Symbolic Meanings of some of the animals appearing in Celtic Art
artline

birds birds
Associated with death transitions in Celtic mythology.

boar gif
The boar is a symbol of masculine power. The meat of the boar was served at Otherworld feasts for the deities.
The sow is associated with some Crone/Mother Goddesses, such as Cerridwen, and with Otherworldly feasts. The pig is the archetypal symbol of plenty, healing, and shapeshifting.


bull gif bull
Figures heavily in what little Celtic creation mythology surviving from Ireland, though this may not be Irish at all, but rather a myth derived from a Middle Eastern source. In the Celtic world, the bull was a symbol of virility, sovereignty, and wealth. The famous Irish legend, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, surrounds the taking of a famous bull. In Ancient Ireland, a tabhfheis, or a highly ritualized "feast of the bull", always preceded the crowning of a new High King.

cat gif cat
Unlike many other Indo-European cultures, the Celts did not revere cats, though there are many references to them in Celtic mythology. Archtypally they serve the same guardian function as demons/angels in the Judeo-Christian myths. Three mythic references to cats which are prominent are; one, a cat which helps to guard the gates of the Otherworld; two, one who is able to shapeshift into a ball of fire; and three, one called Irusan of Knowth who stole humans like the faery. Cat-like monsters were also believed to dwell in dark caves.

crane gif crane
Numerous Celtic myths tell us of a heroic figure or deity who was changed into a crane such as Aife, the Lady of the Lake, or Munanna. Archetypally this bird means an apparent, rather than substantive, change A sign of, or punishment for, deception.

deer gif deer/stag
The deer was the principal animal hunted by the Celts for food. The doe was associated with most woodland Goddesses, such as Saba and Flidais, and is their totem animal. The stag was often seen as the incarnate form of woodland Gods such as Cernunnos. White stags were considered to be from the Otherworld and, in myth, their appearance always heralded some profound change in the lives of those in the story. Considered in Celtic mythology to be among the oldest creatures in existence.

dog gif dog
Sacred to the faeries of Ireland and Scotland probably because they were held in high regard by the Tuatha de Danann. Many Celtic myths involve dogs or dog familiars, which belonged to heroic figures or deities, and wars were often fought for and over them such as the one between Fionn MacCumhal and King Arthur. Examples of the importance of Celtic dogs are found in the myths of Gwyn Ap Nuad, Cuchulain, Amaethaon, and Taliesin. Dogs are also the archetypal symbols of shapeshifters.

dragon
The dragon is another mighty magickal animal that appears in British and Welsh stories. It is, of course, a creature of fire but is also related to the Power of the Land. Another word for Ley Lines is Dragon Lines. Another name for raising power is to invoke the "Eye of the Dragon". The whole Earth was viewed by the Druids as the body of the Dragon. Menhirs and stone Circles were located at great Power nodes. The Celts also called Dragons 'Fire Drakes'.

eagle gif eagle
Eagles were the feared scavengers of Europe and were usually linked to death Gods, such as Beli, in the same way as the crow was linked to death Goddesses. In Welsh mythology, Llew was turned into an eagle at the moment of his murder.

horse gif horse
Horses were sacred to many Indo-European Goddesses, and often filled the archetypal place given to cats in other cultures. They were linked to the night, the moon, mystery, and magick. Nightmares, a name which is derived from that of the female horse, were thought by the Celts to be brought by a visiting horse Goddess such as Epona or Mare. In most Celtic myths the horses are black or white.

birds 2 gif ousel
(Usually spelled Ouzel in the United States.) This water bird is known for its tenacious and deceptive personality. While it looks harmless enough, it is revered for its ability to staunchly defend itself and its flock. In myth, the Ousel of Cilgwri once picked a smith's hammer down to the size of a small nut.

raven gif raven or crow
The Crow is deeply linked to Crone Goddesses such as Badb, and to Goddess of war or death like the Morrigan.

The Raven is similar to the crow in that it is deeply associated with death deities. But, while the crow is usually reserved as a spirit form for feminine deities, the raven has been the Otherworldly body for both Gods and Goddesses. Like the crow, it flew over Celtic battlefields as the deity incarnate. The raven is most closely associated with the Irish/Welsh God Bran.


fish gif salmon

While the airborne creatures archetypally linked the Celts to the Underworld, sea creatures linked them to great knowledge, sacred mysteries, and deep emotion, (typically, only deities of great wisdom and temperament ruled the Celtic seas). Most prominent among these wise sea creatures was the Salmon of Knowledge. The myths of Nudons and Fionn are among the many dealing with this fish. It is said to have acquired its great knowledge from eating the Nine Hazels of Wisdom that fell from the Tree of Knowledge. This fish is was said to be among the oldest of living creatures.

eel/serpent gif serpent
Represents the cyclic nature of life due to the annual shedding of its skin. It is a phallic symbol, a symbol of the Triple Goddess, and of the earth mysteries. It is important to the Druids, and is found on much old Celtic jewelry. Contrary to popular myth, there are snakes in Ireland, though they are pretty much confined to the rugged western region of the Island.

artline


(Most of the information on this page taken from "Celtic Myth and Magick" by Edain McCoy)
Back to Art Page