We are often asked about the wonderful animal forms in our Iona Celtic jewellery designs. Known as ‘zoomorphics’, these curious forms often take the shape of bird-like, fish-like or serpent-like creatures. Zoomorphic simply means ‘animal form’ and their origins likely lie in a pre-Christian, or pagan worship of the natural world. Zoomorphic images can be found in Bronze Age Irish and British artefacts, and other European forms of Celtic art from this period.

Celtic Zoomorphics Through The Ages

Zoomorphics are found in stone carvings, metalwork and illuminated manuscripts, and it’s possible that the zoomorphic carvings on the Pictish stones of Scotland represented the sacred animals of various tribes or powerful families. However, Celtic art has always been something of an enigma - intricate, ornate, and brimming with symbolism - and we can only guess at the cultural meanings of this work. The intricate animal motifs are not just decorative; they are a window into the rich tapestry of Celtic culture, history and Spirituality.

Our best-known examples of zoomorphic art are to be found in the Book of Kells. This illuminated manuscript, believed to have been started on Iona in the 8th century, is a testament to the skill and creativity of Celtic scribes and artists. Its pages are adorned with intricate designs of animals, birds, and mythical creatures that seem to dance across the vellum. It's not just the skill and artistry that capture the imagination but the sheer abundance and variety of zoomorphic motifs.

The intricate patterns and animals featured in the manuscript are believed to have deep symbolic meanings. Animals, in particular, were integral to Celtic spirituality as they were seen as messengers of the divine, and were often associated with otherworldly realms. Birds, for example, were a common motif in Celtic art and mythology; believed to be intermediaries between the mortal and the immortal worlds, and St. Columba was attributed with having the language of birds - in other words, he was connected to the divine through the language of birds.

Celtic Jewellery 

The intricate interlaced patterns that often surround these bird depictions represent the the interconnectedness of all life and the eternal cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth, concepts central to Celtic beliefs and the early church, and you can see this clearly in our Interlaced Bird earrings. A classic Celtic jewellery design of intertwining heads, knotwork and foliage.

Wearing Celtic jewellery is like donning a piece of living art, a miniature masterpiece that transcends time. It is a silent tribute to the craftsmanship of ancient artisans who, with skilled hands and profound creativity, brought forth pieces that were not merely adornments but expressions of a deeply spiritual worldview.

In the gleam of a Celtic knot or the curve of a mythical creature, there is a sense of continuity—a nod to the enduring traditions and wisdom of the Celtic people. The jewellery becomes a conduit to the past, a bridge that spans generations, connecting us to the rituals, beliefs, and passions of those who came before.

Moreover, Celtic jewellery is a celebration of nature's bounty. Whether adorned with the graceful curves of leaves, the majesty of animals, or the fluidity of water, these pieces encapsulate the reverence the Celts held for the natural world. They remind us to cherish the beauty that surrounds us and to find harmony in the interconnected dance of life.

As we wear Celtic jewellery, we become part of a narrative that extends beyond ourselves. It is not just about personal style; it is a declaration of appreciation for the ancient artistry and profound symbolism that echo through the ages. In each gleaming gem and carefully crafted curve, there is a whisper of the past, inviting us to carry the spirit of the Celts forward into the present and beyond.

Pagan And Early Christian Beliefs

The interface of pagan and early Christian beliefs can also be seen on the 8th-century high-standing crosses of Iona. The St. John’s and St. Martin’s crosses which stand outside the 12th century lona Abbey, both have decorative panels depicting interlaced serpents and circles. These crosses were undoubtedly raised on the site of the original 6th century Columban Celtic church, so one can assume that the serpent was a deeply spiritual symbol for the early Celtic church.

Without a doubt, these crosses and the Book of Kells are where the Ritchies of Iona, and their successor, silversmith Iain McCormick, would have found inspiration for their own interlacing zoomorphic patterns evident in their Celtic silver jewellery designs; several of our favourite pieces of jewellery at Aosdàna illustrate this work.


Zoomorphic jewellery

ZOOMORPHIC TRINITY EARRINGS: NO.1 →                             ZOOMORPHIC CHARM                                                       CELTIC TRINITY KNOT PENANNULAR PIN → 

March 01, 2024