Tattoos have an important place in Celtic culture: they made it possible to distinguish the different members of the same tribe according to their rank and their role. In the case of the warriors, the tattoos allowed to intimidate the adversary.
The Celts also painted their hair and face. To create a dye that hooks, they boiled leaves of mistletoe, then marked the skin with rudimentary tools, a painful operation …
Celtic tattoos are often complex patterns, characterized by the recurrence of spirals, knots and branches. There are hundreds of Celtic motifs, but here we present the most common.
What the meaning of Celtic tattoos
Celtic nodes or interlacings
Nodes are recurring motifs in Celtic tattoos. The main ones are the following:
The quaternary node has a dubious meaning, for lack of written historical explanations. You can see the 4 directions (East, West, North and South) or the 4 elements (Sky, Air, Earth and Water).
See also: What is the meaning of semicolon tattoos
The shield knot serves to protect, to ward off bad spells and to shield the negative energy from the world. Each corner is associated with an element.
The endless knot or infinite knot symbolizes eternal love and the interdependence of all that is. It is also found in Buddhist cultures (Tibet, Mongolia …). The Dara knot is associated with the oak tree, a sacred tree in Celtic mythology. This tree is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.
Tattoos of animals
Animals have their own meaning and are associated with other symbols (Triskel, cross, Triqueta …). Some examples :
The dog evokes fidelity to all trials. The person wearing it in tattoo makes it known that it is trustworthy. The butterfly symbolizes happiness, but also ephemeral and impermanence.
Birds represent acquired freedom and divine things, above the materiality of the world. Some birds have other meanings: the owl is used as a symbol of wisdom, the eagle as a symbol of rebellion, the dove as a symbol of peace, the phoenix as a symbol of perseverance.
The horse is a source of mystery, a symbol of elegance and grace.
The wolf often represents courage and loyalty to his clan, nature in the wildest state.
Symbol of the druidic cosmogony, the celtic cross combines a Christian cross with a ring. It is thought to have been introduced in Ireland when the pagans were converted to the Catholic religion. The circle would then represent the crown of the victory of Christianity. This symbol is therefore a variant of the Christian cross.
Triqueta or Celtic Trinity
It consists of three vesicae piscis (sometimes a circle inside or all around) and marks the belonging to the Celtic culture. It represents the Earth, the Sky and the Air.
In Christian culture, it symbolizes the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Carolingian cross is a variant of the triqueta.
Also known as Triscèle, this tattoo is composed of three volutes which turn in the same direction: they turn to the left to announce a war next, right to announce a period of peace.
Its center can be a triangle (latinian triskel), but not only. Each can customize the center with a different shape: circle, square …
This symbol dates from the megalithic: it is found especially in the stones of the site of New-Grange, Ireland. The triskel would mean “3 legs” in ancient Greek, “3 rays” in Breton. Spiral branches represent the cycle of life: childhood (1st branch), adult life (2nd), old age and death (3rd branch); They also symbolize the impermanence of all things, dynamic movement and constant evolution.
Triskel also symbolizes the sun, the source of all life: each spiral represents the sun at sunrise, at noon and at sunset. This tattoo also has a cosmogonic meaning, each branch representing a world: the sky, the air and the earth.
Other meanings: “mother, father, child” OR “past, present, future”.
The spiral is an omnipresent motif in nature (in the eddies of water, in the squalls of the air, in shells and shells …). It symbolizes the evolution of the entire universe, which passes from one cycle to another, from a primitive state to an ever more perfect version.
The spiral is a labyrinth of life: in this sense it also represents an involution, a return to the center, at the beginning of everything (from Big Bang to Big Crunch).
The spiral is a set of antagonistic forces, modeled on what life is: birth – life – death and reincarnation – new life – new death and so on.
Ogham is the Celtic god of language and speech. The oghamic alphabet is considered the first scriptural language from Ireland. Each letter is composed of a vertical bar with one to five horizontal lines added.
All letters are associated with a sacred or useful tree for druids.
Example: the letter Luis is associated with the Sorbier.
It is one of the most popular Celtic tattoos in Ireland. It symbolizes eternal love, the sacred union of a couple and the fidelity that reigns there. It is composed of a Celtic crown and two hands holding a heart bare and sincere.
You can associate this symbol with other Celtic motifs and add the name of the person you love.
Arwen or Le Triban
These three rays represent the balance between the feminine energy (right radius) and the masculine energy (left radius), the radius of the center assuring the equality of the other two. These two opposing energies form the antagonistic universe in which we live.
The five circles
This tattoo symbolizes the balance of the universe. One can see in the central circle the universe, surrounded by 4 elements (earth, air, water, fire). Another close interpretation: the 5 circles represent 5 elements, including the sun, in the center.