Understanding Celtic symbols

- Categories : Sacred geometry

To understand the symbols it is important, as far as possible, to know the people who created them. As for the Wiccan people we saw in the previous article, today we will focus on our Celtic ancestors and their symbols.

We often have an image tinged with legends when we talk about the Celts. A bit like this picture, isn't it?

Who were the Celts ? definition

Although their written heritage seems rather small, their cultural and artistic heritage is enormous. And as Bretons, we could hardly miss an article on Celtic symbols, they have cradled our childhood and a large part of our lives.

The Celts are not confined to the Breton lands but their heritage is everywhere in central Europe, mainly Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man.

In preparing this article, I learned that the place of women in Celtic society was exceptionally advanced for its time. Celtic women could lead tribes, take part in political life, be warriors and druids, bards and healers. They could also choose their husband and decide to divorce.

The Celts saw the earth as a deity, their mother goddess, filled with mystery and populated by gods and goddesses residing in springs, rivers, wells and caves.

They were somehow an animist people who lived in symbiosis with the natural rhythms of nature. Even if they sometimes offered sacrifices to appease the gods, there was a real respect for all creatures.

What is really important to remember is that for a Celt, everything in life has a symbolic value. Thus, the druids read the future in the course of the stars and planets, in dreams, in the flights of birds etc.

I have often reminded in my articles the importance of the circle in many traditions. The Celts are no exception since tools, jewelry and houses were circular

For this people, each being, animated or not, was part of the divine. Therefore, to respect and venerate everything in the world was to respect the gods, the very essence of life. When looking at the Celtic culture, one must keep in mind that for them the whole world was sacred.

This is an important aspect to better understand the Celtic symbols.

Predominance of the Trinity in the symbols of Celtic culture

The number three was venerated by the Celts, and is found in two of the major symbols of this tradition: the Triskel and the Triquetra.

This number symbolized the three worlds: the world of spirits and deities, the world of mortals and the world of the moon.

The Mother Goddess was a threefold deity, with three distinct aspects, but which blended into a powerful whole: daughter, mother, old woman. This number three symbolizes stability and completeness, the whole being in all its dimensions.

If among the Celts the Holy Trinity is found essentially in the Mother Goddess, it refers for the Christians to the unity of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

What is the Breton symbol par excellence?

The Triskel

The Triskel, the triple spiral, powerfully symbolizes the three-dimensional nature of life and the interconnectedness of all things. Its spiral shape evokes the cycle of breathing, or that of blood flowing through veins and arteries.

I have dedicated a complete article to this symbol.

In this article we will discuss topics such as:
- Is the Triskel Breton?
- What is the meaning of the Triskel?
- To what does each of the 3 parts of the Triskel correspond?
- Is the direction of rotation of the Triskel important?
- How to use this symbol ?

Gwen ha du : the Breton flag

The most popular Breton flag, the Gwen-ha-Du, created in 1925 by the Breton militant Morvan Marchal, literally means white and black in Breton. It is composed of nine horizontal black and white bands of equal widths and eleven ermine spots.

The shape of the ermine spots varies according to the period. They have at their head three locks or three points. Since the 19th century, the lower point of the flecks is usually represented with three points. This symbol also refers us to this notion of trinity.

It is unclear why there are eleven ermine designs, but some claim that they represent the saints of the region. Once reserved for the clergy, the representation of the ermine symbolized purity

The most famous Celtic motifs and symbols of Brittany

If in this article we are going to focus on the symbols of sacred geometry, we must not forget that the Celts were a people deeply linked to the earth, to the Mother Goddess, and to all the creatures that live there.

It is for this reason that many animals were venerated by the Celts for their qualities, their abilities and their innate virtues, and many of them were associated with a deity. The principle of totem animals can be found there.

In the same way, we find in Brittany many sites of standing stones. We often talk about Stonehenge in Great Britain but we tend to forget the site of Carnac in Brittany.

Located in the Morbihan, the Carnac alignments are among the most famous megalithic sites in Europe. These mysterious aligned stones, erected in the Neolithic period, nearly 5,000 years ago, well before the Gauls, have fed many legends

Thirty years ago one could still frolic happily between the stones, today the access is more regulated.

