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Triskelion - Ancient Celtic Symbol Explained

Triskelion - Ancient Celtic Symbol Explained

A Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Triskelion

 

Symbols of Ireland come in various shapes and sizes - whether it's a mark, image, or object representing this beautiful country, there is so much to learn for those (like us!) with a passion for evolving Aran sweater patterns throughout the ages.

Out of the many ancient Celtic symbols, the Celtic Triskelion (also known as a ‘Triskele’ or ‘Triple Spiral’ is one of the only with such a wide variety of names. In fact, the Celtic Triskele, Triskelion/Triple Spiral are just the most frequently used, but there are so many others.

In this article, we're going to fill you in on everything you need to know about the incredible ancient Celtic symbols, including where you can find them in Ireland today.

Ancient Celtic Symbol - Celtic Triskele, Triskelion, Triple Spiral

So, to avoid confusion, we're going to quickly outline the many different names you may hear when people talk about the Triskele.

It's important to note that over the years, many websites and bloggers have invented their very own nicknames for the ancient Celtic symbol, and unfortunately, many of them caught on - which added to the confusion even more.

With that being said, there are currently six names that are frequently used in reference to the Celtic Triskele. Check them out:

  1. The Triskelion
  2. The Triskele
  3. The Celtic Triskele
  4. The Celtic Triskelion
  5. The Celtic Spiral
  6. The Celtic Spiral Knot

Confused yet? You’re not alone, but let us try and break it down for you!

Many historians state that the Triskele, or Triple Spiral is the oldest symbol of spirituality. The name comes from the Greek words "Tri" and "Skelos," which, when translated to English, mean "three legs."

In the ancient origins of Irish culture, the Triple Spiral is said to be an important spiritual marking.

Ever heard the phrase "3rd times the charm"? This derived from the three joining spirals of the Triple Spiral, with the ancient Irish believing that everything happens in batches of 3.

Furthermore, the spirals are also said to symbolize both the inner and outer worlds and the themes of birth, death, and rebirth, as well as the unity of mental, physical, and spiritual self.

 

The Meaning and History of Celtic Triskele

Now that we have a general understanding of the Triple Spiral, let's talk about the history of the Celtic Triskele.

If you visit Boyne Valley, one of the cultural highlights in ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’, you're likely to find the Celtic Triskele symbol at the entrance of the 5,000-year-old Newgrange Passage Tomb. It dates back to the Neolithic era, and boasts true beauty in a serene location. However, that's not the only place it can be found.

Markings and artifacts have been located in various ancient sites, which also show us that the Celtic Triskele became popular with the Celtic culture from 500 B.C. onwards. These artifacts can be discovered in Ireland, as well as Europe, and across America.

The Celtic Triskele was a symbol that had various meanings for the early Pagans. One of them was linked to the sun, triadic Gods, and the three domains of land, sea, and sky. As we mentioned above, the Triple Spiral was also believed to represent the cycles of life, as well as the Triple Goddess -the maiden, mother, and wise woman.

The Triple Spiral design of the Triskele has been reinterpreted in different ways by various other cultures.

For instance, the Celtic Christians used the symbol to represent the Holy Trinity. In addition to this, a version of it shows an image of three human legs around a fixed centerpiece, similar to the one in the Sicilian flag:

 

Finding the Triskelion in Today's World

In the modern world, the triskele/triskelion can be seen as part of the design in various logos, seals, and emblems – most commonly in Celtic jewelry adorned on fingers, wrists, ears and necks the world around.

Similar to the example we gave above in the Sicilian flag, the Celtic spiral symbol of the triskele can also be found on the flag of the Isle of Man, in the seal of the United States Department of Transportation, the R.C.A's plastic adapter for vinyl records, and was also the basis of the Irish Air Corps roundel.

But that's not all. You can also find the ancient Celtic symbol in today's popular culture, like the tv show Marvel's Agents of Shield!

Many people look for the Triskelion because they love the meaning behind it. The attraction towards strength, progress, and the ability to move forward and overcome adversity is everything people want and more, hence why it's highly sought out.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Ancient Celtic Symbol

Here's some common, lesser-known facts about this archaic symbol common among true Celtic cultural, architectural  (and fashion) enthusiasts!

Can the Triskelion meaning represent strength?

Of course it can. Sure, the Dara Knot or the Alim are more appropriate ancient Celtic symbols for strength. However, the Triskelion can also be used.

Will the meaning behind the Triskelion change if used for a tattoo?

There are an awful lot of people asking questions regarding the Triskelion tattoo, many in reference to the meaning.

To put it simply, the meaning behind the Triskelion doesn't change. Regardless of whether it's on the skin, or on a t-shirt.

Is it seen as disrespectful to get a Triskele tattoo?

There isn't really a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this question. When it comes to tattoos around ancient symbols, there are usually three kinds of reactions:

  • The 'not bothered’
  • The 'Ooh, that looks amazing!'
  • and finally, the 'How dare you disrespect an ancient Irish symbol by putting it on your skin!'

Honestly? It really doesn't matter as long as you don't get it tattooed on your forehead! We say do whatever makes you happy, as long as you don't harm or disrespect anyone in the process.

The Triskelion in Your Life

Believe it or not, our first introduction to the magic of "three" often happens in classic fairy tales like those of the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, Cinderella, and many others. They all prod us in the subconscious with this intriguing little number!

The Celtic Triskele was driven by a quest for a deeper meaning in life. It alludes to both the innocence, and to the gravity of the number 3 as it appears in discussions of philosophy and tales of Creation by God.

With it, you can embrace both, for you'll never know where the answers you seek may come from.

If you’re keen to learn about and understand more of Ireland’s rich heritage, you may like our guide on the history of the Aran sweater – a firm favorite among our many global readers with a keen eye on timeless Irish design trends.

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