Celtic Tattoo History and Symbolism

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Celtic Tattoo Art History & Symbolism  Page 1

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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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Click for Celtic Tattoos Photo Gallery

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 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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click to continue Celtic History   research   page  3

Tree of Life Tattoo by Captain Bret

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Mystic River Tattoo

Sean Penn Back Tattoo


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



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We do ALL Tattoo styles, NOT JUST Tribal & Celtic

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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

Order Celtic Tattoo designs CD's       Order CelticTattoo designs Books

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Celtic Tattoo Photos           Tribal Tattoo Photos

Miscellaneous Tattoo Photographs


The Book of Kells   (Pagan Celt   Viking  &  Pict  Influence  on  Art)

Celtic   Tattoo   History   Page  #1      Page  #2      Page  #3

Tribal Tattoo History  Page #1      Page #2      Page #3

Celtic Mythology  Page #1     Page #2     Page #3

Tree of Life      Designs   and   History


A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community

Body  Parts  (Or  Modern  Mutations)

Current   Tattoo   Trends

How Tattoos Work


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These designs, pictures, Photographs, JPG,s,Gifs, files, logos, Tattoos, images, content are used exclusively by Captain Bret's Tattoo Shop Inc. and represents our company, they are our intellectual property 1981 All rights reserved.  All Tattoos By  Artist Captain Bret A. Lohnes 1981

NO commercial or non-commercial reproductions allowed or tolerated without valid license from Captain Bret's Tattoo Shop Inc.

All designs and images/content/compilation herein are Copyright 1981.  Trade Mark-Service Mark protections exist. Said Copyright, Copyrights, Service Marks, Trade Marks may be filed, owned, by all, some, or individually by the following,  Bret A. Lohnes, Captain Bret's Tattoo Shop Inc. and www.tribal-celtic-tattoo.com
copyright 1981