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A little Background on Celtic Knot designs — their origin and meaning.

History

Historians believe the origins of the Celtic knot could date back as far as to 500 B.C, although no one is absolutely sure.  What we do know is that Celtic knot designs can be dated back to at least the 3rd-4th century. 

Abstract in composition, each design is believed to have held special significance. When it comes to interpreting their meaning, we do face some challenges. Without written records, we can only interpret some meanings while others be will inevitably have been lost to the ages.  

Spirals, step patterns, and key patterns were dominant motifs in Celtic art before the Christian influence on the Celts, which began around 450AD.  Many knots are most known for their adaptation as ornaments to Christian monuments and manuscripts, such as the 8th-century Illuminated manuscript, “The Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels“,  to mention a few. Most designs are endless knots that weave over and under and in many cases are depictions of life, such as animals, plants, and even humans.    

The Designs

Celtic art and markings burst with symbols that invoke the energies of nature and the Universe itself. Many designs focused on Mother Earth and her mysteries. When creating a piece of Celtic jewelry, such as a Celtic ring or Celtic necklace, the Celts hoped to capture the power of the emblem and to invoke It’s meaning and activate it, in order to improve their own daily lives.

Most commonly though, these continuous patterns are thought to have referenced eternity and eternal life especially the knots found at burial sites such as Newgrange Passage Tomb, in Co. Meath. Celtic knots famously comprise of one continuous line, with no beginning and no end and so are often regarded as a symbol of infinity. Celtic Knots are  believed to have represented faith, declare unity between people and in some cases, to protect against evil spirits.

The Celtic knot as a tattoo design became popular in the United States in the 1970s and 1980’s

Celtic Cross

The Celtic cross fist emerged across the island of Ireland in the early middle ages, following the arrival of the Celtic people around 500BC.  This symbol became widespread across the entire landscape of Ireland through its use in the stone high crosses erected across the island, especially in regions evangelized by Irish missionaries, from the 9th through the 12th centuries. The shape, usually decorated with interlace and other motifs from Insular art, many still survive today.

The Celtic Cross construction features a traditional cross accentuated with a circle around the intersection of the arms and stem. It is subject to a few different interpretations. This Cross design was created as a spiritual symbol, only later having a religious aspect attached to it. The circle is a reference to the Sun God in ancient times. For Christians, the circle surrounding the head of the cross represents God’s, eternal love. A Celtic Cross is thought to represent the meeting place of Divine energies and can be seen as a symbolic compass, offering spiritual navigation. The Celtic Cross is also believed to represent the four parts of us; mind, body, heart, and soul. The circle in the middle symbolizing the eternity of the soul. 

Of course one more idea of the origin exists.  It has often been claimed that Patrick combined the symbol of Christianity with the sun cross to give pagan followers an idea of the importance of the cross. By linking it with the idea of the life-giving properties of the sun, These two ideas were linked to appeal to the pagans. Other interpretations claim that placing the cross on top of the circle represents Christ’s supremacy over the pagan sun.

Wonderful examples of stone Celtic high crosses have survived down through the centuries. These distinctive crosses have been adapted and passed between cultures and religions over time. The Celtic cross is rich in powerful representation and an ideal reflection of the hopes and ambitions of the Celts. 

Trinity Knot

History

This Celtic design has been found in sites that are over 5,000 years old. It has also been found on carved stones in Northern Europe dating from the 8th century.    The legendary Book of Kells, believed to be from the early 9th century, also bears the Trinity knot symbol amongst its other decorative artwork. It’s likely the Trinity knot had religious meaning for pagans and it also bears a resemblance to the Valknut which is a symbol associated with Odin, a revered God in Norse mythology.

Along with other Celtic knot work designs, the Trinity knot enjoyed a golden age which lasted until the Norman Invasion where upon this form of artwork went into decline. Celtic knot work was essentially kept alive during the dark period due to patronage from Gaelic aristocrats. By the 15th century, knot work once again became seen as part of a political and cultural identity and symbols such as the Trinity knot once again began to adorn weapons and jewelry. Yet instances of the Trinity knot being used as decoration significantly reduced from the period of the Jacobean Rebellion in the mid 18th century.

