What Does a Spider Web Tattoo Mean? Symbolism and Origins Demystified

Spider Web Tattoo Mean

Tattoos have long served as a form of expression and symbolism. From the geometric patterns of ancient cultures to the Sailor Jerry-style motifs of the 20th century, body art recounts stories about the human experience. The spider web tattoo is one such design that contains layers of meaning.

At first glance, a spider web tattoo might seem like an unusual choice. But specific styles, placements, and additions make this classic image much more than creepy-crawly on skin. A spider web tattoo typically symbolizes being trapped, doing time, or overcoming adversities. Ancient meanings of balance, creativity, and feminine energy also come into play depending on the design.

To fully understand the origins and symbolism of the spider web tattoo, we’ll explore:

  • The history and traditional meanings in prison and gang culture
  • Modern interpretations and positive meanings
  • Controversial styles like the teardrop spider web
  • Common placements and their significance
  • Design variations that alter the meaning

The Dark History of Spider Web Tattoos

Before spider web tattoos represented personal expression, they were established prison tattoos. As far back as the 1950s, cobwebs inked on an inmate’s elbows indicated they were incarcerated or trapped behind bars.

  • Each strand of the web stood for one year of their sentenced time.
  • prison lifestyle.
  • Serving a lengthy sentence.
  • Being “caught in the web” of bad habits and gang affiliations they couldn’t escape.

Spider webs also took on darker associations with violence and murder inside prison walls. Some theories suggest if the tattoo was on the neck or forehead, it meant the inmate killed someone while in jail or committed a racially motivated crime.

The Teardrop Spider Web Tattoo

One particularly notorious spider web tattoo is the teardrop version placed under the eye.

  • The teardrop can signify the death of a loved one or that the wearer killed someone.
  • Added to the spider web, it is closely tied to racist prison gangs who have murdered.
  • This tattoo is sometimes forced upon inmates by gangs as an initiation.

As you can see, traditional spider web tattoos represented a grim existence of doing hard time or being trapped in the cycle of violence. Next, we’ll explore how more positive meanings have emerged.

Modern Symbolic Meanings of Spider Web Tattoos

The classic spider web image has evolved over time from its dark past. While prison connotations still remain, the tattoo can also represent:

Balance and Unity

  • The spider lives in the web, which represents darkness and evil forces. This balances with the light outside the web.
  • Some designs incorporate religious symbols like crosses, praying hands, or yin-yangs amidst the web to depict the unification of dark and light.

Power and Control

  • The spider web gives the spider power over its prey that gets trapped. This symbolizes strength, control over adversaries, and imposing one’s will.


  • Spider webs are incredible feats of architecture and geometric beauty spun from the spider’s own body. They represent the creativity of nature and the human spirit.

Feminine Energy

  • In some cultural myths, the spider represents female energy and strength. Spider web tattoos on women can denote their role as creators.
Did You Know?

The largest spider web ever woven belonged to a Darwin’s bark spider in Madagascar. Its web spanned 82 feet across a river bank and contained over 30 silk threads!

The Infamous Teardrop Spider Web Tattoo

No discussion of spider web tattoos is complete without mentioning the teardrop version. This stomach-churning tattoo consists of a cobweb trailing from the corner of the eye down the cheek. Often a spider sits menacingly in the web.

  • It originated in prisons as a symbol of the wearer murdering someone. The teardrop can mean they killed in cold blood or lost a loved one.
  • White supremacist gangs favor this tattoo as an intimidation tactic and a brazen sign of racism. For them, the teardrop signifies the murder of a minority.
  • Some unfortunate people are forcibly tattooed by gangs as an initiation.

This association with violent racism makes the teardrop spider web tattoo widely reviled. However, the meaning is not always sinister. Other interpretations include overcoming abuse, losing a family member, or emerging from prison time as a changed person. But in most contexts, this notorious tattoo still carries a very negative connotation.

Spider Web Tattoo Styles and Body Placements

Now that we’ve covered the history and symbolism, let’s look at how the style and placement influence the meaning of spider web tattoos.

Forearms: Being trapped by addiction or caught in the web of depression.

Elbows: Each strand of the web can signify a year in prison or time caught in gang life.

Neck: Shows being trapped in a criminal lifestyle but also conveys a position of power like the spider.

Fingers: Webs on each finger represent small crimes or addictions taking over the wearer’s life.

Back: An expansive web on the back indicates a feeling of being stuck in the past and an inability to move forward.

Chest: A web on the chest can denote respiratory problems or feeling smothered by anxiety.

As you can see, even basic web placements commonly represent some form of being caught and unable to break free. Next, we’ll look at how design variations can alter the meaning.

Body PlacementTypical Meaning
ForearmsTrapped by addiction or depression
ElbowsYears spent in prison
NeckTrapped in criminal lifestyle but also power like the spider
FingersCaught in small crimes and addictions
BackStuck in the past, unable to move forward
ChestFeeling smothered by respiratory issues or anxiety

Tattoo Design Variations and Enhancements

While the classic black spider web tattoo conveys being trapped, thoughtful design choices can impart more positive meanings:

Colorful Webs

Vibrant colors like purple, green, and orange represent creativity, harmony with nature, and finding brightness in the darkness.

Realistic 3D Webs

Dimensional shading and depth give the impression of an actual spider web on the skin. This honors the architectural beauty and draws less attention to prison links.

Incorporating Flowers

Delicate flowers integrated into the web illustrate the contrast between beauty and darkness. This also introduces an element of femininity.


A black widow spider sitting in the web adds a level of danger and lethality. But any spider can represent wisdom, patience, and mastering one’s environment.


Weaving the web around or incorporating a skull amplifies the meaning of being trapped in death or murder. This appeals to the grim tastes of bikers and the rockabilly scene.

Religious Symbols

Adding crosses, pentagrams, or yin-yangs balances the sinister web with concepts of unity, faith, and divine forces.

In Summary: The Rich Symbolism of Spider Web Tattoos

Far from being a random creepy-crawly image, spider web tattoos embody a rich symbolism molded by history. In their early days as prison ink, they represented doing time, being trapped in violence, and even racially motivated murder in the case of the infamous teardrop web.

But as spiders weave their artful webs, tattoos spin stories. Modern interpretations reveal positive meanings of power, feminine energy, unity, creativity, and reverence for the natural world. The style, color, and location on the body all contain significance.

So the next time you see a spider web tattoo, don’t jump to ominous conclusions based on tabloid fodder. Look closer at the underlying stories woven into the wearer’s skin. With an open mind, we just might feel a connection to the humanity behind even the most surprising tattoos.

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