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Celtic Tattoo Art History and symbolism information page

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Tattoos by Captain Bret  &  Celtic Tattoo

Newport,  Rhode Island   # 2 Collins St.  02840

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Newport, RI Tattoo Shops

In recent years Celtic Tattoos have enjoyed a revival. We specialize in historical knotwork and Celtic ornamental style Tattooing . Our research on the subject has provided a wealth of new and exciting knots for applications as Tattoos . Anyone who desires a Historical Celtic Tattoo, Mythological Celtic Tattoo or a pride in their heritage Celtic Tattoo will be pleased with our vast collection of custom Celtic art.

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Celtic Shield

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.  

Ancient Celtic jewelry artifact

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The history of the Celtic peoples goes back some thousands of years . 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.

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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.

Tattooed Celtic Warrior

Warrior Strength Armband Tattoo

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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.  

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Pictish Stone carving, Scotland. The origins of our Popular Celtic Cross Tattoo Designs

Modern Celtic peoples have evolved symbols for themselves, and in the North American people of Celtic descent often wear these symbols to show that they are of Celtic descent. For instance, the most common Irish symbol is the three -leaved shamrock, although the Harp is often used as well. The harp has been the national instrument for all the Celtic people since the dawn of their history. The Scottish symbol is the Thistle, along with the wearing of tartans. The Welsh flag is a red dragon on a green and white background . They consider the red dragon as their most Welsh symbol, but along with the dragon they recognize the leek and the daffodil.

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When Christianity came to the Celtic lands of Britain and Ireland, the monks of the seventh century adapted the ancient Celtic art forms to the new religion. The Celtic cross and the Tree of Life, for example came from this marriage. Writing also came to the Celts for the first time. The most famous manuscript by the monks is the beautiful Book of  Kells, on display in the library of Trinity College in Dublin. 

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Celtic knots are complete loops with no end or beginning. Celtic animal interlace is similar in construction but the cords terminate in feet, heads, tails ect. Pure knots should always be unending, unless the loose end of a strand is stylized into a zoomorphic element or a spiral.  

 

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As for symbolism: knotwork designs are emblematic in modern times of the Celtic nationalities. The symbolism that has come down through the ages is as obscure and indirect as much of the speech and literature of the Celtic people.

Viking Jewelry showing Celtic Knot Work Influence to style

Knotwork’s meaning defies literal translation and should be sought at a deeper level. The repeated crossing of the physical and the spiritual are expressed in the interlace of the knots. The never ending path of the strands may represent the permanence and the continuum of life, love and faith.  

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We can help you further at your visit to our Tattoo shop with more in-depth explanations and advice with other Celtic symbolism that translates well into custom Tattoos such as:The Book of Kells, the Number Three, the Three Realms,  ( Sky, Sea & Land ), The Head, The Tree, In-Between Place, Cauldrons, The Triskele, The Spiral, The Circle, Stars, The Golden Wheel of Life, Druidic, Astrological, Mythological, The Horned God, Animals, Plants, Ring (or Circle of Stones), Mandalas, Knotworks, Zoomorphics, Illuminations, Gods, Goddesses, Myths, Legends, Crystals, Key Patterns, Step patterns, Serpents, Mythical Creatures, Interwoven Motifs, Horoscope, Paganism, Druidism, Five Graals, Eye of Sarph, Dreamtime, Revolving Doorway, Celtic Tree of Life, Dark Jewel, Clans, Family Crests, Celtic and Gaelic lettering, Interlacements, Illuminated letters, Celtic Horoscope, Love Knot, Celtic Cross, Religious ect

CELTIC TATTOO

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.

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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).

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Buy Celtic Tattoo Designs on CD
For people who have a Celtic heritage, whether they are Irish, Scots or Welsh, getting a Celtic tattoo can be a way of expressing pride in their heritage by reaffirming an affinity the indigenous artistic style of their ancestors. They are usually not easy designs to tattoo, and it is strongly recommended to anyone contemplating getting one to make sure that the artist they are considering has experience in designing Celtic tattoos. Not all tattoo artists have the eye for detail and exacting line placement needed to draw the intricate patterns particular to Celtic art.

