The triskele, or triskelion, is an ancient symbol consisting of three interlocking spirals, or sometimes three bent human legs. The name is Greek for ‘three legged’ or ‘three times’. The triskele can be found at several Megalithic and Neolithic sites around Europe, and has strong connections to the pre-Celtic art of the La Tène culture.
The triskele can be found on a number of pre-Celtic megalithic sites, including Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne), the ancient astrological passage tomb dated to around 3,200 BCE. Here, the triple spiral motif is found carved on the passage and entrance stones as well as several of its surrounding curbstones.
Later, the triple spiral was incorporated into the Insular art of illuminated manuscripts from Ireland, such as the Book of Kells, resulting in a connection with Celtic culture that still is still seen today.
The triskelion appears in many other cultures and regions, such as Sicily (called ‘trinacria’), the Isle of Man, Brittany, and some parts of Germany. It is also found on Mycenaean vessels, Lycaean coins, and on warrior’s shields on Greek pottery.
The spiral triskele is also a symbol of several polytheistic reconstructionist and Neopagan groups. Celtic Reconstructionists use the triskele to represent the triplicities in their cosmology and theology, such as the connection between Land, Sea and Sky. The triskele is also associated with the Celtic sea god Manannán mac Lir and the triple goddess Brigid.
The triple spiral is also called the ‘spiral of life’, symbolizing life, death and afterlife. The Celts believed that all things moved in eternal cycles, and the triskele reminds us of the cycle of life.
© The Celtic Journey (2013)