This design was tattooed on a young lady's back. What does the symbol mean? Is it just another 'tribal' cross created from an artist's imagination? Inspired by gothic door-hinges? Or is it just a Rorschach Inkblot?1
As you can see, the lower 'arm' is longer than the upper three arms, indicating the design is based on a crucifixion cross and for now we'll assume a Christian connotation.
On each arm there is a distinct 3-part pattern. Usually a set of three parts on a cross represents the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity, and being on four arms gives us 12 parts, representing the 12 disciples of Jesus. However, on this puzzling cross, such a conclusion is a little hasty. The three parts of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Spirit) are usually represented with equal weighting, whereas on this pattern, the central part is significantly larger than the other two. So if it's not representing the Trinity, are we seeing flames? Scarabs? Or is it from an Asian religion such as Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, etc., representing a lotus flower?
Is the small circle within each central part significant?
Does the large circle in the centre of the cross represent the sun? A bright light (such as the sun) is used by most religions, including old Pagan religions (the Sun being one of the oldest Pagan gods).
So our starting point is that this symbol might be a cross of Christianity, merged with a lotus flower of an Asian religion, plus a bit of Paganism.
Or something else.
One anonymous respondent suggested the symbol is protective:
"very old and from an island - Where people greeted those landing with swords and suspicion. I think it is a combination of tribal/ethnic/pagan and what was taught from Roman Catholics. Where ever it's from, even if it's the imagination of the tattoo artist, I see a lot of water and sun surrounding the place where the original idea was created."
Another keen-eyed observer reminded us of the Book of Revelation by seeing:
"a woman holding her hands over her head in prayer or supplication... and maybe flames surrounding her, symbolizing something apocalyptic?"
Then somebody wrote suggesting a possible connection with Olympus and Greek mythology.
(Whoever logged that observation, please write to us from your email address - we have a couple of questions for you.)
Finally, we received one of those emails that makes you say: "Of course! Why couldn't I see that!"
"...constructed from four stylised / elongated anchors - therefore suggesting Hope."
Yes, it is so clearly an anchor. (See our page on the Anchor Cross.) The writer then went on to say:
"I also see four quill pen nibs in the design so maybe it represents the evangelists"
...and it's hard to disagree with that. The evangelists, by definition, were tasked with spreading the Good News and are taken to be the authors of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
With that thought, we've closed the file on this 'mystery cross' and decided to name it an Evangelists' Cross. (We already had a page on the traditional design of an Evangelists' Cross, so created a new page describing this Evangelists' Pen Nib Cross in a little more detail.)
Puzzling symbols index