The story behind Celtic tattoos is almost as intricate as the designs are. From ink that fiercely intimidates foes on the battlefield to the meaning of life with no beginning nor end.
If you were to take a trip back to the Iron age you would discover the Celtic tribal societies: Europe, England, Scandinavian Ireland, Scotland, and Wales just to name a few.
Among each countries’ warriors stood two common badges of honor, brightly dyed hair and indigo stained skin from the native Woad plant.
When it came to inking the skin, men on the battle field could be seen with knot designs on either the upper chest or arms. However, within time countless patterns, symbols and meanings emerged.
Take for example the pure knot, which symbolized there was no beginning or end in life. It has often been said to be the crossing of the spiritual and physical worlds; representing eternal life, restitution and the complexity of nature itself.
Swirls, trinities and circles are believed to symbolize nature, motion, time and the wind. While the popular cross and circle stood for the unity of four directions under the sun.
For the interwoven lines and patterns inspiration is drawn from The Irish Book Of Kells. Ornamental lines and interlocking knots aside, animals even mythological ones such as dragons served a purpose. They could act as a symbol of powerful force, protection or exemplary courage. Not to mention family crests and trees of life were incorporated into the designs too.
Yet, no matter what design or meaning you go with, I’ve put together a collection of 40 Celtic tattoos for men to give you plenty of inspiration. Understand that most are black, however lately color has become more trendy and widely accepted.
Celtic Tattoo Ideas
This is a tattoo that incorporates Celtic knot designs to create an interesting piece. Dragons can be found in stories and myths across the globe, and Celtic traditions are no exception. Celtic knots make up the body of the dragon, with the shape being reminiscent of the mathematical symbol for infinity. Celtic knots are often used to represent the eternal nature of time and existence which is emphasized by the overall shape of the tattoo. Consistent line work and saturated portions of black help the aesthetic of this piece, despite the fact that it is unfinished.
Here is another tattoo that uses the mythical dragon along with Celtic knot work to create a striking piece. There is a lot going on in this tattoo. The precision on the knots is impressive, while the composition is interesting and attracts attention. The use of a knot in the background behind the dragon’s head gives the impression of a sun setting, while the interplay between the knots and scales adds a contrast in texture that is striking. The Celtic cross and the warrior ghoul on the forearm are interesting elements. The artist was even able to sneak in a little bit of flames. While some might consider this piece a bit cluttered, there is no doubt about the quality of the work.
This retouch of an existing piece brings the old design back to life and gives the wearer years more pleasure from this interesting Celtic tattoo. The intricacy of the knot work is amplified by the consistency of the design and shape of the knots. The use of brown shading gives a realistic feeling: it almost looks as if the tattoo is made of hammered bronze. The scale work behind the knots helps to solidify this look and is reminiscent of chain mail armor. The design is sound and it is great to see this tattoo brought back to brilliance by a skilled artist.
This Celtic sleeve uses multiple different design elements and knot styles to create an interesting and attention grabbing tattoo. The trinity knot, or Triquetra, at the top of the shoulder often represents family and the intertwined nature of the world. The design on the inside forearm is flower like and the four pointed knot, like the Celtic cross, often represents the unity of the four Cardinal directions. The saturation in the black and the subtle use of shading and negative space increase contrast and help the intricate knot work to really pop. The portion at the very top of the piece resembles armor, tying this piece back to the fierce roots of Celtic designs.
This is a great piece that uses some interesting design concepts to great effect. The well-executed Celtic cross is made up of precise lines, although the black could be packed a bit denser. The cross appears to be beneath the skin thanks to a realistic use of shading and highlights to create the impression of torn flesh. This could represent the wearer’s Celtic ethnic background and perhaps their more recent interest in the culture: they have always had Celtic blood in their veins but now they can permanently wear their ancestry on their body, for all to see.
