What Celtic symbols most represent Ireland to you?
Celtic art and symbolism is known worldwide. Much of it is associated with Ireland.
We attempt to list and analyze the most popular and famous ones here.
What does all this Celtic Symbolism mean?
Many wonder about the meaning behind Celtic designs. The intricacy and detail must have a meaning.
Celtic art is a link with the distant past. Probably the most famous of all Celtic Works of Art is the Book of Kells.
Many would argue that Celtic Art is a living tradition. It experienced a revival over 150 years ago and the creative use of Celtic design has evolved ever since. This has led to the myth that there is a timeless consistency to Celtic Art and it’s meaning.
Celtic design is used to express many messages. It has become ever popular from jewelry design to tattoos.
Much has been written about the meanings behind design and most of it is conflicting which leads to frustration for anyone seeking the true meaning behind their favorite design.
The main reason for the conflict and lack of consensus is because for a lot of the designs, there is no hidden meaning. If it means something to you, then that should be enough.
There are only a few Celtic designs with widely accepted meanings. Many claims about celtic symbolism are shameless marketing ploys, so be wary if you are shopping for a particular piece.
There is nothing wrong with attaching your own meaning to a symbol. A modern innovative approach to the Celtic tradition is a valid expansion to the tradition and goes with the whole basic philosophy of the ‘Celts’ who were/are an innovative and adaptable bunch – which has led to their ultimate success and survival over the centuries.
There is the belief that the original meaning attached to a symbol by the ancient artists, should remain the same. However everything changes over time and the human race progresses and advances as time goes on. Some of the priceless works of art hanging in the art galleries of the world would not warrant a place there if they were produced today. The need to take into account their time and place in history and their influence on others and their role in the advancement of art and the human race are important factors. I doubt the original medieval artists would object to new meanings being applied to their works today. All worthy artists are progressive forward thinkers and to still be influencing society and the human race centuries after your death is surely a welcome (if maybe a slightly egotistical) accolade.
Our interest in Celtic Symbolism does not skip periods in history or ignore earlier meanings. Many symbols have been used in every century since the Dark Ages.
Although a few Celtic motifs have meanings which have generally been accepted by all down through history, many more have as much to thank modern thinkers for their meanings as they do early Pagans and Christians.
A lot of the meanings attached to Celtic motifs can be traced to Victorian times as individual areas struggled to maintain and build on their unique identities and sense of self. The Irish potato famine which led to the scattering of Irish people to the four corners of the earth could also be thanked as these people struggled to create a new place for themselves in the world and still maintain an identity and a sense of who they were.
The Celtic Cross
Probably the most widely recognized of all Celtic symbols, with it’s characteristic circle embracing the Cross.
High Crosses – large stone crosses emerged in most Celtic lands including Ireland and Scotland from around the 9th Century and some would say earlier than this.
The circle is said to represent a halo or eternity. There is much debate about the similarity of the Celtic Cross and pagan sun symbols. Celtic Christians would argue that it is a clairvoyant anticipation of the coming of Christianity by the pre-Christian druids..
During the Celtic revival of the 20th Century, new monuments in this Celtic Cross style were crafted to add a self-conscious message of Celtic heritage to this emblem of Christian faith.
Celtic Knots and Celtic Interlace
With Celtic Knots and Interlace, there is a common belief the each knot has a specific meaning. There are no facts however, to back this up. You cannot look up a dictionary of knots to find what you are looking for.
You can however, confidently take Celtic Interlacing to represent the repeated crossing of the physical and spiritual paths of our lives. The never ending paths represent the permanence and continuum of life, love and faith. Whether this meaning was attached to the original Celtic interlace, is another story.
The Celtic Eternity Knot
There is no single knot which can be called the Celtic Eternity Knot. You didn’t think it would be that simple did you? Whether the original artists put a meaning on their designs is debatable. However, George Bain, – A Scottish Celtic teacher of the 20th Century, suggested that the closed nature of the knots – with no beginning and no end – were symbolic of of eternity and the continuum of life. Much as the wedding ring represents the love between 2 people, with no beginning and no end.Since this suggestion, it has widely been accepted as the most appropriate meaning. Celtic Knot work is also used as an emblem of heritage, and so the symbolism of ‘continuum’ serves to reinforce the endurance of the tradition.
The Celtic Lover’s Knot
The Celtic lover’s knot can be represented by any knot. However, it is usually knots that link separate paths that best describe lovers knots.
The Celtic Heart Knot
Celtic heart knots are a fairly recent addition to Celtic Symbols. Hearts came to represent symbols of love in the late medieval period and onwards, but have only become a part of Celtic Art towards the end of the 20th Century.
The Celtic Symbols of the 4 Evangelists.
Depicted in the Book of Kells and representing (whether rightly or wrongly) the 1st four gospels of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These early Celtic Symbols have caused much discussion and debate.
The four creatures of the prophesies of Ezekiel and the Book of Revelations dates back to the 2nd Century and were drawn as a man, a calf, a lion and an eagle.
St Gregory wrote an explanation in the 4th Century on the meaning of the 4 creatures. His take on the symbolism was that they were a representation of Jesus’ life, with Jesus being born a man, sacrificed as a calf, resurrected as a lion, and ascended to Heaven as an eagle.
The Celtic Spiral
The art of Celtic Spirals is another commonly recognized form of Celtic Art. Being among the most primal of human artistic vocabulary, Spirals are found in most artistic traditions.
Ancient Irish Stone Age monuments such as New Grange – dating from 2500 BC feature many images of Spirals.
Spirals occur frequently in nature. From snail shells to plants to whirlpools and galaxies, all serve as metaphors for cosmic symbolism.
The direction of the spirals is something else that needs to be taken into consideration. Clockwise direction – sunwise circling is traditional in Gaelic good luck practices and and blessings, with spells being made in the opposite direction. Whether the spiral flows inwards towards the center or outwards is the tricky question. sometimes the spirals are balanced with equal numbers of whorls inwards and outwards.
The number of whorls is also important with 3 representing the holy Trinity.
Celtic Spirals are open to creative interpretation and expression in the modern world. With no documented meanings to restrict, they can be created and expressed in many different ways and still be sheltered under the blanket of Celtic Symbols. So enjoy the freedom..