When most people hear the term Celts, they think about Ireland, but at various points in history the Celtic territory extended across a far larger part of what is now the UK and even to other parts of Northern and Western Europe. The Celts, or tribal societies that spoke what are known as Celtic languages, predated Christianity and were often warrior societies with elected kings. They also practiced polytheism (religious identity based around multiple gods or spirits). Perhaps the most interesting part of Celtic culture though, which has recently seen a resurgence of sorts, is the Celtic tattoo.
Tattoos were commonplace among the Celts, particularly with warriors, and often contained knots, symbols, and even animals, sometimes related to a particular deity. The chest, arms, and back were all standard canvases for this type of body art, which may have lent an extra element of fierceness to the fighter’s appearance. The pigment for such tattoos was most often sourced from the leaves of the woad plant, which contains indigo easily used for various types of dye. Once the leaves were boiled down into a thick, concentrated paste, needles made of bone or plant material were dipped into it and used to puncture the skin, forcing the dye under the surface.
As expected, all of the elements used in traditional Celtic tattoo art have a deeper meaning, many of them spiritual. The spiral, the five-fold, and the ring for example, symbolize the expansion of spiritual consciousness, the union and balance of the elements, and infinity respectively. Celtic knot work of various types also has metaphysical connotations. Depending on the style of knot and the context, some of these interpretations conclude that the unending cyclical nature of life and the universe is represented, as well as the crossing of the physical world and the spiritual realm.
Quite a history for one of the most common tattoo styles now over 2,000 years later, huh?