CELTIC SYMBOLS and meanings: top 10 explained

CELTIC SYMBOLS and Meanings: top 10 explained.

The term “Celts” refers to tribes of people that shared similar traditions, customs, language, and culture and dominated Western Europe from as far back as 1200 B.C.

Much of this unique cultural heritage still exists today in Ireland, where the Irish language is still spoken and where people celebrate and remain passionate about Celtic roots.

While Ireland has changed drastically over centuries, elements of ancient Celtic communities live on today. One of the biggest examples of this is Gaelic symbols that have been seen since ancient times.

Primitive and ornate, these striking visuals will undoubtedly evoke memories of the Emerald Isle, but did you ever wonder what they imply? Here are ten Irish Celtic symbols explained.

The background to Celtic symbols – history and origins

The roots of Celtic symbols can be traced back to the ancient Celts, an indigenous people who inhabited parts of Northern Europe during the Iron Age and beyond.

These people had a deep-rooted connection to nature and spirituality. This created a unique visual language encompassing intricate patterns, interwoven lines, and symbolic motifs.

These symbols were prominently featured in various aspects of Celtic culture, including artwork, jewellery, manuscripts, and religious rituals.

IB4UD’s interesting facts about Celtic symbols:

  • Celtic (and Irish) symbols are deeply rooted in the ancient traditions and beliefs of the Celtic people of Ireland.
  • The Celtic Knot is one of the most recognisable symbols, representing life’s interconnectedness and continuity.
  • The Shamrock, made famous by Saint Patrick, is a three-leafed clover emblematic symbol of Ireland and is believed to bring good luck.
  • The Harp represents music and poetry and has been an enduring symbol of Irish identity for centuries. It is also the logo for Ireland’s most famous beer, Guinness.
  • The Celtic Cross, with its distinctive ring surrounding the intersection of the cross, symbolises a blend of Christianity and Celtic spirituality.
  • The Salmon of Knowledge, derived from ancient Celtic Irish mythology, symbolises wisdom, knowledge, and the pursuit of enlightenment.

10. Carolingian Cross – a cross made out of four uniform arms

The Carolingian Cross is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols.

This Irish Celtic symbol is a cross made out of four uniform arms. It is a more elaborate version of Brigid’s Cross or the Celtic Cross.

It is said that the Carolingian Cross represents unity, balance, and the eternal life of God.

9. Claddagh ring – love, loyalty, and friendship

The Claddagh ring is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols.

As far as ancient Gaelic symbols go, this is more of an Irish contemporary tradition, and yet it is wholly connected with Ireland.

The Claddagh ring is a common symbol that first spawned from Galway in the 17th century. It is intended to be given to a loved one.

The ring is said to symbolise love, loyalty, and friendship. Thus, it is often used for wedding rings.

8. Celtic Tree of Life (Crann Bethadh) – imagination and intuition

The Tree of Life is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols.

The Crann Bethadh is a stunning Irish Celtic symbol that is synonymous with the Emerald Isle.

The image that depicts an oak tree rich in roots and flourishing overground suggests an intrinsic bond and oneness with nature and the elements. The “mighty oak” is a primary Celtic symbol for strength.

Depending on which of the sacred trees is shown in the illustration, the symbol can have slightly different meanings. For example, if it is a willow tree, the symbol suggests imagination and intuition.

READ: Meaning and history of the Celtic Tree of Life

7. The Celtic Cross – light or energy

The Celtic cross is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols.

The Celtic Cross is heavily associated with Ireland’s ancient culture and can be seen in the flesh in abundance around the Emerald Isle.

It consists of a traditional Christian cross with a ring interlocking and surrounding its intersection, similar to the patterns found on Viking rings. The Celtic Cross circle suggests a source of light or energy.

The Irish Cross can often be seen across Ireland on stone crosses dating as far back as the 8th and 12 centuries.

6. The Triskele – body-mind-spirit

The triskele is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols.

This triple spiral is yet another Irish Celtic symbol that references three distinct points (likely alluding to the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

According to studies, the Triskele is one of the oldest symbols known in Irish tradition and it can be found throughout Irish culture. Authentic examples of this ancient artwork can be seen at Newgrange prehistoric monument in County Meath.

The name derived from the Greek word “Triskeles,” meaning “three legs.” Other than the holy trinity, some suggest this design alludes life-death-rebirth or body-mind-spirit.

READ: IB4UD’s guide to The triskele

5. The Awen (the Three Rays of Light) – essence

The Awen is an Irish symbol steeped in history.

This is one of the Gaelic symbols that can often be observed in ancient Irish tradition and Celtic culture. The word Awen means “essence” or “inspiration.”

Like many symbols in Irish Celtic tradition, it offers an illustration with three key components. The first documentation of this ancient symbol can be found in the 9th century.

4. The Celtic Harp – royalty

The harp is Ireland's national emblem.

The Celtic harp, or Irish harp, is more than an Irish Celtic symbol. In fact, Ireland is so inextricably linked with the symbol of the Celtic harp that it is the only country in the entire world to have a musical instrument as its national emblem.

