Knots have been used throughout history for symbolic, magical and practical applications beyond the simple fastening of objects; in fact Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian mentioned the use of knots as early as the year 400BC. We all know the old wives tale that tying a knot in one’s handkerchief when thinking of something should help us remember it, but what else have knots been used for?
One of the longest used and more familiar uses for knots was their use by travellers, sailors and soldiers. It is said they would leave a number of simple knots in a cord or rope with their loved ones at home to signify when they would return from a journey, one knot would be loosened each day and when the last one was undone, the man would return. Dates, numbers and seasons have been tracked, marked and logged by using knots as time markers in a similar way, for centuries, lunar cycles, equinoxes and solstices were noted and predicted by knot work by pagan astronomers and Inca astrologers for example.
In the world of magic, knots have great importance as a tool and symbol. Tying a knotted rope around a sick person, patch of land or at a certain time of year to attract weather would bind an illness, emotion such as grief or trap an element, when the spell was cast or the time had passed, releasing the knot would free whatever it was the people of the time were trying to trap. Love knots are another well-known example of a magical use, to bind two people together a willow branch would be tied in a knot on a waxing moon then was hidden until the desired relationship had blossomed, the branch would then be returned to the land with thanks.
In medicinal folklore, knots are mentioned too, Pliny the Elder the great Roman herbalist and naturalist recommended knot magic to heal difficult ailments; knots would be tied onto a cord or string of certain types during rituals with an incantation uttered as each was done to increase the potency of the cure. In Celtic and eastern artwork, the graphical representation of knots such as the triquetra, drawn with incredible accuracy represent the importance of the symbolism, no beginning, no end, eternal pathways of energy.
Aside from their practical uses and the boyhood challenges of tying complicated ones, knots have a much wider significance, whether in art, folklore or the working world, they are interesting creations with a lot of history.