Celtic Tattoos
History and Culture

Celtic Tattoo History and Meaning


Celtic Tattoo History

Celtic tattoos were a likely sight among Celtic warriors.

Much like the Picts (Latin root word: Picti meaning "painted ones"), who tattooed their warriors as a form of intimidation against their enemies, Celts likely adopted the same war tactic of the time.

Battle among the Celts was considered the very highest honor. The Celts engaged in battle bare-chested, or even naked - further reinforcing a stance of intimidation against their foes. Additionally, Celtic warriors would fashion their hair with bright dies (from flower pastes), and typically manipulate the hair in tall spikes around the head (think Celtic punk rock).

The Woad plant (Isatis tinctoria) was used to perform the tattooing, as it is a hardy biennial plant native to northern Europe and the British Isles. Woad is the source of a blue dye chemical, indigotin, that is also produced by the much more potent indigo plant (indigenous of the sub-tropics).

To perform Celtic tattoos, the leaves of the Woad plant are harvested and dried. The dried leaves are then boiled and strained, and boiled again creating a viscous end product. This Woad paste is then tapped into the skin with needle like implements - forcing the indigo stain under the skin layers, creating the indelible design. Illustrations of woad tattoos on Picts show the La Tene designs as the body modifications of choice.

About Celtic Tattoos

  • Celtic symbols were among the most common on Celtic warriors, namely for intimidation tactics in battle.

  • Celtic knots would make their appearance on the upper chest and arms as well.

  • Animals were hugely symbolic among the Celts, and could also be counted among the woad tattoos seen on warriors (protection, ferocity, courage).

  • Swirls, La Tene, trinities, circles. Presumably to reflect organic energy (nature, wind, time, motion).

Additionally, Celtic warriors would typically amass impressive scars won from past battles. These in conjunction with the deep indigo of intricate line-art tattooing, and frightening hair standing on end would undoubtedly be an intimidating sight for any of their foes.

I hope you have enjoyed this article on the history of Celtic tattoos. Be sure to check out the links at the end of this page for more info on Celt symbolism and tattoo meanings.



An Important Note About Signs, Symbols and Their Meanings

Signs and symbols cultivate their meanings according to culture, context, passage of time in society as well as mass societal opinion. What's cool and highly important is that signs and symbols earn their most powerful meanings from our own personal perspectives.

This website strives to provide you with the best, time-honored information when defining signs and symbols. However, in the final analysis, "Beauty (and symbolism) is in the eye of the beholder."

Having said that, it's in our best interest to invest the time to do personal research on symbolic events happening to us. This website is just one perspective in an ocean of variety and diversity in the realm of symbolism. So dive in! There is a whole universe of deeper meanings to explore! You can start your research by clicking on the links at the end or to the side of this page. Odds are good I've got a follow-up article about this symbolic topic. ;)

As always, thanks for your willingness to learn more about the language of symbolism. It's a language that is universal and everywhere. It's super-groovy to travel with you on your symbolic path, and maybe offer a little translation along the way. Thanks for reading and exploring!



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