Stone Cross Tattoo design By Captain Bret

The largest surviving Pict stone, it is 20 feet (6 meters) tall and encased in glass structure to protect it from the elements. A large Celtic cross carved on one side and over 100 figures on the other side depicting a battle. There are scenes of fighting, decapitation and piles of dead. The dead are illustrated in two groups of seven said to symbolize the Pict nobles of the north and south.
The Celtic Cross

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.

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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.

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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.

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Hallstatt - 700BC - mainly geometric designs.

La Tene - 450BC - floral and geometric designs, often designed using compasses and french curves. In this era we see a development of wonderful swirling spirals, cleverly hidden faces and animals are often disguised within the art. Art Nouveau takes a lot of it's design elements from this era. Some examples would be the Holcomb Mirror, Wandsworth Shield, and the Battersea Shield.

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Click for Celtic Tattoos Photo Gallery

Early Christian - 400AD - The spiral is now becoming more uniform, animals and people begin to appear in more recognizable forms. Near the end of this period (600 AD or so) we see an emergence of knotwork interlace, which is to become a defining example of Celtic artwork. Examples would be the Book of Durrow, and the finds at Sutton Hoo.

Viking Belt Buckle showing elaborate Celtic Knot workings

Late Christian or Insular - 750AD-1000AD - What is considered as the height of Celtic art is reached in works of gold, silver and vellum with jewelry such as the Tara Brooch and the Book of Kells manuscript. Complex designs flourish with tiny interlaced animals mixed with spirals and knotwork.

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Styles in Celtic Art Throughout the ages

Hallstatt - almost tribal feeling with the geometric designs. Maze type designs and repeated patterns make even simple designs feel complex. As these designs date back to the Bronze age, they are perhaps the most "elemental" feeling of all the styles.

La Tene - large amounts of spiral and leaf shaped designwork. Shapes of faces and animals may appear and disappear depending on how the design is viewed. Very organic.

Knotwork Interlace - this is probably the most commonly identified kind of Celtic art. Basically it looks like strands of woven or braided strips that bend and weave amongst themselves. The knotwork panel may be made up of a single strip weaving through itself, or any number of strips. One of the common designs in interlace would be what's normally called the Trinity Knot, which has 3 outer points or petals, and any amount of weavings occurring within the center.

Celtic Cross

Lovely Celtic cross in the Aberlemno Churchyard. The front side is carved with the celtic symbols seen here and Pictish symbols on the back. It is believed to have been carved in the 8th or 9th century

Viking pin showing influence on style from Celtic art

Spirals - spirals may occur in double, triple or quadruple swirls. Spirals are typically joined to one another in either an "S" or a "C" type format. A relative in the spiral family would be the triskel, sometimes called the triskelion, which has 3 arms or curls radiating from a common center.

Zoomorphics (animals) - typical animals would be the hound, snake, bird (usually either an eagle or peacock), the salmon, and lion. Dragons do not often appear in ancient Celtic art, although Pictish art may show dragons and modern made dragons can also be found in Celtic art. The animals are usually twisted upon themselves, with tails ears and body parts weaving in and out other parts, much like regular knotwork interlace.

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Maze and Step Patterns - maze patterns (also called Key Patterns) look almost like angular spirals, and may range from a few simple turns to complex labyrinth type designs. Step patterns appear to be made up of combined lego type blocks, joined to form tile-like images.

Custom Celtic Cross by Captain Bret

Buy a Celtic Cross Tattoo design - INSTANT  DOWNLOAD - Tattoo design Store

 CLICK To buy a Celtic Cross

New religion and the old Gods.

Front side is the Celtic cross and the back side has Pagan symbols along with a hunting scene

People - men and women are both depicted in Celtic art, with various hairstyles and clothing. Usually their hair and limbs are knotted up much like the knotwork interlace designs. People are drawn either in a full front manner or in perfect profile, never in partial profile.

Warrior strength Tattoo armband design

 

Meanings in Celtic Art

         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?!

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Celtic artifact showing elaborate knot work patterns

 

Knotwork Interlace - the interconnection of life and humankind's place within the universe. Common knots include the Trinity knot, thought to represent the Holy Trinity or the Triple Gods/Goddesses of the ancient Celts; and the Lover's Knot, representing 2 together as one (resembles intertwined infinity symbols).

