Compass Tattoo

What Do Compass Tattoos Symbolize?

Compass Tattoo Meanings

Compass tattoos are a universal symbol for direction in life, and the symbolic choices that we make.

When it comes to understanding the meaning of a compass tattoo, it’s essential to recognize that this symbol holds various interpretations, each unique to the individual who wears it.

A compass tattoo, featuring a compass rose or a navigational compass, carries profound significance, often reflecting the following themes:

  1. Guidance and Direction: The compass, as a navigational tool, epitomizes the quest for guidance and direction in one’s life journey. Those who ink a compass tattoo may do so to symbolize their desire for a constant sense of purpose and the reminder to stay true to their chosen path.
  2. Wanderlust and Adventure: Many individuals opt for a compass tattoo to express their love for travel and adventure. It serves as a testament to their wanderlust, adventurous spirit, and the pursuit of new horizons and experiences.
  3. Life’s Journey: In a broader context, a compass tattoo may signify one’s life journey. The cardinal points, namely north, south, east, and west, represent distinct phases and choices in life. This tattoo reminds the bearer to keep moving forward and make decisions that contribute to personal growth.
  4. Nautical and Maritime Connections: Nautical enthusiasts, sailors, or those closely tied to maritime life often opt for compass tattoos to pay homage to their affiliation with the sea and navigation. This choice underlines their strong connection to the maritime world.
  5. Protection and Symbolism: In certain cultures and belief systems, the compass is a symbol of protection, guiding individuals away from harm and negative influences. It acts as a shield and offers safeguarding guidance.
  6. Inner Resilience: The compass tattoo can also signify inner strength and resilience. It serves as a reminder to uphold one’s principles and values amidst external pressures and distractions.
  7. Decision-Making: The compass rose featuring multiple points, can symbolize the multitude of choices and decisions encountered in life. This tattoo encourages individuals to make thoughtful decisions and adhere to their moral compass.

Ultimately, the meaning of a compass tattoo remains highly individualized.

It may commemorate a particular event, celebrate a relationship, or encapsulate a personal philosophy unique to the wearer.

  • What Does a Compass Tattoo mean in the Bible?

In Christianity, the compass tattoo symbolizes having direction in your faith and the solidity of your beliefs.

It also symbolizes religious guidance.

The Meaning of The Four Directions

The compass tattoo can represent seasons, stages of life, and the four cardinal directions.

Though it varies from tradition to tradition, the four directions of a compass tattoo typically symbolize:

  • North: Winter, survival, turning inward, cultivating your resources, reflecting on past lessons.
  • South: Summer, passion and abundance, a celebration, sun energy, creating new life, fertility.
  • East: Spring, new life, emerging triumphant, reclaiming your power.
  • West: Autumn, preparing for transformation, harvesting, slowing down, preparing for Winter.

Compass Tattoo Designs

So you know what you want to get but aren’t sure what tattoo design would work best.

We’ve been there!

Compass tattoos are often paired with other nautical and navigational tattoo motifs.

Here are a few of the coolest compass tattoo designs we’ve come across, so let’s have a look at the meanings of different compass tattoo themes:

Map & Compass Tattoos

Some of the best tattoos keep it simple.

If you’re getting a compass tattoo to celebrate an epic adventure or your restless wandering spirit, a compass with a map tattoo says it all.

Map and Compass Tattoo

They’re both practical items that can be drawn in really beautiful tattoo styles.

Whether you go black and grey, sepia, or full color, you’re sure to start some fun conversations with this tattoo design.

Map and Compass Tattoo

A map and compass tattoo typically has the compass in the foreground with the background being the continents or a map with vertical and horizontal lines.

Maps guide us to where we need to get to; just as a compass lets us know what direction we are going in to help us find our way.

Map and Compass Tattoo

Therefore, a map tattoo with a compass tattoo symbolizes that someone is guiding you through life, or alternatively, that you need more guidance.

Vegvisir Tattoos

Fans of Vikings and Norse mythology tattoos are likely aware of the Vegvisir, which may also be referred to as the Nordic Compass, or the Wayfinder.

The Viking compass tattoo is a symbol of protection and luck for travelers.

The Vegvisir is a circle with 8 points originating from the center.

Vegvisir Tattoo

Each of these points is adorned with a rune.

It looks very much like a traditional compass but has mystical undertones.

The earliest, most well-known reference to this symbol is in the Huld Manuscript.

