No matter how creative uniqueness is asserted, the transformation of our reality is based on the cultural heritage of our ancestors, perpetuating the memory of different peoples. The modern author is inclined to pay more attention to his vision of solving the problem and its form, not realizing the meaning inherent in his product, which was already broadcast a thousand years ago. Today everything is interesting that carries a secret, and an easy riddle gives aesthetic pleasure. Therefore, the unquenchable curiosity of representatives of visual culture awakens the era of the Celts.
The possible roots of the name of this nation are related to the word “kjel,” which means “to hide.” And, according to modern archaeologists and ethnographers, the Celts had something to hide. They were fighting, freedom-loving, brave and daring. And this in the character of the Celts was strengthened thanks to their devotion to their mythology and an irresistible craving for the transcendent. Before the adoption of Christianity, they had a pantheon of gods – a pagan belief system with its attributes and cults. This is evidenced not only by the artifacts of the Celts found by scientists but also by the recorded testimony of Hecateus of Miletus, Diodorus of Siculus. The links between the external symbols and the inner world of the Celtic are inseparable. The potential of their spirit was necessarily demonstrative: ornaments and patterns were sacred signs that brought changes to life, attracted good luck, averted troubles from home, emphasized natural talents, or strengthened physical and spiritual strength. Each pattern had a mystical power – destructive or constructive, depending on the use of the ornament, its carrier, or the object on which the image was applied. It is indisputable and obvious: the traditions of Celtic culture have intertwined in the patterns of generations. They have become a measure of the grace and versatility of visual art in our time.
1 Celtic Cross
Perhaps the most popular among fans of Celtic culture is the Celtic cross. Visually, these are pointed and rounded patterns in intertwined threads belted or inscribed in a circle. Looking at such a combination of forms immediately comes the thought of harmony, integrity, cyclicity. Indeed, this ornament testifies to the connection of the cardinal points, while from below, the image always indicates the growing needs of a person. The image of the sun is also guessed – solar centrism was a distinctive feature of Celtic paganism. Therefore, it is not surprising that the bearers of this pattern believed in protection from dark forces and the talent of a special kind.
2 Tree of Life
Another pattern that is in demand is the image of the Tree of Life. It is easy to imagine this ornament: hands reach out to the heavens, and below you can see the outline of a tree root. The symbol reflects three concepts – the lower, the underworld, earthly life, and heaven. The Celtic tribes had a special relationship with nature; in particular, they valued trees. Visual images of wood impregnated the Celtic household items with sacred meaning, visually connecting the past, present, and future.
3 Triskelion (Triskele)
One of the other recognizable images is the triskelion. The name comes from the deity of spring or summer Triskele. Its appearance in human life is dictated by the cyclical nature of the seasons: each time, it goes through the stages of life and death, rebirth, and extinction. The depicted Thread of Life, passing through Earth, Water and Fire, brings grace, wealth, and good luck to a person. Since the Celts believed that the gods donated the patterns to people, they should not be altered. After all, this will lead to irreversible consequences, violate the predestined by the deities, and incur their wrath, which will make them severe and deaf to the prayers of the pagans.
4 Celtic Spiral
No less interesting is the pattern of eternal infinity, metaphysical and mystical search, spiritual hunger. It is depicted with spiral petals and has different modifications depending on the preferences of its wearer. This pattern refers to the constancy of harmony, persistent spiritual growth, the steadfastness of the body-spirit-consciousness triad. The central point of the spiral is a person’s place in space, the universe, his existence in the world. Thus, the Celts pointed to the beginning, the origin of man, and represented him in a huge world that is self-contained and integral and, therefore, self-sufficient.
5 Shamrock (Clover)
Clover is Ireland’s most undeniable symbol. According to legend, this plant helped the Christian missionary and catechist St. Patrick explain the meaning of the three hypostases of the Trinity. The Celts were convinced that the shamrock would protect against the failure of planned events, evil tongues, the evil eye and could even anticipate the incipient storm by assuming an upright position.