Spirals - usually reflects personal spirit, and an individual's attainment of balance in the inner conciousness and outer self. May also represent the cosmos, heavens, and water (waves). A common spiral type pattern would be the Triskel, thought to represent the Holy Trinity or the Triple Gods/Goddesses of the ancient Celts like the Trinity Knot (above).

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Maze and Step Patterns - an individual's journey through life (as in through a labyrinth), their path of experiences and learning.

Zoomorphics (animals)

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Click for Celtic Tattoos Photo Gallery

 Hounds - loyalty
Lions - nobility, strength
Snakes - rebirth (Dragon or serpent designs may be interpreted the same as snakes)
Birds - purity (peacocks) or nobility (eagles)
Salmon - knowledge
Bull - strength
Boar - ferocity, strength

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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.

 Everyone whose family roots lie in central, western and northwestern Europe has a Celtic connection of some sort.

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Skin&Ink Tattoo magazine article about Captain Bret's Celtic Tattoos

My article and picture in Harley Davidson 100 year Anniversary Book

 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.

Because what we call Celtic culture has existed for more than 2,700 years, and has ranged across much of central and northwestern Europe, it is not easy to define in simple terms. People who need clear definitions of everything find that the Celts are a difficult case.

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Warrior Strength Armband Tattoo

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Roman coin showing a Celtic warrior

Julius Caesar is probably best known to Celtic scholars for his description of the Gauls and Druids in his writings about the Gallic wars. L. Hostilius Saserna, silver denarius, Rome 48 BCE (HCRI 18)

Rarely do we see portraits of actual Celts and when done are usually idealized statuary. The following  coin was minted by the moneyer L. Hostilius Saserna probably under the aegis of Caesar and not the Senate.

The appearance of this portrait is much different than those of Romans, enhancing their 'barbarian' or foreign nature to Roman citizens. The hair is long and probably limed, the beard and mustaches prominent and the facies peculiar. A Celtic shield is behind and he wears chain around his neck.

 

Scota 

Scota was thought to be the earliest ancestor of the Scots.  According to one story, she was the daughter of an Egyptian pharaoh.   A wise teacher by the name of Niul, had settled in Egypt and become her husband.   They had one child named Goidel, who gave his name to the Gaels.  In another story, she was the wife of Milesius and was killed fighting the Tuatha De Danann.

Sangreal 

The Sangreal, or Holy Grail, was the holy vessel of Authorian mythology.  It was said to be the cup that Christ drank out of at the Last Supper and is believed to have caught the blood which flowed from the spear thrust in His side at the Crucifixion.  It was thought to have been brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who buried Christ.  It may have also been brought by his brother-in-law Bron and his son Alan.

Originally it was Sir Percival who was the first to see the Grail and in later versions of the story, it was changed to Sir Galahad, as the only knight who was worthy enough to see such a vision.

The Grail was somehow lost, but many believed it was hidden somewhere in Britain, as a punishment for all the sinfulness at that time.   The mere presence of the holy Grail inspired most of the knights to pursue a path of goodness and virtue.  On its arrival at Camelot, the vessel filled King Arthur's hall with the most tasty smells and the knights ate and drank as never before.  Sir Galahad was the one who drank from the Grail, as requested by Joseph of Arimathea, which ensured his spiritual survival and was strongly believed that Sir Galahad lives on in a Christian otherworld.

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Avalon

Avalon was another name for the Welsh otherworld, Annwn.  Its name suggests it was an island filled with apples.  This is where the mortally wounded King Arthur was ferried to, by three mysterious women in a black boat, after the terrible battle against Sir Modred's army.   It is said that the undead king will return from Avalon and lead the oppressed Celtic population of Britain to victory over their oppressors.  According to one story, Avalon is where Excalibur was forged.  Traditionally, Avalon has been associated with Glastonbury, the supposed site of Arthur's tomb

Banshee

The Banshee (bean sidhe -- woman of the fairies) is the traditional fairy of the Irish countryside.  It was believed that the banshee would attach herself to family and her eerie wail warns them of impending death.   They lived underground in sidhe (the fairy heavens), hidden beneath the grassy mounds on the Irish hillsides.

