I bet you’ve noticed this pretty little spiral that decorates my website. And I bet you’ve seen it before!

Did you ever grow curious enough to look it up?

No?

Ah, that’s fine! Everyday life does get in the way sometimes, and little spirals tend to fade away from the forefront of the mind when you have a family to care for.

But since I know your curiosity must be eating at you…

Well, that’s why your friend Maddie is here, to solve the riddle and offer you the answers you seek!

Due to both their origins and their unique meanings, Celtic symbols—used by the Scottish Celts, of course—are probably one of the most fascinating aspects of the culture.

Ruling over a big part of Europe during the Iron Age and the Medieval Period, the Celtic people surely played a big role in shaping the structure of the continent. 

From their ethical codes, artworks, jewelry, building techniques, blacksmithing, farming and diplomacy skills to their folklore and beliefs, the ancient Celts had a unique way of life in every meaning!

But how much do we know about them? While part of our knowledge about the Celts, their culture and history is compiled from what was told in resources written by the ancient Greeks and Romans, artworks and other cultural remnants of the ancient Celts help a great deal in providing insight into their traditions, customs, spirituality and belief.

The issue with many Celtic symbols is that we can’t offer a definitive guide to what they truly mean. Archaeologists and anthropologists can provide accurate accounts of what symbols mean in other cultures because of written records left behind. However, there are no writings to accompany Celtic symbols, so we are left to provide educated guesses based on what we know about the culture.

It is important to remember that in the Druid faith, placing sacred material in writing was forbidden. The Celts preferred to pass down beliefs and symbolism from generation to generation verbally.

And when it comes to symbolism, the Celtic civilization was far more enamored with imagination than reality when creating their symbols.

So, let’s delve a bit deeper into the fascinating world of the Druids, the Celts and the symbols that to this day, capture our imagination!

Sit back comfortably, open your mind and let me do the talking!

Or writing.

Oh, you know what I mean! 😉

Triskelion

The Triade, Triskelion, Triskele or Triple Spiral is an ancient Celtic symbol related to earthly life, the afterlife and reincarnation. Drawn in one continuous line to suggest a fluid movement of time, Triades are one of the most common elements of Celtic art. They are found in a variety of styles, both in ancient and contemporary use, especially in relation to depictions of the Moon Goddess. They also evoke the universal concept of the domains of material existence—earth, water, and sky, body, mind, and spirit, and the eternally spiraling cycles of time.

The Triade radiates the potential of complete experience and wisdom for all.

Looking similar to three legs running, this ancient symbol outlines the need to be in a perpetual state of growth.

Triquetra

The Trinity Knot. The term ‘triquetra’ originally meant ‘triangle’ and was used to refer to a variety of three-cornered shapes; a circle was sometimes added inside the symbol or around it. In the Celtic tradition, it was a three-pointed symbol that represented three-way unity. The Celtic version of the symbol features their unique knotwork style which means it is endlessly looping and interweaving. If you see a triquetra symbol with a circle going through it, it means it is a symbol of eternity.

You will often see this design on a Claddagh ring as it can represent the three promises of a relationship: love, honor and protection. Christians adopted the symbol and used it to represent the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is extremely difficult to pin down an exact meaning for the Triquetra as the symbol has several possible meanings. It can represent:

  • The three realms: Earth, Sea & Sky.
  • The three aspects of the goddess: Maiden, Mother & Crone.
  • Body, mind and spirit.
  • The interconnected lines symbolize how we are all connected as they are woven together in the web of life.
  • A protective symbol: the interwoven lines ‘confuse’ harmful energy.

Celtic Spiral

It appears as if virtually everyone who has a Celtic tattoo opts for the spiral pattern, but how many of these individuals know the real meaning behind it? Spirals are among the oldest decorations created by humans, and they are very apparent in Celtic art and architecture. Experts believe the spiral is the oldest symbol in the Celtic culture and is either representative of the sun or ethereal radiation energy.

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 our roots.

Other scholars suggest that spirals are symbols of the balance between inner and outer consciousness or else they are representative of the journey from materialism and external awareness to the blissful state of enlightenment and cosmic awareness.

Art scholars suggest the direction of Celtic spirals is all-important. If they are clockwise, they are associated with harmony on Earth and the sun. If they are anti-clockwise, they relate to Pagan spells that manipulate nature. According to research, Celtic spiral patterns were accurate representations of the brightest fixed stars and planetary configurations from thousands of years ago.

