The Heart Land Tattoo Temple didn‘t arrive quietly in town. They commissioned a bright and bold mural to cover the walls and windows of their shop at the top of the High Street. Back in 1969 the building had been the first in town to be painted, with brightly coloured flowers, yet the new mural still caused some consternation. I was curious to find out who had taken over the building and was pleased when Reuben Stockwell invited me to write about the new tattoo studio and his own journey.
Reuben looks a little bit Hipster, he’s got the type of long beard that only bikers used to have. He wouldn’t look out of place in Brighton. He doesn’t look out of place in Glastonbury either, but it’s hard to look out of place in Glastonbury. Unless you’re wearing the sort of suit you have to wear because you do ‘that sort’ of job. Reuben used to wear a suit, when he sold mortgages for a living. I can’t quite picture Reuben in a suit, perhaps that’s because even when he was selling mortgages he was teaching yoga too. That was what led him, eventually, to Glastonbury “After a couple of years of the day job, in the early 2000’s, I fucked off the work hard, play hard thing all thanks to a gym yoga class, where we were chanting Sanskrit”.
“I took my hands off the steering wheel”
Reuben came to Glastonbury for a retreat at Shekinashram, then kept coming back – ten times in two years, yet he never really explored the town. Instead, he did yoga and went walking in nature, going back to Southampton to sell mortgages and teach yoga. He heard there were people doing work exchange in the Ashram, but that wasn’t something he could see himself doing “I was earning six figures at the time and didn’t fancy working for nothing”.
The big change in his life came at the beginning of 2015 “I’d been off to India on yoga holiday with my teacher, was doing a lot of meditation. I got back to my boss telling me I wasn’t selling enough life insurance. I told him I didn’t like scaring people, and I quit. A mortgage is debt – 25 years of slavery, already that wasn’t sitting well with me. With the yoga practice, my life had got a lot more simple. I dedicated myself to yoga teaching. I took my hands off the steering wheel”.
In September 2015 he came back to volunteer at the Ashram. “I came to do Karma Yoga – Service for a Higher Cause. I realised I was moving energy with my muscles, clearing blocks in my system. Got really into service through energy movement. I heard you could do this with food too that you could put love into preparing food. I’d cook the Wednesday Prasad.” When he left the ashram, he got a job at Excalibur, starting off basic cheffing, but leaving as the Head Chef. He then spent another year cheffing for a retreat near Bruton.
“I didn’t really know what to do, didn’t have money coming in, just one yoga class a week at the Ashram which wasn’t even earning me anything. I considered myself to be the ‘best, least popular yoga teacher in Glastonbury’. At the end of my classes, people would say I was an amazing teacher and then never come again!” His luck changed when he met a friend who had a plan to open a tattoo shop in Glastonbury. Soon after he found himself in Mexico learning to tattoo. “Or as they say around here ‘receiving the download!’” he laughs.
Sacred and Ceremonial Body Modification
Reuben specializes in handpoke, machine free tattoos – the most traditional way of putting ink in the skin. He tells me each culture has its own way of breaking the skin, in Thailand they use sharpened bamboo, the Inuits sew the ink into the skin with a bone needle and an inked thread. He’s researched indigenous cultures, particularly Mayan techniques – they used sharp glass needles and knives made from obsidian (black volcanic glass), but he can’t use those methods here as the glass is too fragile.
The Romans called the Britons ‘Picts’ – the painted people, due to their tattooed skins, we’ve lost our link to our own culture and methods of tattooing. “Our culture regards tattoos as being something for people who are on the ‘outside’, but if you look back, to the Dark Ages when kings were being usurped, you’ll see it was royalty that was tattooed. The heir to the bloodline would be given a secret tattoo so they could be identified”.
I showed Reuben the Pictish tattoos on my upper arms, we talked about totems. He tells me “One client came in and talked about a Robin they’d met in Chalice Well Garden. I thought I’d probably met the same robin myself, as I tattooed them I felt I was genuinely connecting with the robin as a totem animal”.
The Tattoo as a Journey
So what is the philosophy behind his tattooing? “In the process the client is electing to move forward with something, bringing their energy to the design. But there is a surrender that one has to make when receiving a tattoo, putting complete trust in someone to hold you through this transformation. This is on the physical level, the outer layer of the body, but it’s mirrored on the subtle and esoteric level. When the skin is broken the door is open, what do you want to come in?”
