The Meanings of Celtic Jewelry Symbols
I am aware that the title of this article is bold. My intention is not to claim knowledge that has eluded scholars and academics for thousands of years, but to offer a discourse that may help us come to some understanding about how the meaning of Celtic Jewelry symbols might be defined.
Today people are looking for meaning in all areas of their lives. The most often asked question about Celtic symbolism is, “What does it mean?”
Those interested in the meaning of Celtic designs must first take into account the time period that the jewelry is from, because meanings have probably changed over time. It has been over 4000 years since some of the first gold and silver Celtic jewelry pieces were made, so it’s very likely that the meanings today are different than they were originally, since our day to day lives are much different. Due to a different perspective of the world around them, it is likely that modern interpretation of symbols, such as Celtic interlace, differ from ancient ones, except in the most essential ways.
Because Celtic art is a living tradition, we have the unique opportunity of staying connected with our past as we appreciate the designs in the present. If you try to define a piece of Celtic art as having just one meaning, you may miss much of its history and significance. Because it is a living art, and it’s symbols are constantly re-interpreted by those who create and wear them, Celtic jewelry designs are varied and rely on the artist’s and owner’s personal beliefs. If an artist interprets his heart-shaped pendant with a knot-work design as a symbol for endless love, then who’s to say that is not what it stands for in his mind.
Historians haven’t come to a consensus, and, there is no solid evidence of the original meanings of Celtic symbols, so modern pieces can be interpreted in terms that are meaningful in today’s world.
Ancient use of Celtic spirals and other symbols used in Celtic adornment are well documented, but very little evidence predates 450 C.E..
Monks that transcribed sacred texts in the 7th century have acknowledged knotwork, also known as Celtic interlace, in their graphic manuscripts. The three most renowned examples of high Celtic art are contained within the Book of Durrow, Lindisfarne Gospels, and of course the Book of Kells. These three books are intricately designed (called illumination). Although the manuscripts fail to inform us directly, it creates a context which allows each reader to discover his or her own meaning for themselves.
Scholars have had a hard time finding the definitive meaning of many Celtic symbols because there exist very few hard facts about their origin that have been discovered.
We are attracted to Celtic art for both personal and emotional reasons. The designs’ individuality and personal impact are the reasons they become important to us.
Their mystery is heightened by the potential mystery, and significance, contained within Celtic symbols’ often intricate patterns. Perhaps someday a new manuscript will be found with an interpretation that will bring understanding in new ways.
Until that day, I suggest that we accept that the meanings of the symbolism in Celtic designs can be as personalized, and individual, as the designs themselves, and of those who wear them. The genre’s popularity allows for potential growth and expanded meaning for future generations, and the debate over meanings will no doubt continue for generations.
Thanks for reading.
Since this article was written back when we started this site, things have continued to change and evolve with the meanings of symbols and Celtic jewelry. We have traveled around the USA selling our jewelry line at Celtic Faires and Highland Scottish Games, and we’ve talked with other designers about what their thoughts are on Celtic jewelry symbols. While we all agree on some of the symbols, many are still open to interpretation and haven’t been solidifies in the hearts and minds of Celtic jewelry fans and customers.
We started a Celtic Jewelry Blog here a couple of years ago to enable us to continue this discussion in a more interactive format. If you have any insights about the meanings of Celtic symbolism, please check out our blog and leave some comments. With Celtic jewlery, it is the sharing of our own personal thoughts, feelings and beliefs that will, over time, shape the meanings of Celtic jewelry designs and symbols into the future.
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