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11 Celtic Symbols And Their Meanings

The Celts were a group of peoples loosely tied by similar religion, language, and cultural expression. Over the 500 or so years leading up to the first Roman invasion, a Celtic culture established itself throughout the British Isles.

Their legacy remains most prominent in Great Britain and Ireland, where traces of their culture and language are still prominent today.

List Of 11 Celtic Symbols And Their Meanings:

#1 Celtic CrossCeltic Cross

It is a form of Christian cross featuring a ring or nimbus which emerged in Britain and Ireland in the Early Middle Ages. It is thought that St. Patrick (a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland) introduced the Celtic Cross in Ireland, during his conversion of the kings from paganism to Christianity.

The 4 arms of the Celtic Cross are thought to symbolize the four elements of Fire, Air, Earth, and Water, the 4 directions of the compassion, and as a representation of the soul, mind, heart, and body.

In the present day, the Celtic Cross is typically used on gravestones and in funerary monuments, however, it has also become a symbol of national pride.

#2 ShamrockShamrock

The shamrock is a small plant made up of three heart-shaped leaves. It is the national flower of Ireland.

The word ”shamrock” is derived from the Irish ”shamróg” that in turn comes from ”seamair óg” and this translates into English as “young clover.”

St. Patrick used the shamrock to demonstrate his passion for the Christian faith to the people. In Celtic folklore, the shamrock is said to bring the bearer good luck and was a charm against evil.

Note – the rare 4-leaved shamrock (“four-leafed clover”) is thought to be a sign of great good luck to the individual who finds one.

#3 Green ManGreen Man

It is a sculpture or other representation of a face made from or surrounded by leaves. The Green Man is most frequently associated with the society of the Celts, sequestered especially in today’s France and Britain, due to the high number of images found in these regions.

The most common interpretations of the Green Man are:

  • the renewed cycle of growth each spring;
  • a symbol of the underlying life-force;
  • a symbol of man’s reliance on and union with nature;
  • a pagan nature spirit.

#4 Three Rays (Awen)

Three Rays (Awen)
Image credit – https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/9040695117

Awen has the same root as the Welsh word ”awel” meaning ”breeze.” The three lines relate to:

  • wisdom, love, and truth;
  • body, mind, and spirit;
  • sea, earth, and air;

Some scholars believe that the outside lines are symbolic of both woman and man while the inside line signifies balance.

#5 Brigid’s CrossBrigid’s Cross

It consists of a woven straw square in the center with 4 radials tied at the ends. Brigid’s cross is associated with Brigid of Kildare, one of Ireland’s patron saints, along with Columba and Patrick. Saint Brigid’s cross represents goodwill, peace, and friendship.

#6 TriquetraTriquetra

The triquetra is considered one of the oldest symbols, dating back to as early as 500 BC when it was used to represent the triple goddess.

It is made in a continuous line interweaving around itself representing eternal spiritual life, with no beginning and no end. In addition, the triquetra can symbolize concepts such as:

  • land, sea, and sky;
  • body, mind, and soul;
  • past, present, and future.

#7 Harpharp

The harp is most commonly regarded as the instrument of angelic choirs and the sound it produces is memorable and haunting. It is known as telenn in Breton, telyn in Welsh, clàrsach in Scottish Gaelic, and cláirseach in Irish.

The harper, along with the reacaire (reciter) and the file (poet), was the epitome of Gaelic aristocratic culture. The Celtic harp stands for the immortality of the soul. In many traditions, harps symbolize the connection between earth and heaven.

#8 Claddagh RingCladdagh Ring

The Claddagh ring is a traditional Irish ring that symbolizes loyalty, love, and friendship. More exactly:

  • the crown represents loyalty;
  • the heart represents love;
  • the hands represent friendship.

The first Claddagh Ring was made in Galway over 400 years ago in a small village called Claddagh. The ring can be worn on different fingers or hands, depending on status. For instance:

  • if worn on the left hand with the crown facing outwards, you are declaring that your heart is forever taken;
  • if worn on the right hand with the crown facing outwards, it reveals that your love is being considered;
  • if worn on the right hand with the crown facing inwards, you are declaring that your heart has not yet been won.

#9 Quaternary

Without a beginning or an end, the Quaternary knot demonstrates cyclical paths and the link between eternity and all that is natural.

Other meanings for a Quarternary knot are:

  • an emblem of Brigid, also referred to as the Queen of the Four Fires;
  • the 4 Celtic festivals: Beltane, Imbolc, Samhain, Lughnasadh;
  • the 4 elements: Earth, Water, Fire, and Air;
  • the 4 Latin Gospels in the Book of Kells;
  • the 4 seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall;
  • the 4 directions: North, South, East, and West.

#10 TriskelionTriskelion

A triskelion or triskele is a motif consisting of a triple spiral exhibiting rotational symmetry. The Greek term ”triskelion” literally means “three-legged.” Earliest examples of the triskelion come from Malta.

In Celtic Christianity, the triskele took on new meaning, as a symbol of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Hence, it is a symbol of eternity. Additionally, the symbol is thought to symbolize the three worlds:

  • celestial – where unseen energies live and move about;
  • physical – where humans live along with animals and plants;
  • spiritual – where gods, spirits, and goddesses live.

#11 Celtic Tree Of Life – Crann BethadhThe Tree of Life - Meaning & Symbolism

The Celts venerated trees and their Druids had ritual centers within oak groves. The most sacred tree of all was the Oak tree, that symbolized the axis mundi, the center of the world.

Moreover, the Celtic Tree of Life represents balance and harmony. For the Celts, trees were living connections to the spirits, gods,  and ancestors.

References

https://www.ancient.eu/celt/
https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/celts

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