Little Black, my goat tattoo
I’ve considered having a tattoo for a while, but never with any genuine conviction. The symbol from the Swastika Stone on Ilkley Moor had quite a profound impact on me, and I was contemplating getting that over my heart until I moved to Golders Green and started going swimming a lot. Frankly, I wasn’t ready for the kind of confrontations that ManWoman seems so admirably committed to facing on behalf of ‘the gentle swastika‘.
Last year I sat alone atop Waden Hill in Avebury on the summer solstice eve, watching the moon and soaking up the landscape all night. Around 1am, out of the darkness, a little black goat that I’d dreamt about two nights before came hurtling towards me up the slope, from the direction of Silbury Hill. Its spry dash never ceased, but arced away as it neared me—and quickly it was gone again. I reeled for a while, startled and excited, before settling down against the fence I was leaning on. When I heard something rustling around in the wheat field behind the fence about half an hour later, I was inexplicably too petrified to look around and check it out. I heard it leaping in and out of the corn, and eating grass with the distinctive munch of a ruminant. So much for the idea that it was someone’s dog…
Wandering around the next day, I confirmed that there weren’t any farm animals on the hill, and decided to accept the experience without ‘explanation’. ("The explanatory principle will save you from the fear of the unknown. I prefer the unknown…" – John Lilly). In the months that followed, the goat started appearing in my dreams, sometimes apparently weighed down with some soporific collapse of its vigour, sometimes leaping along as I remembered it. The first time it appeared, I scooped it up in my arms and proudly ran around showing it to everyone, saying, "Look, this is the one I was telling you about that I saw in Avebury! It is real." In my dreams, I nicknamed it "Little Black".
This year, as the idea of having it tattooed was forming, I found it in a very different state in a dream. I could hardly bear the thought that it was the same goat as I approached the prone, mangled animal, but I knew it was. It was older, shaggy, grizzled. It horns were jammed down, seemingly growing out of its chin, and it was horribly mutilated. Something I can’t describe happened, and I melted into it, with a hot, familiar, messy and painful feeling.
There’s a feeling of wanting to make changes to myself at "high-points", so the change has positive connotations. (There’s a contradictory pull as well, the one that made me change my name when I was in a trough of dejection: I hated the idea of making the change on a crest of expansive growth because of the potential for a hollow, sour ring to the name if and when the growth collapsed into resigned recession.) Looking for a high for this one, throughout this summer I kept an eye out for Little Black, to see if it would re-appear with its original impish vitality.
It never did. But something impelled me to consider the tattoo anyway. Various elements seemed to fall into place. I realised I had no real ‘map’ for my relationship to this creature, having eschewed most of the New-Ageified ideas about power animals, totems, and so on. Without wanting to allow someone else’s half-assed ideas to subtly exert a Procrustean influence on this very personal process, but equally wanting to be responsibly aware of all aspects of it, I reached for Gordon MacLellan‘s wonderfully non-dogmatic Sacred Animals. His common sense approach to such things—echoing many other simple, powerful magickal approaches—is to treat such relationships as you would ‘real’ ones. You have passing encounters, friendly acquaintances, close friends and family, and soul mates. And all the grey areas in between. Why burden this relationship with some anxious, rash judgement about what it is? Why not see what it becomes?
Gordon’s description of his relationship with his totem also touched something:
Toad sits inside me—I can drop a hand at any time and touch a lumpy toad head, sitting somewhere in my abdomen.
This brought back the many times I’ve had the distinct sense of the goat being present—out of view, just behind me, but there to the extent that the flesh in my hand seems to know that if it reached down, it would feel the muscular, furry shoulders. So, something I felt close to. The rest was to be discovered.
I wondered where to go to get a tattoo done. Speaking to Orryelle (who was over in England doing invocations of Shub Niggurath / Baphomet among other things, joking that Little Black was a missing child from Shub Niggurath’s 1000-strong brood), the guy who had just tattooed his 13-pointed star, Dr Nathan Satan, was recommended. As a tattoo virgin, I was a little dubious about his manual technique, pushing the ink into the skin with a needle tied to a chopstick; but his work spoke for itself, and I started making the phone calls that seemed so easy to just avoid and forget about…
The actual inking was relatively pain-free, but took around 6-7 hours. Getting the design right took a good few sketches on Nathan’s part, and it proved interesting in that my own vision was bound to the image of a spry kid, not exactly innocent, but impish rather than devilish—certainly not the traditional shaggy Luciferian beast that Nathan’s own personal style verged towards. In the end, there seemed to be a good compromise, which felt right even though part of me was wary of any compromise when it came to permanent changes to my body. But as the slowly manifesting creature on my shoulder started oozing beads of blood as Nathan picked away at my skin, that grizzled, horrific appearance of the goat came to mind. I realised that this disturbing, negative aspect had its place, too. And that waiting around for the zesty, leaping Little Black to put in another appearance before committing to the relationship was more than a little churlish; it was my turn to move, to meet it half-way. This goat on my shoulder was its next appearance.
That night I dreamt of sketches being made, and thrown away, with a sense that personae were being discarded as the design developed.
The healing process was merely a case of keeping it clean and not sleeping on that shoulder for a few nights. From what I’ve heard of needle-gun tattoos, Nathan’s manual technique seems far superior in this respect; indeed, it only seems to suffer by comparison with the amount of time needed. So, unless you’re completely bound to the rat race and need your inking done as you scoff lunch before racing off again, I’d recommend Dr Satan straight away.
Now fully healed, I thought it was about time to show him off to the world. The wonderfully organic-feeling shading doesn’t get much justice from this photo, but it does get a sense of how well the design’s been shaped to complement the flow of flesh and bone. Allow me to introduce you…