Design – Meaning  

The Trinity Knot is thought to symbolize birth, life and rebirth of the spirit. Many see the trinity knot as a representation of the natural forces of life – earth, air, and water. In more recent times, it has come to be recognized by Christians as a symbol for The Father, Son and The Holy Spirit. The Trinity knot is symbolic of the threefold nature of the Goddess as mother, maiden and crone. The mother as a goddess is representative of creation, the maiden is representative of innocence and the crone is representative of wisdom. It is also representative of the forces of nature (earth, fire and water) and the three interlocking circles are symbolic of female fertility.

 According to the Celtic people, the most important elements in the world came in threes; three domains (earth, sea, and sky), three elements, three stages of life, etc. During excavations of various archaeological sites from the Celtic era, a number of Trinity knot symbols have been found alongside solar and lunar symbols.

 Here are a few more Ideas.

– It can be used as a symbol of Ireland’s ancient culture.

– The endless intertwining curves can also be representative of eternal love.

– It can be given as a gift in order to convey a wish of longevity, as it represents

  an uninterrupted life cycle.

– The Trinity knot can even be used to outline the stages of a woman’s life; youth,

   motherhood and old age.   

– It is sometimes called the Irish Love knot.

– It can make a wonderful gift for occasions such as an engagement,  

  wedding or anniversaries.

Triquetra

History

The Triquetra was used to symbolize and honor the Mother, Maiden and Crone of the neo-pagan triple goddess. It signifies the three life-cycles of a woman in relation to the phases of the moon.  The circle can be interpreted as a symbol of the Sun as well as eternity, whether that be the eternity of God’s love or the eternal circle of life. Christians believe the Triquetra began with monks who brought the symbol with them along with their faith when converting the Celts. Yet many historians believe original knot work symbols such as the Triquetra are Celtic in origin. The Triquetra is among the few symbols of ancient mysticism and spirituality that still hold significance and commands a major following. Its origins and early history are not clear but It is also thought that the Triquetra signified the lunar and solar phases.

The Design – Meaning

The term “Triquetra” is an ancient symbol with rich significance. It consists of three interconnected leaf-like shapes and derives its name from Latin, translating to mean —  three cornered. The number three itself is steeped in spiritual significance. In some designs, it is placed inside a circle and that is intended to represent protection and spiritual unity.  It has also been used to symbolize fertility and the triple Goddesses of maiden, mother, and crone, signifying the three stages of innocence, creation, and wisdom. The Triquetra also signifies an idea of eternity, infinity, protection, and equality.

In modern times, it has become popular as artwork and is often seen on brand logos, games, music, and television. The Triquetra symbol is actually featured on a cover of an album by the rock group – Led Zeppelin and it shows up prominently throughout the “90’s movie  “Charmed”.

It is also known as a popular choice for necklace and ring designs. In fact, Ireland still has a tradition where a man gives his beloved a trinket with a Triquetra symbol.  if you look at all the spiritual ideas that it is related to, you will see at as a beautiful symbol of positivity, nature and creation and striving for the right balance.


Tree of Life

Another very recognizable Celtic design is the Tree Of Life. This design symbolizes the Celtic people’s affinity with nature. The Tree of Life reflects a link between heaven and earth. Roots reach down to earth and It’s branches reach up to the heavens. The interlacing branch symbolizes the continuity of life, never-ending life. The Tree of Life is also a representation of the harmony and balance in nature. To the Celts, It symbolized strength, a long life, and wisdom.

The bond and affection to trees are so deep that Celts believed the actual trees were their ancestors, gatekeepers to the Celtic Otherworld. As such, the tree of life in Celtic Culture is sacred. Just as the branches of a tree strengthen and grow upwards to the sky, we too grow stronger, striving for greater knowledge, wisdom, and new experiences as we move through life.

The flowing form of the Celtic tree represents how the natural world is inherently balanced and harmonious. The Celts had a fascinating and insightful perspective on nature. Their understanding and respect of the natural world is one to be revered and the importance of nature to life is reflected in their use of this symbol. 

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