This great tattoo is a testament to Celtic knots and the fact that a stand-alone cross can still be an interesting piece. The well saturated black allows the white of the knot work to really pop, helping to create a consistent tattoo. The intricate design and flow of the knots helps draw the eye around the entire tattoo and the large size and prominent placement on the forearm ensure that many eyes will see it. The four points of the cross and the circle connecting them often represents the unity of the four directions on earth. While every tattoo’s meaning is unique, there is little doubt this piece is a way for the wearer to express his pride in his Celtic background.
While these tattoos are traditionally black and grey, more people are opting to add a bit of color to their Celtic designs and this is a great example of what it can add to the style. Green, long associated with Ireland and Celtic culture, is used to highlight some of the different design elements and turn what appear to be existing tattoos into a full arm sleeve. The trinity knot and pentagram are symbols associated with the mystic traditions of the Celtic people and are incorporated into the larger design with interwoven knot work. The shading and line work on this piece are clean and well-executed, although some portions of solid black (the area below the trinity knot) are not fully saturated, detracting from the piece overall.
Here is another Celtic piece that uses a bit of color to help it stand out from other similar tattoos. This piece also appears to incorporate an existing piece (the cross and surrounding knot work) into a larger design. The knot work here is also strays a bit from the traditional Celtic style of rounded knots for a sharper, more modern look. While the execution of the upper piece is not as consistent as the newer work, it is incorporated well into the larger design and the use of red in the bottom portion contrasts well with the bluer tones in the cross.
This piece uses realistic shading to create an interesting tattoo. The Celtic cross’s knot work is intricate and flows well and the black is well saturated. The cross is placed on armor, complete with layered steel plates, rivets and leather straps. The natural shape of the body is used to give the armor the impression of wrapping around the shoulder and the realistic shading helps give the look of torn skin being peeled back to uncover Celtic armor. Small details, like the sutures on the skin, help to complete this interesting ode to the fierce warriors of the Celtic tribes.
This design uses clean line work and several different shading techniques to create an interesting and unique tattoo. The skull at the center of the piece sets the tone for the entire tattoo: the knot work extending down from the skull uses shading to create an effect of bleached bone. The artist alternates between more traditional black and grey shading and stipple shading to create contrast without adding color or more dramatic effects. The skull—reminiscent of motorcycle club art—is an interesting addition to Celtic knot work and no doubt holds meaning for the wearer while helping to set this piece apart from other Celtic tattoos.
This is another interesting tattoo that uses realistic design and techniques to create a one of a kind piece. Here, the artist opts for shading instead of line work to achieve a realistic look. The Celtic cross appears to sit within the arm, but instead of skin being peeled back to expose the piece it is broken stone, evoking images of catacombs and ancient relics. While the lack of defined lines is not to everyone’s taste, it is used well here and the overall design is suited for this technique. The Christian imagery on the cross is most likely tied to the wearer’s beliefs making this not only a well-executed piece, but a deep, personal tattoo as well.
This tattoo incorporates Celtic knots with an anchor completing the design. The anchor, a design element that has been used in tattoos for decades, most likely represents the wearer’s time at sea and love for the ocean while the knots symbolize their Celtic heritage and respect for their ancestors. The shading on the tattoo is well-executed, especially on the anchor, and the highlights help to make the design pop. While this is a lovely piece it does have some flaws: notice the inconsistencies and unbalanced design in the knot work. These imperfections do detract from the tattoo, but it remains a great example of the fusion of different styles.
Here is an incredible example of what a large, detailed Celtic piece can be. The grey-wash used for the shading of the armor creates a realistic look, while the detail and precision in the chain mail is a testament to the patience and meticulousness of the artist. The Celtic knot at the top of the piece sits perfectly on the shoulder and the layered armor down the arm helps to complete this piece. The small details, like the negative space used for the armor’s strap, really demonstrate how a well thought out design will translate into an excellent tattoo.