The Manuscript is a collection of Icelandic spells and symbols, also known as a grimoire in the magic community.

In the Huld Manuscript, there is a picture of the Vegvisir with the following caption:

Vegvisir Tattoo

“If this sign is carried, one will never lose one’s way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known”.

This was meant both practically (a compass can help you find your way), and poetically (the symbol has the magic to protect a traveler from harm.)

The Vegvisir’s origins are in the 19th century, after the Viking era, but that doesn’t make the symbol any less magical.

Vegvisir Tattoo

Some speculate that it may have been used during the Vikings’ era without being recorded, which is entirely possible as there is much mystery surrounding the Vikings.

In any case, it is a cool tattoo design for someone with an interest in magic, Norse mythology tattoos, and seeing the world.

Some Viking compass tattoos, such as the Vegvísir tattoo, were symbols of protection from evil.

Viking Compass Tattoo

Part of Norse mythology, the Vegvísir tattoo is a nautical tattoo that also is meant to guide the person wearing it.

Another example of a Viking tattoo is a compass designed with the language of the runes, an Icelandic and Celtic language.

This tattoo is a strong symbol of masculinity.

Broken Compass Tattoos

When a compass is broken in a tattoo, it signifies the opposite of the typical meaning of guidance.

Broken Compass Tattoo

A broken compass tattoo means you have lost your way, or in other words, your direction has been broken along the way.

Owl & Compass Tattoos

Owls are often known to be protectors of the dead.

Owl and Compass Tattoo

The compass also means protection, so when they are together this tattoo means you are protected from evil spirits or your loved ones who have passed are protected by spirits, God, ancestors, or whatever you believe in.

Compass with Nautical Tattoos

A compass tattoo with some nautical tattoo references would be perfect for you, for those who work in nautical jobs or who are in the marines.

The nautical tattoo of the compass can be a symbol for those who spend their lives on the water.

Often connected to water, or to an anchor, nautical compass tattoos commemorate someone’s dedication to sailors.

Anchor & Compass Tattoos

A compass tattoo with an anchor tattoo is a reminder to always stay grounded and keep your wits about you.

Also, when an anchor and a compass are together in a tattoo, it refers to navigation of the sea and nautical adventures.

Anchor and Compass Tattoo

This nautical tattoo undoubtedly refers to the sea.

This would be a great tattoo to get if you’re a sailor or fisherman; or if you are a marine!

Nautical Star & Compass Tattoos

The nautical star compass tattoo is one of the most popular themes in compass tattoos.

The nautical star comes from the tradition of sailors following the North Star to find their way.

Nautical Star and Compass Tattoo

This tattoo always leads you back home.

A nautical star tattoo with a compass tattoo means you should never forget where you come from.

Ship & Compass Tattoos

A nautical tattoo, the ship and compass tattoo refer to life on the ocean and is a great tattoo for seamen.

A compass with a ship tattoo is a talisman, symbolizing that a good vessel (your body, mind, and spirit) will take you far.

Ship & Compass Tattoo

The compass tattoo is often placed above or below a large ship tattoo, typically in blues, reds, and black.

Compass Rose Tattoos

Sometimes a simple tattoo design has the biggest effect.

Many compass tattoos are bare-bones, featuring a compass rose tattoo on its own.

A compass rose also called the rose of the winds, is a symbol used to display one of the cardinal directions.

 Compass Rose Tattoo

Aesthetically, some may add two roses on either side of the compass or in the center of the compass rose.

People choose a compass rose tattoo because it has a meaning depending on where the compass rose is pointing.

For example, when the compass rose tattoo is pointing north, it signifies that the person is heading in the right direction.

American Traditional Compass Rose Tattoo

If it’s pointing on the opposite side, the south, it can mean boldness and the adventure of a young soul.

If you’re getting a compass rose tattoo and want more than four points, your design will have to be on the larger side.

The more detail a small tattoo has, the more likely it can blur as it ages.

Compass Rose Tattoo

That is why most micro tattoos have less detail- your artist doesn’t want to cram a lot of ink into a small space.

The best rule of thumb is to stick to a four-pointed compass rose for small, quarter-sized tattoos, and get larger as you add detail.

Give your compass rose tattoo some room to breathe.

Compass Rose Tattoo

Of course, you may want a large tattoo of a four-pointed compass rose, which can also look cool as heck!

