Chinese Knotting: The Mystic Knot

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mystic knot tied in grey edged
	  black and white cordGeneralities

square flower
	  knot tied in black edged white cordThe flower knot, when considered as a polygonal knot, is a family unto itself with many (many!) variations starting with the number of petals (ears) and the ways that the structural loops interlace, the basic square flower knot is also the basic unit of the mystic knot (see right). Now flower knots can be chained together via their ears as in the case of the ru-yi knot, but if you instead extend the structural loops and weave through them appropriately, you begin to build up a mystic knot.

2x1 mystic knot By extending the horizontal structural loops and weaving one extra loop from the top and one from the bottom, you've created a knot with 2 square flower knots (let's call this the mystic unit, shall we?) side by side. I tend to call this the 2x1 mystic knot (see left). Since it's a knot that you can pick up and rotate at will, there's no difference between a 2x1 and a 1x2 knot although if you were making clockwise versus counterclockwise mystic units... aigh!! I'll think about that later. In any case, you cannot put CW and CCW mystic units together in a 2x1 knot and have a stable knot (although, maybe if you sideline it in a non-standard way...!?).

3 unit mystic knot What was I talking about? Oh, right... If you then extend the structural loops on one side vertically and weave through that in turn you get a little 'L' shaped mystic knot composed of 3 mystic units (see right).

3 unit heart mystic knot And if you turn that knot 45° then it looks like a heart (or a 'V', see left). But maybe it helps the heart idea if it's red and pink.

So, if you extend all the structural loops then you get the classic (2x2) mystic knot (see right).2x2 mystic tied in white, black, and grey shoelaces

Now, imagine making a design on graph paper. Any solid shape can be made using mystic units. I have seen a mystic knot version of the map of Taiwan. Further, designs with holes can also be made, although sometimes the pathfinding can be a bit tricky and cords might need to travel through the hollow space inside the knot to help out. A mathematician who studies tiling or maybe path finding should be able to help us out with limits and parameters.

Speaking of the hollow space inside the knot, the mystic knot, in weaving terms is a double woven pocket. Now someone who weaves can probably correct me if I'm wrong here (please do!). Double weave is made on a single loom woven in such a way that 2 layers of cloth are generated (sometimes occasionally interconnected, but for our purposes, not. At least not except at the edges). If the weave is connected only on one side, you get a double-wide piece of cloth (unless you cut it to get 2 separate layers of cloth). If the weave is connected on 2 sides, you get a tube of cloth. If the weave is connected on 3 sides you get a pocket. If the weave is connected on 4 sides you get a closed pocket. The mystic knot is a closed pocket. Compared to most fabric, however, it is a very large scale thing and it is very easy to open a gap into which things can be put and then reseal the pocket. I've seen projects where a mystic knot is turned into a potpourri or moth repellent sachet by stuffing the pocket with the appropriate substance.

Speaking of putting things into the pocket... I was reading this article about the magic of knots (via) and thinking that the mystic knot would be a perfect spell knot. There's the pocket to put other spell components into, you'll have plenty of time to say spells and consider the spell recipient as you weave it, and it's flatter than a monkey's fist making it more comfortable to wear under your clothes. But then not being a believer or much of a student of the matter, maybe I'm wrong. 8)

mystic knot tied in a black, white and grey shoelaces The mystic knot is the pan chang knot is the endless knot and is also less commonly known as the coil knot and the temple knot. Pan chang is, of course, the romanization of the Chinese name. The best literal translation of pan chang is probably coil, but the word evokes a much different image for most, I would suspect.

graphic endless knotLydia Chen translates the pan chang as the endless knot and Buddhist treasure in her first Chinese Knotting book. I have since tried to research the issue in English. The endless knot is one of the eight Buddhist treasures, 8 symbols that represent key aspects of the Buddha (the endless wisdom of Buddha), Buddhist teachings (the harmony that the many dual aspects of the universe find together), and parts of Buddha (the endless knot being the intestines). The graphic representation (see right) that is usually used to represent the endless knot is closer to the flower knot (square) but not quite. If you tie the graphic representation, you end up with something slightly more complex than a triple overhand. So is this popular graphic version (often carved into stone) a simplification of the true symbol (the knot as tied), is the tied knot an alternate symbol, or is the tied knot a late addition?

The tied knot in Chinese characters is ~~~. The Buddhist symbol, according to Google Translate and Search and a Taiwan website is ~~~ (machine translates as "auspicious"), but according to a mainland website is ~~~ (machine translates as "King Kong", I'm not kidding. OK, that was the first 2 characters, adding the knot character into the translation string yields "diamond knot"). None of them match. It doesn't look like a Simplifed vs Traditional script issue. How thoroughly inconvenient. Mind you, the different characters could all be a "cow meat" vs "beef" vs "steak" vs "sirloin" vs etc issue. In any case, now that I've done such masterful job of muddying the waters with my incomplete understanding of language, could someone who reads Chinese (ideally, someone familiar with Buddhist literature) clear things up for us? Note: I will ask my parents, the next time they're around...

While I'm talking about languages that I don't understand, in Japanese it is ~~~~ which machine translates as "jade room knot" (maybe they mean "temple knot"?). In Korean it is ~~~~ which means "chrysanthemum knot".

Many's the time I've read about "temple knots" and "priest knots". I've seen pictures here and there (none that I can find online at the moment, sorry) and they look mostly like wall hangings. The priest knots are worn by the priests, I believe, but I'm not sure exactly how that works as I've never seen an image of what looks like a wall hanging being worn. In any case, many knots have been identified as "temple knots" and the pan chang just happens to be one of them.

Which leaves the mystic knot. I like the name. It's certainly a less intimidating name than the endless knot. 8)


Creation Date: Wed Mar 10 15:16:19 PST 2010
Last Modified: Saturday, 13-Mar-2010 07:27:39 UTC
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