The origin of Celtic symbols goes back hundreds of years to books like the Book of Kells. The original version of this beautiful illuminated manuscript is now in Dublin, at Trinity College. It contains many of the Celtic style spirals, knotwork and zoomorphic (animal) images that have become so popular as tattoos.
Some Celtic symbols, however, go back even further in time. The Celts can be traced as far back as around 500 B.C. They did not keep written records, so much of what we know about them comes from either oral tradition or from what their enemies, such as the Romans, wrote about them. Historians believe that the Celts at some point moved to lands such as Britain and Ireland that were originally occupied by earlier, unknown people. These earlier tribes created some of the early symbols, such as triple spirals, and certain types of crosses, that the Celts would later adapt as their own.
Perhaps what is most distinctive about Celtic artwork is the focus on symbols that have to do with infinity, or the ever-repeating cycles of life. This can be seen most clearly in Celtic knots, which beautifully illustrate the connected and never-ending movement of all things. Spirals also convey this kind of idea. Today we see many people wearing tribal type Celtic tattoo designs based on knotwork or spirals.
More complex Celtic artwork, such as the zoomorphic animal images also use spiral designs and these are often rendered in modern Celtic tattoos. When it comes to tattoos, these images can be made even more striking by using vivid colors. Animals depicted in traditional Celtic designs include birds, reptiles, horses and dragons, all of which can make great tattoos. Other images that are popular as Celtic tattoos include harps, Celtic crosses and swords.
Celtic Symbol for Eternity: Celtic Knots
Celtic knots are used to depict eternity. They were also used to symbolize life. These Celtic symbols and the meaning attributed them are perhaps the oldest form of Celtic art work known. The Celtic symbol and meanings for eternity and life vary. However their common bond is that of no beginning and no ending. The symbolism is that of eternity whether attributed to love, nature or the relationship the Celts had with their environment or with their spiritual deities. In Christian terms the eternity relates to God, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Celtic symbol for eternity could also be attributed to the eternal love of sisters, the love of parents for a child, the three stages of woman or earthly relationships such as earth, sea and sky.
The mystique of Celtic knot work lies in their interwoven and unbroken lines. The endless patterns are able to attribute deep and spiritual meaning or purpose. While many meanings are given at the heart of the Celtic knot is the symbolism of eternity, that is eternal love and life and the eternity of nature and the universe.
Celtic knot work is meant to symbolize the never-ending cycle of life and how we are too interwoven with everything around us while adding our own strand in the fabric of life, space and time. We all continue on into eternity and while each loop is separate, it has no start or ending and cannot be separated from the whole. They remind us of our place in the universe: a vital part of a larger whole. The knots symbolize the intricacies of all things in the natural world.
The most common Celtic knots found in art and jewelry today can be traced to illuminated Christian manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells. Fifteen hundred years later, interlacing knotwork has become the essential trait of Celtic art. Knotwork is said to ward off evil spirits, and some believe the more intricate the design, the better protection against evil it is. Today, many people regard Celtic knots as premier symbol of "the permanent continuum of life, love, and spiritual growth."
Eternity Knot - While this does not define a particular knot, an eternity knot is "any knot that has a closed path, with no beginning or end [and] may be symbolic of eternity or continuum."
Lover's Knot - Similarly to the eternity knot, this title does not depict a singular knot, but is rather a definition for any knot that connects what would otherwise be separate channels. This knot is made up of four Triquetras enclosed in a circle, which symbolises both the feminine and the Sun, an important element of Celtic religion.
Triquetra - Also known as the Celtic Trinity Knot, this knot consists of an individual line that wraps into and onto itself to create a three-lobed outline (originally it simply meant triangle, but the symbol has now evolved to represent virtually anything that is threefold.) Depending on the school of thought, this meaning can range from the Christian principle of the Holy Trinity, the Pagan depiction of the three feminine powers (Land, Sea & Sky), and the transcendental union of mind, body, and spirit or the three aspects of the time: Past, Present and Future. Others suggest that it symbolises the triple aspect of the Goddess, i.e. Maid, Mother and Crone. The shape of the symbol, in fact, consists in three interlocking pointed ovals known as vesica piscis, which represent the birth canal and are frequently found in Celtic symbols of the Divine Feminine (see Sacred Well, Sheela-Na-Gig). Sometimes a circle will encompass the trinity knot, which further represents the unity of the three. This symbol was later incorporated in Christian art as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.
Triskele - The Triscele , another sacred symbol to the Celts, represents the eternal rhythm of life and, like the Triquetra, the three-fold nature of the Goddess. Celtic knotwork, or interlacing, is found on most ancient Celtic stone carvings and crosses. It is also a central decorative feature of the famous Book of Kells, the work of 7th Century Christian monks. In this consecrated form, though the original pagan symbolism is ‘converted’ to Christian symbolism the beauty of the intricate and perfect interlacing is equally powerful.
Heart Knots - A fashionable and modern addition to the range of Celtic knots, heart knots are a further and vivid depiction of everlasting love, as they form the traditional heart shape with intertwining eternal knots.