Like many other warring civilizations of the past, the Vikings had a unique culture that set them apart from every other society they either conquered or assimilated into their fold. One of the most outstanding styles of life for the Vikings was their Norse knots.
These knots permeated almost every aspect of their lives, from how they wore their hair to how they twisted their totems, fishing lines, and so much more.
There are, however, some slight similarities between Norse knots and Celtic knots. Let’s look at some of the key differences and similarities between the two as we try to decipher why knotwork was so important to the Norse people.
The Connection Between Viking and Celtic Knots
From time to time, you will come across an interesting motif decorating some monument in Europe or being represented as the work of pagans from ancient times. There’s a good chance that what you are looking at might be either a Celtic or a Viking knot.
The knots from these cultures are characterized by heavy interlacing that forms majestic patterns on all kinds of art pieces and even the human body. However, interlacing was not unique to the Celts or the Vikings. Other cultures, such as the Inca and the Aztecs, had intricate art designs, although not very many were specifically interlaced, like the Celts and the Vikings.
The sheer intricacy of Norse knots can be witnessed on several ancient runes or runic stones and a host of other Germanic or Nordic artworks. However, this kind of intricacy could also be found among the Slavs.
The Origin of the Interlacing Knots
Like most things from the Viking age, we don’t know the true origins of these interlacing knots. It would appear, however, that neither the Nordic people, the Celts, nor the Slavs can be credited with its origin. However, the Celts and the Vikings can be credited with popularizing this knotwork style.
Arguably, the interlacing knotworks made so famous by the Vikings can be credited to the Holy Roman Empire. Most art pieces from this era and this culture had an exceptionally high number of intertwining designs. These Roman designs were the first to be positively identified and dated in history.
Even though the knots in the Norse and Celtic artworks can be attributed to Roman influence, it is clear that these two cultures (Nordic culture and Celtic culture) developed their own styles of knotwork from this inspiration. After all, a similar phenomenon has occurred before with the Germanic bracteates.
These famous amulets have a Roman origin but have since been identified as Germanic. This mostly happened because the German-Nordic tribes started incorporating very German-Nordic-centric imagery that was quite specific to their culture. This specific imagery had three phases of interlacing, just like the famous Norse knots.
There is evidence, however, that the Norse knots appeared before the Celtic knots, as the Celtic interlacing occurred slightly later. The Celts mainly inherited their knotworks from the Bronze Age.
While the true origins of the Norse knots might not be very apparent, what is certain is that this kind of interlacing knotwork is pagan. That’s mostly because a great deal of this intricate interlacing art can be found on most, if not all, pagan symbols and jewelry.
The Difference Between Celtic and Norse Knots
Given that they borrow heavily from one another, very little separates Celtic and Norse knots. The biggest and most discernible difference is that Norse knots were more loosely interlaced than Celtic knots, which were known to be a bit more densely and tightly packed.
Popular Norse Knots and Norse Symbols
Like most ancient cultures, the Norse people revered animals and plants. As such, you will find that most Viking and Celtic knotwork will include some animal or plant within the patterns.
The most popular animals were dragons, dogs, lions, and even snakes, which were either intertwined with one another or biting their own tails or each other. Most of these artworks would have some kind of runic inscription, either within the piece itself or around the knotwork.
This inscription would usually attempt to tell the story of the design itself or give some kind of warning. In many cases, they were designed to honor a Norse god of choice.
One of the main reasons many believers in the old Norse ways engraved animals such as dragons alongside their knotwork was to help ward off some evil or chaotic spirits that were believed to dwell in that area.
This is one of the main reasons why Viking warriors sailing to new lands to fight and conquer the indigenous people had dragon heads on their ships: it was meant to ward off any evil spirits that might dwell in the new lands rather than scare whoever might be waiting for them on shore.
With that in mind, here is one of the most common Norse knots.
Also known as “Odin’s Knot,” the valknut is often seen as symbolizing the transition between this life and the next or between life and death. In Norse mythology, Odin was the All-Father, the king of the gods, and he was believed to be capable of binding and unbinding everything in the known universe. One of his many jobs as the king of the gods was to guide the souls of those who died in battle to a better afterlife.
The name of the Valknut symbol quite literally translates to “knots of those fallen in battle.” This refers to the Viking warriors gathered by Odin’s Valkyrie and transported to Valhalla if they were killed in battle.
As you can see, both the Celtic and Norse cultures share a common similarity regarding their knotwork. Yes, there are some minor differences, but the intricacies, the care, and the profound meaning attributed to these knots are quite similar.