At some point, Celts were the major ethnicity in Europe. However, their descendants can only be found in Scotland, Ireland, and the surrounding lands today. The Celtic people had a rich culture and practiced paganism. They also used knots, and various other symbols to communicate. Now, these symbols are proudly presented in tattoos, but not many people know what they mean.
A lot of belief stems around the Celtic people but most of it surrounds their knots and other symbols that were preserved in the culture. In this article, we’ll talk about whether the Celts did ink their bodies, and what do the symbols they used mean, and how they can be used in the tattoos.
Celtic People And Tattoos
A lot of people wonder whether Celts tattooed different symbols from their culture into their bodies. Some historians claim that the Celtic tattoos were never a thing and that the tattoos came to Scotland and Ireland only in the last century. But, this claim may not apply the same for all the aspects of Celtic tattooing.
A lot of other sources suggest that the Celts, particularly Celtic warriors used to tattoo their bodies with different Celtic symbols. Nevertheless, the most prominent symbol is the knot tattoos. A lot of legends suggest that Celts used to make knots out of tree branches and communicate with their kind this way. They placed the knots made out of wood on trees in the forest to pave the way for those who wanted to join them.
Tattoos, made out of woad plant, and other powder derived from the trees would serve Celts multiple purposes. However, the most prominent purpose was protection and some way of scaring their enemies with the colors on their faces and bodies.
Some clues hint that the woad plant didn’t serve just as the tattoo, but rather the body paint, suggesting that there were also other materials that Celts used for tattooing. Some of those materials included copper and iron-based powder which helped them ink their face and body skin.
The tattoos that the Celts drew on themselves are ridiculously similar to the Celtic symbols that we know of today, but there were likely some other tattoos that could hint at the social status and other traits of those who wore them.
For some people, knot designs were unique, and the best way to ask spirits for guidance and protection, especially in battles against enemies.
Some evidence suggests that only men inked their skin, while other evidence claims that both men and women were wearing them. The men on the battlefields were decorated with knot tattoos that were flattering their upper chest and arms.
They were interlocked with various symbols, patterns, and textures, which was also important when it came to their social status, courage, and other traits.
Celtic Tattoo Symbols
Now that we defined the basic relationship between the Celtic tribes and the earliest body paint, tattoos, and how those tribes used them, let’s take a look at the most significant symbols used in the tattoo culture, derived from the Celtic culture.
Perhaps, some of these symbols also exist in other cultures, such as the Tree in Life. However, in this article, we’re going to talk mostly about the knot tattoo designs, because they are authentic to the Celtic people and are widely practiced in the tattoo culture now.
Celtic Knots: Celtic knots are some of the oldest signatures of the Celtic civilizations, with first records about them appearing in the 4th and 5th century when Christians made contact with the Celtic civilization. Both Christianity and Celtic culture influenced one another, with some of the knots appearing in the ancient Christian records such as manuscripts and artwork.
Even though they were discovered in the 5th century, some scholars and historians believe that knots are older than that, dating back to 500 B.C. But, what does the Celtic Knot mean? Knots are made so that there’s no beginning or the end, which could hint at the belief that life is eternal, from physical to spiritual form, and that even after the physical passing, the life persists and goes on, with no start or finish.
Besides the obvious synonym to eternity, the Celtic knots mark loyalty, faith, courage, friendship, passion, and love, all the things that appear through the eternity of life as it is. There are knots made of either just one or multiple threads. Nevertheless, each thread shows the connection between life and death, making it eternity.
Celtic art is extremely popular, especially at the cradle of the Celtic civilization in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The people who live there respect the descendants of the Celtic civilizations and often practice getting the Celtic Knot tattoos, which during the last decades and years of the 20th century traveled to other parts of the world, including the tattoo studios in the United States.
There are many knot designs, and some of them were so important that they developed in the unique designs as is, including the Trinity Knot and Lover’s Knot that we’ll talk about below.
Here are some of the key Celtic Knots used in the tattoo culture:
- Celtic Spirals – they can mark accomplishments, ambitions, balance, spirituality, universe, and heaven. A single spiral can also represent the sun.
- Step Patterns – Step patterns are used to mark the life and all the endeavors that mark it. Each progress and milestone in life is represented by a step pattern in a knot.
Trinity Knot: Trinity Knot can be seen in various pop culture achievements such as movies about witchcraft, and the popular TV show called Charmed. However, no one would guess that it’s originally a Celtic symbol that represents the trinity. It’s particularly associated with women.
In the Celtic beliefs, Trinity Knots marked the three stages of a woman’s life known as the stages of “maiden, mother, and crone.” This symbol was likely adopted by Christianity and Catholicism to mark the father, son, and the holy spirit.
Nevertheless, there is no confirmation that the Christians adopted this symbolism from the Celtic culture. It’s a pagan sign that was respected and worshipped by Celts, according to different scholars.
In that sense, this tattoo is often practiced by women who believed in the “triple Goddess” respected by the Celtic civilization.