Tuatha De Danann 

The Tuatha De Danann are called 'the people of the goddess Dana' in Celtic mythology and were known to most of the Celtic peoples. They were the last generation of gods and goddesses to rule Ireland just before the last invasion of Milesius, who were the ancestors of the present day Irish.  The Fomorii were the previous rulers of Ireland, until the Tuatha De Danann defeated them after the second and last battle of Magh Tulreadh.  The main reason they won the second battle, was due to their superior magical abilities.  Also the Tuatha De Danann were great masters of magic, crafts, and knowledge.  They brought with them four talismans: the Stone of Fal, which would scream out loud whenever the true king of Ireland placed his foot upon it; the Magic Sword of Nuada, which was a weapon that only inflicted fatal blows; the spear or sling-shot of the sun god Lugh, and the cauldron belonging to Dagda, who was the father of the gods.  It was an inexhaustible pot and was capable of satisfying everyone's appetite.

With the advent of Christianity in Ireland, the Tuatha De Danann did not entirely disappear.  In fact, many of their exploits were recorded by the monks, who wrote down many of the Celtic  legends.  The Tuatha De Danann eventually took up residence underground and became known as the fairies.  It is believed, that on the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain, which is celebrated on the last day of October, the Tuatha De Danann would sometimes allow certain mortals to enter their realm.

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Fomorii     

The Fomorii were the sea gods in Irish myths, who were extremely violent and misshapen.  They are described as having only one eye, one hand, or one foot.  It is said that the Fomorii emerged from the waves of the ocean and challenged the rulers of Ireland, the Firbolg and the Tuatha De Danann.  It was the Tuatha De Danann, who defeated them in battle.

Annwn 

Annwn was a Welsh otherworld, which was a place of peace and plenty.  In Annwn there was the fountain of sweet wine and the cauldron of rebirth.  The lord of Annwn was the grey-clad Arawn, with whom Pwyll had agreed to exchange shapes and responsibilities for a year.   Arawn had a pack of hounds, which were called, 'the hounds of hell.'  It is believed that they would fly at night in search of human souls.

Ceridwen 

Ceridwen was the Welsh goddess of fertility.  She was the mother of Afagddu, who was the ugliest man in the whole world.  To try and compensate for his ugliness, Ceridwen boiled a cauldron of knowledge for a year and a day, so Afagddu could become the wisest of all and thus be respected.  She told Gwion Bach it would be his duty to tend to the cauldron.  However Afagddu was denied the prophetic gift, when a drop of the liquid fell on Gwion Bach's finger and unthinkingly he stuck it in his mouth and sucked it off.   Furious, Ceridwen hunted him down and eventually ate him.  Later however, he was reincarnated as Taliesin, who became the greatest of all the Welsh bards. 

Ceridwen had another ugly son, who was called, Morfan.  He was a fearsome warrior and fought with King Arthur in his last battle at Camlan.  At  first none of Sir Modred's men would dare fight against Morfan, because they thought he was so ugly, that surly he must be a devil.

Morrigan 

Morrigan is sometimes called Morrigu.  She was an Irish goddess of death on the battlefield.   She helped the Tuatha De Danann at both battles of Magh Tuireadh.  She was also associated with the other war deities:  Macha, Badb, and Nemain.  Her favorite form to turn into, was that of a crow and as such she settled in triumph and revenge on the shoulder of the Ulster hero Cuchulainn, when he was killed in the war against Queen Medb's forces.  Not only had he refused Morrigan's love, but in anger had even wounded her.

Dian Cecht 

Dian Cecht was the Irish god of healing.  It's said that he and his daughter Airmid, tended the spring whose waters could restore the dying gods back to life.  After the leader of Tuatha De Danann, Nuada, lost his hand fighting in the first battle Magh Tuireadh, Dian Cecht gave him a silver hand, earning him the title, Nuada of the Silver Hand.  Even though the Tuatha De Danann were highly impressed by the god's handiwork, they felt that perhaps Nuada was no longer physically able to be their war leader.  That was when Bres, who was half Fomorii, took his place.  He turned out to be a tyrant and became very unpopular with the Tuatha De Danann.  They then decided to restore Nuada to leadership, after Miach, the son of Dian Cecht, had made him a new hand of flesh and blood. Unfortunately, the god of healing became  jealous of his son's medical skills and killed him.

