In the 1970s, the counter culture in America rediscovered the beauty of primitive and tribal taboos. The most copied designs are primarily from Borneo, Japan, and the islands of the South Pacific. In the 1980's, Celtic tattoos became very popular, probably as a result of the popularity of Wiccan and pagan religions among young people.
Most modern Celtic designs are sourced from ancient scrolls called the Irish Illuminated Manuscripts, which were created during the sixth and seventh centuries. As before that the Celts did not keep written records, designs are also found in ancient stone and metal work. Before the sixth century, these ancient peoples often tattooed or painted their faces and bodies to protect them from evil spirits and ensure victory in battle.
The knotwork tradition of tattooing that was derived from Celtic manuscripts spread from Britain and Ireland to Scotland. Viking invaders eventually appropriated many of the Celtic designs into their own culture, often adding totem animals into the interlacing designs.
Celtic knots are "zoomorphic" meaning that each strand of the design connects or spirals into another strand. Often these designs will graphically terminate in images of the feet, heads and tails of animals and other natural symbols. These animals were emblematic of different Celtic tribes and nationalities.
Roman documents also indicate that ancient British and Scottish peoples may have tattooed themselves before entering into battle. Ancient stones from Gaul also show leaders with tattooed faces. These tattoos were created from woad, a plant that produces blue dye. A body of a Pict found frozen in the permafrost in Siberia indicated that these pre-Celtic peoples tattooed using puncture marks to create the forms and outlines of animals using woad as the dye.
The Romans often employed Celtic tutors for their children. Many of these tutors were Druid priests.
An ancient Roman recipe for tattoo ink, courtesy of the long deceased Roman physician Aetius
1 lb. of Egyptian pine wood barki
2 ounces of corroded bronze, ground with vinegar
2 ounces of gall (insect egg deposits J
1 oz. of vitriol (iron sulphateji
Mix well and sift. Soak powder in 2 parts water and 1 part leek juice.IWash the skin to be tattooed with leek juice.lPrick design with needles until blood is drawniRub in the ink.
Don't try this one at home, kids!
An example of a lucky parrot. Printed by permission of the artist Tim Hanan. www.artfultattoo.dyns.net
A spectacular example of a koi fish tattoo for bringing wealth and prosperity. Photo reprinted courtesy of the artist Reuben "Rue" Kayden. www.tattoorue.com
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