Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

An Introduction to Celtic Art
by Courtney Davis
Powerful symbolism, myths, and legends

An Introductionto Celtic Art

by Courtney Davis

Celtic art is experiencing a dramatic revival reflecting and 
interpreting the powerful symbolism, myths, and legends of this 
ancient culture. The people we call Celts have deep roots in 
European history that can be traced back over more than 
twenty-five centuries. Originating in mainland Europe and moving 
across to Britain and Ireland, Celtic people today inhabit 
southwest England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and 
Brittany, France.  The Celts were farmers, artists, and warriors, 
worshipping the natural aspects around them: the sun, the moon, 
the stars, and nature. Their artistic and technical brilliance has 
been revealed in the discoveries of their metalworks, stonework, 
and illuminated Gospels, which are the inspiration of many artists 
	My own inspiration to create Celtic images began over 
twenty years ago. However, my awareness of the true spirit of 
Celtic art came one day while walking my dog under a clear night 
sky. I had been told earlier that day by a person whom I respected 
for his spiritual understanding of such matters  that I should 
look to the Big Dipper constellation, and ask the Great Magician 
for his help with my work. It was at that moment that a shooting 
star flashed through the center of the constellation.
	From that night, my paintings took on a different form and 
were no longer labored, but began to free themselves. Lights began 
to appear on the paintings as a direction for coloring and also as 
a way of showing disapproval if I tried to add some symbolism that 
obviously was not needed. It took some time for me to let the image 
actually take its own form. Gradually the paintings began to teach 
me how the different energies associated with each of the images 
could be used for healing - in the way the early Gospel books were 
a focus for the spirit.
	Celtic art is a combination of powerful symbolism, so it is 
not surprising that it causes interesting effects. There are 
essentially four decorative designs found in traditional Celtic art: 
spirals, key patterns, knotwork patterns, and zoomorphics.
The spiral was one of the very earliest symbols created by man as 
he saw it at work in nature. The Celts copied its movement on the 
ground by creating turf mazes which were trodden by initiates on 
the solar and lunar festivals. In this Sacred Dance they would 
walk barefoot to absorb the Earth's energies. In time, the Celts 
adapted the single spiral and joined it with others in twos and 
threes, to symbolize the spirit's movement as part of a greater 
whole as a thread of the cosmic tapestry.
Celtic Knot
	Key patterns are really spirals 
in straight lines; when connected they 
become a processional path like a maze 
or labyrinth, Knotwork patterns - 
perhaps most commonly associated with 
Celtic art - are actually much older, 
but it was the Celts that took this 
form further than anyone else. The 
endless thread represents the eternal 
flow of life and the continuation of each generation drawing from 
the past. 
	Zoomorphic designs integrate animals and birds, which are 
sacred to the Celts, into intricate and fascinating weaving patterns.
Images reflecting the natural spirit of Celtic life, such as the 
Tree of Life, the Green Man, the Great or Triple Goddess, also reveal 
to us different aspects of the Creator and the tapestry of life. The 
intrinsic beauty of Celtic imagery is so strong that it is easy to 
see why the art form has become so well loved.
	I have learned to let the images talk for me, as they are 
not bound by words. If you come to them openly, and you find the 
one for you, anything can happen!
May your Lights Shine!
Courtney Davis