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Keltfacts: Celtic knots

We would like to introduce you to the Celtic culture in our section Keltfacts. In this blog we explore the different Celtic knots and their meaning.

Where do Celtic knots come from?

Celtic knots do not necessarily come from the Celts, although the name would suggest that. The first acquired patterns were already found in Roman times. Spirals and stair patterns were one of the most dominant forms of knots there.

Most knowledge related to the Celtic knots originates from AD 450, when Christianity began to gain power. Finds of the time had incorporated Christian works of art, adorned with Celtic knots on the edges between scenes, from the painting or in other ways. Knots have even been found in Roman floor mosaics.

Because Celts mainly conveyed the knowledge of traditions orally, it is difficult to say where the knots really originated and what the meant exactly. What we do know is that trekking through Europe caused the use of the knots to spread and eventually end up in Ireland, around the seventh century. Here they were made Celtic.

What are Celtic knots used for?

Some knots are used decorative, others have a deeper meaning.

Celtic families could have their own knot for themes, making them very easy to personalize. Of course there were also knots that had roughly the same meaning for everyone, such as the spiral knot or the sailor's knot.

As Christianity spread further and further and more kings and regents converted, it was forbidden for Celts and other heathen to practice their faith. The Celts found a way around this, for example by hiding small Celtic elements in their stories (as you can read in our King Arthur blog), but also to tie the knots in the otherwise Christian artwork.

Many knots can also be found on gravestones and churches, but also in manuscripts, where Celtic knots were used to decorate letters. In crosses, the knotwork is also used in combination with Biblical scenes. For example, the Celtic cross is made with an ornamentation of Celtic knots.

What do Celtic knots mean?

The knots are often sewn or knotted with one thread. That represents the connection between beginning and end, and how life and infinity are connected. Infinity comes from the design of the knot, in which there is no beginning or end.

The knots on churches and gravestones are thought to represent protection from evil spirits and protection. This is mainly through analysis of context and in combination with other knowledge of the knots. Exact meanings have been lost throughout the centuries, because little was written about them.

Today there are several knots that have become quite popular. Many are worn as jewelry or even as a tattoo. A few examples are:

- The spiral knot: this is the knot that represents infinity above. Three corners curl into a spiral with each spiral of the knot representing water, earth and fire. The three forces of nature.

- The Celtic knot of love: where the knots are wrapped into two hearts.

- Sailor's knot: relatively simple, but very meaningful because for sailors there is a memory of home. Each knot represents a loved one they want to return to. The more knots are put in it, the stronger it gets. This also symbolizes the growing bond.

When knots are drawn, they can often be depicted more extensively, by adding extra curls and decorations, than when they are really knotted.

Some people also design their own knotwork on paper, so that they can come up with their own meaning and symbolism.

How would you design your own knot? What significance would it have for you?

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