These lines drawn by imposing stones with irregular shapes, extend over more than three kilometers

The Carnac region has seven alignments and 579 menhirs. Three large fields shelter these imposing menhirs: Kerlescan, Kermario and Ménec. The alignments of Kermario are the largest, extending over 1100 meters.

When we go around the fields, we find few explanations on the route. And yet, an essential question arises: what were these stones used for?

Now, let's come to the Celtic symbols of sacred geometry!

The Triquetra

The Triquetra is similar to the Triskel, although if the Triskel symbolizes the infinite in limits, the Triquetra is a more contained symbol, with its elements that intersect. It is more defensive than expansive, more protective than outward-looking. It contains all things within it, protecting them rather than freeing them to make their way. In the Triquetra, the center represents the heart.

Personally it is a symbol that speaks to me, I find it very harmonious. There is a kind of interconnection between the worlds that shows us that everything is connected in the universe.

Celtic crosses

Typical Celtic crosses are decorated with a circle. The cross is just as fundamental an element as the circle in representing the cosmos. The cross can on the one hand symbolize the four cardinal points, on the other hand the tree of worlds. Its four members hold the underworld, the earth and the vault of heaven together and thus prevent chaos.

In the Celtic cross or ring cross symbol, a cross is contained within a circle. The earliest versions of this cross, found in Ireland, do not show the arms of the cross protruding from the circle; the entire symbol is encompassed within the circle and in this case it becomes the ancient universal symbol called the Cross of the Sun, the Cross of the Wheel or the Cross of Odin

This sign first appeared in the very early Bronze Age. Among other things, it symbolizes the wheel and in China represents thunder, power and energy. It also appears in the seal of the Babylonian sun god, Shamash.

The symbol of the solar cross also appears in ancient astrology. In modern astrology, it still signifies the planet and the element of the Earth; the cross represents the four corners of the planet, the elements and the directions, and the circle is the planet itself.

Because it was the symbol of the Sun, the King and the highest temporal and spiritual powers, it was easy for the early Christians to adopt this pagan sign and incorporate it into the Latin Cross. It is still used by bishops to "bless" a new church, drawn on the walls in water or sanctified oils, in twelve different places around the church.

The Celtic cross is frequently used as a tombstone or as a monument to the dead, especially in Celtic countries.

Celtic knots and interlacing

One of the most distinctive decorative features of Celtic art and architecture is the beautiful construction of Celtic knots. It adorns masonry, illuminated manuscripts and jewelry; the knotwork has left a distinctive mark that clearly shows all the places in the world that were visited at one time by the Celts.

The knotting itself would seem to be a purely decorative device. If at any time there were specific symbolic meanings attached, then these have been lost over the centuries. The intertwined shapes and lines, however, generally point to ideas of connection and the harmonious convergence of opposites, masculine and feminine, fire and water, Heaven and Earth, for example

In addition, any sign that can be made without the pen leaving the paper tends to have strong protective associations, and the knotwork, with its loops, endless lines and continuous spirals, could have been used in this way, can be used for talismans and amulets.

Existing symbols, such as a heart, or birds and animals, are often rendered in Celtic knotwork. In this case, the underlying shape carries the symbolic meaning.

The square Celtic knot is a protective symbol, called a shield knot.

The Celtic Tree of Life

I have dedicated a number of articles to the tree of life. I invite you to browse the blog!

For the Celts, all trees were sacred. In the eyes of the Druids, and thus of the entire Celtic culture, they embraced the totality of existence, their roots plunging into the depths of the Other World (i.e., the place where one goes after death for the Celts), their sturdy trunks serving as a solid foundation for the physical world, while their branches swept across the skies.

The oak, the willow and the rowan are trees that had a particular place in the Celtic world. Some were revered more than others because of their practical uses or their deeper emotional and spiritual significance.

In this regard, the oak tree, which symbolized eternity, had a particularly sacred character for the druids who saw in it the very symbol of the tree of life.

