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Celtic art fascinates Celtic folk, non-Celtic people, artists and those that can't even make stick figures. The art is charactarized by inter-woven ropes of intricate knotwork which can be seen painted, carved, or placed on fine jewelry or other metalcraafts. Many examples of Celtic art survive, and there is a renewed interest in it. After you have spent sometime studying the way Celts viewed their world, their artwork will seem to suggest to you some of their cosmic beliefs. The waxing and waning energy patterns which are part of all life can be seen in the knots, twists, turns, and swirls of their drawings and carvings. Many art historians believe that the Picts, the pre-Celtic people of northern Scotland, originated the knotwork we think of today as being Celtic.
I've included some examples of the various styles of Celtic artwork and an explanation of what they represent.

spiral designs portcullis designs key and labyrinth designs
celtic crosses knotwork designs meanings of specific knots
Celtic Tree of Life Animal Symbolism in Celtic Art
Zoomorphic (Animal) designs

Although today the symbol we usually think of when we hear the word cross brings to mind the Christian cross, the Celtic cross is much older. The oldest example of crosses are those engraved or painted on flat pebbles, dating from 10,000 B.C.E., found in a cave in the French Pyrenees. These ancestor stones were believed to contain the spirits of the dead.

The Celtic cross symbolizes the four roads of the four corners of the earth(forerunners of our parallels of latitude and longitude), and the meetings of these roads at a central point formed a cross, indicating the center of the world body.

The center of the cross is also representative of the center place where all forces of Life, source of the four mystic rivers, summit of the world mountain, and other interpretations of the X that marks the spot.

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The Celtic knot symbolizes the Thread of Life. To the Celts, the human soul was thought to be a fragment of the divine, which will ultimately return to its divine source. Through successive rebirths the soul rids itself of its accumulated, inherited impurities until it finally achieves the goal of perfection.
The interlaced, or latticed, knotwork patterns, with their unbroken lines, symbolize the process of humankind's eternal spiritual evolution. When the cord is unravelled, it leads us on. A knot lattice can be used as an aid to concentration by occupying the conscious mind with a demanding repetitive task.

For an explanation of the symbology of some specific knots, Click Here.
Specific Knots

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The Sacred Dance
Key and step patterns are really spirals in straight lines. When connectied, they become a processional path, leading through a complex maze to the sacred omphalos (the navel) at the center - the point where Heaven and Earth are joined.

Labyrinths, like wells, were primarily religious objects and were incorporated into the Christian church. On the solar celebrations and other religious festivals, the adept danced the "Sacred Dance" barefoot to absorb the earth's energies, through the Labyrinth. This was a journey through progresssive levels of experience, physical, mental and spiritual, until the vortex at the center was reached.

The lozenge either has a dot in the center, or is divided into four equal parts with a dot in each compartment. This diamond shape has appeared with triangles on shrine walls, vases, seals, and, typically, on the pregnant belly or other parts of the Pregnant Goddess, starting in the seventh millenium B.C.E.
The lozenge design is thought to be a symbol of fertility because of its vulva configuration. A lozenge with a dot in the four corners may denote planting in all four directions, whereas many dots within a diamond may signify multiplication of the seed, a general resurgence of life in the sown field.

The lozenge that is divided in equal parts suggests that all fat parts of the body were significant, considered to be growing, or pregnant. This sign, apparently, is representative of the Great Mother from whose womb we were given birth, and in whose womb still rest the countless unborn.

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The doors that lead to the inner, or Solar Sphere, were often adorned with a key pattern lattice archway. The combination of these two symbols was to prepare the apprentice for their journey into the Great Mysteries.

The willingness to pass through the threshold was the first step every Initiate at one time took. This was a journey through progressive levels of experience, physical, mental, and spiritual, until the vortex at the center was reached, as conveyed by the key pattern/labyrinth design of the lattice archway above the door.

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New Grange Spiral Stone

Both single and double spirals were among the most sacred signs of Neolithic Europe. They appeared on megalithic monuments and temples all over the continent and the Celtic islands. Spiral oculi (double twists resembling eyes) appear prominently in places like the threshold stones at Newgrange in Ireland.

The spiral is the cosmic symbol for the natural form of growth; a symbol of eternal life, reminding us of the flow and movement of the cosmos. The whorls are continuous creation and dissolution of the world; the passages between the spirals symbolized the divisions between life, death, and rebirth.

The spiral dance that witches perform in sacred circles demonstrates the concept of As above, So below; mirroring the macrocosmic order of the heavens, the gyratory movement representing the whirling of the stars above the fixed earth. Winding in, the spiral dance establishes the still center within, approaching the hear of the universe, or the womb which will give birth. Winding out, the spiral dance births the Spirit back to its divine source of existence.

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Animals and birds were considered sacred and were often used to represent the Ancient Ones. Shapeshifting was a common attribute of the Celtic goddesses and some of the gods. These semi-mythological characters, who adopted the form of an animal, were soon turned into art.
Zoomorphic and anthopomorphic ornaments are symbols which show us that nothing is as it first appears. Often, such artwork looks like a beautiful mosaic of miscellaneous design and color until, upon closer examination, one identifies a head, or a tail, or a plant, all of which are interwoven with each other. These intricate patterns first appeared in the Bronze age art of Ireland. The artisans fashioned them into a complicated contortion of bodies, but they kept the motif still logical and conforming with nature.

Because it was forbidden to duplicate Danu's creation in a perfect state, it is not unusual for animals to appear with human hands and feet, or even to see a calf's head on an eagle's body, or a human being with animal parts.
For the symbolic meaning of some of the animals appearing in Celtic Art, Click Here

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tree of life 1 The 'Tree of Life' concept is found in many cultures worldwide including Celtic. It is often regarded as an all-nourishing, all-giving Mother, many myths tell of the Tree of Life or World Tree as being involved in the creation of the universe. Britain was once covered by huge oak forests and tree reverence is a major feature within the Celtic religion. They reflect a link between the upper and lower worlds.

The art forms represented here come from the 'Book of Kells'. According to George Bain, author of "Celtic Art the methods of construction", the Celtic 'Tree of Life' completes the total of created life, the seven created beings of the Celtic world, Plant, Insect, Fish, Repetile, Bird, Animal and Man. There is a distinct similarity between these and examples from Buddist art, perhaps helpful in proving the Celtic migrations to these lands.

In most 'Tree of Life' examples, the plants and trees have a logical growth pattern with branches from a main stem to form cornucopia from which other branches with leaves and fruits emerge. It is interesting to note that in most examples the plants bear a remarkable resemblence to mistletoe, one of the Druids most sacred plants.

tree of life 3
tree of life 2

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1998, Joelle Miller

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