The Irish Harp has long been associated with royalty. In fact, it’s believed that the strings of the harp represent the arms of the king. This official emblem has represented a symbol of strength in Ireland for generations.

3. Brigid’s Cross – peace and goodness

Brigid's Cross is a symbol of peace and unity in Ireland.

Brigid’s Cross is the Celtic Irish symbol that is likely to be recognised by most people who have spent much time in Ireland.

Brigid’s Cross was often a craft project when in school, and it can often be seen hanging in traditional family homes in Ireland. The common symbol of Brigid’s Cross is linked to various aspects of Celtic culture.

It is a Christian symbol linked to Brigid of the Tuatha de Danann and linked in Irish mythology to the gift of peace and goodness.

Read more about the Brigid’s Cross in our article on the top 10 Irish traditions that the rest of the world might find weird.

2. The Shamrock – luck and the Christian Holy Trinity

The shamrock is perhaps Ireland's most well-known symbol.

The symbol of a shamrock is as Irish as it gets, and is intrinsically linked with Irish culture. This is, in fact, the national flower of Ireland, and with its three leaves (do you see a pattern?), the shamrock leaf brings luck, according to Celtic mythology.

It is also linked to Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, who used it as a metaphor for the Christian religious beliefs of the Holy Trinity. In the 19th-century, it also became a symbol of nationalism and rebellion.

1. The Trinity Knot – eternal life and spiritual life and being

The Trinity Knot is an important symbol.

The Trinity Knot is potentially one of the most memorable Irish Celtic symbols or Celtic knots that is synonymous with Ireland. The Trinity Knot can be seen on Celtic artefacts dating between the 7th century and 10th century.

After regaining popularity after the Celtic revival, The Trinity Knot is commonly depicted in artwork and Irish designs today.

Also called The Triquetra, this Irish Celtic symbol consists of a knotted triangular shape, made up of one continuous, unbroken line. Oftentimes, the Trinity Knot is illustrated with a circle interlocking the knot.

It bears a resemblance to the Valknut, a pagan symbol in Norse mythology. It has been found in Norwegian churches dating back to the 11th century.

This Celtic knot symbol means eternal, spiritual life and being, according to Celtic beliefs. It is also supposed to, in the Christian religion, suggest the holy trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

It is also recognised as a symbol for family, a symbol of eternity, a symbol of rebirth, and a depiciton of the the circle of life or the three stages of life.

READ: IB4UD’s guide to the Celtic Knot

Other Celtic symbols worth mentioning

While these are ten of the most common symbols from Celtic culture, there are plenty we have not mentioned.

The Dara Knot is another of the Celtic knots, which has been found in manuscripts from the 8th century. It is a common symbol for strength that is seen throughout Ireland.

Another common Celtic symbol not mentioned her is the Ailm, which is also a symbol for strength.

Your questions answered about Celtic Symbols

If you still have questions, we have you covered! In this section, we’ve compiled some of our readers’ most frequently asked questions and popular questions that have been asked online about Celtic/Irish Symbols.

What is a powerful Celtic symbol?

The Celtic Cross is a prominent symbol in Celtic/Irish culture, representing the fusion of Christianity and Celtic beliefs.

Are Celtic symbols Irish or Scottish?

Celtic symbols are associated with both Irish and Scottish cultures, as the Celts were an ancient people who inhabited both these areas.

What are the 4 elements symbols Celtic?

The four symbols in Celtic culture are often represented by specific animals: earth by the bear, air by the raven, fire by the dragon, and water by the salmon.

How do you draw a Celtic symbol?

There are many types of Celtic symbols you can draw. This article will tell you everything you need to know!

How do you pronounce ‘knot’, e.g. Trinity knot?

The word ‘knot’ is simply pronounced without the ‘k’. It sounds the exact same as the word ‘not’.

Are Celtic symbols Christian or Pagan?

The Celtic symbol of the Trinity Knot was first seen in Pagan culture before being found in early Christian manuscripts from the 4th century and 5th century and works of art.

Are Irish people Gaelic or Celtic?

Gaelic is a Celtic language spoken in Ireland, ergo Irish people are both Celts and Gaels.

Where can I learn more about Celtic Ireland?

Luckily, we have lots of articles which celebrate Celtic history. Read on if you are keen to learn more!

What is the oldest Celtic symbol?                              

It is believed that the spiral is the oldest symbol from Celtic culture. Celtic Spirals can be found on the entrance stone to the famous pre-historic Newgrange monument.

What is the Celtic symbol for nature?

The Triskelion, or triple spiral, is the Celtic symbol for nature and the movement of life.

What are Celtic circles?

It is believed that an enclosed circle represents unity in Celtic culture.

If you are interested in learning more about Celtic culture in Ireland, you will find the following articles helpful

Celtic Symbols

The Celtic symbol for strength: everything you need to know

The Irish Celtic symbol for family: what is it and what it means

Triquetra: the history and meaning of the triple knot

Celtic History

Celtic Regions: where the Celts come from and have lived for 3,000+ years

Top 10 most important moments in Celtic history

A fascinating look at the ancient Irish calendar: festivals, traditions, and more

Celtic Gods and Goddesses: top 10 explained

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