Although the time of the ancient Celts has long passed, their culture still lives on today. You can find it in how the Celtic nations – Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and a little area of France (Brittany) still celebrate and live their ancient Celtic culture – but you can also find it throughout modern popular culture.
Celtic Knots have become one of the most popular ways people celebrate and connect with their Celtic ancestry, from tattoos, jewelry, and pottery, to clothing, accessories, and homewares.
These Celtic knot designs are found everywhere.
So, what actually is a Celtic knot? A Celtic knot is a woven design with interlaced patterns based on traditional three and four-chord plaits. They have no beginning and no end, which is why many Celtic knot meanings are connected to eternity and eternal life.
Are you ready to learn more about the eight traditional variations of the Celtic knot?
Then read on to learn about some of the most popular ancient Celtic symbols throughout history and their meanings.
Introduction To Celtic Knots
There are actually hundreds of Irish Celtic symbols found all over the world – the ancient Celts really got around.
However, there are eight basic variations of the Celtic knot from which most of these Celtic symbols came.
The most fascinating thing about ancient Celtic Knots is how old they are and how important they could have been to our Celtic ancestors.
#1 Celtic Sailor’s Knot
It may surprise you that the Ancient Celts were incredible seafarers.
Sure, how else would their culture have permeated so many parts of history if it were not for their incredible ability to navigate the ocean?
There are many theories as to how the Sailor’s Celtic Knot came to be. Perhaps it was just a way for bored sailors to pass the quieter times during their travels. It could have been a token gifted from loved ones to remind these sailors of the love and family that waited for their safe return.
All of these may be true but the Celts used a lot of their Celtic knots as sigils of protection and, likely, the Celtic Sailor’s Knot was a symbol of protection and fortitude. Meant to protect these Celtic sailors as they ventured out onto the unforgiving ocean.
#2 Celtic Shield Knot
The Celtic shield knot was a symbol of protection, strength, and endurance that would have been carved into the weaponry of ancient Celtic warriors.
The Celts were a fearsome bunch, battling their way through Europe, and they used Celtic Knots like this one to ensure their success over their enemies.
There are many variations of this Celtic knot design, most of which are modern-age interpretations, but the original design would have been round in shape with four distinct corners that represented the four elements.
Want to learn more about the Celtic shield knot? Hop over to this more in-depth article.
#3 Trinity Knot
The Trinity Celtic knot, commonly called the Triquetra, which is the Latin word for a triangle, is one of the more easily recognized Celtic knots.
Featuring three leaf-like shapes, the Celtic trinity knot has many meanings depending on who you talk to.
Early Christian Celts would have used this three-sided knot to symbolize the holy trinity – father, son, and the Holy Ghost.
However, Celtic pagans may have used this ancient symbol to represent the inevitable stages of life – life, death, and re-birth or the three earthly domains – the earth, the sea, and the sky.
#4 Celtic Spiral Knot
The oldest example of the Celtic triskelion, or the Celtic Spiral knot, can be found at the entrance of the famous Newgrange in County Meath.
However, its age gives away that this often thought of Celtic symbol is not originally Celtic at all.
This particular ancient Celtic symbol would have been carved at least 2500 years before the Celts even arrived in Ireland.
But, it has since been adopted as an important Celtic symbol.
Celtic pagans had a real thing for groups of threes. Anything important managed to find itself in a group of three. The three stages of life, the three domains of earth, and even the three passages of time – past, present, and future.
This Celtic belief of the divine three can be seen represented in this Celtic spiral knot which is one of the oldest and simplest designs that still survives today.
#5 Dara Knot
The name for the Dara Celtic knot comes from the Irish word Doire which means Oak. This Celtic knot symbolized strength, wisdom, and power and was connected to the Oak tree, a very important tree in Irish Pagan beliefs.
It is thought that the woven design of the Dara Knot was meant to imitate and symbolize the complex root system of the oak tree.
The Celtic pagans thought that this Celtic knot would help them harness the power of the oak tree and with it would come wisdom and even protection. It is also considered a shield knot.
#6 Solomon’s Knot
Found among many different ancient cultures throughout history, Solomon’s knot is a Celtic knot design that may have symbolized immortality and has even been used as a symbol of love.
Most commonly found on roman floor mosaics, this knot design was much loved through the Byzantine period and featured two interlaced oval shapes.
As we know, the Romans were inspired by the artistic endeavors of the Ancient Celts, and this Celtic symbol can often be found alongside other Celtic knots throughout their artistic expressions.
Just like other Celtic knot designs, Solomon’s knot features an eternal design with no beginning or end.
#7 Celtic Cross
The famous Celtic cross, although very familiar, is more of a Christian symbol with Celtic inspiration than it is a true Celtic symbol.
Commonly thought to represent the father, son, and holy spirit, some people believe that hidden Pagans also used this symbol to celebrate the maiden, mother, and crone.
Although there is not much solid proof, in the name of transparency, we will just assume that Celtic crosses were an early Christian creation.
A symbol of Celtic culture and faith, the Celtic cross has many different variations, but all versions include a four-pronged cross with a woven circle adorning the center.
