Celtic Knots (knotwork, Celtic interlace)

The Celtic Knot is one of the best known motifs in Celtic jewelry and art. The delicate twists and turns are found in ancient stone art and tattoos, in illuminated manuscripts- in fact, just about anywhere the Celtic people have traveled. Similar designs exist in Norse culture, and as far as China. While there are many Celtic symbol guides available, especially those that list every variation of celtic knot, many of the purported meanings of the symbols are usually simply made up (most often to sell trinkets and jewelry).

There are no known authentic knotwork designs meaning love or loyalty or sisterhood or an of the other common meanings ascribed to the designs. While many of the ancient designs certainly had some spiritually significant meaning, these have largely been lost to the ages, and can only be guessed at. The continual looping of the designs suggests themes of eternity and interconnectedness, and knots may have been made at one time to foil evil spirits.

Interwoven figures of people and animals may have represented the interdependent nature of life-two or more knots laced together symbolize lovers, hunters and their prey, God and man, etc. Some knots were used as magical talismans for protection. The more modern designs, such as those found in decorated Christian scriptures, were mainly decorative designs used for ornamentation. Other relatively modern designs include linked hearts and other “love knots,” Christian crosses, harps, shamrocks, and other folk symbols, and so on.

A shield knot The Celts themselves left very little in the way of records, and most symbols are interpreted by archaeologists and other scholars who study the symbols in context. Some ancient Celtic symbols have changed in meaning over time, having been influenced by the introduction of Christianity and the influence of other cultures. A general rule of thumb is: the shape of the design often determines the “meaning” of a knotwork design- triskele and trefoil shapes should be regarded as triskeles, bird, fish, and animal designs represent the attributes of the animal, etc. Circles represent unity or eternity, spirals reincarnation or cycles of life and rebirth, triangles and trefoils the threefold dominions of earth, sea, and sky. Squares or four-fold shapes are shield knots, symbols of protection from spirits or malevolent influence. Interlaced animals and men usually represent relationships, or emphasize the interdependence of mankind and nature.

To see a Gallery of Celtic Knots, Click here.

Important note on Celtic symbols: There are no authentic Celtic symbols for brothers, sisters, family, motherhood, etc. The ancient Celts simply didn’t think in these terms. If you are looking for something along these lines for a tattoo or similar, you are best off adapting a pre-existing symbol than looking for something “genuine” which doesn’t exist, or worse, accepting a bill of goods from a less than ethical artist, of which there are plenty.

Celtic Knot
A Sheela. To see a gallery of Sheelas: Sheela-na-gig
space
Related Symbols:
Green manOrmgudinnaVenus of Willendorf

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Religious Symbol Dictionary | symboldictionary.net
October 7, 2009 at 1:53 pm

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsey December 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm

So are the sailor and love knots legit? I do not see any depictions of those, but I see you mentioned the love knot in a comment. If they are legit could you please post or send me legit pics? Thank you!!

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Jessica October 1, 2014 at 11:49 am

Understanding that there is not a specific symbol for “husband” or “sisterhood”, I decided to use Irish Gaelic words and phrases for tattoos. I want to use a small symbol to accompany each. What symbols would most accurately convey eternity and protection?
Thanks for your help! I have a beautiful Irish lineage from the west coast of Ireland and I want to celebrate that, but I don’t want to buy into the contrived “creative” interpretations that abound. :)

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Jennifer October 2, 2014 at 10:31 pm

I would think a triquetra would be most appropriate. :)

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Wom Bimbly January 27, 2014 at 12:01 am

I had an overwhelming experience with psilocybin mushrooms.
The visuals seemed to be so Celtic. Like colorful Celtic knots and fractals, giant stones with Celtic interwoven patterns that were glowing.
I couldn’t find much evidence of the Celts using psilocybin but I found some that suggested they used Amanita Muscaria. So it could be assumed they used psilocybin mushrooms also.
So then consider that the Celts didn’t design or create these knots to have a specific meaning rather they were inspired by the visions that the mushrooms induced..

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Jennifer January 27, 2014 at 7:48 pm

It’s entirely possible that designs were influenced by such experiences, and the use of mushrooms was common enough in cattle-based cultures. However, I think that stone cutters preferred the designs because they are not only attractive, but require some mathematical ability to create. The earliest Celtic art consisted of a lot of spirals, images of horses and spirit wagons, sun wheels, etc. The knots appeared much later, during medieval and pre-medieval times, and the better examples are associated with Christian art.

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jodie craig August 6, 2013 at 10:57 pm

hi i got given a pendant and i was wondering what it meant can you help me pleas its a circle and it has three “c” shaped circles all linking together can you help

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Anonymous October 2, 2014 at 11:41 pm

I’m pretty sure it represents the transition between life and death

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Kaitlyn April 15, 2013 at 5:55 pm

hi my boyfriend gave me a necklace and it was a celtic zone and i am trying to find out what it means
can you help?

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Jennifer May 2, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Can you describe it, or provide an image?

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Dawn May 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm

What I’m understanding is that there are certain “shapes” that have different religious meanings so to speak, for example a four-fold is a sheild knot which is a protector from evil spirits or of the sort, so any design that is 4 cornered no mater how it looks otherwise would be classified as such?

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Paul January 24, 2012 at 5:32 am

Hi
Is there an actual Celtic symbol for “Wisdom”? It seems quite varied across different websites. Also, is there a Celtic symbol for “Warrior”, prefrebly “Young Warrior”?

I understand the symbols have limited or vague meanings which can represent a number of things but can you offer any advice or point me in the right direction.

Thanks

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Jennifer March 21, 2012 at 7:14 am

Really there isn’t. Celt’s use of symbols was for entirely different purposes than modern expectation. The interesting thing is, we get literally hundreds of requests for a “Celtic symbol of _____”, a phenomenon we do not get for any other culture. The best that can be offered are generic interpretations that vary wildly from the original meaning/intent. Jewelry hawkers have been some of the worst offenders in perpetuating this idea, especially those who sell novelty pendants of generic designs mapped to very specific and not very Celtic “meanings.”

As much as I try to explain that there is no Celtic symbol of wisdom/motherhood/loyalty/etc., people still seem to yearn for these. I may do some mapping in the future, but I think people may be disappointed in the results.

I would suggest looking at the emblems of various god that might have characteristics similar to your meaning (such as a boar, which is possibly as close as one can get to an authentic warrior emblem) You may also wish to investigate your family tree for clan symbols (if you happen to be Irish or Scottish) A raven is a symbol of several deities and closely associated with the battlefield in particular.

If these suggestions aren’t helpful, let me know and I will see what else I can come up with.

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joe January 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm

hi, i was wondering if anyone knew if there is a celtic symbol that represents a bond between father and daughter…. i recently became a father to a baby girl and i wanted to get a tattoo with some meaning. thanks

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Jennifer January 6, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Hi Joe. I get asked this sort of thing a lot, but there really isn’t such a thing. people may say so to sell something, but the truth is the Celts used symbols almost exclusively in a religious context. people do often choose love- knots to symbolize family relationships; however, there is nothing historical that would suit such a meaning. :)

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simone lininger September 29, 2009 at 6:17 pm

this isnt enough information isnt there any more?

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