The dagger through the heart is a classic piece of tattoo design that has withstood both the test of time and the whim of fashion. Like all enduring symbols, it is as relevant today as when it was first done, managing to successfully capture both our attention and our emotions. In many Christian-themed tattoos, it is a popular variation of the Catholic Sacred Heart of Mary, representing the grieving Mother of Christ, often called the Lady of Sorrows (“A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also,” said Simeon to her in the temple). In fact, the heart-with-dagger symbol has even migrated, along with Mary, into a very different religion – that of voodoo. In one of its darker aspects, it is the symbol of Erzulie Dantor, a black, female, spirit of vengeance and cruelty who is in many ways the opposite of Mary.
But the real power of the image of a dagger through the heart is the combination of two symbols which are well known in their own right. The heart has long represented the seat of the emotions and the very core of a person, as far back in time as early Egypt where it figured prominently in the fate of the soul in the afterlife. Of course today and probably worldwide, we particularly associate it with love, especially romantic love. Similarly, the dagger is not just any weapon. It long ago became the stealthy weapon of choice for assassins since it was easily concealed and quiet. As such, it inflicted much more than just a stab wound, carrying with it an additional sense of betrayal and hurt, since the attacker had to be close to be effective. So, the heart-with-dagger tattoo is essentially the heart in great pain, perhaps mortally wounded, sometimes a love betrayed, and sometimes even a sacrifice made. Whether the bearer of this striking tattoo is choosing to convey a religious conviction, an injury received, or giving us advance notice of what we can expect, there is no mistaking the emotional impact that is the center of this tattoo symbol.