Celtic tattoos obviously have something to do with the Celts, but who were they? The Celts were an Indo-European people now represented chiefly by the Irish, Gaels, Welsh, and Bretons. We’ll call that the British Isles. For such a tiny area, there’s a lot of diversity and history in the British Isles. Just the geography alone includes England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, to say nothing of Scotland’s coastal Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland islands. When you hear people mention Celtic tattoos, they generally are referring to the pre-historic designs used either in the decorative arts or by warriors.
If you battled amongst the Celtics it was seen has one of the highest honors that could be bestowed on a warrior. When they went to battle they often did so bare-chested and even at times naked. These sort of tactics proved to be even more intimidating to their enemies. They didn’t know how to react to men who would wear so little on the battlefield. Along with their fashion sense Celtics also did their hair in bright colors that they got from flower pastes, they would fashion their hair in bright Mohawks for battle.
Celtic Tattoo and the Warrior
Celtic tattoos based on art give you an incredibly rich treasure trove for resourcing designs. Because these designs are fairly primitive, they tend to have less detail than a modern cartoon drawing or anime cell would have, for example. This means they can look good even in the hands of a less experienced tattooist. The repetitive nature of the designs also means that they look good on small body parts such as the wrist or ankle.
Take for example the pure knot, which symbolized there was no beginning or end in life. It has often been said to be the crossing of the spiritual and physical worlds; representing eternal life, restitution and the complexity of nature itself.
Swirls, trinities and circles are believed to symbolize nature, motion, time and the wind. While the popular cross and circle stood for the unity of four directions under the sun.
For the interwoven lines and patterns inspiration is drawn from The Irish Book Of Kells. Ornamental lines and interlocking knots aside, animals even mythological ones such as dragons served a purpose. They could act as a symbol of powerful force, protection or exemplary courage. Not to mention family crests and trees of life were incorporated into the designs too.
The Celts’ culture has given us the English language, which you are reading right now, along with many of the fairy tales, legends, games, songs, holidays, protestant religion, and literature that are a pervasive part of American culture.
The primitive and archaic feeling as well as the symbolism behind Celtic tattoos makes these designs very attractive. Especially if you live in a large city, surrounded by technology, machines and fiberglass, this connection to our ancient brothers and sisters reminds us that there are other ways to live, and different ways of being than what is considered the modern standard of living.
From a design point of view, a Celtic tattoo gives you a classic, understated look, while sending a subconscious message of association with the “rulers of the known world.” You have probably figured out by now that you really don’t need to be from the UK to warrant wearing a Celtic tattoo. If you’re from the United States, it’s pretty common to have a family member who is English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh, even if you don’t look even faintly white.
Ok, so those are lots of the reasons that folks are getting Celtic tattoos like they are going out of style. Now, what’s your tattoo going to look like? There are a lot to choose from, that’s for sure. First of all, spirals. Some of the oldest Britons were called Picts. They wore bluish tattoos or war-paint into battle. We’re lucky enough to have stone carvings from the period, which show varied symbols including the sacred spirals, the wheel of Taranis (their version of Thor), and the tree of destiny.
Celtic tattoos in knotwork have to rank right up at the top among the currently popular Celtic tattoos. These designs actually come from illuminated manuscripts from the middle ages or even before that. Illuminated manuscripts are books that were written and illustrated completely by hand, before the printing press! When you think of someone, usually a monk, spending a lifetime developing these designs, it seems kind of incredible that someone could create this without Google image search or Photoshop. The knotwork you find in Celtic tattoos usually went around the edge of the page, and it is almost always seen in band tattoo designs. It can be as simple or as intricate as you desire.
Celtic tattoo designs, the two main ideas of which are the spirals and the knotwork, can be transformed into a myriad of beautiful new designs. Some of the things that can be combined with the spiral and knots are the Claddagh, the triangle, animals such as wild boar, bear, griffin or stag, the sun and moon as parts of the ancient spirituality of the Celts, or perhaps certain heraldic devices.
Celtic tattoo designs might fit you perfectly, but whether they do or not, I hope reading this has given you some ideas about their historic meaning. The Celts’ influences are everywhere, so much so that they’re a seamless part of the western world most of the time, making a Celtic tattoo a harmonious and subtle choice for your new ink.