Celtic symbols, like the trinity knot, the Celtic shield knot, and the Celtic sailor’s knot, have been popular for centuries, but interest in ancient Celtic culture has seen a massive revival in the last couple of decades.
This surge of interest in Celtic knot meanings has led to an increase in Celtic-inspired jewelry, accessories, and even more permanent tattoo art being used to introduce a little of the Celtic old ways into the home.
Long associated with ancient Celtic sailors, the sailor’s knot may not be as popular or recognizable as other Celtic knots, but it is a beautiful symbol whose meaning and symbolism have survived the ages.
So, if you are ready to learn more about this special and ancient Celtic symbol and its Celtic knot meaning, keep reading.
What Is The Celtic Sailor’s Knot?
Invented by ancient Celtic sailors, the sailor’s knot is a Celtic knot design that features the traditional endless weaved lines we have come to know and love from the ancient Celts and their knotwork.
However, this Celtic symbol is a little bit different. Instead of the even sides and mirroring symmetry featured in many Celtic knot patterns, the sailor’s knot bucks the trend.
Traditionally more of a rectangular shape, the Celtic sailor’s knot is visually different from other Celtic knotwork symbols.
Yet, one thing remains the same. The beautiful woven lines have no beginning and no end. This very kind of design makes Celtic knot patterns as unique as they are.
However, a quick google will spring up a few other sailor’s knot deviations. Like the four-pointed Celtic knot design that is centered by a circular knot symbol, the most traditional and ancient version of the sailor’s knot is the rectangular setting that almost imitates the sea’s rolling waves.
What Does The Celtic Sailor’s Knot Symbolise?
During the age of the ancient Celts, Celtic knots were used as symbols of many things and totems for protection and luck. The beautiful Sailors knot was no different. Accompanying many Celtic sailors on the high seas, this Celtic knot has deep and meaningful symbolism.
So, what did the Celtic sailor’s knot mean to the Ancient Celts?
Memento Of Loved Ones
Firstly, Sailors’ knots were initially meant to be reminders of the loved ones that Celtic sailors left on shore. The Celtic knotwork symbolized the connection and bond these sailors shared with those who would patiently wait on land for them to return safely.
Just like we have photos and videos now that serve as reminders for those we can’t physically be near, this Celtic symbol kept the thought and love of those close to the sailors’ minds and hearts as they spent months traveling the oceans.
Eternal Love And Friendship
Although the Celtic sailor’s knot is not traditionally seen as a Celtic love knot, if you are looking for a more commonly accepted love knot, the trinity knot is a popular choice for this. However, I believe the Celtic sailor’s knot has incredible love symbolism.
Not only did the sailor’s knot stand as a reminder of the loved ones they would leave behind on land and the everlasting love they shared, but it also served as a reminder of the ocean they loved when the sailors were once again home with their loved ones.
Like many other Celtic knot symbols, the sailor’s knot features a single continuous line that could represent this everlasting love or perhaps even eternal life, a common theme of many ancient Celts’ beliefs.
The Calm Summer Ocean
The design of the Sailor’s knot is unique. Most Celtic knots have evenly lengthened sides, but this Celtic symbol has a more rectangular shape. If you take the time to look at this Celtic knot, you may notice that it resembles a calm ocean.
What a beautiful way of memorializing the very thing that these men would risk their lives on to feed their families and travel to other countries for trade.
Seafaring during the age of the Ancient Celts was far more dangerous than it is now. Many Celtic knot traditions included the carrying of totems for protection and to ward off evil spirits, disease, and even death. Such as the Celtic shield knot, the Celtic cross, and even the Dara knot.
It is thought that the sailors’ knot was believed to help protect the seafaring men of the ancient Celtic world while they traversed the ocean, catching fish, trading, and even pillaging other communities, and would bring them back safe and in one piece.
Luck And Good Fortune
Like many other Celtic knots, it is believed that the Celtic sailor’s knot provides the wearer with an abundance of good fortune. Just as it was worn for the protection of its wearer, it could have also been worn as a powerful amulet for luck, fortune, and prosperity.
Celtic Sailor’s Knot And Religion
It is widely believed that the early Celts followed Pagan and druidic beliefs. Many of the Celtic knots we have come to know, and love can be dated back as far as the Celts’ early Irish history but some did not come about until they began to blend their beliefs with the new at the time, Christian religions.
We are not entirely sure when the sailor’s knot really began, but they can be found in the Book of Kells. This highly decorated manuscript was created around 384 AD and contained the four gospels of the bible written in traditional Latin.
This manuscript is famous for its ornate decoration of what is now considered insular art. It was a combination of traditional Christian art and idols and the Celtic knotwork of the ancient Celts.