Love Knot: A big part of the Celtic symbolism refers to love and passion and Love Knot is no exception. That’s why it’s a popular tattoo among couples who want to mark their love. The love knot marks the everlasting and unconditional love between two individuals. Nevertheless, many scholars believe that the Love Knot is a modern design.
Whether it’s derived from the Celtic Knots or not, it’s one of the most popular wedding tattoos, as it was believed that couples tattooed this symbol as the symbol of their love that is timeless and unconditional. The interlocking between the knots marks the devotion of two people who love each other.
In modern times, what makes the love knots tattoos great is that they can be customized to serve the purpose and desires of all couples who want to get them. Keep in mind that you don’t have to get this tattoo just for the sake of love devotion between partners. The knot marks the unconditional love individually that can be applied to everything.
Tree Of Life: As mentioned before, the tree of life doesn’t only have a place in the Celtic culture and symbolism. It’s present in many more cultures, including the Nordic and Slavic cultures, as well as some African tribes that also worship the tree in life.
The meanings behind the concept of the Tree of Life are mainly similar, with the tree looking nearly identical as in the other cultures. It’s a tree with super-deep and branchy roots, as well as branchy and spread out branches that reach far into the sky.
In simple words, the tree of life symbolizes the desire for greatness and rising to greatness, power, and success. What it also means that only those with humble beginnings can reach far into the skies of success.
Triskele: The Triskele tattoo can be interpreted in many ways, but similarly to the Slavic and some other cultures, the number 3 in the Celtic culture is considered sacred. The triple spiral is there to worship the sacred number 3 and can represent multiple symbols joined together.
Some of the most popular representations of the Triskele tattoo include:
- Water, sky, and earth
- Father, mother, and child
- Beginning, middle, end
- The human world, Spirit World, and Heaven
Triskele can also mean “three legs” and it can mark the movement of different energies that eventually get merged. It is also believed that it’s connected to the concept of the Holy Trinity in Christianity.
Best Celtic Tattoos
We detailed some of the most popular Celtic symbols to the tiniest details. If that didn’t help you come up with your unique Celtic tattoo, stay with us throughout the rest of this article, and take a look at the best Celtic tattoos that we found. Hopefully, some of them will inspire you to make the most attractive and authentic Celtic tattoo.
Tree Of Life Tattoo
As mentioned earlier, the tree of life commonly appears in many different cultures and brings people closer to their humble beginnings and greatness. The tree of life in this tattoo is pictured on the chest, close to the heart, which is the center of life in the human body. We think that’s greatly thought out. The tattoo is also quite detailed and adds other symbols such as birds, which make the tree closer to the sky. This is a great tattoo idea and could fit greatly on other parts of the body, as well as other symbols added.
Sacred Geometry Knot
Celtics among many other civilizations practice using geometrical symbols in their language, culture, and art. Celtic knots often feature various authentic geometrical symbols, which many professionals also call the Sacred Geometry. The sacred Geometry symbol shown in this tattoo can often be found in different Celtic symbols, as well as on the internet. The knot is detailed and well-decorated and would greatly fit other parts of the body too. In this particular case, it was used for a leg tattoo.
Celtic Cross Tattoo
Celtic crosses are inked by many people who are fascinated by the Celtic civilization and symbolism, yet follow the rules of Christianity and pray to God. It is widely speculated that the Celtic civilization was pagan. However, when Christians came to the grounds of Great Britain, it is believed that the Celts took the Christian cross and curated it to be knotted and decorated with the Celtic symbols. That made it a quite popular tattoo for everyone who likes Celtic embroidery and symbols. This particular tattoo was made with great detail and can be combined with various other symbols.
Also Read: 40+ Cross Tattoo Design Ideas: To Keep Your Faith Close
Celtic And Nordic Design Tattoo
It’s no secret that various Celtic designs are similar to the Nordic patterns. For example, knots are present in both Celtic and Nordic culture. This tattoo was inspired by both. It uses the circular design seen in many Nordic Symbols, but the knot design in itself is mainly similar to the design of the Celtic knots. We like this tattoo design because it’s interlaced to the smallest details. It must’ve taken a long time for the tattoo artist to develop it to perfection. We also like how the shading is done. It’ll be a great inspiration for those who are looking to mix knots.
Celtic Ascension Tattoo
Some people believe that some key Christian holidays such as Christmas as we know it today were derived from paganic traditions, particularly bound to the Celtic traditions and customs. That’s why people who are fascinated by the Celtic cultures celebrate holidays in pagan customs. This tattoo symbol marks Ascension. We believe that this type of tattoo is quite painful, and it’s not for everyone. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting spot for a tattoo if you have a perfect jawline.
Celtic Snake Knot Tattoo
This tattoo combines two symbols, the tree of life that we already detailed above, and the Snake knot, which is a popular pagan symbol that marks rebirth. That’s why it’s represented in the knot of a snake eating its tail, to highlight that it’s eternal. Given that the tree of life also represents ascension and life, it is a good symbol to highlight that life always prevails over death and that we’re all reborn. It’s a good tattoo for people who are struggling and going through some difficulties. We also like the highlights in the ink, as well as shading. We believe this tattoo could be made in different sizes, and perhaps add some more symbolism.