Dylan 

Dylan was the Welsh sea god.  His parents were Arianrhod and her brother, Gwydion.  Soon after he was born, he went straight to the sea and jumped in.  Immediately Dylan could swam just as well as the fish.  It's said that when his uncle, the smith god Govannon, killed him, all the waves of Britain and Ireland mourned his death.

Cliodhna 

Cliodhna of Irish mythology, was one of the otherworld goddesses of beauty.  It was said that she possessed three very fine, magical birds which could sweetly sing the sick into a deep sleep and cure them.  The goddess was passionately in love with a mortal man named Ciabhan, a youth with curling locks of hair.  One day, when Ciabhan was hunting and Cliodhna was walking along the shore near Cork, the sea god Manannan Mac Lir put her into a magic sleep and then sent a wave, which pulled her back to the Land of Promise.

 

The Fianna

The Fianna were the famous warriors responsible for the safety of the High King of Ireland.    They were frequently called the Fenians and their leader was Finn Maccool.    Most of them came from one of two clans, the Bascna and the Morna.  Many of their exploits are related in the tales of the Knights of the Round Table.

To join, "no man was taken till the gound a hole had been made, such as would reach the waist, and he put into it with his shield and a forarm's length of hazel stick.  Then must nine warriors, having nine spears, with a ten furrows' width between them and him, assail him and let fly at him.  If he sustained injury, he was not received into the band."

Caer

Caer was a beautiful fairy maiden, who was loved by the Irish love god, Aonghus.  Her father Ethal was one of the Tuatha De Danann.  The love god saw Caer in a dream and was so attracted to her beauty, that he fell into a deep sickness.  When he discovered who Caer was, he immediately asked her father for her hand in marriage.   Ethal however, stated that it was not in his power to grant this because his daughter had taken on the form of a swan.  Ethal told Aonghus that he could ask Caer to marriy him only if he was able to recognize her from among the large flock of swans with whom she lived.

When the swans arrived at the Lake of the Dragon's Mouth, the love god immediately recognized Caer and called out her name.  Later Aonghus and Caer were married.

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Mystic River Tattoo

Sean Penn Back Tattoo

CLICK DOWNLOAD THIS TATTOO DESIGN NOW

Tattoo that Captain Bret Designed that was used in Clint Eastwood's movie"MYSTIC RIVER" staring Sean Penn as the character "Jimmy Markum" a South Boston Irish mobster with this celtic styled cross Tattooed on his back

We bury our sins, we wash them clean.

We do ALL Tattoo styles, NOT JUST Tribal & Celtic

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Tree of Life Tattoo by Captain Bret

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Hallstatt - 700BC - mainly geometric designs.

La Tene - 450BC - floral and geometric designs, often designed using compasses and french curves. In this era we see a development of wonderful swirling spirals, cleverly hidden faces and animals are often disguised within the art. Art Nouveau takes a lot of it's design elements from this era. Some examples would be the Holcomb Mirror, Wandsworth Shield, and the Battersea Shield.

celtblue.jpg (26803 bytes)

Click for Celtic Tattoos Photo Gallery

Early Christian - 400AD - The spiral is now becoming more uniform, animals and people begin to appear in more recognizable forms. Near the end of this period (600 AD or so) we see an emergence of knotwork interlace, which is to become a defining example of Celtic artwork. Examples would be the Book of Durrow, and the finds at Sutton Hoo.

Viking Belt Buckle showing elaborate Celtic Knot workings

Late Christian or Insular - 750AD-1000AD - What is considered as the height of Celtic art is reached in works of gold, silver and vellum with jewelry such as the Tara Brooch and the Book of Kells manuscript. Complex designs flourish with tiny interlaced animals mixed with spirals and knotwork.

celtic2.jpg (39446 bytes)

Styles in Celtic Art Throughout the ages

Hallstatt - almost tribal feeling with the geometric designs. Maze type designs and repeated patterns make even simple designs feel complex. As these designs date back to the Bronze age, they are perhaps the most "elemental" feeling of all the styles.

La Tene - large amounts of spiral and leaf shaped designwork. Shapes of faces and animals may appear and disappear depending on how the design is viewed. Very organic.

Knotwork Interlace - this is probably the most commonly identified kind of Celtic art. Basically it looks like strands of woven or braided strips that bend and weave amongst themselves. The knotwork panel may be made up of a single strip weaving through itself, or any number of strips. One of the common designs in interlace would be what's normally called the Trinity Knot, which has 3 outer points or petals, and any amount of weavings occurring within the center.

