• Ali Isaac

the celtic knot

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

Of course, when we say Celtic, we really mean Irish, but in actual fact, these designs have been found in manuscripts and on ancient pottery and buildings all across the ancient world.

No-one really knows what they mean, or even if they were ever intended to represent anything at all other than being decorative. However, modern people and pagan groups like to attribute meaning to them, and you will find all manner of interpretations on the web. They are most popularly found in jewellery and tattoo designs.

Entrance to Newgrange, showing the knot work scrolls featured on the great entrance stone
The entrance stone at Newgrange features Celtic knot work designs etched into its surface.

Whilst all the designs seem to share the familiar characteristics of interlacing and geometry, there are four basic designs:

Triskele – Arguable the most famous, this is a triangular design. It is said to symbolise the sacred triads, namely Land, Sea,Sky; Underworld, the Mid-Realm, Heaven; the Gods, the dead, and the Sidhe. It is also associated with Manannan mac Lir, God of the sea.

Animal – Representations intertwining animals with the designs, and sometimes men. Perhaps the design thus represented the qualities found in that animal, for example, the boar was admired for its ferocity, the hound for its hunting skills, etc.

Circular – Said to represent unity, and the cycles of life and eternity. The image at the top of the post would be a good example of a circular Celtic knot.

Square – These designs were thought to offer protection. As such, they were often found on battle shields, and so were also known as shield knots.

Knot work embellishment in the Book of Kells, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2002048
Knot work embellishment in the Book of Kells

The Book of Kells is most famous for its Celtic knot artwork. The Christians were quick to adopt these designs, as they did with most things pagan, and incorporate them into their religion. In this way, they came to be associated with religious concepts. Whether these meanings also existed prior to Christianity is impossible to say, as the ancient Irish left no records to confirm it.

It is generally agreed, however, that all designs indicate ‘the never ending path’, as they seem to have no beginning or end. This would fit quite well within most religions and cultures. Which to me, seems quite appropriate.

#symbolism #thetriskele #celticknots #irishknots #cycleoflife #ancientIreland #IrishMythology #theBookOfKells