Celtic Symbols

When historians talk about the original Celtic people, known as Celts, they are really referring to multiple groups of tribes that lived in the Bohemia region of Western Europe around 700 B.C. The name Celt originates from the documented tribal names of Keltoi and Celtae. Each tribe spoke in a different dialect, but the dialects were similar enough so that the tribes could understand each other's language. During this time, the Celts were one of four primary nations; the other three were the Scythians, Indians and Ethiopians. For two centuries, Celts dominated central and Western Europe, before being eventually overrun by the Greek and Roman armies. At this time, the Celts traveled further west and south across Europe and eventually made their way to what is now Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain.

The Celtic people were deeply spiritual and religious, placing importance on artistic endeavors and as far as the spoken word, they were lyrical geniuses. For all the respect earned over the course of history for their art, they were just as well respected for being fierce and proud warriors with volatile temperaments, reckless bravery and a large amount of courage. The Celtic people used art and symbols to convey how they felt about war, religion, family and spirituality. Because the Celts were an aesthetic people, the symbols were important and decorated not only sacred objects, but objects used in their daily life as well.

It has been difficult for history scholars to state with certainty what the Celtic symbols mean because of the lack of written documentation, but after witnessing repetitive symbols found on jewelry, pots, swords and other antiquated items, they can state with relative assurance that the following symbols stood for specific ideologies. It has been determined that the Celts did not have a written language but they were highly artistic, creative and honored the spoken word. The only written documentation that exists of the Celts was written from the perspective of Greeks and Roman writers, who were enemies.

Today, Celtic symbols and their meanings are used in a variety of different products and industries. These symbols can be found all over the world and used in architectural design, graphic arts, textiles, metal work and jewelry. Celtic imagery has found a place in the tattoo market, with young people getting decorated with Irish tribal tattoos to show their Irish heritage proudly. The following Celtic symbols and their meanings provide a glimpse into the history and how they are significant to the Irish today.

The Celts were heavily influenced by their spiritual beliefs, which are reflected in many of their symbols. Because of the lack of written records, the literal meanings that the Celts applied to the symbols are lost, but the symbols have come to develop universal definitions by way of their uses conveyed in art, legends and ancient folklore. One thing known for certain is that the Celts believed in their symbols and used them to show respect, worship and to ward off evil spirits. The common Celtic symbols that have been shown to represent family include motherhood, brotherhood and sisterhood, as well as clan symbols and the claddagh.

Celtic Symbol for Brotherhood

While there isn't a specific symbol for brother, the one that is most commonly understood to represent a brother is the Arrow knot, or brotherhood of the arrow. The Celts fiercely believed in personal honor and the brotherhood gained by going to war. It is believed that arrows in Celtic symbolism represent power and virility. Together, Celtic warriors were known as "brothers of the arrow."

Celtic Symbol for Father

The Celtic people honored the Triquetra, a form of trinity symbol, which symbolizes the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The word Triquetra has Latin origins and means three cornered. It has been found in Celtic metal work and the famous Book of Kells, as well as on early Christian Celtic crosses, though it is not believed to have been a primary symbol for their belief system. The Triquetra is used in modern-day Ireland in conjunction with the claddagh ring for weddings for people believe it to represent love, honor and protection, the important parts of a marriage relationship.

Celtic Symbol for Mother

Women had a special place in Celtic society. It has been shown that the Celtic women fought alongside the men and were touted as warriors in their own right. Women served as tribal leaders in some groups and also were thought to have special psychic abilities as prophesiers by their people.

The Celtic motherhood knot looks like two hearts intertwined, with one of the hearts being lower than the other. The unbroken knot is symbolic of the love between mother and offspring. If children were added to this symbol, they would be shown as a dot inside or outside the motherhood symbol, one for each child.

The Triple Mother Goddess symbol represents a trinity of forces that combine together to create the mother goddess symbol. You will see the numeral three used repeatedly by the Celts in symbols as they felt it contained magic and spirituality. This symbol also represents the three stages of woman, the maid, mother and wise woman.

Celtic Symbol for Sister

The Celtic Sisters Knot is the most widely recognized symbol for Celtic sisterhood. It looks like a heart and it represents the eternal bond that is shared between not only sisters, but also "sisters" meaning good friends. The triquetra symbol, mentioned above, also has been shown to represent three stages of woman, the maid, mother and wise woman.

Celtic Symbol for Love

The claddagh symbol is probably one of the most beloved of all Celtic symbols and it is found primarily on rings. The claddagh consists of a heart, a crown, and two hands that surround the heart. The hands represent friendship, the heart is love and the crown stands for loyalty. There are many myths and legends that describe how the claddagh came into being, but most will agree that the ring and customs originated in the fishing village of Claddagh, which is close to Galway. The claddagh ring is a popular choice for Irish couples to use for their wedding rings, but it is also a proud symbol of Irish heritage and is found on other pieces of jewelry such as necklaces and earrings.

Celtic Symbols for Warrior and Strength

Because the Celtic people were known as being powerful and fierce warriors they were thought to be war-happy and blood-thirsty, but one of the primary reasons they fought was to earn personal glory. Because they placed such a high regard on war and fighting, they felt a kinship with wild animals and held them in high esteem. They felt that wild animals were attuned to the natural energy of the earth and harvested it. Early Celts venerated these animals and would paint themselves with animal depictions before going to war, in the hopes that the animal's unique traits would be transferred into their bodies.

The Celts felt the stag represented a warrior and the legend how this came to be involves a god with horns like a stag that represented all wild animals. The stag is the most famous symbol of a Celtic warrior, but many animals were revered for spirited characteristics and were also used to represent warrior strength. The bull was used in Celtic symbolism for its strong will, and the Celtic dragon is associated with war and military. The dragon is a popular tattoo design today.

Celtic symbols continue to be used today in art and for religious purposes. Irish people have taken these ancient symbols and made them their own, which will keep the history of the Celtic people alive in the future.

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