Celtic Cross

Lovely Celtic cross in the Aberlemno Churchyard. The front side is carved with the celtic symbols seen here and Pictish symbols on the back. It is believed to have been carved in the 8th or 9th century

Viking pin showing influence on style from Celtic art

Spirals - spirals may occur in double, triple or quadruple swirls. Spirals are typically joined to one another in either an "S" or a "C" type format. A relative in the spiral family would be the triskel, sometimes called the triskelion, which has 3 arms or curls radiating from a common center.

Zoomorphics (animals) - typical animals would be the hound, snake, bird (usually either an eagle or peacock), the salmon, and lion. Dragons do not often appear in ancient Celtic art, although Pictish art may show dragons and modern made dragons can also be found in Celtic art. The animals are usually twisted upon themselves, with tails ears and body parts weaving in and out other parts, much like regular knotwork interlace.

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Maze and Step Patterns - maze patterns (also called Key Patterns) look almost like angular spirals, and may range from a few simple turns to complex labyrinth type designs. Step patterns appear to be made up of combined lego type blocks, joined to form tile-like images.

Custom Celtic Cross by Captain Bret

New religion and the old Gods.

Front side is the Celtic cross and the back side has Pagan symbols along with a hunting scene

People - men and women are both depicted in Celtic art, with various hairstyles and clothing. Usually their hair and limbs are knotted up much like the knotwork interlace designs. People are drawn either in a full front manner or in perfect profile, never in partial profile.

Warrior strength Tattoo armband design

 

Meanings in Celtic Art

         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?!

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Celtic artifact showing elaborate knot work patterns

Knotwork Interlace - the interconnection of life and humankind's place within the universe. Common knots include the Trinity knot, thought to represent the Holy Trinity or the Triple Gods/Goddesses of the ancient Celts; and the Lover's Knot, representing 2 together as one (resembles intertwined infinity symbols).

Spirals - usually reflects personal spirit, and an individual's attainment of balance in the inner conciousness and outer self. May also represent the cosmos, heavens, and water (waves). A common spiral type pattern would be the Triskel, thought to represent the Holy Trinity or the Triple Gods/Goddesses of the ancient Celts like the Trinity Knot (above).

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Maze and Step Patterns - an individual's journey through life (as in through a labyrinth), their path of experiences and learning.

Zoomorphics (animals)

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 Hounds - loyalty
Lions - nobility, strength

Who were they?

The Iron Age is the age of the "Celt" in Britain. Over the 500 or so years leading up to the first Roman invasion a Celtic culture established itself throughout the British Isles. Who were these Celts?

For a start, the concept of a "Celtic" people is a modern and somewhat romantic reinterpretation of history. The “Celts” were warring tribes who certainly wouldn’t have seen themselves as one people at the time.

The "Celts" as we traditionaly regard them exist largely in the magnificence of their art and the words of the Romans who fought them. The trouble with the reports of the Romans is that they were a mix of reportage and political propaganda. It was politically expedient for the Celtic peoples to be coloured as barbarians and the Romans as a great civilizing force. And history written by the winners is always suspect.

 

Huge Ancient Celtic Cross.

Celtic warriors would cut off the heads of their enemies in battle and display them as trophies. They mounted heads in doorposts and hung them from their belts. This might seem barbaric to us, but to the Celt the seat of spiritual power was the head, so by taking the head of a vanquished foe they were appropriating that power for themselves. It was a kind of bloody religious observance.

Where did they come from? What we do know is that the people we call Celts gradually infiltrated Britain over the course of the centuries between about 500 and 100 B.C. There was probably never an organized Celtic invasion; for one thing the Celts were so fragmented and given to fighting among themselves that the idea of a concerted invasion would have been ludicrous.

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The Celts were a group of peoples loosely tied by similar language, religion, and cultural expression. They were not centrally governed, and quite as happy to fight each other as any non-Celt. They were warriors, living for the glories of battle and plunder. They were also the people who brought iron working to the British Isles.

The advent of iron. The use of iron had amazing repercussions. First, it changed trade and fostered local independence. Trade was essential during the Bronze Age, for not every area was naturally endowed with the necessary ores to make bronze. Iron, on the other hand, was relatively cheap and available almost everywhere.

