History is such a rich source of inspiration for many artists, designers and for ordinary people who are relying on the Divine intervention through signs and symbols. It cannot be denied that it has an immense impact on the way of living, the same way feng shui affects the daily life of many people who believes with its power to manifest good health and great fortune when practices are followed.
Early studies revealed the truth behind the fandom on symbols and patterns and what drives people to depend on it. Strong attachment to reading symbols stemmed from the purpose of trying to understand the world and identifying their life’s purpose and meaning.
Since patterns and symbols can affect how someone lead their life, and make choices – the iconic symbols can now be found anywhere – from pieces of jewelry to furniture and packaging of consumer goods. Its use is not only meant to reveal your destiny, but it also serves as a design or embellishment that gives identity and mystery to the masterpieces.
And among the many symbols which people sought after that has a deep root in the history and strong meaning, the most popular pattern that people look for is the Celtic knot.
What is a Celtic Knot?
The Celtic Knots are known as the large range of knots that is frequently used as a decoration in buildings, tapestries, and jewelries by the ancient Celts. You can find these patterns mostly on church monuments and manuscripts which is one of the contributing factors to its spread to different parts of the world.
In Celtic art, the knots are often described as the endless knots or the mystic knots. It is a series of interwoven or overlapping knots that has neither clear beginning nor end.
Uses of the Celtic Knot
Celtic knots are heavily employed on buildings, tapestries, pieces of jewelry, mugs and even on book covers. It’s application on the material things depends on the purpose of the object where the knots will be applied. It is either carved, embossed, embroidered, painted or weaved.
For instance, in most jewelry, Celtic knots that bears the meaning of eternal love despite constant change in time is often carved on rings and bracelets. To exude elegance and mysticisms, metallic strands are weaved into Celtic knots
In weapons and tapestry, the most Celtic knot that you can find is the box knot and the spiral knot which depicts security and protection. So if you’re going to buy a Celtic knot, it has to be according to what purpose so its meaning and symbol will be emphasized.
The Book of Kells
The Book of Kells is not only popular because of the illuminated manuscripts of Latin gospels that it contains, but for the reason that it bears the most intricate Celtic knot artwork. Seeing the beauty of Celtic knots, Christians in the ancient times were quick to adopt the designs and incorporate it to most of the things, including the religion.
Since then, Celtic knot artworks are often associated with religious concepts, though the primeval Irish did not left any records to confirm it. Yet, the Celtic knots in the Book of Kells only want to convey that the goodness in the teachings of the Lord is neverending.
Origin of the Celtic Knot
The Celts may have perfected the interwoven patterns, but they were not the ones who first introduced it to the public. The knots first appeared in the handicrafts produced by artisans of the Roman Empire. In the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, the knot patterns were first seen as an art form and later applied to mosaic floor patterns, in which the Byzantine architecture, Coptic, Kievan Rus’ian book illumination, European architecture, Ethiopian art as well as the Islamic art adapt it..
At the beginning of 450AD, the spirals, key and step patterns become dominant in the Celtic Art. However, with the influence of Christian manuscript, the interwoven patterns made its way and become popular on early Christian manuscripts and artworks. The Celtic knots are often found in art pieces that are depicted from life. These are plants, animal as well as humans.
The first pattern of Celtic knots started with plaits or intricate interwoven cords in the 6th century. These patterns are dominant motifs in some areas in Europe and Italy. A matter of fact, the earliest example of a true Celtic knot can be found in one of the fragments of the Gospel Books that can be found in the Durham Cathedral Library and was created first in the northern Britain in the 7th century.
The true knot work that exhibits a broken and reconnected interwoven pattern originally began in northern Italy and southern Gaul. It continually spread in Ireland by the 7th century, where the Irish export it to Europe with style that is associated with the Celtic lands.
Since the style is also extensively practiced in England, the style was also distributed thru Northumbrian monastic activities in the European continent. At present, Celtic knots and art pieces are often associated with the national identity of the Irish, Scottish or Welsh’s origin.
The True Celtic Knot
When you look at Celtic knots, it looks like a single strand that is wind and weave around with each other to form an intriguing pattern of endless loop. This is what a true Celtic knot. Some patterns include animal symbols, which are known as zoomorphs, with strands in similar type of weaving.
Yet, what makes it a false Celtic knot is when the knot end with a loose end, which could be a tail of the animal or a vine of a plant.
Basic Designs of Celtic Knots and Their Meanings
The Celtic arts depict mystery and sacredness, which makes it a favorite pattern on scriptures, church monuments and pieces of jewelry. From basics to the most intricate design of Celtic knots, these interwoven patterns are always one of the sought after art form. From the present designs that you can see today, it all starts with the basics. And these basic designs that are rampantly used since ancient times are triskele, animal, circular and square.