#8 Celtic Love Knot
The Celtic Love knot has become a popular Celtic symbol to engrave on engagement and wedding rings. This stunning Celtic knot doesn’t just symbolize love. It is so much more than that.
The Celtic love knot represents the strong bond that two people share and, just like its unbroken design, their unbreakable connection. It symbolizes how love is eternal and that it passes beyond this life and into the next.
Pretty deep stuff, right? But that’s why this Celtic love knot has truly stood the test of time and is still used today. So, if you are looking for a symbol to represent eternity, this is the one.
Celtic Knots have fascinated people for hundreds of years, and there are lots of questions floating out there that many are desperate to find the answers to.
Here are some common questions I have come across, and hopefully, I will have answered them enough for you.
Is The Celtic Knot A Pagan Symbol?
We love a simple question with a complicated answer.
Easy answer, a few Celtic knots are Pagan, whereas others predate paganistic beliefs, and some weren’t created until the popularity of Paganism had died out.
Many Celtic Knots actually predate Celtic culture, like the trinity Celtic knot and Solomon’s knot. Symbols like these, although associated with the Celts who likely adopted these symbols as they traveled around Europe, are not originally Celtic and are unlikely to have Pagan beginnings.
However, like many symbols throughout history, they were adopted by the Pagans and given connections to their spiritual beliefs.
Other symbols, such as the Celtic cross or the Irish cross, were actually Christian creations and would not have been a Pagan Celtic knot at all.
This is why it is so important to do your research on Celtic symbols and their origins before doing anything permanent with them – like tattooing them on your body.
How Old Are Celtic Knots?
Much of the information we have on these Celtic patterns only dates back as far as 450AD, when Christianity began to influence Celtic culture heavily (although, I will admit that is still pretty old). Some historians believe that these never-ending designs date back as far as 500 BC.
However, these claims are pretty unsubstantiated, and we can’t know for certain where Celtic Knots truly began and when.
What we do know is that Celtic-inspired artwork became very popular from around the 3rd century to its final hurrah in the 11th century.
Examples of Celtic art, like their popular knotwork, can be found throughout history.
From the Romans, where roman floor mosaics featured open-ended Celtic knotwork and broke the tradition of the never-ending looping design, to the insular art that burst forth as Christianity bled into Celtic culture.
Celtic Knots And Christianity
Although Celtic culture is often associated with Ireland and the highlands of Scotland, the Celts are not thought to have actually made it to these countries until around 500 BC. Before that, they traveled around much of mainland Europe.
However, they hung tightly to their pagan beliefs for hundreds of years. Until early Christians made their way to Ireland in the 3rd Century.
Now, Christianity wasn’t accepted straight away, and it was not until the 6th century that the monastic system was developed in Ireland, and Christianity had well and truly begun to influence and change the ancient Celts.
This was also when St Patrick – yes, that St. Patrick – came to Ireland and completed the first successful Christian mission to convert the Pagans to holy Christianity.
After that, Celtic culture mixed with Christian beliefs, and a new early Irish Christian belief system was created.
With it came the adoption of Celtic knot patterns, called insular art, into Christian books, manuscripts, and architecture.
The Book Of Kells
The Book of Kells is one of the most celebrated works of insular art in Celtic Christian history.
Thought to have been crafted through the late 6th century and into the 7th, when Christian influence was at its greatest, the Book of Kells is a highly decorated medieval manuscript that contains the first four Gospels of the New Testament.
Produced by a group of Monks from St. Columba’s order in Iona, Scotland, this stunning example of insular art features pages upon pages of incredibly details artwork, interwoven and bordered by traditional Celtic Knots.
Originally bound in a cover of gold and jewels, although these adornments were lost once this manuscript was stolen from St. Columba’s abbey in 1007 CE by raiding Vikings, the Book of Kells can still be seen in all of its glory at the famous Trinity College in Dublin.
Is The Celtic Knot Irish, Scottish, Or Both?
Most Celtic Knots have a connection to both Ireland and Scotland. The ancient Celts were big on travelling – wanderlust was a thing before that word was even created and the Celts had a serious case of it.
Most Celtic Knots are only really associated with Ireland, one of the more famous Celtic nations.
However, Celtic culture was particularly strong in a few places, such as Wales and the French region of Brittany, and traditional Celtic artwork was rampant in these other Celtic communities.
You can even find examples of Celtic knots all around these countries in old stonework and architecture.
So, yes, the Celtic knot is both Irish and Scottish, but it’s also Welsh and even A little bit French.
Can Christians Wear A Celtic Knot?
Celtic Knots aren’t just for one type of people. Anyone who loves the aesthetic of the Celtic knot can wear one. As you can see, the early Christians of Ireland very quickly adopted this beautiful art and made it their own.
Although they are commonly known as Celtic Knots, many of these designs predated the Celts and can be found in all corners of the world.
There is no monopoly over Celtic symbols and if you want to wear one, go right ahead.
Although most people who wear these symbols have some connection to Celtic ancestry this should not stop you from wearing one of the many beautiful Celtic knots out there.
I am a British-born copywriter who moved to Ireland over a decade ago and have been captivated by Irish culture, landscape and folklore. I enjoy sharing my passion for Ireland through my writing as a freelancer.