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Hill forts. The time of the "Celtic conversion" of Britain saw a huge growth in the number of hill forts throughout the region. These were often small ditch and bank combinations encircling defensible hilltops. Some are small enough that they were of no practical use for more than an individual family, though over time many larger forts were built. The curious thing is that we don't know if the hill forts were built by the native Britons to defend themselves from the encroaching Celts, or by the Celts as they moved their way into hostile territory.

Usually these forts contained no source of water, so their use as long term settlements is doubtful, though they may have been useful indeed for withstanding a short term siege. Many of the hill forts were built on top of earlier causewayed camps.
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Celtic family life. The basic unit of Celtic life was the clan, a sort of extended family. The term "family" is a bit misleading, for by all accounts the Celts practiced a peculiar form of child rearing; they didn't rear them, they farmed them out. Children were actually raised by foster parents. The foster father was often the brother of the birth-mother. Got it?

Clans were bound together very loosely with other clans into tribes, each of which had its own social structure and customs, and possibly its own local gods.

Housing. The Celts lived in huts of arched timber with walls of wicker and roofs of thatch. The huts were generally gathered in loose hamlets. In several places each tribe had its own coinage system.

Farming. The Celts were farmers when they weren't fighting. One of the interesting innovations that they brought to Britain was the iron plough. Earlier ploughs had been awkward affairs, basically a stick with a pointed end harnessed behind two oxen. They were suitable only for ploughing the light upland soils. The heavier iron ploughs constituted an agricultural revolution all by themselves, for they made it possible for the first time to cultivate the rich valley and lowland soils. They came with a price, though. It generally required a team of eight oxen to pull the plough, so to avoid the difficulty of turning that large a team, Celtic fields tended to be long and narrow, a pattern that can still be seen in some parts of the country today.

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The lot of women. Celtic lands were owned communally, and wealth seems to have been based largely on the size of cattle herd owned. The lot of women was a good deal better than in most societies of that time. They were technically equal to men, owned property, and could choose their own husbands. They could also be war leaders, as Boudicca (Boadicea) later proved.

Language. There was a written Celtic language, but it developed well into Christian times, so for much of Celtic history they relied on oral transmission of culture, primarily through the efforts of bards and poets. These arts were tremendously important to the Celts, and much of what we know of their traditions comes to us today through the old tales and poems that were handed down for generations before eventually being written down.

Druids. Another area where oral traditions were important was in the training of Druids. There has been a lot of nonsense written about Druids, but they were a curious lot; a sort of super-class of priests, political advisors, teachers, healers, and arbitrators. They had their own universities, where traditional knowledge was passed on by rote. They had the right to speak ahead of the king in council, and may have held more authority than the king. They acted as ambassadors in time of war, they composed verse and upheld the law. They were a sort of glue holding together Celtic culture.

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Religion. From what we know of the Celts from Roman commentators, who are, remember, witnesses with an axe to grind, they held many of their religious ceremonies in woodland groves and near sacred water, such as wells and springs. The Romans speak of human sacrifice as being a part of Celtic religion. One thing we do know, the Celts revered human heads.

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Tribal Celtic Warrior Tattoo design

The Celts at War. The Celts loved war. If one wasn't happening they'd be sure to start one. They were scrappers from the word go. They arrayed themselves as fiercely as possible, sometimes charging into battle fully naked, dyed blue from head to toe, and screaming like banshees to terrify their enemies.

They took tremendous pride in their appearance in battle, if we can judge by the elaborately embellished weapons and paraphernalia they used. Golden shields and breastplates shared pride of place with ornamented helmets and trumpets.

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The Celts were great users of light chariots in warfare. From this chariot, drawn by two horses, they would throw spears at an enemy before dismounting to have a go with heavy slashing swords. They also had a habit of dragging families and baggage along to their battles, forming a great milling mass of encumbrances, which sometimes cost them a victory, as Queen Boudicca would later discover to her dismay.

As mentioned, they beheaded their opponents in battle and it was considered a sign of prowess and social standing to have a goodly number of heads to display.

The main problem with the Celts was that they couldn't stop fighting among themselves long enough to put up a unified front. Each tribe was out for itself, and in the long run this cost them control of Britain.

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