6 Wheel of Taranis
Having familiarized yourself with the variety of images of the pagan pantheon, it becomes clear why the key figure in beliefs in natural forces is Taranis, the god of thunder. His mythological “brother” is the Roman Jupiter. Therefore, the image of a bearded hero, in whose hands lightning and a wheel, have been repeatedly found by archeology in the territories of the former Celtic civilization. Taranis united the sky, sun, lightning. His power formed the basis for the motifs of images for minting coins.
Aven (three rays of light) causes heated discussions among fans of neo-paganism and experts in the Druid’s practice. Some say that these are three elements (water, earth, air); someone believes that this is a generalization of the physical, rational. Spiritual principles of a person, someone claims that this symbolizes the inseparability of love, mind, and truth. There is also the idea of awakening the truth; the desire to know the truth is played out, to protect it, and to embody it in life.
8 Claddagh Ring
Nothing represents more clearly and visually friendly, romantic, and love feeling like the Claddagh ring. This pattern is transparent and unambiguous: it is based on the hands holding the heart. Such an ornament is used as a sign of support, friendship, love, approval. Hands – support, reliability, and strength of feelings. Heart – love, friendliness, friendship, and devotion. A crowned heart means loyalty, approval, that is, status support for something or someone.
9 Cross of Saint Brigitte
Brigitte is considered the patroness of Ireland, and her cross is an unofficial symbol. The saint is revered in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, although there is very little information about her life. Her generosity and wisdom, shown in miracles, are described in legends, and praised kindness and mercy are combined with a surprisingly simple character and humility. This is the accompanying image of the cross – simple, unpretentious, understandable. According to legend, she weaved the cross when her father (another version of the legend says – a rich pagan) was ready to depart to another world. Realizing the meaning of the “wreath” symbol, he decided to be baptized before his death.
Usually, this cross was made of reeds or straw; they made a square with weaving in the center. As a result, rays are obtained, and the circle symbolizes the sun. And now, there are beliefs that such a cross-wreath will protect the house from harm, and some Catholics living in the villages still use this ornament.
Geometrically opposite forms may indicate the unity of the physical (material) and spiritual (non-material) aspects of a person’s life. The soul strives for salvation; it turns out that her visual image envelops the Almighty Sun of Truth.
The triquetra is a curious and ambiguous pattern. Its variations differ, and the meaning comes down to describing the three roles of a woman-goddess (Virgin, Mother, Smart Woman). Some medievalists believe that this ornament initially looked simpler and functionally played the role of a “patch,” a graphic element for filling complex compositional patterns.
Be that as it may, both a circle and several triangles are visible in the pattern; in fact, this is where the name comes from. Translated from Latin means “three” and “having angles.” In discussing the meaning of this pattern, ideas are added that it is a symbol of the movement of the sun, the phases of the lunar cycle, the embodiment of renewed life.
11 Celtic Knot
The Celtic knot is nothing more than a thread twisted several times into a complex pattern. In general, we can assume that this is the Line of Life, a person’s life path, which is long and not easy, always with dashing turns and unexpected descents and ascents. At least visually, it looks like that. Most likely, the Celts used this pattern to designate the desire to know the truth, the meaning of their life, the way of accepting their fate as it should be. Undoubtedly, this ornament speaks of the entanglement of a person in the world, his twists and turns, and the search for a way out. There are also explanations of the pattern as a love symbol, eternity, the union of kindred souls.
The name suggests that this ornament is associated with separation, parting, and endless love. It can be assumed that this ornament originated from the practical creation of a knot by the sailors’ favorite to be remembered during the period of long and forced separation.
As it is also called, the heraldic knot was invented by Welshman James Bowen in the 17th century. This symbol was conventionally nicknamed “the knot of a true lover.” An endless rope pattern, in which four loops are visible, forms a square or four-pointed cross. Logically, this is not even a knot but tangled loops that have no beginning or end. In Norwegian heraldry, this knot is called “valknute.” There are several modifications of this symbol, but they have in common the main feature – endless loops. The use of this pattern meant an expression of the devotion and special disposition of a man to a woman.
This type of ornament is considered a symbol of masculinity, wisdom, and strength of character, named after King Solomon. He was distinguished by the exceptional traits of a wise ruler and an influential person. The one wearing such an ornament positioned himself as a powerful and authoritative person.
