Celtic tattoo designs are primarily a genre of complex interwoven lines representing knots, mazes, spirals and other figures. Celtic animal figures are zoomorphic or stylized renderings of animals that were used for carvings, in jewelry and wood, stonework and manuscript illustrations. Many images used by tattoo artists today are derived from the famous Irish Book of Kells.
The famous Book of Kells is an ornately illustrated manuscript, produced by Irish Monks around AD 800. It is one of the most lavishly illuminated manuscripts to survive from that period. The name “Book of Kells” is derived from the Abbey of Kells, located in Kells, County Meath in Ireland, where it was kept for much of the mediaeval period.
There are strong Norse design influences in Celtic knot work, and there is some debate as to the exact origin. Clearly there were exchanges between cultures through both trade and conquest. The complexity of Celtic design is thought to mimic or echo the complexity of nature, the use of Celtic knots in spirals and mazes, the intricate interweaving showing no beginning and no end, reflective of the cycles of the seasons and of life.