The symbology of the Scarab Beetle Tattoos

This is a particular kind of insect we want to talk about here. A legendary figure somewhere between the dung heap and the stars.

Guided by light

The scarab beetle is a very common insect which belongs to the family of the Scarabaeidae. They have two important physical features in common: a cephalic horn and a number of antennas called “plates”. When at rest, these make the insect look like a ball, when active, they allow it to move, work and eat. These beetles generally work at night and their habitat is in the earth, beneath rocks, on flowers or the tree bark. Scarab beetles always move in a straight line and orient themselves using the coordinates of stars in the Milky Way. Wherever there is light (whether from the sun or stars), they march right after it in a straight line. Which is why it is perfectly true to say that the scarab beetle is guided by a sort of “extraterrestrial ray”. So those who love scarab beetles (and have them tattooed on their body) are convinced that they should never lose hope, that there will always be reason to hope.

Lord of rebirth

Among the many beetle species, there is Scarabeus Sacer. Its name, the sacred beetle, comes from the ancient Egyptian god Khepri who was Lord of rebirth, the dawn and scarab beetles. This insect was widely used in a powerful amulet which was supposed to enhance the intellect, intuition and spirituality of whoever wore it. For the priests of Ancient Egypt, the perseverance of the scarab beetle, forming and rolling its ball of dung, was the perfect metaphor for a higher being repeating the daily miracle of the dawn (and sunrise) which frees us from the slavery of darkness. Just as this beetle works through the night so that it may live/be reborn the following day.

The Aesop moral

Another fascinating story is the fable by Aesop (c. 620–560 A.C.), ‘The Eagle and the Scarab Beetle’ which says a lot more about this horned and plated creature. The story goes that one day an eagle was chasing a hare to catch it and eat it. The hare, realising it had no escape, asked a scarab beetle for help. The scarab beetle begged the eagle not devour its prey and release it. But the eagle scorned this request for mercy and ripped the hare apart before the beetle’s eyes. The scarab beetle was deeply offended and plotted its revenge. This revenge involved scaling the heights to the eagle’s nest and tipping out the eggs of the queen of the birds. The moral of the story is clear: in life, you should never look down on anyone, especially those who are forced to do degrading work like the scarab beetle continually digging in the dung heap. The scarab beetle therefore becomes a symbol of rebellion and catharsis, of defending our rights against the despots and the bullies.

And then came rocking Journey…

In contemporary pop culture, the scarab beetle has become the ultimate rock fetish thanks to the famous San Francisco AOR group Journey. A true rock legend, this band has sold about 90 million albums worldwide. In the early ’80s, with singer Steve Perry at the helm, the band had colossal success with surprise album ‘Escape’ (1981), featuring an iconic illustration on the cover (by Stanley Mouse) of a space scarab taking off from a mysterious alien world. Journey – who had also used the insect on the cover of their previous album ‘Departure’ (1980) and on the live album ‘Captured’ (1981) – have never really gone into the reasons for the choice of the symbol. “It’s just an insect we like, that’s all,” is their usual reply.

A symbol of artistic rebirth

There was much speculation in the mid-’80s by music fans on the hunt for conspiracy theories but over thirty years later, the space creature on ‘Escape’ seems more about rebirth in every sense. Formed way back in 1973 with a blend of fusion and prog, by the end of the decade, Journey felt they were artistically over the hill. But after the scarab beetle on ‘Escape’ cover sleeve, they found themselves at the top of the hit parade everywhere thanks to their transformation into a rock outfit capable of coming up with catchy rock anthems the fans could sing along to. The Journey iconic song is still ‘Don’t stop believin’ with that famous keyboard solo and the dreamy angelic vocals of Perry. Don’t stop believing. Don’t ever give up. To cut a long story short, take the example of the scarab beetle.

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