Understanding Celtic Wedding Rings
By Marc Choyt
Thousands of years ago, the Celts, a group of independent tribes spread throughout much of current day Europe, were sophisticated artisans, carving knot work patterns that have inspired modern day jewelers to create wedding rings. These motifs have meaning. Yet understanding the knot patterns and why they make such ideal wedding rings can be illusive. The ancient motifs are rooted in mysterious cultures that stretch back well before written history.
Though the earliest written accounts of the Celts were from Roman descriptions, some knot work motifs found in Eastern Europe may be as old as 20,000 years. We know the Celts, similar to Native people of North America, viewed that the earth itself as well as all aspects of life and death as divine. They had a large and varied pantheon, worshipping local gods. The natural world was considered sacred, and every river, mountain and tree had its own spirit of place. Rituals were rooted in a particular oak grove or waterfall. Early Celtic leaders even mocked human-like images of Olympian gods or the wild animals of their vale and forests.
Knot work, which has become synonymous with today's idea of "Celtic was undoubtedly a form of sacred, artistic expression. Some of the most famous designs were preserved in highly embellished, illuminated manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells which somehow survived the Viking invasions. It was created in the 9th century at a monastery off the Scottish coast, and depicts wonderfully imaginative images of humans and animals embellished with knot work motifs, linking medieval Christianity with ancient Druidic culture.
In Western culture, there is a long and venerable tradition of artists that have been inspired by knot work motifs. Celtic design was particularly popular in the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael studied and depicted knots in their work. In modern times, some of Picasso's early art is highly influenced by knot work. And there has always been a group of metal and visual artists that have kept the Celtic fires burning by using the knot work patterns in jewelry and other forms of artistic expression.
For some people, the choice to have a Celtic wedding ring is an expression of their wish to connect deeply into their own ancestry. They feel empathy with a European based tribal tradition that treats the earth as Mother. It's also easy to fall in love with soulful Celtic music and poetry. Others simply want the one piece of jewelry that they wear every day to have a beautiful design with significance.
Whether one has Celtic heritage or not, a Celtic motif wedding ring is appropriate because it has universal, symbolic meaning. In the most general sense, the knots express two different paths woven together. Life itself can be viewed as a great web of interconnectedness which is expressed in the knot work. Even our own spiritual path, metaphorically, can be viewed as a tapestry of interconnected experiences. The Celtic wedding ring is a talisman which reminds us, in physical form, of our mystic connection with another person and the great web of life.
This weave of particular experiences makes us unique, which is why we are attracted to some knot work patterns on wedding rings more than others. What appeals to you and your fianc may well bring insight to the nature of your relationship. Some couples are attracted to knot work motifs that are simple and flowing, which perhaps illustrates a partnership based on harmony and ease. Other knot work designs on wedding rings are more dynamic and complicated, suggesting creative elements, or passionate peaks and valleys.
Many Celtic merchants will label a particular design as "Friendship or "Unity but often there's not any real basis for these labels. These facile tags short change the person interested in the ring by giving a concept instead of assisting them to understand the deeper meaning behind the design. It's also easy enough to say that the ring is about how all things are interconnected, but this is so general that it doesn't help explain why we may be attracted to the sacred geometry of one ring over another.
To do this, you can contemplate the various components that make up the knot work and try to determine how they are functioning. For example, consider the circle. We speak of a circle of friends and live in circular cycles, such as the day and the season. Native cultures throughout the world hold ceremonies in protective circles. A knot work pattern with circles or variations of circles certainly has some important keys to relationships and community. In the broadest sense, the ring itself is a circle, and putting it on has also always been symbolic of sealing a commitment.
A square knot motif concerns structure, which is why buildings use the shape of a square foundation. Squares certainly have an element of stability. Numbers were a significant part Celtic lore, and the number five represented the four directions and the center point.
Many Celtic rings also deal with vectors that travel in a certain direction. If you look at the shape of an arrow, it's easy to understand why a triangle might connote movement.
Another common Celtic motif is the knot work depicting a trinity. Many Celtic deities had three forms. The Mother Goddess was understood to the maiden, mother and crone. The universe was viewed as heaven, earth and otherworld. We are born, we live and we die. Certainly the trinity knot also illustrates the One being dividing off into the masculine and feminine, or the mother and son--a mystical truth contemplated in many sacred traditions.
While the above guide for understanding knot work is not necessarily based on any scholarly or anthropological text on the meaning of knots, it does provide a starting point that is based on a universal perspective. Every Celtic ring is going to have some variation of these shapes. Spending some time contemplating the motif may yield some insight.
Though modern jewelry techniques allow a greater range of possibilities than the Celts had during the time of the Romans, finding an exceptional Celtic wedding ring at a local jewelry store may not be possible. The best place to search is on the internet, which has the widest selection. Today you can find rings made with platinum, or white and yellow gold accented with diamonds. Some of the most beautiful rings are bi-metal, where the knots are one color, such as white gold, while the rim of the ring might be yellow gold. There is a wide range of class and price.
Your wedding ring is a once in a life time purchase that you will live with every day. It must be aesthetically beautiful. The knot work on the rings should be well executed. It should have some meaning that makes sense for you which should be explained on the website.
The best jewelry designers offer engagement ring sets, along with the option of having a wider band for the gent and a narrower of the same knot work motif for the lady. You'll want it comfort fit, which means that the band tapers slightly toward the center, making it easy to wear. Since it is very likely within the course of a marriage that you'll gain or loose twenty pounds, it is most advantageous to choose a ring with a sizing band.
The company you choose should have a record of creditability backed up by customer service, guaranteeing their product. Give them a call and see if they are worthy of doing business with. A track record of timely delivery is also essential. It's not uncommon for a ring from outside the US to be held up by Customs, for example.
Finally, the most important thing is to trust your feelings. The rings should be unique and resonate with your own profound, sacred connection and commitment to your beloved.
About The Author
Marc Choyt graduated from Brown University in 1984 with a degree in English. In 1995, he received an MA degree in Humanities from St. John's College. In 1996, he and his wife, Helen Chantler, founded Reflective Images, a designer jewelry company specializing in contemporary Celtic jewelry.
http://www.celticjewelry.com Please send email requests to
Copyright 2005 Marc Choyt All Rights Reserved