Many popular Celtic knots litter these ancient pages, including the simple yet strong design of the Celtic sailor’s knot.
Although the sailor’s knot doesn’t have any religious symbolism, unlike the Celtic cross which Celtic Christians created, it was still used as a poignant decoration in much of the insular art that can be found from that period.
Short History Of The Celtic Sailor’s Knot
Just like many Celtic knots that came from early Celtic civilization, much of their origins have been lost to ancient history. It can be incredibly difficult to pinpoint exactly who created them and where they began. The same can be said for this Celtic knot.
How Did It Get Its Name?
Do we know for sure that ancient Celtic sailors crafted the sailor’s knot? Well, no. Nothing is known for definite, but when we look closely at the looping lines of this design, it is thought that only a sailor could have crafted what is considered one of the strongest knots in Celtic history.
It is thought that sailors would have weaved this particular knot from two entwined ropes to pass the time on the ship. It is very particular design makes this knot pretty unbreakable, a skill that most sailors would have to possess.
The Beginning Of The Sailor’s Knot
When we think of Celtic art, like the sailor’s knot, we generally consider the interwoven styles of the knots and symbols that became popular around the fourth century. However, before that Celtic artwork was a lot simpler. Consisting of lines, dashes, and even Celtic spirals.
This hints at the idea that the sailor’s knot was more of a modern creation, at least to the Celts, being born sometime around the 4th century.
But, as I said before, we can’t pinpoint exactly when the sailor’s knot first came into use, and much of our knowledge of Celtic symbols and knotwork is just theory.
How Was the Celtic Sailor’s Knot Used?
Although our knowledge of the sailor’s knot’s humble beginning is fairly limited if we are right that it was crafted by the sailors of the ancient Celtic world, there are a few ways this Celtic knot could have been used.
It could have been used as a totem that could have been worn as a necklace or even a bracelet to protect the sailors on their trips and also remind them of their loved ones and their eternal love.
It may have been a type of handicraft that could have passed away during the quiet times of seafaring life. When the ocean was still, and the skies were blue, there was nothing to do but wait for the land to crest over the horizon.
Another theory is that the sailors’ knot could have been crafted and given as a gift to family and friends that were left behind.
So, not only did the sailors have a constant reminder of their families but they had something to hold on to that reminded them of the sailors while they were away. A beautiful yet simple gift that the Celts exchanged in ancient times.
How Is The Celtic Sailor’s Knot Used Today?
Celtic knots may have fallen from fashion and our minds for a while, but over the last few decades, the passion for Celtic history has seen a resurgence in our modern age. Especially amongst those who can trace their ancestry line back to one of the few Celtic cultures that still exist today.
Because of this growing love for ancient Celtic history, there are many ways we have weaved these interlaced designs into our hearts, fashions, and homes.
One of the most popular ways that the Sailors knot is used today is engraved onto jewelry. Celtic-inspired wedding rings will often feature this Celtic symbol engraved around the entire band to symbolize the eternal love of the married couple and their deep love for one another. The overall shape of this Celtic knot works perfectly on the band of a ring.
However, it can be used and often is on many types of jewelry and accessories.
Some people love to use Celtic aesthetics for their homes. Whether that be Celtic knots woven into rugs, curtains, or wall hangings or perhaps painted onto dishware or other home accessories.
Other ways of using Celtic knots that have become popular are permanent tattoos and body art. The sailor’s knot makes the perfect arm banding tattoo. Do you remember the kind of tattoos that were popular in the 90s? Well, they are making a coming back.
As Celtic artwork and design become more and more popular, there are many more questions that people want to be answered. Some of these questions are easy to answer, and others are not so.
Below are some common sailor’s knot questions I have encountered.
Does The Sailor’s Knot Symbolise Loyalty?
Many Celtic knots have a wide variety of symbolism. The Sailors knot can represent eternity, family, friendship, eternal love, and perhaps even eternal life. So yes, I think that this simple yet beautiful Celtic symbol also means loyalty and can definitely be used as such.
Did The Celts Spend Much Time On The Sea?
Although the Celtic age was a very long time ago, they had ships and boats and actually spent a fair bit of time on the ocean. If it were not for their seafaring abilities, they would not have made it to Ireland and Scotland, where much of their culture is still alive and well.
How Old Is The Sailor’s Knot?
It is known for sure how old this Celtic knot actually is. Much like other Celtic designs, it is incredibly hard to pinpoint exactly when they first arose in Celtic culture. However, this particular design is thought to be one of the oldest and simplest designs of all the Celtic knots. Perhaps even a few thousand years old.
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.