The triskele knots are the most popular Celtic knotwork. It represents the sacred triads, which are the sky, sea and land; the heaven, middle earth and underworld; the mind, the body and the soul as well as the gods, the dead and the Sidhe. Aside from this, the triskele knots are also associated with the God of the sea, which is Manannan mac Lir.
In the sense of Celtic arts, what triskele knots represent is the competition that man experience and their progress. In Greek, triskele means “three-legged”, that explains why the triskele knot looks like three legs running.
This Celtic symbol according to the ancient Celtic arts, holds two major components of symbolism: passive and active. When you look at the symbols, it seems that the pattern is running, that it is in action. Looking closely at the Manx (the coat of arms of the Isle of Man), the patterns used is a triskele knot with the spirals representing the legs.
So how active and passive symbolism enters the picture? Active triskele knots refer to the action invested and how the universe responds. On the other hand, the passive triskele describes the ability of having faith that your path will be cleared soon enough and will be known to you. Passive triskele shows the ability of man to sit back, to trust to have faith and believe.
To achieve something, it takes a harmonic balance and to consciously employ the active and passive energy to accomplish great things. This is what Celtics believe. This is what triskele knot meant for them.
Animal knots or Zoomorphs
The zoomorphs’ design is often based on the characteristic and personality of the animals used in the knot. For instance, a lion is admired for its strength or a cheetah for its agility. Based on the cultural perception of Celtics towards animals, these creatures give a profound meaning to the Celtic’s tribal life.
Celts adore the immense energy and magic that the animal kingdom provides. That is because the animals reminds you about their extraordinary qualities that people don’t have. It also provides a visual focus, which guides people in their journey to obtain the qualities of virtue that people desire. By learning to understand the animals and their qualities, its meaning can be applied to your daily life.
Circular Celtic knots
With no corners or loose ends, the circular knots represent unity and eternity. It emphasize endless nature of elements that is associated with it. This pattern is usually found on ornaments to express emotions and time. Without a doubt, it is the most common Celtic art form in wedding rings and other gifts given to express oneself.
Square or Shield Celtic Knots
A Celtic knot that forms a square shape depicts protection and security. These are often found engraved on shields of warriors in the ancient times. It is also known as the four-cornered knot which signifies meaningful journey.
Its meaning depends on the era, region and the perception of the artist who designed it. Typically, it can mean any of the following:
- It indicates direction, such as north, south, east, and west.
- The four interchanging seasons, which is summer, spring, fall and winter.
- Tells about the four gospels in the Book of Kells.
- The four elements composed of air, water, earth and fire.
- The four-branched wisdom of heart, head, hand and hearth from the emblem of Brigid, the Queen of Four Fires.
- Luck inspiration from the four-leaf clover.
Although there are existing basic Celtic knot designs already in used, Celtic artisans in the ancient times continue to develop designs that best describe the person who will use it, the buildings where it will used as a decoration and to scriptures to add mysticism.
Elaborate Celtic Knot Designs
Aside from the four basic designs of Celtic knots mentioned above, there are other Celtic knot work designs that are also used in various materials and buildings. These are nearly everywhere, where some are tagged to historical figures and religious concepts. These knot art forms are the triquetra, dara knot, love knots, spiral knot, sailor’s knot, and Solomon’s knot.
Triquetra or the Trinity knot
Triquetra is a Latin word that means three-cornered. Although its origin is unknown, it is usually found on many Indian heritage sites that are over 5,000 years old. The triquetra is massively used from the golden age and lasted until the Norman invasion. It was only kept alive during the dark period due to the patronage of the Gaelic aristocrats.
This knotwok resurface once again by 15th century when it was used for political and cultural identity. It became a trademark pattern for pieces of jewelry, weapons and buildings. Yet in the 18th century, its used and appearance decreases during the Jacobean Rebellion.
In the middle of 19th century, triquetra become visible again with the onset of the so-called Celtic Revival. Its influence became strong at the Scottish highlands by 16th century where the Gaelic revival continues to carve knots while handles of blade weapons are carved with knot work by the end of the 18th century.
Dara comes from the Irish word, doire which means ‘oak tree’. The dara knot is based on the root system of an oak tree, which is considered a sacred tree to ancient Celts, particularly the Druids. The Druids are group of people who can translate the language of the trees and put it into profound and meaningful messages that can be applied to the daily lives of the clan.
The tree language that Druids interpret also provide insights coming from the cosmos that is related to their reality. What makes the dara knot a popular Celtic knot art form is that it represents tons of meaning. It represents determination, survival, memory, and connection.
When you find yourself in distress, this Celtic knot art form will remind you what you are made of. This will help you regain your confidence and continue your journey. To sum up, the dara knot is an important Celtic knot as it symbolizes the Celt heritage that is long-lasting and mystical.