Reuben regards the studio as sacred space – conducive to ‘letting the right stuff in’, a calm environment in which to let go. “People have had incredible releases – screaming, bellowing, weeping. We have all these ways we deal with pain, some try to ‘tough it out’ by being tense or solid, others disassociate themselves and meditate. Others fully engage with the process, breathe, be in the moment”.
“I steer them lovingly, but they need to find out for themselves. If you really focus on the sensation you come to realise it’s just a sensation. It’s how you treat it, how you perceive and respond to it. Knowing something is going to be hard but doing it anyway, that’s the growth process”.
Reuben tells me “I’m very interested in the idea of meridians – that I’m stimulating them as I tattoo. They found a preserved Iceman in the Alps – covered in tattoos, that relate to acupuncture meridians, he was being treated for illnesses through tattooing. I’m definitely interested in learning more about acupuncture and incorporating that system into my work”.
Reuben has had many people come to him for their first tattoo, it’s important to them to get tattooed in Glastonbury, but sometimes they don’t know what imagery they want.
“If someone doesn’t know what they want it’s about developing the ideas they do have into something tangible – where will it be? Right side – action? Left side – receptivity? Public or private body area? For example on your back represents protection ‘watching your back’, or leaving stuff behind. What’s your intention? Once you have that you can look at the symbology that mirrors that. If you bring an intention to a tattoo, and I hold that too, say healing your relationship with your mother, we might put it on the inside of your left arm. That’s the feminine side, you’ll see that a lot. Whatever you have, say it’s a flower, every time you see it you will be reminded of your intention”.
Reuben has worked quietly at art and graphic design for 20 years, creating a brief out of an idea, storyboarding and visioning are all a natural part of the process for him. He isn’t the only tattoo artist at Heart Land Tattoo Temple. They have guest artists from other studios too. They are all specialists in particular styles including realism, portraits and bold work with graphic design elements.
Life in Glastonbury
How does he feel Glastonbury has influenced him “I didn’t think I was on some spiritual journey coming here. The other night, I’d just finished meditating, I thought “If the Reuben of five years ago saw the Reuben of now, would he recognize him? There have been some big shifts. I wasn’t into crystals, now the place is full of them. I’m a lot less attached to money than I’ve ever been, it comes in, it goes out. I don‘t have any major possessions anymore, money is no longer my driving force. I’m probably a lot less judgmental than I used to be”.
Has he got any funny Glastonbury stories? “Too many to say, they happen every day, so many random things happen here, it’s one of the reasons I’m still here. Anybody can be whoever they want here, without fear of repercussion. In ‘normal society’ there’s suppression of things that are ‘a bit weird’, but that energy clearly wants to be expressed”.
In Glastonbury, he feels “We’re all on a growth trajectory of trying to be decent people”.
I ask Reuben how many Glastonbury Tors he’s inked on to skin? “None! I’m sure I’ll end up doing one at one point. I’ve done multiple Vesica Pisces – that’s probably the most popular of all the Glastonbury symbols. Quite a few goddesses – I marked a Priestess Dedication ceremony with a Goddess honouring tattoo. A lot of stuff on people’s hearts, that seems to be a real thing – people coming to the Heart Chakra, getting a tattoo on their heart chakra, opening their heart chakra…..”
Heart Land Tattoo Temple doesn’t have opening hours, it’s a private studio so everything is by appointment: “We are a private studio space, operating on a members only basis. All clients are automatically enrolled at point of service into a membership scheme, which is required in order for them to access the temple space and its services. What that means is that initially a client will need to contact us to arrange a consultation appointment. During that appointment we will discuss the clients design and placement needs, taking into account the deeper meaning, and intention behind the piece. Together gathering source images and inspiration in order to create a custom piece of artwork, unique for that client. If the client wishes to go ahead, we book a subsequent appointment, taking a security deposit. If the client is not feeling to move forward at that stage they are charged for the consultation”.
Although the studio has more conventional artists than Reuben, there is no ‘flash’, everything is designed with the client in mind, whichever artist they chose. You can see more of their work on Instagram.
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