The Lightning Tree

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of my favorite books. And it has some particular energy that has stuck with me and taken root in my mind.

In the book, one of the characters, a contortionist named Tsukiko, has a remarkable tattoo. This is a part of the first sight we have of her:

At first, it is difficult to discern what it is, the shower of black marks that curls around her shoulder and neck, ending just above her cleavage in the front and disappearing behind the laces of her corset in the back. It is impossible to tell how far beyond that the tattoo travels. And upon a closer look it can be discerned that the swirl of the tattoo is more than simple black marks. It is a flowing waterfall of alchemical and astrological symbols, ancient marks for planets and elements all emblazoned in black ink upon her fair skin. Mercury. Lead. Antimony. A crescent moon sits at the nape of her neck; an Egyptian ankh near her collarbone. There are other symbols as well: Norse runes, Chinese characters. There are countless tattoos, and yet they meld and flow into one design gracefully adorning her like an elegant, unusual piece of jewelry.

And that stuck with me, and I wanted to base my eventual back tattoo on it. And that idea sat there in the back of my head, for years.

It turns out Tsukiko's tattoo is related to magic worked by another character. He draws his in books, with trees that start on the end papers and curl throughout each pages, connecting drawn symbols and pasted-in items, until the pages are more black with ink than white paper.

And eventually I began to wonder what the symbols were that I needed. What symbols were the leaves of my tree, and if perhaps it needed roots.

Recently, this has grown into a project I'm calling The Lightning Tree, and someday in the future I hope to base my back tattoo on it.

I have a small Moleskine booklet with graph paper pages, and I'm using that, and hoping there are enough pages for what I want to do.

Here are the end papers, on which are the top of the tree, and the bottom:

The branches and roots are inspired by Lichtenberg figures, the burns left by lightning on skin or other material.


(Wikimedia Commons)

For the tattoo, the top of the tree will be normal black-on-skin, but I want to roots half to be in negative, with plain skin showing through as the roots and maybe the figures below. For the book, the figures, above and below as well as the labyrinth on the bole, will be in red, but I don't know whether I'll do red or not for the tattoo.

What will my leaves be? What will feed my roots? Stay tuned...