Celtic tattoos take their heritage from the Celtic origin. These signs and symbols while offering us a glimpse at Celtic beliefs are sought after as much for their beauty, mysticism and as a way for many to advertise Celtic heritage, but they are also popular with those who want to honor and perhaps take on the meanings behind them.
While the Celtic tattoos take on the many forms of items worshiped, revered and appreciated in ancient times, perhaps the most purposeful of all tattoos are those that take the form of tribal designs.
Celtic warriors did not go to war without tattoos, yet it is not known whether or not these were in fact tattoos as we know them today. The Latin root of the work Picts means 'painted ones' and the Celts adopted the same war tactics of painting their bodies in the hope of intimidating their enemies. To the Celts to go to battle was a very high honor indeed. They engaged their enemies almost totally naked, or at least with chests bare which was done so as another form of intimidation, but it also meant that they could show off their tattoos to the fullest.
The Celts used a Woad plant to perform their tattooing. The leaves would be harvested and dried and then boiled and strained, boiled once again. The end result was a blue viscous or sticky liquid. The Celts used this Woad paste to tap into their skins with a needle type of implement which forced the dye under the skin layers. The end results were strangely tattooed blue warriors.
Apart from intending to scare their opponents away, the symbols used by the Celts in their tribal tattoos were designed to capture their warrior spirit, their faith, their courage and their bravery. Celtic symbolism took from the things around them, especially animals which they encountered in their day to day lives and which they respected for their different attributes. One tattoo however that was prolific amongst the warriors was the arrow. The arrow signified the meaning of 'Celtic brothers of the arrow' in war. The arrow symbolized individual power as well as power amongst brothers, brother in this sense were those that fought and died together, symbolizing that each had the same warrior spirit as the other.
In the heat of battle, men from various backgrounds bonded as brother. The Celtic arrow tattoo also signifies the inner strength that is needed to be a successful warrior.
When the arrow was used in conjunction with a sun design, this signified the piercing power which the ancient Celts related to the power of the sun.
Celtic animals symbols provided powerful symbolism for the ancients and were often used to depict their life and their history; they were also used individually by warriors as a way to depict their personality or as a way to attaining the qualities of that particular animal such as courage, strength or projecting fear. The ancient Celts called upon the spirit of these animal symbols to provide these qualities.
The Celtic bull was very revered amongst the ancients, mostly for its strong will and its uncompromising and unbending stubborn traits.
Bears and bear claws were associated with power.
The lion stood for strength and nobility.
Crows and ravens were also associated with battle.
The horse was believed to be a sign or guidance, protection and power.
The dragon signified an impossible opponent.
Griffins made up of part lion and part eagle and were considered guardians and protectors of life. They also depicted nobility and strength amongst their positive attributes. The griffin tattoo was only used when the wearer needed to attract the attention of the mightiest of Gods.
Yet animal symbols were not the only ones used. The ancient spiral designs were said to enhance power and confuse the enemy.
Rune symbols were also used in tribal tattoos, for example the Ken Rune speaks of a fierce warrior and was worn as a way to invoke the God of war for assistance during battle.
The ancient Ogham symbols (Celtic lettering) were drawn upon for their strength, the Oak tree for instance stood for power and stability. The sign for the oak tree is called a Duir and the druid's believed that this symbol was a vessel of cosmic energy and when tapped it could be released on the battlefield.