Even after being around for ages, Celtic symbols are popular even today. More and more people are incorporating them into their lives, be it as tattoos, jewelry, or any form of artwork. These symbols are significant and had a deep spiritual meaning, especially for the Celts and even the Norse people. The triskelion symbol is among the most significant of the Celtic symbols.
Aside from the Celts many cultures and religions have used this symbol. The issue is, however, that while a majority of people use this symbol, many do not fully grasp its meaning or significance. So, in this article, we will delve deeper into exploring the Triskelion symbol, where it originated from, and what it represents or signifies.
What Is A Triskelion?
The Triskelion goes by different names. It is sometimes referred to as also called the Triple Spiral, or more popularly as the Triskele symbol. The name originated from the Greek compound word, Triskelos. The first part Tri- means ‘three’ while the second part, -Skelos means ‘legs’. Triskelion, therefore, means three-legged, or the three-legged symbol. It is considered to be one of the most important Celtic symbols when it comes to spiritual significance. Although it is believed to have come from the Celts, the Irish are also commonly associated with it.
This complex Celtic symbol is an ancient motif of a trilateral symbol. The design is believed to have been based on the Archimedean spirals. It consists of a center from which three separate spirals are joined together to form a sort of triangle, which may somewhat remind you of a fidget spinner. Of course, there are many variations of the design of the symbol depending on the group of people you look at. Generally, the symbol consists of three bent shapes protruding from the same center, and not necessarily spirals.
The original symbol is believed to have consisted of the three legs coming from the center, as opposed to the spirals. Although less common, the three-legged version has been seen in many places, among the first being in Malta and Greek vessels. Today, it is most popularly associated with the Isle of Man. Some also believe that the Triquetra symbol or Trinity knot, is another variation of the Triskelion, given its impression of the joining of three different entities. While they may share some similarities in meaning, the two are separate Celtic symbols.
The Triskelion History
The Triskelion symbol is believed to have originated from Sicily, back when it was still a part of Greece’s colonial extension, Magna Graecia, which was beyond Aegean. According to Elder Pliny, the design of the symbol is believed to have been inspired by the ancient Trinacria. It was an island consisting of three separate and large capes, equally distant from one another and pointing to different directions. The three capes were called Pachynus, Pelorus, and Lilybaeum.
The symbol is, however, associated with Celtic groups in Britain and Central Europe, especially, the Gaelic nations of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. Being among the many primitive groups in ancient Europe, they relied heavily on symbols as a written language. They used the symbols to pass on thousands of years worth of wisdom, spiritual meaning, and culture. The triskelion was among the most important of their symbols which is why it was common and appeared in many items in the Celtic society. These items vary from clothes, coinage, and weaponry to ceremonial cups and other religious items.
Being one of the most significant symbols, the Triskelion is believed to go as far back as the dawn of Europe’s civilization. It’s dated back to the Neolithic Age, where the first appearance is believed to be from a Mediterranean Island named Malta. This was between 4400-3600BC and the version of the symbol was the three-spiral form. Later on, the symbol was discovered at the entrance of an ancient tomb in Count Meath, Ireland called Newgrange. The tomb has been in existence since 3200BC. The three-spiral symbol was found curved all over a stone at the entrance of the tomb.
The version that comprised of the three human legs, appeared later, during the Classic Antiquity era. It was found on Greek vessels, shields, and later coins. The shield of Achilles that existed around the late 6th century, is an example of a Greek item that bore this version of the Triskelion symbol. The symbol was also discovered, curved om Egyptian vessels like jugs which were dated back to 1400BC. But it wasn’t until 500BC that the symbol was believed to have gained popularity among the Celtic groups. This is based on suggestions from artifacts and other findings.
2000 years ago, with the rise of the Roman empire, many Celtic tribes were conquered and a lot of their ways and traditions were lost forever. But even by the late medieval period, the Triskelion symbol had managed to survive. Around the 5th century, Celtic Christians had begun adopting the symbol into their faith. It later became commonly featured in architectural designs, especially of the Gothic style European churches that populated most of that region from the 13th to 16th century. A great example of such a church is the Avioth, located in Northern France. Even today, the Triskelion remains a popular symbol, with countries like Sicily having had the symbol on their flag since 1848.
The Triskelion Symbol Mean
The meaning attached to the Triskelion symbol varies depending on what sources you read. That’s because it has no definitive meaning like most Celtic trilateral symbols. It is one of the Celtic symbols with the widest variety of meanings. The reason being, through the years, every group or culture that adopted the symbol, gave it a new meaning that best resonated with them.
