Symbols played an important role in the Celtic daily life. The Celts used them in their rituals, religious and cultural practices amongst other things. Today, it would be impossible for anyone to travel around Great Britain and not see the artworks left behind by the Celts featuring their symbols. Celtic knots were a big part […]
Ancient Celtic Symbols And Their Meanings
The Celts were surely one of the most spiritual civilizations of the ancient world and symbolism played an important part in their belief system. But how well do we know about the Celtic signs and what they mean? This section of our website belongs to the ancient Celtic symbols. First, we will guide you into the world of Celtic symbolism with this in-depth list explaining every symbol. And if you would like to read more about each one, you can find the links to their individual articles within and at the end of this post.
Let us not keep you waiting! Here is the extensive list of Celtic symbols and their meanings.
Awen - The Three Rays of Light
Currently a popular Celtic design for tattoos, jewelry, and artwork, this neo-Druid symbol is believed to have been invented by 18th century Welsh poet, Iolo Morgannwg. However, further studies suggested that this Celtic symbol may be older.
The word “awen” literally means essence or inspiration. Its first known mention was in the 9th-century book, Historia Brittonum.
Awen represents the three rays of light and as such, signifies the “harmony of opposites in the universe.” For instance, the two outer rays signify the feminine and masculine energy, while the ray between them signifies the balance between the two energies.
The Celtic Cross is widely associated with Christianity because of its huge similarity with Christ’s Cross. However, studies show that it may have existed long before Christianity became a religion. To prove this, the Celtic Cross has been seen used in many ancient cultures.
There are several theories as to what the Celtic Cross really represents. It is believed that it signifies the four primary directions, North, South, East, and West. Meanwhile, some believe that it represents the four elements: water, air, fire, and earth.
Just like the Celtic Cross, Brigid’s Cross is also believed by some to be related to Christianity. However, it is more closely linked to Brigid of the Tuatha de Danaan, the life-giving goddess in Irish Celtic mythology.
Brigid’s Cross is created by weaving rushes and straw during the feast of Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring.
When Christianity came to the Celtic region, the goddess Brigid essentially became St. Brigid of Kildare. The goddess’s attributes, including her association with fire and power, were associated with St. Brigid of Kildare.
Being Ireland’s national emblem, the Irish or Celtic Harp is one of today’s most popular and recognized Irish symbols. It can be found on the Irish Euro coins. It is also used as the logo for Guinness, which is considered to be the country’s national drink.
It was thought that the harp was brought by the Phoenicians from Egypt to pre-Christian Europe. Since the 10th century, the harp has become a significant symbol for the people of Ireland, representing the spirit of their country. The harp’s symbolism was so powerful that in the 16th century, the British monarchy felt threatened by it and ordered all harps burnt and harpists executed.
The Shamrock, The Irish Celtic Symbol For Luck
Just like the Harp, the Shamrock is also a symbol that one can consider as “very Irish”. Now the national flower of Ireland, a shamrock is a small clover.
As a Celtic symbol, it was a significant symbol to the ancient druids because the three leaves represented the triad. If you would notice, many of the Celtic symbols had the element of three. The Celts believed that everything that is important in the world and life came in threes. For example, the phases of the moon, as well as the three parts of the world, sky, sea, and earth.
The Shamrock became the symbol of Irish nationalism in the 19th century. Because of this, anyone wearing the shamrock Celtic design was considered to be part of the rebellion and executed.
The Green Man
The Green Man is shown as a head of a man made of foliage. Until today, many buildings and structures across Ireland and Britain feature the Green Man. It symbolizes rebirth, as well as the co-dependence between man and nature. Traditionally, the Green Man signifies the arrival of spring and summer. He also represents rich vegetation and harvest.
Green Man samples are carved on many Christian churches in Europe. These include the Seven Green Men of Nicosia in Cyprus. Seven green men were also carved on the facade of the St. Nicholas Church in Nicosia.
The Celtic Tree
The next one in our list of Celtic symbols is the Celtic Tree. The Celtic Tree is somewhat similar to the Vikings’ Yggdrasil.
The Celtic Tree is often depicted as a tree with branches that reach to the skies, with roots spreading into and across the earth. The Celtic Tree is the perfect representation of the Celtics’ belief that there is a connection between heaven and earth. It also represented the Celts’ belief that men’s ancestors were connected to other worlds, including the spirit world.
The Celtics believed that the most sacred tree was the oak tree. There are also a lot of Irish legends that revolve around trees.
The Triquetra, The Trinity Knot
If you’ve ever watched the TV series Charmed, you’ll recognize the Triquetra, which symbolized the bond (Power of Three) of the “Charmed Ones”. This is another one of those Celtic symbols the importance of trinities and “threes” in the Celtic culture.
As a Celtic symbol, the Triquetra signifies eternal spiritual life, as it is made with one continuous line that interweaves in itself — no beginning and no end. The Triquetra is thought to be the oldest symbol of spirituality, even though some Christians think that the symbol was derived from the monks who brought designs along with their Christian teachings.
Indeed, another symbol of three. Also called the Triskelion, the Triskele means “three legs”. It is represented by three joining spirals. The Triskele is thought to represent the themes of birth, death, and resurrection. It is also believed to signify one’s physical, mental, and spiritual being.
The Dara Knot - Celtic Symbols
Here is the last one in our list of Celtic symbols; the Dara Knot. The Dara Knot has different forms and variations. It is thought to represent a tree’s complex root system, particularly that of an oak tree. For the Celts, the oak tree represents strength, wisdom, leadership, power, and destiny. As such, the knot is associated with inner strength.
If you enjoyed reading our piece on the Celtic symbols, you will probably want to read our article on Norse Viking symbols as well, simply check it out in the relevant section through the top menu, please. Thanks for reading !
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