This tattoo uses shading and highlights to create a realistic style tattoo that is reminiscent of a coat of arms or family crest. The artist achieves a look of rough and weathered stone through the use of black and grey shading and white highlights for the accents. The Celtic knot in the center of the design is well executed with clean, precise lines and consistent shading. The addition of wings, often used to commemorate a lost loved one, and the words divinity, hope, faith (and one more word that is out of view) serve as a reminder of what is most important to the wearer.
This is an interesting tattoo that makes use of a bit of color to add drama to a Celtic knot. The red, yellow and orange behind the design gives the appearance fire, which is often associated with passion and drive. The knot work and lines are consistent and well balanced and the way the color shows through some of the knots is an interesting touch that adds an extra layer of depth to this tattoo. The lion, often associated with the British Isles, is at the center of the tattoo and provides a focal point to the composition. The black is deep and well saturated further enhancing this unique Celtic piece.
This unique piece takes elements of Celtic knot designs and uses them to create an interesting tattoo. While not a true Celtic piece, this tattoo uses the weaving of thread into a complex shape to good effect. The brown used in the shading and some of the shapes—the sharp, serrated piece and the long looping lines—look like gears and springs, giving the impression of the inner workings of a pocket watch. The addition of scales adds texture to this piece and improves the contrast. While this tattoo is fairly well executed, the jumbled composition leaves a bit to be desired.
This is an excellent example of the Celtic knot style. The placement on the shoulder fits the rounded shape of the design well and allows the wearer to show it off as he pleases. The central knot is a stylized Triqueta that incorporates a heart into the design, symbolizing the eternal nature of love and family. Beneath the design is script read “Mo Anum Cara” a Celtic phrase that means “My Soul Mate”. This phrase is important to Celtic tradition and further ties the wearer to their Celtic heritage. The line work is precise and the black is fully saturated, making this not only a meaningful tattoo but an aesthetically pleasing piece as well.
This is an interesting piece that takes several different elements from Celtic traditions and incorporates them in a cohesive way. Within the tree is the “stag” a common symbol in Celtic culture that represents Cernunnos, the horned god of the forest. Cernunnos is most often associated a male deer in rut and represents fertility as well as the male traits of strength and power. This symbol is also commonly used to represent the virtues of a warrior. Stipple shading and negative space highlights around the knot gives the impression of a moon shining through on a foggy night. The line work and shading are well done and the interesting composition work well to for this unique Celtic tattoo.
Celtic Tattoo FAQs
Did the Celts have tattoos?
Despite the popularity of these fascinating tattoos among the modern day descendants of Celtic people, there is no historical evidence that these ancient inhabitants of Northern Europe wore tattoos themselves. While the knotwork that defines this style is found in Ireland in stone carvings, the Celtic knot tattoo trend started in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s as tattoos, in general, become more popular among the youth of the nation.
What does a Celtic knot mean?
While each tattoo holds specific meaning for the wearer, there is some inherent significance in Celtic knot tattoos. A true Celtic knot is made up of one single thread that is woven across itself, forming a complex and intricate design. The singular thread is said to represent the eternal nature of life and often specific traits and attitudes, such as friendship, familial love or loyalty. These tattoos are also common representations of a wearer’s identity with their Celtic heritage.
What is the Celtic symbol for family?
The Celtic symbol for family is called the Triquetra and is a three pointed design made up a single thread woven back over itself. This symbol is also used to represent the eternal nature of the soul as well as the unity of the heart, soul, and mind. This design is a common element in many Celtic tattoos thanks to the sentiment is represents.
What is the Celtic symbol for warrior?
The stag, a circular knot with four distinct quadrants, is the Celtic symbol most commonly associated with warriors. The knot is also associated with Cernunnos, an ancient Celtic god that embodied masculine traits and ruled over the forest and the animals in it. Since Cernunnos is depicted with horns and associated with male deer in a rut he also is often used to represent fertility.