Celtic tattoos are one of the most popular design choices. With their intricate weave, and such a wide variety of art to choose from, it is no wonder that such a different array of people have chosen it as their tattoo. The great majority of the designs used in Celtic tattoos come from illuminated manuscripts as well as ancient art from Ireland, Scotland and England.
Many believe that the best way to interpret Celtic artwork is as meditation or as a prayer. Celtic tattoos are usually not strictly representational and they do not attempt to duplicate the world and especially nature exactly as it is (nature being imperfect anyways). They are made of sinuous lines that form an intricate interweaving formed to complete a cycle (there is no end nor a beginning to a Celtic knot).
History of Celtic Tattoo
The Celtic people are some of the most ancient in the world. They trace their origins to before modern civilization. Today, Celtic people are mainly from modern-day Ireland and Scotland, and this rich ancestry created strong family ties.
Celtic culture is very ancient. It goes back over 2,700 years, yet it is still a living force in the modern world, through Celtic art, Celtic music, Celtic writing, and Celtic spirituality. This is because the civilization of the Celts has continued without break over the centuries. This unbroken tradition make a Celtic Tattoo relevant in today’s world.
Throughout history, the Celtic tradition and belief has not remained static, but has continuously developed and progressed in keeping with the times. In ancient days, the early beliefs of the Celts were taken over and reformed by the Druids, who in turn were influenced by Roman religion. In time, this was transformed by Christianity in the form of the Celtic Church, that was not a break with tradition, but a continuation of the Celtic essence in a new form.
The original Celtic peoples flourished more than 2000 years ago. They created a style of design rich in symbols and motifs, which has been handed down to present generations through illustrated manuscripts, carved stonework, exquisite jewellery and beautifully ornamented religious artifacts.
With the advent of Christianity, many of the designs rooted deep in Celtic culture were incorporated in Christian Celtic art. This led to magnificent illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, The Book of Durrow, The Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Durham.
Many Celtic Crosses carved from stone date from this period and have survived to the present day. The crosses show regional characteristics and often carried classic Celtic knot work, animals, trees or symbology and occasionally scenes from everyday life.
Many of the finest examples of Celtic metalwork were made for the Church, the shrine of St. Patrick’s bell are beautifully decorated with knot work and Celtic motifs.
Much of Celtic design is based upon intricate interlaced patterns, sometimes with knot work and spirals. Some is dated to as early as 700 BC during the Iron Age,
At the present time, every aspect of Celtic culture is a very visible part of a multicultural world.
At one time all of Europe was Celtic. England was ruled entirely by Celts . Eventually the Romans, Angles and Saxons came and pushed the Celts to the north and west. One of the great Celtic events of history was the Fifth-Century battle between King Arthur and his Celtic army against the dark pagan hordes in England ( as the Celts termed the non-Celtic peoples ). The Celts considered King Arthurs loss to be the death of civilization. King Arthur himself remains an important figure in Celtic legend. The original historic story is now much embroidered with medieval knights and traditions.
The Celts transmitted their culture orally, never writing down history or facts. This accounts for the extreme lack of knowledge about them prior to their contact with the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. They were generally well educated, particularly on topics such as religion, philosophy, geography and astronomy. The Romans often employed Celtic tutors for their sons, many of these tutors were Druid priests. Religion was a force in Celtic culture. The Druids were their priestly caste. The Celts were extremely superstitious.
Few people disagree that war was a hugely important feature of Celtic life. Warriors sought to intimidate enemies by battling barechested, or even naked, as well as possibly adorning their bodies richly in tattoos. These would have been created using the woad plant, native to Britain and Ireland, which when dried and subsequently boiled into a paste produced a vivid blue dye.
Indeed, the battle-ready characterisation of the Celts likely forms one of the most appealing aspects for modern humans getting inked in this style: Celtic tattoos signify strength of character, defiance, fierceness. As such, people may get a Celtic tattoo as say a motivational prompt, or to represent conquering a major setback in life.
Celtic tattoo symbolism and meanings
The ancient Celtic Art was full of interlacing patterns, elaborate knotwork, spirals, animal forms and animal zoomorphics, and color. The early Celts displayed their art especially in metal: jewelry , weapons (they were fierce warriors ), figurines and pots are some of the many artifacts that come to light.
Knotwork tradition in manuscript painting spread the style from Britain and Ireland to Scotland (in those days Pictland and Dalriada), Wales and Northumbria and with the travels of missionaries of the Celtic church to Europe. Viking raiders later appropriated many of the design concepts into their own personalized , more chaotic style of animal interlace.
Unfortunately there is no list or series of meanings that can be attributed to a particular knot, according to archeological and anthropological findings. Here are some general meanings that are generally used today…HOWEVER, keep in mind they may only be romantic interpretations of any true meaning the ancient Celts may held.
