Do you know your Trinity Knot from your Celtic Knot? Ireland is responsible for a number of well-known and deeply rooted symbols, often with origins tracing back to religion and spirituality. While you might recognize them as Celtic, you might not know the history and meaning behind them. Let’s look at some of the most common Celtic jewelry symbols and what their stories are.
The Meaning of 5 Common Celtic Jewelry Symbols
1. The Celtic Knot
This might be the most recognizable of them all. The Celtic Knot is a popular tattoo of choice, and you’ll find it adorning necklaces, rings, bracelets, and pendants. But what does it mean?
The Celtic Knot is a complete loop made from one thread that has no start or finish. In this sense, it represents eternity. What kind of eternity depends on the context in which it’s used. It could be friendship, romantic love, or something else entirely.
While historians have had a hard time tracing its origins, some believe that it could date as far back as 500 B.C. It’s been found in architecture, art, and even the book illumination of the Byzantine Empire.
Over the years, Celtic Knots have undergone various interpretations and iterations and have been used in a wide variety of contexts. It has even been developed into different patterns, like Celtic spirals (which reflects an individual’s personal spirit) and knotwork interlace (which represents the intertwining of life and where we stand in the universe). Even within interlacing designs, there are number patterns, including the Trinity Knot and the Lover’s Knot.
2. The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life has woven its way, in some capacity, in and out of many religions. In Celtic culture, it symbolizes wisdom, strength, and longevity. Some believed it was actually grown from your ancestors and would provide an entrance to the spirit world. The tree itself is like a path. The roots that go deep into the ground reach the lower world. The branches grow tall and wide, heading toward the heavens. The trunk is grounded in the present earth plane.
It also signifies the balance and harmony of nature. Old tales have claimed that the Tree of Life grows to be so big and wide-spreading that all on its own, it can create a whole forest.
Finally, the Tree of Life has long been considered a Celtic symbol for rebirth. Historically, Celts would perform various rituals based on the changes and transformations that the tree went through.
Out of all of the Celtic jewelry symbols, this one might be the most prized. Two hands hold a heart that wears a crown. It’s a symbol of friendship, love, and loyalty.
Unbeknownst to many, Claddagh is a place located in County Galway. The story says that Galway fisherman Richard Joyce was captured by pirates and sold into slavery in the 17th century. During this time, he made a gold ring for the woman he loved. Years later, he was released and returned to Claddagh. He reunited with his love, presented her with the ring, and they got married.
It’s a touching and romantic story, although if we’re being honest, the ring has become much more mainstream than its origins probably intended. These days, the Claddagh ring is a common gift between romantic partners — Irish or not. If you ever happen to be gifted one yourself, you now know the heartwarming history behind it, and you can thank Richard Joyce for the thoughtful piece of jewelry.
Ogham, also known as the Celtic Tree Alphabet, is a very old form of old Irish script. In fact, it’s the first known Irish writing in all of the culture’s history. Technically, “Ogham” refers to the individual characters. The script in general is called Beith-luis-nin. Historians believe that Ogham was used between the fourth and 10th centuries C.E.
The script is made up of a series of lines and notches all scored along a stemline. More often than not, it’s read from bottom to top. Initially, the script was made of 20 letters that were split into four groups of five. Later on, a fifth group of five letters was added.
While we don’t know for sure, some people believe that Ogham was created by Ogma, who was the son of An Dagda, a warrior, and the God of eloquence and literature. However, other theories of its origin have been proposed. One such theory is that it was created as a cryptic alphabet for political, military, or religious reasons. It made it so that people who only spoke Latin couldn’t understand it. Another theory was that it was invented in order to combine Latin and Irish. In fact, some of the Ogham inscriptions that have been uncovered are bilingual, conveying both Irish and Brythonic-Latin.
Whatever the case may be, Ogham survives today, albeit in a different form. You can commonly find it used in Celtic jewelry.
Historians have mostly uncovered Ogham carved into stones and sometimes wood. Over 350 of these stones have been found, mostly in Southern Ireland but also in Western Scotland. Carvings reveal that Ogham was mostly used to denote personal names and to define land ownership.
5. Celtic Cross
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Celtic cross.
The Celtic cross, supposedly introduced by Saint Patrick, has a circle in the middle to represent the sun and the circle of life. Stories say that Saint Patrick wanted to combine the cross of Christianity with the circle in order to intertwine the ideas of life-giving Christ with the life-giving sun, although there are other interpretations. Regardless, these days, the Celtic cross is the main symbol of Irish Christianity.
In actuality, there are two types of Celtic crosses. One is a memorial cross, usually used as headstones, particularly in the 1850s.
The second type is Celtic High Crosses. They have a longer vertical beam and are typically used in churches.
While it’s undoubtedly aesthetically pleasing, Celtic jewelry is about so much more than the way it looks. The next time you purchase a piece, remember the rich and fascinating history behind it.
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