The compass rose makes for a great tattoo because it is a readable tattoo design and instantly recognizable, especially to adventurers and nautical experts.

Arrow & Compass Tattoos

One common compass tattoo has an arrow through its background.

Arrow tattoos usually represent bravery, finding your way, and putting yourself out there.

Arrow and Compass Tattoo

They can also represent protection.

Coupled with a compass tattoo, they can represent a person who navigates their life with passion and drive.

The arrow points the compass in a specific direction.

Arrow and Compass Tattoo

The arrow tattoo and compass tattoo signify direction through life.

If you feel you have found a specific purpose in life, then you could get an arrow and compass tattoo to remember your unique path has been chosen. 

Hourglass & Compass Tattoos

Clock or hourglass tattoos often serve as a reminder that our life will end at some point.

It’s a way of befriending shadowy themes, staring fear of the inevitable straight in the face.

Hourglass and Compass Tattoo

The compass can add some optimism to this tattoo design.

It could symbolize a person who wants to see it all in the time they have.

Clock & Compass Tattoos

Both the clock tattoo and the compass tattoo can mean guidance, so together they are a strong symbol of leadership and control.

Clock and Compass Tattoo

The clock guides you through the day with time, while the compass can direct you where you’re going.

If you have time and physical directions leading you through life, then you certainly have a lot of guidance.

Mandala Compass Tattoos

When the compass is placed on top of a mandala, an intriguing and absolutely beautiful tattoo takes form.

The mandala comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “circle,” and refers to eternity and wholeness.

This compass tattoo means that your soul is on an eternal journey.

Dream Catcher & Compass Tattoos

Compass tattoos can also mean that you are following your dreams.

With the dream catcher tattoo, this meaning becomes mystical and symbolic of chasing after your wildest fantasies.

Dream Catcher and Compass Tattoo

This tattoo can also mean that you are heading in the direction of the unknown; we do not know what we will dream about every night, however, we know it will always be an exciting adventure.

Skull Tattoos & Compass Tattoos

The skull tattoo and compass tattoo can refer to your own direction being ill-fated, or that a direction you were on was a negative one.

Skull Tattoo and Compass Tattoo

Maybe you want to remind yourself that your fate is your own mortality— a hard part of life to accept.

Compass Tattoo Styles

Have you found your way to some inspiration?

A compass tattoo is such a cool design that can be done in so many ways.

Black and Grey Compass Tattoo

The compass tattoo looks good in multiple tattoo styles; it can be worn by practically anybody.

If you’re still not sure how you’d like to portray this navigational tool, explore our gallery for some adventurous inspiration!

  • Black & Grey Compass Tattoos

Black and grey compass tattoos represent the direction you are taking in life as well as your life path and the goals you have along the way.

Black and Grey Compass Tattoo

This tattoo design also refers to your sense of independence and how being able to make it on your own is highly important to you.

Also, this tattoo can symbolize protection and means that you need someone to watch over you, whether
it is God or even a big brother.

Black and Grey Compass Tattoo

This is a kind of magical protection that has the power to stop bad things from happening to you.

Last, of course, this tattoo represents guidance and direction and can help you not veer off course as you are traveling n the path of life.

  • American Traditional Compass Tattoos

It can be said that only tough guys and gals get American traditional tattoos; they are always bold and heavy look.

American Traditional Compass Tattoo

The American traditional compass tattoo means that no one can mess with you: the compass provides all the luck you need to keep trouble at bay.

  • Geometric Compass Tattoos

Geometric compass tattoos are usually in black and use shapes like diamonds and triangles.

A geometric tattoo style is a cool and interesting tattoo to get!

Geometric Compass Tattoo

Practically described by its style, the compass tattoo’s meaning is independence, including being unique from others.

  • Watercolor Compass Tattoos

The watercolor tattoo style is a creative one with a splash of color in the background of a black compass.

The watercolor compass tattoo also represents independence because of its unique style.

Watercolor Compass Tattoo

The compass embodies finding one’s own way to do something or to be you, and the watercolor tattoo technique adds brilliant color to this meaning.

  • Black-work Compass Tattoos

Black-work compass tattoos are made by the tattoo artist using only black ink with a little bit of shading to create an amazing compass tattoo.

This style of compass tattoo is much like a yin and yang meaning, attached to the meaning of a compass.

Blackwork Compass Tattoo

This is because the black ink and the color of the skin are both used to color the compass and these are two opposing forces.