Also Read: Best Snake Tattoo Designs To Inspire You: The Art of Curls
Stone Trinity Knot Tattoo
This is not a typical Triquetra symbol, but it’s incredibly detailed and made to look like those symbols in old houses or the engraved floors in the Celtic temples. This perfectly-looking tattoo could decorate any part of the body, as well as in different sizes. The symbol is made so that it looks three-dimensional, which just adds up to its depth. We explained everything you need to know about this tattoo above. That said, this symbol may be more attractive to ladies than men.
Colorful Knot Tattoo
If you’re looking for a more colorful Celtic tattoo, while also looking like the traditional Sacred Geometry knots, this tattoo is ideal. The colors are vibrant and detailed, as well as the interlocking between the knots. This design is small, so it’s great for forearms, calves, shoulders, wrists, and others. Nevertheless, this design could look great regardless of where you put it.
Celtic Armband Tattoo
If you’re looking for an armband tattoo, checking the Celtic armband tattoos is a must. Most of the armbands use the Sacred Geometry to add depth to the Celtic knots. While this may not be as deep as the other ones, it perfectly shows the alignment and the parallel drawn between the different spirals. There is some additional symbolism that you can add to make the tattoo better-looking.
Also Read: 13 Best Armband Tattoo Design Ideas (Meaning and Inspirations)
Celtic Fish Tattoo
Celts respected animals including wolves, bears, and fish, particularly the salmon that they respected as the symbols of wisdom, tracking, and much more. They also ate fish because they believed they will give them the wisdom and courage to persists even through the most restless of waters. This tattoo is incredibly detailed, and there is a nice transition between the shades.
Also Read: 30+ Koi Fish Tattoo Designs (And The Meaning Behind Them)
Celtic Sleeve Tattoo
Celtic sleeves are usually black in combination with various knots represented as the geometrical shapes that look detailed and feature multiple dimensions that you could easily get lost in. This tattoo is no exception, and it looks great. You can also see the interlocking between various symbols such as Triskele and the Trinity Knots. They look like chains and add extra depth to the entire design.
Also Read: Half Sleeve Tattoos For Men: 30+ Best Design Recommendations
Celtic Back Tattoo
This tattoo is supposed to mimic Triskele and other curling symbols of the Celtic people. We like the transition between the outlined shade, and how both symbols on each back shoulder look nearly entirely symmetric. The tattoo looks detailed, deep, and quite modern. The second tattoo features a Tree of Life design that is stunning and detailed.
Triple Goddess Tattoo
This looks like a lovely and unique Triple Goddess design. The Triple Goddess is also represented by the Trinity Knot that marks the three stages in the life of a woman “maiden, mother and crone.” This tattoo shows a woman praying while surrounded and wrapped in knots. There are other details such as the moon in different stages, which look quite creative and detailed.
Floral Knot Tattoo
Floral designs in tattoos are quite frequent. When combined with Celtic knots that are tied to nature, we get the absolute winner tattoo. The flowers are detailed, deep, and add more femininity and elegance to the entire tattoo scope. We believe that if more details were added, as well as knots, this design would make a bold floral sleeve tattoo.
Celtic Tattoos: More FAQs
Celtic mythology and symbolism is quite interesting and always leaves people with a lot of questions, especially if it’s something about tattoos. Below, we’ll list answer to questions we’re frequently being asked about the celtic tattoos.
Q: Did Celtic people really wear tattoos with knots?
A: What’s for sure is that they used knots in their language and as a matter of communication. However, there’s no definitive evidence that they decorated their bodies with permanent ink and anything other than body dye derived from the plants. Given they’ve been buried centuries ago, no analysis could prove that they had tattoos because the skin decomposed long time ago. Nevertheless, a lot of scholars claim that Celts had tattoos, especially during the battle.
Q: What do Celtic symbols mean?
A: Celtic symbols were used to communicate, and they mainly referred to their surroundings from the nature, such as water, air, sun, moon and others. That’s what made them popular too. The knots, which are the most popular Celtic symbols also look into the meanings like life, death, eternal life and spirituality.
Q: What are the most popular Celtic symbols for tattoos?
A: Most of the knots that represent the Sacred Geometry are a popular symbol for a tattoo. That also includes symbols like the Trinity Knot, Love Knot, Celtic cross, tree of life, Triskele and others.
Q: How long would it take for a Celtic tattoo to be made?
A: Celtic tattoos, if they include Geometric symbols, could take hours to make, likely 5 to 6 hours. If the tattoo is even more complex and challenging for your tattoo artist, it could also take multiple sessions. Of course, if you’re tattooing a smaller symbol like Trinity Knot or Triskele that could likely take anywhere between 3 and 5 hours to complete. Always talk to your tattoo artist before attempting more complex tattoo designs to ensure that they can do it without a mistake.