12 Animalistic patterns
Birds have earned great respect among the Celts. They earned respect for their connection with heaven, freedom, and independence. Therefore, in the patterns of Celtic culture, one can also find bird motifs, which contain the idea of the patronage of the sky, the help of the gods to people, the message of their will through the birds.
It is not surprising that the hare has also become a revered symbol among the Celts because its nature contains such traits as speed, sensitivity, physical endurance, and fertility. This is why well-being and prosperity were demonstrated through the hare patterns.
It is logical to assume that the snake symbolizes the depth of knowledge and high intelligence among the Celts. Nevertheless, the ancient people put another meaning as well – they considered snakes to be excellent healers. And this meant that the bewitching effect brought the Celts the use of their traditional methods of treating diseases and the wearing of attributes with snake patterns.
It would seem why the deer deserve such attention from the Celts because it is just a large and fast animal. But Celtic beliefs say that the deer personifies the connection with the cosmos, the Universe. The symbol of the cyclical nature of life, rebirth, a source of energy, was directly related to the Tree of Life due to its anatomical feature – horns. Interestingly, the Celts connected this: every year, the deer antlers change, new ones grow, and they look like a tree in shape, which means that every year vital energy is added, which contributes to spiritual growth.
Resistance to enemies, courage, and stubbornness – these are the promises that the bearer of the boar pattern gave to those around him. On the other hand, it is softness and ease of communication, hospitality. This symbol was also associated with Celtic homemakers, who, in turn, considered boar meat a delicacy.
Fertility and strength, prosperity, and power distinguish the Celtic from the bull pattern. He was also referred to as both women and men, and he was also used to decorate the walls of house fortifications.
13 Mythological creatures
Since the Celts were a people who believed in the mystical, they also tried to transform animals into some powerful and mysterious creatures in ornaments.
For example, a dragon is an unshakable firmament, strength, and dexterity, instilling terror and awe, external confidence. Integrity and isolation, self-sufficiency and eternity, invincibility and immortality were presented as a dragon with a spear at its tail.
Like a lion and an eagle, the griffin combined nobility, harmony, loyalty, strength. Extremely inspired the Celts to brave feats of arms.
The vertical lines running in parallel, crossing the circle’s lines, are the ritual sign of the Druids – sigils. It is a magical element, so not everyone could wear it. It meant fertility, a rich harvest, a connection with Mother Earth.
The Celts had their calendar of festivities and represented each holiday with certain symbols.
The holiday of the magnificence of the New Sun, the victory over darkness, and the meaning resembles the Roman tradition of Saturnalia and Christian Christmas.
St. Brigitte’s Day, the Imbolc festival, signified the Return of the Light. This was the end of winter, and the ceremonies were carried out to attract good luck and prosperity.
According to Celtic mythology, the goddess Eostre (Ostara) awakened nature in the spring. Curiously, the name gives a semantic basis for Easter.
This pattern was essential when celebrating the beginning of summer. The name itself comes from the words “at-beil” – “the shining fire of Bela is dying” (deity). On this day, they believed that the doors were open to the gods, and they could be asked for anything, including good weather for the harvest.
According to Celtic traditions, Lammas is a holiday that celebrated the praise of Mother Earth and Father Sun, who generously endow the people with the harvest. The name of the ornament exactly repeats the holiday, which in translation means “mass of bread.” This ornament expressed maturity, gratitude to the gods, energy, and the druids believed that this was a sign of extinction and preparation for going into eternity.
The name of August in Celtic also gives the name to the pattern and translates as “the gathering of the Luga” (the god who, after the death of his adoptive mother, made a feast).
Malbon is the pattern of the end of the fertile period of the harvest. This is the time to thank the gods for their loyalty to people, generous gifts, and help. With this symbol, they expressed gratitude to the fertile land and summed up the results in the fall with the last harvest.
Completing the list of famous Celtic symbols is one of the favorites – the Samhain pattern. He was the last “song” of the harvest period, closing the sowing season, harvesting fruits, pasturing livestock on rich meadows. The holiday itself meant completeness, the approach of death, the finitude of all living things on earth.