This type of compass tattoo essentially means that the path you are taking in life will also be filled with opposing forces and many decisions that will have opposite results.

Blackwork Compass Tattoo

Sometimes you will be on the right path, and sometimes everything will be going wrong.

At the end of the day, everything kind of evens out.

However, the point of this tattoo is that life is all about the ups and downs.

  • Graphic Compass Tattoos

Graphic compass tattoos can be very interesting because they involve lots of shapes, lines, and symbols, which surround the compass and create a new kind of tattoo.

Graphic Compass Tattoo

Graphic compass tattoos aren’t just the basic and simple type of compass tattoo– these tattoos mean that you are creative and that you will be going on an amazing adventure in your life.

This tattoo means that you are adventurous and like to have fun.

Graphic Compass Tattoo

This tattoo also means that your creativity will be the guiding force in your life and will lead you to an amazing place in life.

  • Sketchy Compass Tattoos

Compass tattoos that appear to be like a sketch in a notebook represent many of the compass tattoo meanings.

For example, this tattoo symbolizes adventure and creativity.

Sketchy Compass Tattoo

If you are the kind of person who likes to take risks and is always sketching something on the margins of your notebook pages, then this tattoo may make a lot of sense to you.

This tattoo also means independence, or the desire to go off on your path in life on your own without anyone’s help.

Sketchy Compass Tattoo

Another meaning of this tattoo is guidance or direction.

This can have a varied meaning from person to person, depending on what your goals are in life.

However, at its most basic level, it means that you will have good luck on your mission to advance in life.

  • Trash Polka Compass Tattoos

Trash Polka is a unique tattoo style characterized by heavy brush strokes, bold patterns, as well as pure chaos.

This style also may be recognized by using only black and red ink.

Trash Polka tattoos are an abstraction of technology and humanity, opposites, and the past, present, and

Trash Polka Compass Tattoo

As you can probably guess, this is a great style to use for a compass tattoo because it represents your path in life and being able to juggle the ups and downs of life, its moments of bliss and times of chaos, and the balance of time.

This tattoo is fun and lively, as well as bold and creative.

  • Neo-traditional Compass Tattoos

The Neo-traditional tattoo style consists of bold lines, an illustrative look, modern colors which are highly saturated, and last a feeling of dimension that is subtle, not exaggerated.

Neo-Traditional compass tattoos often have many different symbols surrounding the compass to
add to the meaning.

Neo-traditional Compass Tattoo

However, in general, this tattoo means that you will have good luck in life, and if you don’t have a lot of good luck you may want to consider getting this tattoo.

Also, this tattoo symbolizes independence and means that you greatly value your freedom.

  • Fine Line Compass Tattoos

A fine line compass tattoo gets its name from the extremely thin lines used on all of the linework on this compass tattoo.

These fine lines are delicate and softly inked, therefore, this tattoo means that you are someone who does not take risks or make bold decisions.

Fine Line Compass Tattoo

Your path in life will be affected by this, and you will always take the safe road in life.

It’s not all bad– you will not lose all of your money gambling, or get speeding tickets.

This tattoo means that you take the safe route every time but that it works for you, so there’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Stick & Poke Compass Tattoos

Stick and poke compass tattoos are just the opposite of fine line compass tattoos, in that the fact that this tattoo is a stick and poke means that you are someone who is bold and takes risks.

This tattoo means that you are someone who is not afraid to take a more dangerous path if there is a chance of earning great rewards.

Stick and Poke Compass Tattoo

The path you are taking in life is bumpy with a lot of sharp twists and turns.

If you are someone who gambles in life and takes risks, then this tattoo could represent to you how you are proud of the path you chose in life and happy that you aren’t someone sitting on the sidelines.

Compass Tattoo Ideas

Although many meanings related to compass tattoos have something to do with bodies of water, they mostly in fact have to do with direction.

One of the coolest parts of choosing a compass tattoo is you can pick which direction the compass faces.

Simple Compass Tattoo

For example, if you wanted to symbolize your move to the west, you could get a “W” compass tattoo.

Compass tattoos make so many symbolic gestures towards how your life has meaning and the subjective experiences we all face each day.

Choosing a compass tattoo all depends on what part of life’s journey you want to commemorate.

  • Small Compass Tattoos

Small compass tattoos can be placed on the wrist, behind the ear, on the forearm, and on the foot, neck, or ankle.

All of these tattoo placements are forms of expression of good luck.

