St. Padraig’s Day is nigh upon us, so we thought we’d finish our month of living Irishly with one of the most famous and beautiful of Celtic symbols: the Celtic knot.
Celtic knotwork is an ancient tradition dating back long before even the Celtic people existed. They have been used in tapestries, masonry, jewelry and more in cultures all of the world since the birth of civilization. But what makes the Celtic knot special is that it doesn’t break or end. Celtic knotwork is typically one, straight chord that interweaves around itself dozens and dozens of times to create a beautiful pattern. This particular style has roots in the weaving of plaid and in the illuminated manuscripts which were recreated and housed in Irish monasteries during the European Dark Ages.
There are many different types of knotwork and many have very deep, historical, and personal meanings. For example:
The Eternity Celtic Knot
The Eternity Knot is probably one of the most recognized signs in Celtic symbolism and yet few people realize what it’s actually called. Made of one single chord that interwaves and interlocks within itself many times, the Eternity Knot is a closed circuit. It is, of course, meant to represent the eternity– the eternity of the world, of life, of love and friendships and relationships. At it’s center rests a Celtic triskelion, but we’ll get to that.
The Celtic Cross
Not to be confused with St. Brigid’s Cross (which doesn’t use any knotwork) the Celtic cross is sometimes called St. Padraig’s Cross. This is one of those symbols that has nearly given historians a coronary, trying to divine its origin. Some say that it had a place in Celtic society long before the Christians arrived, but others think it was just a corruption of Celtic knotwork used to appeal to the pagans. Find a life-sized on at the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, if you’re ever in southern Ireland.
The Trinity Celtic Knot
The Trinity Knot, the triskelion, the triqutera. All of these names basically mean the same thing: a three-part knot. You may have heard the story of how St. Padraig taught the pagan Irish that the Christian God was three gods in one– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. According to the legend, he used the shamrock, a three-leafed plant, to demonstrate how something could be three-in-one.
The Shield Celtic Knot
This knot is fairly popular in modern jewelry and especially Celtic wedding rings. See if you can spot the reason why:
Do you see the hearts around the edge? That’s why. This symbol is ancient, and the hearts are actually kind of there by accident– the knot predates the heart-shape as a symbol! The interlocking path of these four knots demonstrates strength and is meant to ward away foes.
The Quarternary Celtic Knot
You may have seen this knot around from time to time, but it’s far less well known than the knot shapes above. With four seperate and intricate parts, it’s meant to represent a number of things: the four seasons, the four holidays of Samhain, Beltaine, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh, the four main elements.
The Dara Celtic Knot
This is one of my favorite knotworks because it’s very unusual. It’s meant to represent the root system of an oak tree. In Celtic mythology, the oak is the strongest tree because it can withstand a lightning strike. The symbol is, therefore, one of inner strength and composure.