron having his Sak Yant done

After Kieron it was my go. He did the same thing drawing the lines on and then he was ready to start. I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect pain-wise and Kieron had struggled with it slightly (struggled is not the right word, it had just been fairly painful in parts).

I won’t lie, it hurts quite a lot! It’s relentless too. I think I had a short 2 second break maybe every 25-30 taps where he would get more ink. He does the tattoo from the bottom up, all of the lines for one section then all of the lines for the next and so on. The most painful parts for me were the beginning and end but it was all manageable pain. Some people say bamboo tattoos are less painful than machine. I don’t necessarily agree, I think it depends on where you get your machine tattoos. I have 2 tattoos on my ribs which was extremely painful (like a razor blade cutting your skin), so I found this a lot more manageable. Other people find this method more painful.

I tried to concentrate on merging all of the pain together rather than each individual tap which helped. I closed my eyes at one point which helped but i nearly fell asleep so I had to open my eyes!

When it was done I put my palms together and bowed my head to receive my blessing. He closed his eyes and started chanting. After the chanting was finished he blew on the tattoo and I stood up to Wai and thank him.

And my Sak Yant was done!

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Drawing the lines for my Ha Taew

I am so happy with my Sak Yant! I can’t stop looking at it and It was a really spiritual experience.

Sak Yant Aftercare

This isn’t something a topic that came up with Ajarn Thoy as his English is very limited. He left the tattoo open to the air and we were on our way. I covered my tattoo with a scarf so that it wasn’t in the sun. I had made sure to read up about aftercare from various sources, but once again this is somewhere that has conflicting information but the bits that made sense to me and have seemed to work well are:

  • Keep your tattoo out of direct sunlight
  • Don’t immerse your tattoo in a bath/pool/the sea. Some places do say you can go in the sea after a bamboo tattoo. I would still avoid
  • Don’t exercise for the first week or 2 to avoid the tattoo being sweated on and stretched
  • Apply something to keep the tattoo from drying out. In Thailand we could only find Bepanthen First Aid. Some places online still recommend this but Bepanthen changed its formula in the last few years and it’s now advisable to avoid. We used the Bepanthen First Aid until we got to the UK and then I bought Tattoo Goo.
  • Clean the tattoo daily with water and an antibacterial soap applied with your fingers. I try to avoid getting normal soap on it. Pat dry with a tissue after
  • Wear loose fitting clothes and a bra that doesn’t have the strap over the tattoo to avoid rubbing.

Bamboo tattoos are meant to heal a lot faster than machine gun tattoos. My tattoo has looked healed since the day I got it. Very minimal raising, redness and soreness. I had a slight amount of soreness the day after and it has been slightly itchy but there is no scabbing so far (it’s only day 4-5). It has been a far easier healing experience than with my other tattoos.

Going Forward

I don’t regret my decision to get my Sak Yant in the slightest and the experience binds me even closer to Kieron. As well as the protection, good luck and history in the Sak Yant it also symbolises our wedding, honeymoon and togetherness.

I would absolutely get another one done again but it would require more research into the other meanings and what I feel makes most represents me and what I need in my life.

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