Celtic Symbol Meanings
Common Celtic Symbols and Their Meanings
Celtic symbol meanings are tough to track because there are minimal known surviving written records of indicating specific Celtic symbol meanings.
Quite a bit of understanding about Celtic use of symbols comes from conjecture and supposition from authorities and historians of ancient Celtic culture.
This is not a bad thing because this allows us to tap into the mystery of the Celtic way, follow our hearts, and open up to our intuition when it comes to Celtic symbolism.
Common Celtic Symbol Meanings
Triskelion Symbol Meaning:
A Greek term meaning "three-legged," and thus this sign looks very much like three legs running. This is another version of the triskele (or triple symbol). Specifically, this is a heraldic (coat of arms) for the Isle of Man. The Celtic symbol meaning here is appropriate because this symbol stands for competition and man's progress. The three protrusions appear as legs (in fact, they are legs in the Manx symbol). As such, this symbol lends itself to a feeling of perpetual motion. In this case, the three legs stand for an idea of foundational balance. The symbol describes a fiercely independent people. It essentially says: "No matter what you do to me, or how many times you assault me - I will always stand and move forward." For more details on the Celtic symbol meanings of the Triskelion, click here.
Triquetra Celtic Symbol Meaning:
Latin meaning "three-cornered." It's a holy symbol, and it's meanings are many. It varies in its aspects of spirit, nature, being-ness, and of the cosmos. This trinity symbol, as most others, reflects core concepts such as: Mind, Body, Spirit. Afterlife, Underworld, Physical life. Tribe, Country, Deity (god/goddess). These are just a few trinities folded within this Celtic symbol meaning. There are many more. The differences lay in the intent of the symbol, and the tribe that was using at the time in Celtic history. The negative space in the center of this symbol symbolizes the center of all influences. In personal ritual, it could represent the self at the center of trinity influences. In a tribe, the center is the heart of the people with the three elements creating an unbreakable union. For the full meaning of the Celtic triquetra symbol, click here.
Triple Spiral (Triskele) Symbol Meaning:
This is another trinity symbol often found among ancient Celtic relics. It is sometimes referred to as a triskelion. The terms are often considered synonymous. This Celtic symbol meaning deals with the drawing of the three powers of maiden, mother and crone. It is often considered a sign of female power and especially power through transition and growth. This, however, is not an exclusive definition. Sometimes the symbol represents religious aspects of Father, Son, Holy Ghost. This representation came much later amongst Celtic descendants who were exposed to Christian conversion. In any instance, this trinity symbol can represent a triangle of foundational necessity. Meaning - you cannot have a healthy whole without all three elements joined together. Hence: Mind, Body, Spirit. Sun, Moon, Earth. Light, Dark, Gloaming (twilight). Not one energy can exist without the others. See more about trinity symbols.
Three Rays (Awen):
This is the three rays, or three flames symbol - also known as the Awen. The first and third rays in this symbol represent male and female energy (respectively). The middle ray represents the balance of both energies. See also fire symbol (Awen is the 3rd symbol down). At its heart, this symbol expresses the constant theme of the trinity. Threes are a massive influence amongst the Celtic people. Mostly, because it is clear there cannot be balance, or a whole unit without the union of three core energies. For example: Male, Female, Offspring. God, Goddess, (Hu)Man. Creating, Destroying, Sustaining. Past, Present, Future. The ancient Celts used the Awen as a symbol for transformation experienced through the power of fire. If the Celtic Awen symbol could speak, it might say: "I was a certain entity. Fire burned and changed me. Now I am completely transformed." More on the Awen Celtic symbol meanings here.
Spiral Celtic Symbol Meanings:
This symbol represents ethereal energy radiating out (or inward depending on your perspective). Also symbolizes growth, birth and expansion of consciousness. This very same spiral symbol is often conveyed as a labyrinth in many ancient cultures, including Celtic. As a spiraling labyrinth, this pictograph stands for the path we all take in life. Specifically, the spiral as a life symbol reminds us that our path is never from point 'A' to point 'B'. More accurately, every life lived takes a spiral trajectory. In this light, each step we make winds us ever inward into ourselves, our core beliefs, and the roots of our community (the center of the spiral). The spiral is also a symbol of the cosmos. In this respect the spiral takes an outward path. The comsic-savvy Celts understood that the universe is not only limitless, but ever expanding. We could say, in this example, we (or the earth) is the center of the spiral and energy (the cosmos) is forever expanding outward into an infinite array of possibilities. We might also view this symbol as human awareness and/or Nature itself always moving outward to gain more broad experiences. I've devoted an entire page on the symbolic meaning of spiral here.
Five-Fold Celtic Symbol Meanings:
As almost all other Celtic symbol meanings, this one also deals with balance. The four outer circles symbolize the four elements: Fire, Earth, Air, Water. The middle circle unites all the elements with a goal to reach balance between all four elements or energies. These elements are essential for the stability and progression of all life...so the symbol is a pretty big deal and conveys the importance of harmony with all of Nature. Further, this can be considered a directional symbol. The four circles represent: North, South, East, West. In this example, the center circle represents our present location. This can (and often is) taken into a spiritual metaphor. The mind/soul/spirit reaches out to all directions and elements of existence while the center remains exactly that...centered. The ancient Druids recognized the chief method of achieving growth is to first be present and centered within the space of 'what is'. The key is to be consciously focused on this present moment while all other moments, events, movements pass by us and through us. This is the only avenue to progress, and the five-fold symbol is a great icon conveying this concept. See this page for more Celtic meanings for the five-fold symbol.