If you are going to use a design or knot for something personal choose something that really appeals to you, and that’ll be the most accurate definition of all. Certain types of people or personalities will prefer spirals over knots for some reason, or animals over spirals, or whatever. This reflects better what the symbols mean that anything, given that the meanings used today may only be romantic versions of what the Celts believed.
After all, the Celts were obviously an extremely passionate people, and you can be sure that they didn’t just follow what they were told to use for their tattoos or shield decorations, etc., so why should anyone today who is following in those footsteps have to?!
Celtic tattoos are tattoo designs in which it’s all about Knots. Celtic tattoos are represented by knots. These knots start from one point but you will not be able to understand where this ends. It’s basically symbolic of life and it’s interconnectedness with the elements of the universe. There are also the triangular Celtic knots which symbolize the merge of three elements of Earth. Celtic tattoos look gorgeous. If you wish to get inked in a design which is both stunning and also has a religious depth to it, then Celtic Knots are the way to go.
Some of the most common designs include the Cetlic cross, Celtic knots,the Irish harp the Guinness toucan, and of course, let’s not forget the Irish flower of Ireland, pretty 3 leafed shamrock or if your feeling lucky a four leafed clover.
An icon of Celtic Art is one of the earliest symbols to combine the pagan and Christian traditions in one object. Based on early Sun worship, the circle is the sun, and early respect for the Four Directions, the combination of the two makes for a powerful early Christian symbol for Christ’s cross. The Druids of early Irish religion and art saw the circle as the eternal, unchanging way of unity, the universal way; and the crossroads as the path on earth that each individual man walks. The one, leads to the other and they intermix not only in pagan art and religion, but in Christianity as well. The cross also symbolized the times of the Celtic Year and its four great festivals, Beltaine, Lugnasadh, Samhain, Imbolc. The Celtic Cross is made up of unending knots, the Celtic Knots that are known worldwide, as symbols of infinity, eternity. These knots are seen most beautifully in the Book of Kells.
Celtic Number Mythology
Three was a sacred number in ancient Celtic mythology and religion. Riddles and triadic phraseology are frequent in Celtic mythology. The triskel, a figure composed of three spirals, signifies the three-layered nature of a human soul, and is itself a central figure in ancient Celtic symbolism. The earth, sea, and sky were thought to share a three-fold marriage in oaths and as witness to deeds, and represented sacred elements.
The number five signified the family unit and order in Irish tradition, because of the five provinces of Ireland, and also the five laws imposed on provincial Irish kings.
Seventeen was a number associated with the cycles of the visible moon, particularly the new moon. On this day of the moon’s cycle, many influential and monumental events were thought to have taken place. The 17th generation was supposed to be the farthest reaches of ancestral memory, putting the longevity of memories within a clan at approximately 400 years.
Twenty-seven represented the sacred number nine tripled three times, which supposedly triples its potency. Twenty-seven also signified the number of warriors comprising a war-band, and the number of the members of a Celtic chieftain’s royal court. The number nine may also have been associated with a nine-day lunar week.
Thirty-three represented the royal or judicary number, signifying great honor. The courts of great gods and heroes number thirty-two, with the king of the gods making the tally thirty-three. This also represented the number of islands that Maelduin had to visit before he could find his homeland.
Celtic tattoo designs
While there is a huge variety of Celtic tattoos, there are a several common themes which are pervasive. Shapes featuring three or four parts are widely seen and practically all variations of highly-distinctive Celtic knot patterns form an infinite loop, which broadly symbolises the replenishing cycle of life and death, sunrise and sunset – a harmony of opposites.
The trinity, or triquetra, knot is a hugely popular modern tattoo piece. It has varied meanings from Christian (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) to pagan or secular references such as mind, body and spirit, or in terms of femininity, the key stages of life – maiden, mother and crone.
The four-part (quaternary) knot is also an important Celtic tattoo. Rendered with no beginning or end, these four interlocking sides originally probably represented ancient fundamental natural concepts such as the four elements or four seasons, but can be interpreted by individuals in many ways.
In all approaches to Celtic tattooing mentioned, the basic visual style of swirling, interwoven patterns provide a template for everything from raw minimalist statements to hugely elaborate, ambitious pieces on the body. The primary reference point for such highly-intricate tattoos are the world-renowned Celtic-Christian manuscripts, such as the dazzling work seen in the Book of Kells.
By far one of the most popular Celtic tattoos is the Celtic cross. This is one of the most noticeable symbols of Irish heritage, and you’ll see it frequently in art and religion.
This symbol takes a similar shape to the regular Christian cross, but with a few key differences. First, there’s a circle that wraps around the interior of the cross, connecting the 4 arms. In addition, Celtic crosses commonly feature additional decorations and adornments.