To start, we can look at the most challenging area when it comes to understanding the symbol, and that is the significance of the three spirals. The best way to explain this is by first understanding what the number three meant to the Celts. To them, it was an auspicious number and as such, they believed that everything important came in threes.
According to their interpretation, the Celts saw the Triskelion as a representation of their three worlds, that is the physical world (earth), the spiritual realm, and the celestial realm (sun moon, and stars). The Celtics also took the symbol as a representation of human development, spiritual progress, and personal growth. Under this, they looked at the symbol as signifying the cycle of life, in terms of creation, protection, and destruction or, in other words, birth, death, and re-birth.
The symbol represented a variety of other things including the domains of time, past, present, and future. It could also be used to symbolize the elements, the water, earth, and air or earth, sea, and sky.
Later on, when Christians adopted the Triskelion into their faith, they gave it the same meaning as the Triquetra. They took it to resemble the Holy Trinity, that is the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. They even incorporated the symbol in the architectural designs of their churches around the 13th to 16th century. At that time, any symbol that comprised of three parts was a representation of the Trinity, which was the major basis of their faith.
In many other places around the world including parts of Europe and Asia, the symbol appears to have been used at one point or is in use even today. All these different cultures have, however, given the symbol, meaning of their own. Some believe the Triskelion represents reincarnation. They based this on continuous lines of the spirals that don’t have a beginning or end. According to Japanese culture, Hachiman, the god of war, also has a symbol called Tomoe that closely resembles the Triskelion and is mainly used as a family crest. Buddhists from Tibet also have a symbol called Gankyil which is also similar to the three-spiral symbol. They believe it represents the three aspects of Buddhist life. In Korea, a symbol named the Taegeuk, which is used in Korean Daoism and shamanism also shares a similar design to the Triskelion.
Putting aside the different varieties of meaning, we believe a unilateral meaning can be derived from the design of the symbol. A meaning that doesn’t cut across the trilateral Celtic symbols. Looking at the continuous clockwise direction of the spirals you could say that the Triskelion symbolized motion, in terms of progress and resilience. It represents one’s ability to keep moving regardless of what they meet along the way. It could be a representation of revolution, progressing until you reach your higher self. It could also signify a cycle, a continuous motion that never seizes, like life’s cycle. Many use it as a reminder of forwarding motion towards understanding.
The Triskelion In Modern Use
Over the years, until this day, the Triskelion can be seen in many regions all over the world. Different variations of it have been used all through history. It was one of the many symbols used by the Nazis on their flag. In the 70s it was used by a South African White supremacist group called the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB). Their version involved three seven joined at the center and they used it as a hate symbol representing White supremacy. Because of this, it appears as the logo of some racist groups like Blood and Honor.
The symbol continues to prove useful, even in modern cultures. It features in the country flags of places like Brittany, Sicily, and the Isles of Man. It was also part of the inspiration for the Irish Air Corp orange green and white-colored swirl insignia. The US Transportation Department also incorporated a version of the symbol in its seal. You may have also noticed the Triskelion in the emblem of the Breton Football club, En Avant de Guingamp. The Triskelion also represents the BDSM community.
Many other organizations have incorporated the Triskelion into products, logos, and so on. There are also many forms of artwork depicting the symbol, like stone carvings, paintings, woodwork, and other décor. The modern Neopagans adopted the symbol for what it signifies based on its Celtic background and association to the Manannan Mac Lir. They also favor it for its representation of the triple goddess. In pop culture, the symbol has been featured in many movies and TV shows. There was an episode on Star Trek, named the Gamesters of Triskele, in 1968. In the Tv Show, Merlin, the druids used the triskelion to represent them. The S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in the Marvel universe is also named after the symbol.
You may also find people having tattooed the symbol on themselves or printed it on T-shirts, bags, jackets, and so on. But where the symbol best lent itself is in Jewelry. Its symmetrical structure is what makes it so perfect for jewelry making. It is easy to curve the symbol into a metal or manipulate the metal into a spiral shape. You can find many jewelry forms with this design including earrings, bracelets, pendants, and rings. They fit perfectly into the boho style jewelry category and also match perfectly with colored gems. You can also get the symbol carved into vases or plant ports, anything that you can imagine.
Even after years of the evolution, the Triskelion has managed to withstand the test of time. The main reason is that the symbol is versatile. You can give it whatever meaning that best resonates with you and make it your own. What’s more, over the years people have found many places to incorporate the symbol, from national flags to jewelry. If you are looking for an ancient symbol with deep meaning, then the Triskelion is the one for you. The fact that it is unisex makes it even better, any gender can wear it. It is also not limited by faith or age. At the end of the day what matters is your preference and what the symbol means to you. Because of this nature, it would see, that the Triskelion will survive many more years before it is ever forgotten.