The Celts were tribes who first lived in Central Europe that migrated three thousand years ago to Britain. They have a range of symbols that represent such things as brotherhood, life and death, strength, and motherhood. Some Celtic symbols are knots, shamrocks, and trees. They can be expressed in a range of ways including tattoos.
Who Were The Celts?
The Celts around 1000 BCE began to settle in Britain and settled in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. They were pagans who believed in many gods and their priests were known as Druids.
Celtic culture continued in Britain long after it started to die down in Europe. The Celts eventually converted to Christianity while still being able to retain many of their old traditions. For instance, the Christian trinity shares various qualities with Celtic beliefs.
The symbolism of “brotherhood” goes far beyond the connections between actual family members. It involves a unity of friends, family, fellow believers, and ultimately, the human race and our part in the universe. Celtic brotherhood symbols retain a broad power and reach.
The arrow was a sign of military brotherhood among Celtic warriors.
A Claddagh ring is a symbol of eternal friendship. The different parts of the ring symbolize love (the heart), loyalty (the crown), and friendship (the hands).
Triskelion, otherwise known as the Triskele or the Celtic Spiral, symbolizes the interconnected universe. The three spirals symbolize the earth, the spirit world, and the heavenly realm.
A Celtic cross is a symbol of Ireland. The cross is similar to the familiar Christian cross with the common Celtic knot design found inside. Some versions have a circle in the center.
The Celtic Cross first arose before Christianity. The cross represented nature, including the four directions, and the sun. Like other symbols, Christians adapted them as their own.
The Green Man often is portrayed with leaves growing from his face and body, representing the growth and decay found in nature. He symbolizes the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
St. Patrick is said to have driven all the snakes from Ireland. Snakes here symbolize evil and death. St. Patrick represented Christianity and eternal life.
Edgar Allen Poe would not be surprised to learn that the raven also was associated with death and destruction. Ravens are not only black (darkness) but feed off carrion (decaying flesh!).
A harp is a symbol often found in Celtic art. It represents music, joy, and celebration.
Harps are good luck charms that bring a smile to your face and energy to your life. They also are basic symbols of the Irish. The Irish like to celebrate, even during funerals.
Knots symbolize unity and a permanent bond. The expression “tying the knot” means getting married. Knots are also generally a symbol of brotherhood and friendship.
The Celts had an ancient ritual of tying knots of cloth to bind the couple being married. The tradition, known as “handfasting,” might go back as far back as 7000 BCE. Ancient Celts also used rice to appease spirits and ask for blessing and fertility for the couple.
The trinity knot or triquetra represents life, death, and rebirth. It also symbolizes eternity and eternal friendship. This knot also was later popularized by the Book of Kells.
Another Celtic Knot is the Dara (not Daria!) Knot, which comes from the Irish word for “oak tree.” It is a symbol of power, wisdom, and endurance.
Mothers and Daughters (and Sons)
A common symbol for motherhood is interconnected hearts. Neverending love.
Knots are popular Celtic symbols, including for the strong unity found between parents and children as well as siblings. A triquetra can also symbolize a mom, dad, and child.
Shamrocks symbolize many things, including Ireland, friendship, and the color green.
“Shamrock” means “little clover” and each clover also has a meaning: faith, hope, love, and luck. Shamrocks can symbolize hope, especially since they are already rather magical.
The rare four-leaf clover is truly a sign of good luck.
Strength and Protection
Celts were known as great warriors. Strength was very important to them. The endurance of an oak tree. The firmness of a knot. The deadly power of a sword.
The Ailm symbol (which looks like a watch battery) is a symbol of strength and endurance. It is derived from the first letter of the Celtic Ogham alphabet. The Ailm symbol honors inner strength. The Ogham was believed to be ancient trees that dispensed wisdom.
The Celts often used daggers in sacrificial rites, with the blade being associated with healing and protection.
Celts believe that where lightning strikes are holy places, protected by the god that did the deed. The Celtic god Taranis is also symbolized by a lightning strike.
Trees had a very important role in their culture and were symbols of worship. Trees were seen as gateways into other worlds where the spirits of ancestors live. They also symbolize strength, balance, and harmony. The Tree of Life is an important Celtic symbol.
Druids had a special place in their hearts for oaks. The word “Druid” itself is believed to mean “knowledge of the oaks.” Ancient Greek and Roman writers noted that Druids met under oaks and believed oak trees have sacred significance.
The Celts also used willows in their rituals, including as a love charm. Celts recognized the special connection willows had with water. Since the moon controls the tides, willows also were understood to have a lunar connection as well.
Ways to Express Celtic Symbols
Celtic symbols are very popular. They are found in various contexts. A common way to honor them is through tattoos. Other less permanent methods are jewelry, artwork, and t-shirts.
The Celts are an ancient people and we still honor them in many ways today.