What does this cross mean? For most, it’s a symbol of strength since it looks similar to a Celtic shield. Because of the circular interior, it’s also a way to represent the earth’s connected elements.
No matter what this shape means to you, there’s no denying it’s a source of Celtic pride.
For the Celtic people, the three interlocking loops form a “triquetra.” This is a type of Celtic knot. As you can see from the shape itself, there’s no clear beginning or end. Because of this endless looping shape, the triquetra is a symbol of infinity.
The Celtic knot is used as a sign of protection. This knot, in particular, has added Christian significance since the 3 loops represent the holy trinity. The triquetra is a simple yet powerful Irish tattoo design.
If you visit Ireland, you’ll see harp imagery just about everywhere. From Dublin’s famous bridge to the Guinness logo, harps played a strong role in Irish history since ancient times.
Why is the harp so popular? It’s said to be a symbol of the immortality of the soul. Even after death, the legacy of the Celtic lives on forever.
The harp is a popular Celtic tattoo since it’s so customizable. It’s easy to create a harp with the symbols, colors, and design you love. This is also an easy tattoo to place anywhere on your body.
THE TREE OF LIFE
While many cultures have their own trees of life, few are as recognizable as the Celtic tree of life. This tree is characterized by seemingly endless branches reaching towards the sky, taking the shape of a circle. The branches are all connected, weaving into a knot of their own. The roots are tangled with the branches, symbolizing the cycle of life.
The tree of life is sometimes combined with the serpent, where the serpent symbolizes water and the tree Mu – the mother nature.
According to ancient Celtic beliefs, the tree of life connected both heaven and earth. It was a sign of wisdom and hope for many, and it still has much significance in Ireland today.
THE IRISH CLOVER – SHAMROCK
Of course, you can’t talk about Irish tattoos without mentioning shamrock – the Irish clover. Clovers were popularized by Irish legend.
According to stories, St. Patrick used clovers as a symbol for the holy trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This was how he helped convert Celtic pagans to Christianity.
Today, the clover is still a symbol of Christianity. In addition, it’s also come to mean an Irish sign for good luck. By wearing a clover literally on your body, you’re welcoming good fortune into your life.
Last but not least, many people choose their favorite Gaelic phrase for their Irish tattoo. Gaelic is a Celtic language that’s still spoken in Ireland today. Not only can you choose whatever phrase means something to you, but this is a subtle way to honor your Gaelic heritage.
What phrases are most common?
“Mo Chuisle” – My love or pulse of my heart
“Tada Gan Iarracht” – Nothing without effort
“Gra’ Mo Chroi” – Love of my heart
Whether you honor your sweetheart or your spirit, these phrases above are a great choice. Just make sure you pay special attention to the lettering! Gaelic is a challenging language to capture.
Rising from the Irish folklore, leprechauns are little fairies dressed like shoemakers, with a crooked hat and a leather apron. The word itself actually means “little body” – they are usually depicted as small, old men of about 2 feet height.
Unfriendly and distant as they are, leprechauns live alone making shoes, but the treasure hunters like them because they have a hidden pot of gold!
Celtic tattoos in the modern world
Celtic tattoos and its popularity have soared in recent times and the trend shows no signs of relenting. There are many reasons for this growth, ranging from the pure visual appeal of these striking, elaborate designs, to identifying with what was an embattled, underdog civilisation in terms of western culture, to the wide variety of meanings of Celtic tattoos, which allows for deep, personal statements.
As the world grows ever more technological and endlessly complex, Celtic tattoos are but one of the many ways modern humans seek to creatively engage with the ancient world. As well as the strong emotional message many Celtic tattoos express, such ink work can also provide either a reference or entry point to, or indeed a deepening involvement with, neo-paganism or other esoteric belief systems. Celtic imagery has also often been associated with Irish republicanism, and this idea of anti-colonial revolt may provide for some the key appealing aspect of such tattoos – that they symbolise revolution and differentiating oneself from the crowd. With such a fertile visual culture, the magical world of Celtic tattooing allows for vast personal experimentation.
WHICH OF THESE IRISH TATTOOS IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
If you want a tattoo that honors your Gaelic or Irish heritage, these ideas below have you covered. From subtle symbolism of ravens to ancient languages, there are no limits to what you can create. Having a Geilic tattoo or an Irish tattoo brings you closer to your ancestors, and it’s a fun reminder that our legacy lives on. If you are of Celtic heritage, you can also dedicate this tattoo to your family member such as your mother, or if you’re mixed heritage, it with your other tattoos that can include a mandala or cherry blossom tree. What type of tattoo above resonates with you? A bit of inspiration goes a long way towards helping you decide on the perfect artwork. In addition, working with a skilled tattoo artist ensures you get exactly what you’re looking for. It’s time to connect to your Irish and Gaelic roots!