Patty's Pottery =^.^=

What are the meanings of Celtic designs?

When trying to determine what, if anything, a particular Celtic symbol means, it is important to remember that Celtic art is part of a living, changing tradition. The Celtic people have throughout history been influenced by and integrated with other cultures. The early Celtic Christians especially had a genius for transforming local customs with Christian interpretations. This amalgamation of designs leads some scholars to argue that what we think of at 'Celtic art' today is purely a modern invention.

Because I use mostly Celtic interlaced knotwork and spiral patterns in my pottery decorations, this essay addresses those particular symbols and does not explore the possible meanings of other Celtic motifs, such as maze patterns, zoomorphics, and the Celtic tree of life. I have listed several useful resources at the end if you would like to further explore the meanings of Celtic designs.

Most of what we think of as specific knotwork patterns would have been details of a larger pattern. When these knots or spirals are displayed alone they seem to grow in significance. They 'look' like they should mean something. When the same pattern or symbol is used as a detail of a larger work this significance is greatly diminished.

We have no hard evidence to indicate that a particular design or symbol held a specific meaning to the ancient Celts. It may have held meaning, or it may have been purely decorative. We have no way of knowing, but that hasn't stopped artists from attributing meanings to them. These meanings are almost certainly romanticized interpretations and should not be taken as the "true" meanings held by the ancient Celts.

When considering the meaning of Celtic interlaced patterns (or Celtic knotwork), the standard answer in recent times is that they are endless paths and represent eternity. This leads into nice ideas about the "circle of life" and "never ending ... love, faith, loyalty, etc." Many knots, however, are not a single continuous path, but are made up of several closed paths that are linked or woven together. This can be seen as representing the interconnectedness of life. The knot can also be a symbol of binding together.

Some scholars have used "sacred geometry" and numerology to assign meanings to specific configurations of knots. Using this interpretation, knots with circular motifs refer to relationships and community, a 'circle of friends,' and the cycles of life; such as day/nigh cycles or the cycle of seasons. The circle can also be seen as a representation of endlessness. Square knot motifs are linked to structure and stability, and the egg shape of oval motifs is linked with creativity and birth.

The most common single knot motifs are the triquetra and the Lover's Knot.

The triquetra is a triangular knot with three points or petals and any amount of interweaving in the center. It is traditionally considered a symbol of the Holy Trinity, and as such is known as the Trinity Knot. Alternatively, it is considered a symbol of the triple forms of the ancient Celtic gods and goddesses.

The Lover's Knot is made of two loops intertwined in an infinity pattern. This is said to be a symbol of two lives being bound together as one. I have incorporated this knot with an interlaced heart pattern to create a unique and subtle romantic knotwork motif.

Spiral motifs are often seen to represent a person's balance between the inner consciousness and the other self. They can also represent the cosmos or heavens and water or waves. The spiral can also be seen as a circle that grows with each turn. In this view it represents constant change over the steady, eternal circle.

The triskele (also called the triskelion) is a three armed spiral where all three curls radiate from a common center point. Like the Trinity knot, this symbol is associated with the Holy Trinity or the triple goddess.

In the end, Celtic art is appreciated first for its beauty rather than some deep meaning. For many, it is also a connection to their heritage.

Interlacing knotwork and spiral patterns are seen throughout many parts of the world and are common among many different cultures. This is one of the reasons why I am attracted to using these designs in my work. It is also the strongest argument I have for suggesting that they are a symbol for the interconnectedness of life; connecting us to our past and to other cultures. So when contemplating a purchase of Celtic art, pick something that appeals to you. It will have personal meaning and will be a reflection of your heritage and beliefs.


Internet Articles

I would like to thank the following websites for their helpful insights. They have been valuable resources in developing my own answer to the question of meanings in Celtic designs.

Books on Celtic Art

There are many books on the subject of Celtic Art. These are just a few with which I am familiar. If you search at your local library or favorite bookseller for Celtic Art, I am search you can find many more.

Patty's Pottery
by Patty Rau
Minneapolis, MN