The Triskelion (Triskele): symbol meaning and history

The Triskelion or Triskele is one of the most well-known Celtic symbols in Irish culture. Let’s take a look at the meaning and history behind the symbol.

This particular triple spiral symbol goes by many different names that you might recognise. These include the Triskelion, the Triskele, the Spiral Triskele, the Triple Spiral, and the Celtic Spiral Knot.

The origins of the triple spiral date back to the Neolithic era, while the name derives from the Greek word ‘Triskeles’, meaning ‘three legs’, represented in its form.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the origin of this symbol, what it means, and where it comes from.

Ireland Before You Die’s summary of facts about the Triskelion (Triskele)

  • The Triskelion is a symbol of triplicity, as it is made up of three spirals or three legs joined at the centre. This idea of ‘threes’ is central to Celtic symbolism. 
  • The Triskelion has been associated with different forms of trinities as a result. These include earth, water and sky, or life, death and rebirth, to reflect their interconnectedness. 
  • The Celtic symbol dates back to the Neolithic area and so has an ancient origin. It is considered to be a sacred symbol representing cycles, continuity and the journey of life. 
  • Furthermore, in Celtic mythology the Triskelion has at times been associated with the triple goddess, representing the maiden, mother and crone aspects of femininity. 
  • The Triskelion is still used in Irish and celtic jewellery today. So, despite its ancient origins, it is still preserved in Ireland’s culture.

Origins of the Triskelion – dating back to Neolithic times

The Triskelion or Triskele is an ancient symbol.
Credit: pixabay.com / @Hans

Many historians will attest to the fact that the Triskelion or Celtic Triskele is the oldest symbol of spirituality. In fact, it is said to be one of the oldest symbols on earth.

The word itself derives from the Greek word ‘Triskeles’, which means ‘three legs’. The earliest recognition of the symbol dates back to Neolithic times.

This is reflected in its etching at the entrance of one of the most famous ancient sites in Ireland, the 5,000-year-old Newgrange Passage Tomb in the Boyne Valley. The Triskele is of Celtic origin and gained popularity within Celtic culture from 500 BC onwards.

It is one of the most convoluted symbols to uncover as it reflects many different cultural areas around the world. Furthermore, history often changes little by little with time, which doesn’t help the confusion!

LEARN MORE: Find out about the Triskele and more in IB4UD’s article on CELTIC SYMBOLS and Meanings: top 10 explained

What does it mean? – three, motion, movement

A Triskelion or Triskele tattoo.
Credit: Instagram / @archeo_tattoo

The Triskelion is a complex Celtic symbol with ancient origins. The most common representation of the symbol is that it represents three, as it depicts three interlocked spirals. This is much like the ancient Celtic Trinity Knot, which also denotes three.

In Celtic culture, it is a common idea that everything important in life comes in threes. The Celtic spiral symbol itself has three clockwise spirals, all of which connect in the middle.

The way the three arms of the symbol are positioned is said to represent motion, as they appear to be moving outwards from the centre.

In turn, the idea of motion or movement signifies energy, in particular with actions, cycles of life, progress, revolution, and competition.

A cycle – different cycles of life

The symbol is often used in jewellery.
Credit: Instagram / @likyaorgonite

The significance of the symbol really depends on the culture, the era, and which area of mythology it comes from.

As mentioned before, the symbol is most commonly associated with meaning three. However, it is often disputed, or rather challenged, which three it actually represents.

Some of the connotations include life-death-rebirth, mother-father-child, past-present-future, spirit-mind-body, and power-intellect-love, to name but a few.

The endless lines in the Celtic Triskele have no apparent ending or beginning. The ‘legs’ are simply all interconnected.

READ: The Triskele also plays an important role in the Irish Celtic symbol for family

A combination – combining movement and cycle

The Triskelion or Triskele at Newgrange.
Credit: Instagram / @celtic_otherworld

So, when these two notions, motion and cycles, come together, many believe that the combined meaning of the Triskelion is the idea of moving forward to reach an understanding.

In a different sense, the symbol is also said to represent the three Celtic worlds. These worlds include the spiritual world, which is the world of our past ancestors.

Then we have the present world, the present, physical world we inhabit. Finally, the celestial world, which includes the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets.

Much like most Celtic symbols, artefacts, knots, or whatever it may be, the meaning and history can be very complex, varied, and diverse. There is simply never a simple answer!

READ: The Irish Celtic triskele earns a mention in Ireland Before You Die’s article on the top 5 best Celtic symbols for Irish mothers

Notable mentions

The Triskelion or Triskele can be seen on the Sicilian flag.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Other forms: As an ancient symbol, the Celtic Triskele appears in many places. It is used throughout popular culture, including jewellery and a Breton football club. An abstracted triskele appears on the seal of the United States Department of Transportation.

Buddhist symbol: In Buddhism, it is a meditation symbol.

Paganism: The Triskelion is one of the primary symbols of Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism.

Sicily flag: The Triskelion symbol is depicted on the flag of Sicily, showing a woman with three legs arranged in rotation.

Irish Air Corps: The Irish Air Corps incorporate the Celtic Triskelion symbol on the roundel.

Your questions answered about the Triskelion (Triskele)

Read our article on the Triskelion (Triskele) and still have some outstanding questions? Then we have you covered! Below, we have put together the most frequently asked questions about the topic.

Is the Triskelion meaning different if used for a tattoo?

People all over the world depict the Celtic Triskelion in their tattoos. Despite it being related to Celtic belief and pagan religion, people often sport the symbol simply because they like it.

When it is displayed in tattoo form, the meaning doesn’t change. It just depends on what variation that person takes from it.

Can you interpret the Celtic Triskele as a symbol for strength?

Yes! The meaning of the Triskelion revolves around movement, energy, and cycles in life. In turn, this progress and movement present the ability to move forward and overcome adversity, which involves makes it one of the main symbols for strength.

What does the Triskelion represent?

As outlined above, there are so many variations of what the Triskelion represents. Generally, the symbol represents cycles and the number three. This is signified in the three worlds, the present world, the spirit world, and the celestial world.

MORE IB4UD ARTICLES ON THE TRISKELE AND IRISH CELTIC SYMBOLS

The Celtic symbol for strength: everything you need to know

Top 5 CELTIC RINGS available for purchase ONLINE

Celtic knots: the history, variations, and meaning

CELTIC REGIONS: where the Celts came from, explained

Celtic Tree of Life (Crann Bethadh): meaning and history

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