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Julius Caesar mentions in his writing seeing Celts with intricate tattoos on their flesh and while he did not mention specific designs it would seem clear that celtic tattoo designs were a traditional part of their life, not just for spiritual purposes but for defining Clan allegiances and expressing personal strengths.
The three cornered Trinity Knot design represents a fundamental belief in the power of the sacred and magical number 3.
Celtic stories and myths often contain clear references to the importance of three people, or three animals, or three vital events.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Celtic body art is the intricate knotwork which when traced with a finger has no beginning and no end. It represents eternity and the interconnectedness of all things, including the continual cycles of the natural world.
History and Symbolism
Traditionally Celtic history was passed down orally from generation to generation and for this reason few legends have survived to reach our modern times.
Living closely with the natural world underpinned the Celtic way of life and so it was from nature that they drew their inspiration. Trees, water and fish feature heavily in Celtic body art as wooded groves, rivers and wellsprings were considered places of healing and renewal.
The Celtic Tree of Life with its roots planted deep in the earth and its branches reaching to heaven was symbolic of the connection between earthly and spiritual realms.
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Life itself was to the Celtic people a three part journey through birth, growth and death, and even before the advent of Christianity with the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they worshiped the Triple Earth Goddess who appears as an innocent young Maiden, a nurturing Mother, and a wise old Crone.
Celtic tattoo designs and motifs provide a rich insight into the spiritual beliefs of the Celtic peoples.It is through their well preserved artistic symbols found on artefacts and jewelry that we can understand and appreciate so much of Celtic culture.
These are often worn tattooed around arms and wrists and are symbolic of personal power and strength.
To best express the devotion of celtic tattoo design lovers, the eternal knot can be shaped into hearts but a Claddagh has great potency in its design. It traditionally symbolizes ever lasting love and eternal friendship; the central heart bearing a crown being a sign of love bejeweled with loyalty cradled by a pair of joining hands.
It is very popular for rings and jewelry but as a celtic tattoo design the Claddagh is a lasting symbol of commitment to another person.
The Shamrock, emblematic of all things Irish, also has great significance for its three leaves, so much so that the Irish Catholic Church adopted it as representing the Holy Trinity.
However this should not be confused with the four leaf clover. Finding one is certainly incredibly lucky given that the odds of spotting one in a field of clover are somewhere in the region of 10,000 to 1 but its four leaves have a somewhat different meaning, said instead to represent faith, hope, love and luck.