Threefold Celtic Symbol Meanings:
This Celtic symbol meaning is almost synonymous with the triskelion, triskele, triquetra. Its prime meaning deals with balance amongs core influences found in Life, Nature and the Cosmos. The center of this symbol represents the "hub" signifying unity of the three powers. Or, this hub may also represent the heart of humanity at the center of natural influences and becoming a whole being through these energies. The major subtle difference between the three-fold symbol and all others mentioned here, is this: The three outreaching arms end in a spiral. This indicates an experience with the trinity (as a Celt, Druid or human may see it) that broadens the human consciousness. Ultimately, contact with the trinity (mind, body, spirit. sun, moon, earth. etc.) brings the human soul back to the center - the core of understanding and awareness. This symbol also prompts a symbolic dialogue that goes something like this: "No matter how far we are separated, no matter how far we roam, no matter how spread out and chaotic life may seem, we are always connected - we are always united with the divine. See more about Celtic threefold symbols here.
Double Spiral (Epona) Celtic Symbol:
This is a sacred symbol of the Celtic goddess Epona. She is a horse goddess of Earth. Epona was invoked during the equinoxes (Autumn and Vernal) to bring about smooth passage of the seasons. These two seasons can be unsettling as they unfold upon the earth. As an overseer of the two equinox, Epona releases her power during these times to help insure easy transition during these times. Aside from being a notable Celtic goddess symbol, the double spiral also holds a profound personal meaning for mortals. Each end of the spiral expresses a polarity. For example: Left vs Right, Night vs Day, Death vs Life, Moon vs Sun, Good vs Evil, etc. The reality of polarity is perhaps one of the must crucial ideals in symbolic conveyance. Indeed, the entire universe is elegantly perched on polar or opposite energies. There cannot be a push without a pull. There cannot nighttime without daytime. Therefore, this double spiral is perfect symbol that portrays the balance between opposite influences. See more about the meaningful concepts of the spiral symbol here.
Celtic Cross Meanings:
The meanings and symbolism behind this sign are virtually limitless. A lot of this has to do because the cross as a symbol showed upon on the scene of humanity long before Christianity claimed it. Specifically the equal-armed cross (like a plus sign) was often seen in ancient Celtic ruins and relics. Interestingly, for the Celts, this equal-armed cross served a similar function as Christian crosses do in cemeteries. Quite literally, a Celtic cross means "x marks the spot". Some Celtic burial sites have carried this symbol to mark the dead during the era in which Celts buried their dead (this was not always the case in Celtic history). Much of this has to do with the 'crossing over' of the human soul from this world into the otherworlds. The cross signifies the path the soul makes through the quadrants of existence ultimately leading to the center and seat of the soul (where everything crosses, and everything exists, and all energy comes together). Much later in the Celtic history, the cross started to move away from the 'plus-sign' look and evolved into the tradition Christian cross we see today. This is due to Celtic descendants converting to Christianity. Whatever the look or era, the Celtic cross is a powerful symbol that represents the bridge or passage between heaven and earth. The circle often seen in the ringed cross signifies infinity and eternal spiritual communion. see more on Celtic cross meaning here.
Quaternary Celtic Symbol:
Quaternary simply means "four" - in this case - four-cornered. This symbol is often seen as a Celtic knot motif. As a symbol, the quaternary carries similar meanings as the Celtic cross. The quaternary also signifies core energies found in the whole existence such as: Fire, Earth, Air, Water. North, South, East, West. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. These influences are captured in the quaternary symbol to convey the importance of direction and balance. This symbol also carries the importance of the four seasons within its folds. The Celts viewed the passage of time and especially the seasons with deep seriousness. Let's face it, the survival of an entire tribe could easily be threatened by a killer, harsh winter - or a drought in summer. In this light, the quaternary symbol served as a kind of sigil. The impression of this symbol is thought to be a protective mark, thwarting negative effects in nature. This symbol is also sometimes referred to as a quatrefoil. see more on the Quaternary symbol and knot meaning here.
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As always, thank you for reading through these common Celtic symbols and their meanings. If you enjoyed this article, check out the links at the end of this page for more insights into symbolic meanings via the rich and diverse Celtic culture.
May all your Celtic encounters offer you clarity.
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An Important Note About Signs, Symbols and Their Meanings
Signs and symbols cultivate their meanings according to culture, context, passage of time, and mass societal opinion. What's cool and highly important is that signs and symbols earn their most powerful meanings from our own personal perspectives.
This website strives to provide you with the best, time-honored information when defining signs and symbols. However, in the final analysis, "Beauty (and symbolism) is in the eye of the beholder."
Having said that, it's in our best interest to invest the time to do personal research on symbolic events happening to us. This website is just one perspective in an ocean of variety and diversity in the realm of symbolism. So dive in! There is a whole universe of deeper meanings to explore! You can start your research by clicking on the links at the end or to the side of this page. Odds are good I've got a follow-up article about this symbolic topic. ;)
As always, thanks for your willingness to learn more about the language of symbolism. It's a language that is universal and everywhere. It's super-groovy to travel with you on your symbolic path, and maybe offer a little translation along the way. Thanks for reading and exploring!