The History and Meaning of Celtic
Design & Art
Celtic art and culture date back
as far as the 8th century B.C. Until recently, much was unknown about this fascinating culture. But thanks to recent archaeological
excavation and findings, a greater understand of the Celtic people has been developed. Tribes were bound together by speech,
customs, and religion, rather than a centralized government. Because of this, the art of the culture contained specific designs
for spiritual meaning.
Celtic Knotwork is probably the best
known style of Celtic design. The intertwined patterns of never-ending lines appealed to the Celts, symbolizing their ideas
of eternal life and the intricate relationship of humanity with both the divine and the natural worlds.
Celtic denotes a people who are descended
from one of the current seven Celtic "fringe" provinces of W. Europe- Brittany, Cornwall, Galicia, Ireland,
Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales.
The Celts did not live as a single organized nation, and are difficult to pin down to one specific way of life.
The Celts lived in the centuries
around the birth of Christ . The oldest remnants of Celtic culture can be found close to Eastern France,
N. Italy, S. Germany, Belgium,
N. Switzerland, Austria, Turkey
and Spain. The word CELT itself was derived from the name
Keltoi, given by the ancient Greeks to all those who lived north of the Alps.
The Celts were not a people for writing
things down. They passed down their traditions and their history by word of mouth and later in their artwork and symbolism.
Celtic symbolism explains how they felt about the universe, life, death and the result of the changing seasons, so important
to people who lived off the land. Celtic Symbolism reflects the human spirit, the ambitions and desires, aspirations and fears,
and beliefs of the "otherworld" of fellow humans two thousand years ago.
Symbolize the bridge to the "other
world" or "worlds" and also to higher energy and knowledge. This is shown by the vertical axis which represents the celestial
world, and the horizontal axis that symbolizes Earthly world. Celtic Crosses are also considered solar symbols and the source
of light and ultimate energy. The first Celtic crosses had four equal points representing the four directions (north, south,
east and west), and the four elements (earth. air, fire and water) and were enclosed by a circle that represented the sun.
It may be noted that these early crosses were also used to mark holy spots in pre-Christian times and are often associated
with the Tree of Life.
Symbolizes the continuity of life
and spiritual growth. It is the constant flow of nature's processes moving outward then back inward as Heaven and Earth are
joined. It is also about how death is a rebirth, whether of a human life, the seasons of the year, the astrological
skies or anything in the natural or supernatural world The spiral was found on many Dolmans and gravesites. Its true meaning
is not known for sure, but many of these symbols were found as far as Ireland
and France. It is believed to represent the travel from the
inner life to the outer soul or higher spirit forms; the concept of growth, expansion, and cosmic energy, depending on the
culture in which it is used.
To the ancient inhabitants of Ireland,
the spiral was used to represent their sun.The spiral is the cosmic symbol for the natural form of growth; a symbol of eternal
life, reminding us of the flow and movement of the cosmos. The whorls are continuous creation and dissolution of the world;
the passages between the spirals symbolized the divisions between life, death, and rebirth. Another idea states that the loosely
wound anti-clockwise spiral represent the large summer sun and the tightly wound, clockwise spiral their shrinking winter
sun. Also a double spiral is used to represent the equinoxes, when day and night are of equal length.
The Cauldron Symbol or the Three
Represent the Maiden, Mother and
Crone aspect of the Goddess. The Cauldron is under the power of the Earth goddess Ceredwen the goddess of transformation.
Transformation or Shapeshifting was an integral part of Celtic belief, this symbol is found all over Celtic artifacts. In
the Cauldron, divine knowledge and inspiration are brewed.
Celtic Triangle Knot or Triquetra
Triquetra - this three-pronged knot
may symbolize the Celtic philosophy that everything has 3 distinct yet interlocked levels - physical, mental and spiritual.
