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Last year’s Saint Patrick’s Day post regarding leprechauns explored the folklore behind these whimsical tricksters and then delved (somewhat playfully) into the commercially appealing leprechaun mascots adopted by cereals and sports teams.  But leprechauns have a darker side as well.  The original leprechauns from old Irish myth were less like comic gnomes playing tricks and more like anguished demons trying to injure humankind by appealing to our base instincts.

Knowth Passage Grave, c.2500 BC, Boyne Valley, Co. Meath

Leprechauns were minor folk among the aes sídhe—quasi-divine beings from a parallel world, who sometimes came into the mortal realm from across the oceans or from an underworld deep beneath the ancient burial mounds dotting Ireland.  The aes sídhe were colloquially known as the “fair folk” not because they were always just or always beautiful, but as flattery to prevent their terrible anger. Many of the stories of the fair folk’s interactions with humankind are haunting stories of madness and tragedy: maidens seduced away from earthly pursuits who fast to death; heroes dragged into bogs and drowned; lonely people who think they see a dead loved one and walk into the ocean desperate for one last embrace…that sort of thing.

Leprechauns, the lower class of the Celtic fairy world, were not so subtle and refined in their attempts to cozen humankind.  Even in the popular imagination the little people are associated with thirst for liquor, greed for gold, and naked lechery. I wondered if I could find a gallery of leprechauns as accursed evil tricksters and it was not hard.  However, to my surprise, most of these dark leprechauns were not painted on canvas–instead they were carved into human flesh with the sickly greens and blacks of nightmares.  Do you doubt me gentle reader?  Then behold, as a run-up to Saint Patrick’s Day, here is an alarming gallery of evil leprechaun tattoos!

Art by Brian Gallagher

Of course a lot of these tattoos are meant for the basic reason most tattoos exist–to make the wearer seem like a badass–and a lot of them do just that.  It also seems like some of them are the sort applied with a pen and markers which wash off after all the green beer has been quaffed. A few of them however, struck me as surprisingly true to the old stories.  These green sprites have not come from the spirit world to haunt us: instead they emerge from our own desires.  Written on our heart, they peek out from inside our skins, beguiling us with thirst that can never be quenched and greed that can never be sated.

Or maybe I am thinking about it too hard and they are just comical little green men beckoning us to enjoy life while we can.  Perhaps a beer would settle my mind…. Slàinte, readers—may you grasp the world’s pot of gold without it turning to caustic dust.  May you drink the joys of life and not have them drink you.

Among the Potawatomi nation, one of the most important clans was the fish clan.  Fish clan members were thought most likely to be teachers, medicine people, and diplomats.  They carefully observed the natural world, interpreted their experiences and passed this information on. The fish clan constituted the intellectuals of Potawatomi society.  Two of the most important fish clan families were the Wawaazisiigs and the Maanamegwugs, named after the Bullhead catfish and the channel catfish respectively.  Their ideas provided the philosophical underpinnings of the tribes understanding of life.  The catfish was a respected spirit guide.

That introduction, however, is a bit of a red herring for today’s post, which features tattoos of catfish.  I wonder if the individuals who decided to get permanent images of catfishes etched in their skin with needles were thinking along the same lines as the Potawatomi elders.  Did they hope for the deep thinking of the Wawaazisiigs and the Maanamegwugs?  Were they just enchanted by the charisma and personality of the Siluriformes?  Or were they just intoxicated or hopelessly young?  Unfortunately we have no context other than the images.

Whatever the case, here is a gallery of catfish tattoos which I found around the web. Enjoy!

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