The history of the Celts is steeped in rich lore and legends, and as there were not written language back then, tattoos where a very popular way to distinguish between the different classes and social standing. Tattoos were especially common among the Celtic warriors. Being a warrior was the highest honour that one could achieve, and the Celts wore their tattoos with pride. In fact, Celtic warriors were known to storm the battlefield naked or bare-chested as a form of intimidation – a tactic that served them well against their enemies.
In addition to their intricate body modifications, the Celts also painted their hair and faces in bright colours – think Mel Gibson in Braveheart. “Ink” for tattoos and dyes were derived from leaves of the Woad plant. The dried leaves were boiled and boiled many times over to create a potent tincture, which was then forced into the skin with a very rudimentary needle-like object; nothing like the sanitary and less painless procedures we have today.
These types of tattoos are immediately identified by their spirals and intricate interlacing patterns and every original Celtic tattoo has a spiritual meaning attached to it.
Most Popular Celtic Tattoos
• Celtic Knots
This is by far the most popular tattoo design to date, but the exact story behind does not allow for a short explanation. In a nutshell, infinity loops repeat and overlay in the design, representing both the physical and spiritual world. Loosely, it symbolises the infinite cycle of death and rebirth.
The Celtic animal designs are numerous, but all of them are very similar in design to the knot, with no beginning, and no end. Animals were hugely symbolic, so you can choose between a wide range of animal tattoos. A popular choice among women is the Celtic butterfly, which symbolises transformation. Coincidentally, it was believed that if a woman accidentally eats a butterfly’s soul, it shall be born to that woman as a baby.
• Celtic Cross
The cross symbolises the sun in its circle, combined with the four directions; north, south, east and west. The circle represents the constant soul while the cross is quite aptly seen as the crossroads that man will have to walk on earth.
• The Celtic Trinity
The Celts were deeply spiritual, as we can see in their art. The trinity often makes its appearance, and the three interlinked knots can represent a number of ideas – Spirit, Mind, Body – Thought, Feeling, Emotion – you get the idea.
Before you get a Celtic tattoo, make sure the artist specialises in this kind of work. The designs are extremely complex, and not every artist, as good as the might be, can do knot-work without it look sloppy.