The love knots are shown to have two interlaced knots. If couples of today exchange rings to show their affection and deep devotion to one another, in ancient times, the love knots are what couples exchange to each other. The most common love knots given are the Celtic oval knot which stands for eternal life. It was first introduced in 2500BCE when ancient Scottish, Welsh and Irish devised this knot design.
The earliest generations of Celts in Britain were the first to create the spiral knots in its purest form. The spiral knot symbolizes immortality. Its three-branches stands for the three forces of nature, which are the water, earth and fire. The continuous line found in this knot refers to unity and stillness of the spirit.
In the Scottish version of the spiral knot, the continuous line represents love and fidelity, which makes spiral knot often coined as another variation of the love knot.
Based on the prehistoric Celtic records, the origin of the sailor’s knot were created by Celtic sailors who’ve spent long months in the sea and are missing their sweethearts in the land. These sailors often weave knots made from rope to serve as a memento.
The knots that sailors weave symbolizes harmony, friendship, adoration and deep love as there are two entwined knots. The sailor knots also reveal the union of two into one and the blending of two lives with a single purpose.
The sailor may look simple compared to other knots, but is considered as the one of the strongest knots, that best represents a strong bond under enormous pressure and time.
The Solomon’s knot is a sacred Celtic knot that depicts the union of man and the Divine. It is considered as one of the oldest Celtic knot, which was first seen in stone-aged carvings. Since it can be found in any ancient temples and synagogues, it is believed that this knot is related to King Solomon.
What makes it a notable knot is that the absence of the beginning and the end of the knot symbolizes eternity and immortality. On the other hand, its two entwined figures often coined as the symbol of love between man and the Divine.
The eternal knot is the longer version of the trinity knot and the spiral knot. It is considered as highly significant to the Tibetan Buddhism, as shown from its numerous temples in Mongolia and Tuva. Eternal knots can also be seen in Chinese decorations and luck charms.
What the eternal knot represents is the tangled nature of time and change. It also depicts the never-ending continuum of the mind, where wisdom and compassion intertwine. This knot also represents the everlasting love of the Divine creator to man. And it is a powerful symbol for destiny.
Couples who wish to express their eternal and unconditional love choose this knot artwork whenever they purchase gifts for their loved ones. Most of the time, the eternal knot can be found on pieces of jewelry, particularly rings and bracelets.
Notable Places with Existing Celtic Knot Artwork
The Celtic knot is tagged as the heritage identity of Ireland and Scotland. In these countries you’ll see numerous places where there are carvings of the ancient Celtic knot. So if you’ll be travelling on any of these two countries, you can visit the following places:
This is a 5200-year-old passage tomb in Boyne Valley, where it is adorned with spiral knots on the entrance. It was built by the Stone Age farmer as an ancient temple where astrological, religious and ceremonial gatherings take place.
Based on the carbon-14 dating, the Celtic passage tomb that lies along the bend of the Bru na Boinne river is older than the Stonehengs, the Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and the Mycenaean culture of the ancient Greece as the original complex was built between 3200 and 3100BC.
According to Michael J. O’Kelly, an Irish professor and archaeologist who excavated and restore the Newgrange, every Winter Solstice the rising sun illuminates the long passage and the inner chamber of the ancient temple. Through the roofbox, sunlight enters and reveals the triple spiral knots on the walls.
Old Library at the Trinity College in Dublin
This is where you can find the infamous Book of Kells, where the book exhibition takes place for the visitors. It is built around 1712 and took 20 years before it completed its original form. Aside from the Book of Kells, it also houses other two ancient books which are the Book of Durrow and the Book of Howth.
National Museum of Ireland, Dublin
The Tara Brooch, which is heavily adorned with spiral and scroll knot, can be found here. It is an archeological artifact that was excavated in Ireland by 1850. This Celtic Brooch made in 650 to 750 AD according to carbon-14 dating, is named after the Hill of Tara yet it has no connection to the High Kings of Ireland.
It is made of cast and gilt silver that is heavily decorated with Celtic knots on the front and rear. At the front of the brooch, you’ll see gold filigree panels that depicts animal in abstract motifs. These motif that are consist of scrolls and triple spirals are then separated by studs of glass, amber and enamel.
Its back is flatter than the front with casted decoration. Its swivel consists of animal head that frames two casts glass human heads is attached to a silver chain made from plaited wire.
Doorty Celtic Cross in County Clare
The Doorty Celtic Cross can be found in Kilfenora, situated in the Burren region of the County Clare. In the 6th century, St. Fachtna founded a monastery, where seven crosses were built which made the place known as the ‘city of crosses. And among these crosses is the most popular Doorty Cross.
The east face of the cross bears the face and figure of the bishop in high relief and carries the volute crozier, which is a symbol associated to the Roman Church. Beneath the carved figure are two more bishops that are thrusting their volute crozier into a winged creature with sharp wings.
The west face of the cross on the other hand, bears the crucified image of Jesus Christ and some geometric and triquetra knot designs.