Small Compass Tattoo

Small compass tattoos are good luck because they may be tiny but they pack a powerful punch.

This kind of compass tattoo also represents protection and can help you receive protection from the
heavens or your ancestors.

  • Simple Compass Tattoos

Simple compass tattoos are commonly also small tattoos.

These small and simple tattoos often represent protection, good luck, and guidance or direction.

Simple Compass Tattoo

As far as protection goes, this tattoo can mean that God is out there looking over you.

As far as good luck goes, this tattoo means that you will have a lot of positive things happen to you on your life journey and this tattoo will provide you with the luck you need to succeed in life.

Simple Compass Tattoo

This tattoo also represents guidance or direction, meaning that someone, something, or God is leading you on your life’s path.

This tattoo also means that everything will be okay and work out in the end.

  • White Ink Compass Tattoos

White ink compass tattoos are quite beautiful and often have other designs, symbols, or patterns along with the compass in the tattoo to add meaning or simply for aesthetic purposes.

This tattoo means that you are a unique and creative person who values your independence greatly.

Both your freedom and your ability to do things yourself are extremely important to you.

White Ink Compass Tattoos

Also, the color white is often a religious color that symbolizes purity and goodness.

In this case, a white ink compass tattoo means that God is looking out for you and protecting you.

This tattoo can have a religious connotation, meaning that you are blessed.

  • Compass Tattoo Sleeves

Compass tattoo sleeves can have many different symbols on the sleeve along with the compass itself.

They are also almost always in black ink only.

Compass Tattoo Sleeve

Oftentimes there is more than one compass in the same sleeve.

Other symbols in this kind of sleeve are lions, roses, a sand dial, a map, rope, ships, feathers, a skull, and many other symbols.

These symbols always add important meaning to the compass’ meaning itself, and as a whole, the sleeve tends to have a variety of meanings.

Compass Tattoo Sleeve

One common meaning of compass sleeves is the passage of time on life’s journey is one filled with surprises as well as ups and downs.

Another meaning is that you want to be reminded of the fact that life is short and to make every moment worth it.

  • Compass Tattoo Half Sleeves

Much like compass sleeves, compass half sleeves contain many symbols other than a compass and the tattoo itself has many meanings.

One of these meanings is protection.

This tattoo can have symbols of protection in it that will help you on your life path.

Half Sleeve Tattoo

Another meaning of this tattoo is guidance.

This tattoo is about the winds of life that are guiding you on your journey and helping you move through the waters, whether they be rocky or smooth.

This seafaring metaphor is relevant because compass half sleeves also often have many symbols related to the sea.

Tattoo Placement

Tattoo placement is one of the most important parts of deciding on a tattoo.

This is because not only does it affect the meaning, but it also matters because people either will see your tattoo and ask you about it or have no idea you even have one.

Let’s take a look at the placement of compass tattoos and their meanings:

  • Compass Wrist Tattoos

Compass tattoos on the wrist can be symbols of protection and someone watching over you.

Compass Tattoo on Wrist

Everyone will see this tattoo since it is on your wrist, so ensure that you are ready to give people an explanation of its meaning and that you like the design you chose.

This tattoo means that someone, either God, your ancestors, or someone else are watching over you and protecting your every move.

Compass Tattoo on Wrist

This tattoo means that you will be guided through life by this person or entity, and you have nothing to worry about.

  • Compass Forearm Tattoos

Compass tattoos on the forearm are often large and contain a big scene that is about the sea or about how time and your path in life are all part of a large scheme that we have no control over.

Compass Tattoo on Forearm

Compass forearm tattoos will most likely be seen by people who know, and therefore you want
this tattoo to be beautiful and something that you are proud of.

Compass Tattoo on Forearm

If you want to have a reminder that you see every day that you are on a journey and that you have important goals in life that you wish to achieve, then a compass forearm tattoo will be one that you see every day and appreciate.


When you hold a compass in your hand, wear one as a pendant, or get a compass tattoo, you are tapping into a legacy that goes back for centuries.

Everyone has a different reason for getting a compass tattoo, but in the end, they all want to commemorate something important: a goal, or a journey.

Symbolically, compasses are our guide in the endless maze of life’s possibilities, pointing us in the right direction.

Whether you’re getting a compass tattoo to celebrate the journey of marriage, the start of a new project, or the birth of a child, they’re perfect for expressing a unique and deeply personal message.

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