Tree of Life

Crann Bethadh, the Celtic Tree of Life, is much more than a single trunk borne of roots below and stretching to the heavens with branches above; it is the Celtic symbol of all of life on the planet, born of the earth and sustained by the power of the Universe.

It is one of the most prominent symbols widely used on ancient Celtic art.

There is no better depiction of the intimate and unbreakable bonds between each of us and the natural world in which we live than the Tree of Life knot.

It is an intricate representation that links every root below to every branch above, depicting the network of natural bonds that links all Life together.

Awen

Awen or Arwen, also known as the Three Rays or the Three Flames. It is a neo-Druid symbol the creation of which is attributed to Iolo Morganwg, a Welsh poet of the 18th century.

The two rays on the sides represent male and female energy while the one in the center represents the balance between them. The Awen was used as the symbol of unity and harmony of opposites in the universe. 

 You see, human cultures use symbols to express specific ideologies and social structures and to represent aspects of their specific culture. 

They use them to convey entire conversations worth of definition and context within a much more concise space. 

Human beings attach such meaning to symbols that they can inspire hope, stand in for Gods and Goddesses, and speak in languages that our ears will never hear. 

And above all else, symbols are stories! 😉

Written by Maddie MacKenna

56 COMMENTS

  1. That was an amazing article!! Thank you for sharing this information.
    My oldest son has rune signs tattooed on the upper shoulder area of his back. The brat forgot the meaning.

  2. Wow! Thank you for this. I have not looked at history in a very long time. I’m still curious about it all. I will, just, have to explore more.

  3. And of course the three legs are the official symbol of the Isle of Man – Eilean Mhannain – and its motto is ‘Quocunque iaceris, stabit’ ( Wherever you throw it, it stands’.)

  4. You speak of the spiral and how each direction gives it a different meaning. Do you mean “clockwise” or “anti clockwise” from the outside in, or the inside out?

    Thank you for this article; this is something I’ve wondered about.

  5. The ancient anisazi Indians of the southwest canyon country also used spirals in much of their rock pectographs and pictographs. I think it represents the milky way or life, maybe the universe.

  6. Oh, thanks again, Maddie! I love your history tidbits! I am a budding jewelry maker and I chose the triskele as a makers mark so this article was particularly interesting. Thank you. Leslie/Kim

  7. Amazing!! I have seen several of these symbols but as you’ve already said, haven’t researched their meanings. Three is a special number & it is no wonder that the early Christians adapted some of these older symbols & incorporated them into our religion. Spirals are fascinating as your eye goes round & round trying to find a beginning or an end. I assume that many of the mazes that we have in the western countries carry this too. I think that the symbol of the running man is the symbol for the Isle of Man? Quite intriguing really how connected we all are. Thank you for this piece of information.

    • You are absolutely right, dear Irene! We are all connected one way or another. Thank you for your wonderful message. ❤️

  8. I loved the article Maddie. It was very interesting and you’re right I have wondered and I always thought I’ll look this up later not.. LOL. Sometimes life does get in the way.

  9. Dear Maddie, l have deep Scottish ancestry, as do you! I appreciated your Celtic symbols paper so much, that I decided to hand make birthday cards for my family members with Celtic symbols! Thank you so much for sharing your paper. And many grateful thank you’d for your terrific novels to which I always look forward!
    Happy Thanksgiving,
    from Rev. Dr. Lana Thompson Sutton
    (Thompson is the Anglicized name of my
    Scottish Clan MacTavish, many of
    whom fled the ‘potato famine’, first
    living in Ireland, then rather quickly
    they immigrated to the USA.)
    (By the way, I named our family dog
    MacKenna☺️!)

    • Hello my dear Lana,
      That is so interesting to hear! Thank you for your wonderful and sweet message.❤️ Happy holidays to you and your loved ones and of course your dog, MacKenna.❤️

  10. Thank you for this. I have always wondered about the meanings of these symbols especially since my great grandmother came from Ireland.

  11. Learned a great deal from your article, leaving me with even more questions! My grandfather came to this country as a young man. I am always looking for info relating to the Scots, and of course my family in particular. Unfortunately, he died when I was 3. He was never very communicative about his roots. When questioned his answer was always we are American.

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