The Celtic crosses we see today have their origins in Christianity. However Celtic crosses have their roots dating back thousands of years before the Celts were converted to Christianity. The ornately decorated high crosses that are today found in Ireland, England and Scotland were erected as status symbols for monasteries. Although they remain as a testimony to Celtic art they don't have anything to do with Celtic tribal crosses.
Celtic Cross Tattoos
The name Tribal signifies warfare and the tribal cross was most likely a Celtic warrior tattoo that these extremely brave and fierce fighters placed on their bodies when they went to battle. It is however not 100% known whether the ancient Celts actually tattooed their skins or just painted their skins. The effect was the same though and the sight of naked wild haired blue tattooed warriors was meant to put fear into the hearts of their opponents. In fact Caesar used the word barbarian with the Celts in mind. After their conversion to Christianity warfare became a thing of the past
With this in mind the tribal crosses adorning warriors were in fact not crosses at all, but rather a symbol that the Christians later converted into a cross.
This was used as one of the Celtic druid symbols in their pagan worship of the sun and nature. It could be called the sun cross as it consists of a cross inside a circle and it was used to represent the sun and the tree of life.
Many crosses in circles appear on artifacts found today which date back to the Bronze Age in Europe. Our belief is that they were used by pagans when participating in pre-Christian religious ceremonies or rituals.
The Christian Celtic crosses we see today have borrowed their design from the universal pagan symbol of the sun represented by a cross within a circle. The circle itself was thought to represent eternity and the four points of the 'cross' represented the four corners of the earth or the four compass points.
Where the vertical and horizontal lines of North, South, East and West meet it is believed to represent the joining of Heaven and Earth. There are other scholars who advocate that the sections created by the four arms of the 'cross' signify the four seasons marked by the solstices. As the ancient Celts left us no written word it is impossible to confirm who is right.
The Sun Cross
The term for this pagan symbol could also be called the Sun Cross, Pagan Cross or Solar Cross. This ancient and simple symbol has been found on burial urns in Croft England dating back to 1440 BC.
We believe today that the Pagans believed the sun to be the preserver of life. Some even say that the sun was the creator of life. Whatever is correct there is no doubt that the sun was so powerfully symbolic that these ancient people worshiped it to the point where it was used to depict special conditions or circumstances in life such as war and religious ceremonies. Some advocate that this symbol was a powerful presence during Druid sacrifices and in fact sacrifices may even have been offered up to the sun.
Celtic Tribal Cross
Today we see the tribal crosses wrought in jewelry and in tattoos. They have evolved from the simple circle and cross and today incorporate many different styles of Celtic artwork such as knots and spirals. What they are meant to represent for the wearer is the pride they have in their culture and ancestry. For many the tribal cross does not depict their faith in the Christian belief. Rather they are meant to embody the spirit of the Celtic warrior.
When seen in body tattoo the elements of these tribal crosses are often mixed in with other known tribal symbols and are inked on the body in very thick black lines and designs. These dark features and the boldness make the tribal meaning obvious.
Tribal crosses deal with the spiritual rather than the religious. There should be no debate over whether Celtic crosses came about as a result of Christianity or were adapted by the Christians.