The tree of life is a timeless symbol that speaks to everyone deep inside.

Find all our Tree of Life articles here.


Experts believe that the spiral is the oldest symbol of Celtic culture. It is also a motif found throughout nature.

The spiral shown here comes from the Tibetan tradition and is the symbol used to describe the origins of the universe.

It rotates clockwise, following the path of the Sun, symbolizing the seed of potential energy; a good way to understand the power and movement contained in the spiral is to think of a helical spring.

This particular emblem resembles a drawing of a snail shell; indeed, the spiral appears in many places in the natural world, both in flora and fauna and in other phenomena, and has inspired not only artists but also mathematicians and philosophers. The unfurling fronds of the tree fern in New Zealand inspire the spiral patterns of Maori art

The enormous energy of the vortex or tornado is a physical example of the energy and power that can be contained in the spiral.

The spiral is rich in symbolic meaning. It radiates optimistically from its center, ever expanding, full of infinite possibilities. It has a three-dimensional quality that also speaks of time travel, from the past to the future. The spiral represents the cyclical phases of evolution and inspires, in a way, curiosity about what is to come.

Spiral patterns appear all over the world, from Neolithic cave complexes in Europe, to Paleolithic era sculptures of the goddess, to Celtic stone carvings such as those of Newgrange, to the Hindu pantheon where she appears, for example, as the Kundalini Serpent, awakened from her tightly coiled state, spiraling from the base of the spine

In Africa, the symbol of the Sun represents a pot surrounded by three red spirals. The Aztec feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, shared the same symbol as the Tibetan seed of life; their warrior god, Huitzipotchli, has a coat of arms with five spirals contained within a circle.

The double spiral weaves in one direction and out the next, a reminder of death and rebirth.

In Hindu temples, pilgrims follow a circular path around the various shrines, taking an additional spiral around ritual objects such as the lingam/yoni. This clockwise journey is not only a meditative process but "charges" the energy of the place

There are also dances and movements that recreate the energy of the spiral. Perhaps the most representative example is the Turkish whirling dervish. A quieter example is the folk dances that involve a spiraling line of dancers entering and exiting from a central point. The same idea is found in Native American spiral dances.

Returning to the snail shell symbol, it is fascinating to note that for the Maya, the winter solstice was considered the beginning of the year, the moment just before "real" time begins. The symbol that represented this concept was the snail; the spiral on its shell inspired the Mayan zero sign.

The sun and the sun wheel

The sun has always played a central role in all religions throughout the millennia.

For the Celts, the sun above all regulated nature, the plants and animals existing on Earth.

The Luminous Year (roughly summer) was a time of rejoicing but also of hard work in preparation for the period when the sun remained low on the horizon and reappeared after a few hours. However, it was a comforting cycle that allowed for a slower pace during the Dark Year (winter), a time of rest where we could catch our breath.

The god Belenos/Lugh, embodied the attributes of the sun, its life-giving and health-giving qualities. The symbol is the solar wheel, image of the annual cycle that turns eternally: it appears in different versions in the various religions around the world but finds its simplest expression in the wheel with 4 or 8 spokes.

The sun represents the cycles of the year, the regular patterns that govern our lives. It represents the heart, the center around which everything else revolves.

To conclude

One way to be inspired by the Celts is to wear their symbols as talismans or use them in your daily life. Talismans can be seen as good luck charms. Of course, the power to invoke luck, success, or whatever, does not reside in an image or an object, but it can be very helpful in directing the mind towards the achievement of the desired result.

In our current way of life, we have lost much of the human warmth and solidarity, the security and sense of belonging so characteristic of Celtic life. Drawing inspiration from the lives of the Celts, especially through their symbols, can help to alleviate this sense of loss by re-immersing us in a deeper appreciation of the Earth, which nourishes our bodies and minds.

I hope you enjoyed this article.

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Mandalashop is your specialist in sacred geometry symbols with more than 400 symbols at your disposal. And on our blog you will find all the information you need to know more about symbols and how to use them in your daily life.


The book of the Celtic symbols at Ed. Contre-Dires

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