Celtic knot work is perhaps the most widely recognisable art from early times. Despite extensive study, the Celts remain one of the most elusive and unknowable of ancient cultures. This stems largely from the fact that the Celts appear to have relied extensively on an oral tradition for the passing on of knowledge and skills. Though it is without doubt that they were an educated people, written records of their beliefs and traditions are few.
The artistry of the Celtic knot is regularly seen by around 450 AD and, following the Christian influence on Celtic culture, this art form began to be incorporated into early Christian manuscripts, perhaps the most famous and lavish of which is the Irish Book of Kells ~ an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels of the New Testament recorded in Latin in circa. 800 AD.
There are a great variety of knots, swirls, plaits and other motifs which make up traditional knot work. Can any meaning be attributed to the various knot designs? Well, although probably more folklore than absolute truth, the knot is often referred to as the ‘mystic’ or ‘endless’ knot and is associated with endings and beginnings ~ as the knot has no true beginning or end, it represents the infinite cycle of birth and rebirth of the spirit and emphasises the timeless nature of the soul’s journey. It can also be seen to represent the uninterrupted life cycle of nature and the turning of the wheel of the year through the seasons.
In this way, the Celtic knot has become a symbol or talisman and is often incorporated into items of jewellery, clothing and other ornamentation and given or acquired as a charm against misfortune and ill health. Today, it is often given as a gift with good wishes for health, longevity and good luck with all new projects or endeavours.