When the Celts embraced Christainity they used this symbol to represent the Trinity. Inspired by the 9th century illuminated
Gospels of Lindisfarne, each triquetra (triangle) is constructed of one line to represented strength and give protection to
This structure is called the spiral
of life and was found in the remnants of an old temple from the Bronze Age in Ireland.An ancient symbol found at the core
of Celtic belief , the triple spiral was used consistently in Celtic art for 3000 years. The Celts believed that all life
moved in eternal cycles, regenerating at each point. Celts also believed that all important things came in three phases such
as birth, death and rebirth and also mind, body and spirit. The triple spiral later became the Triskele used in Christian
manuscripts. The triple spiral is also used to represent the triple goddess and triple god. My personal favorite symbol of
the feminine cycle of life- Maiden, Mother, Crone.
Interweaving knotwork said to represent
the four seasons the four seasonal lunar holidays, and the four elements earth, air, fire, and water
Serpent and Dragons
The dragon represents change, the
necessity that we not only adapt to circumstance but we ourselves become the active agent of change.Ancient Celts believed
the fiery breath of the Green Dragon would give new life Dragons are the combination of the forces of the depths. The
serpent, the wings of a bird, and horns, represent regeneration and grown. The dragon is the gatekeeper to other worlds.
The "Tree of Life"
This is an ancient philosophy common
to many cultures and mythologies. Often regarded as an all-nourishing, all giving Mother, many myths speak of the Tree of
Life or World Tree as involved in the creation of the universe. Britain
was once covered by mightly oak forests, and tree reverence is a major feature within Celtic religion. Trees reflect a link
between the upper and lower worlds. The Ancients envisioned the entire cosmos in the form of a tree whose roots grow deep
into the underground, its branches reaching high into the heavens and sky. Druids had their teaching centers in the midst
of Oak groves, and the words for wood and wisdom are similar (Welsh gwydd and gwyddon).
The Celtic Tree of Life is one of
the most popular and enduring motifs of Celtic Art, found both on Northumbrian and Celtic crosses and on illuminated manuscripts.
Portrayed variously as the Golden Bough, vine, or mistletoe.
The ancient Celts envisioned the
cosmos in form of a great tree. The roots were deep in the earth and branches stretched to the heavens. The Celtic Tree of
Life is the symbol of balance between these worlds; the unification of above and below; a symbol of Balance and Harmony. It's
branches and roots form a map of the cosmos wherein all things are interwoven and connected. Many Celtic Tree of Life designs
emerge from a pot. This pot symbolizes the Earth Mother from which all life springs.
Birds of Rhiannon
The Welsh Goddess Rhiannon was accompanied
by magical birds whose enchanted songs could awaken the dead and lull the living to sleep.
The Horse - Sovereignty, Guidance
The horse was reverred by the Celts
for its speed and sexual vigour. Epona and Macha are Celtic horse goddesses who watch over the land, protecting its abundance
and insuring a good harvest. As protectors of nature, they both grant sovereignty over the land and are the goddesses of the
stable. As goddesses of maternity, prophecy, and prosperity, they guide and protect mortals on their journeys through life.
Serpent - Earth Healer
Symbols of healing and wisdom, serpents
live within the depths of the Earth Mother and have mastery of all her secret knowledge and vital forces. Both Brigantia and
Stroni, Celtic goddesses of healing, use the serpent's mystical powers to work their cures. Because of their wave-like movements,
serpents are also assoc-iated with healing waters and sacred wells, sources of the regenerative healing powers from within
the earth, and thus are protectors of health and well-being. Coming from inside the Earth, the serpent was believed to be
all knowing of the world's secrets and having divine wisdom. The ram-headed serpent is named Cerrunos, who is lord of the
underworld, and king of all animals. Cerrunos is the symbol of strength and virility.
Birds - Spirits of Prophecy
Birds play a prominent role in Celtic
myth and legend. As symbols of freedom and transcedence, they represent the human soul in flight, liberated from earthly ties,
able to soar in spiritual communication with the heavens. Returning to earth, they bring messages of prophecy and guidance,
aiding mortals on their spiritual and earthly journeys.
Represnted divine power and strength.
For the Druids it was a symbol for the sun and the procreativity associated with its forces.
Dogs or Hounds
Often seen with various gods &
goddesses, the hounds may be a domestic guardian as well as a source of healing power.