For centuries, Celtic symbols and signs held incredible power for the ancient Celts in every way of life.
The word “Celtic” refers to people who lived in Britain and Western Europe from 500 BC and 400 AD.
Celts were of the Iron Age and lived in small villages which were led by warrior chiefs.
With its rich history and culture, Ireland has been home to various civilisations for thousands of years.
These ancient communities used Celtic symbols that now have become part of the Irish identity and Irish heritage.
Some of these Celtic symbols have even become symbols of Ireland itself.
But did you know that these symbols have much deeper and surprising meanings?
If you do wish to dig further into any of these Celtic symbols, I have written additional articles for the majority of them. I will get them completed soon. You might also like to view some Celtic Jewellery here.
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Let’s take a look at some of the most popular Celtic symbols and what exactly they mean.
1. The Awen of the Three Rays of Light – Celtic Symbols
This neo-Druid symbol, which is a popular design for tattoos, jewellery and artwork, is said to be invented by Iolo Morgannwg, an 18th-century Welsh poet.
However, studies suggest that the symbol might be older than initially thought.
The word “Awen” means inspiration or essence in the Celtic language and it first appeared in the 9th-century book “Historia Brittonum.”
It was said that it represents the harmony of opposites in the universe.
For instance, the two outer rays represent masculine and feminine energy, while the ray in the middle represents the balance between them.
There are multiple meanings for the Awen Celtic symbol.
One interpretation is main outside lines are symbolic of both man and women while the inside line represents balance.
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2. Brigid’s Cross – Celtic Symbols
Widely believed to be a Christian symbol, Brigid’s Cross is tied to Brigid of the Tuatha de Danaan, which, in Irish Celtic Mythology, is known as a life-giving goddess.
It is woven out of rushes and sometimes straw on the feast of Imbolc to mark the beginning of spring.
When Christianity came to Ireland, the goddess Brigid became St Brigid of Kildare and many of the goddess’s attributes, including the symbol and her association with the destructive power and productive use of fire, were transferred to the latter.
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3. The Celtic Cross – Celtic Symbols
Like with the Brigid’s Cross, many people have come to associate the Celtic Cross with Christianity. However, studies suggest this symbol predates Christianity by thousands of years.
In fact, the symbol has appeared in many ancient cultures. According to one theory, the Celtic Cross represents the four cardinal directions.
There’s also another theory saying that it represents the four elements of earth, fire, air, and water.
The cross is rich in powerful representation and an ideal reflection of the hopes and ambitions of the Celts.
While the Cross is certainly a Christian symbol, it has its roots in ancient pagan beliefs at the same time.
It is a remarkable fact how widespread the distinct shape of the Irish Cross is in the modern era.
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4. The Green Man – Celtic Symbols
The Green Man is represented in many cultures as a head of a man that is made of foliage.
Seen in many buildings and structures in Ireland and Britain, the Green Man is said to be a symbol of rebirth and the co-dependence between nature and man.
He represents the lushness of vegetation and the arrival of spring and summer.
The tradition of the Green Man being carved on to Christian churches exists across Europe, including examples such as the Seven Green Men of Nicosia in Cyprus, a series of seven green men carved in the thirteenth century on to the facade of St Nicholas Church in Nicosia.
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5. The Harp – Celtic Symbols
The national emblem of Ireland, the Irish Harp is one of today’s most widely recognised Irish symbols apart from the Shamrock.
It is believed that the Phoenicians brought the harp to pre-Christian Europe from Egypt as one of their trading goods.
Since the 10th century, it has been an important symbol for the Irish people, personifying the spirit of the country.
In fact, the British Crown was so threatened by the harp that in the 16th century, the British ordered all harps to be burnt and all harpists executed.
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6. The Shamrock – Celtic Symbols
If there’s one symbol that is widely associated with the Irish, it’s got to be the shamrock.
Now the national flower of Ireland.
The shamrock is a small clover and was an important symbol to the ancient Irish druids because its three heart-shaped leaves represent the triad.
The Celts believed that everything important in the world comes in threes.
Like the three ages of man, the phases of the moon, and the three dominions of earth, sky, and sea.
In the 19th century, the shamrock became a symbol of Irish nationalism and rebellion against the British Crown, and anyone caught wearing it was executed.
7. The Celtic Tree of Life or Crann Bethadh – Celtic Symbols
Often represented by a tree with branches reaching to the sky and the roots spreading into the earth.
The Celtic Tree of Life symbolises the Druid belief in the connection between heaven and earth.
The Celts believe that trees were the ancestors of man and had a connection to other worlds.
Here are some interesting facts about the Celtic Tree of life:
- Trees were a connection to the world of the spirits and the ancestors, living entities, and doorways into other worlds.
- The most sacred tree of all was the Oak tree, which represented the axis mundi, the centre of the world.
- The Celtic name for oak, daur, is the origin of the word door– the root of the oak tree was literally the doorway to the Otherworld, the realm of Fairy.
- Countless Irish legends revolve around trees. One could fall asleep next to a particular tree and awake in the fairy realm.
- This is why the tree of life symbol itself relates qualities to it such as wisdom, strength & longevity.
- The Celts believed that their enemies would be rendered powerless if their sacred tree was cut down.
- The Celts derived the meaning of rebirth from the seasonal changes they would see each tree go through(Summer to Winter and so on).
8.The Triquetra or the Trinity Knot – Celtic Symbols
Like all Celtic knots, the triquetra is made with one continuous line that interweaves around itself.
It symbolises an eternal spiritual life, one with no beginning and no end.
Christians feel that it started with the Monks, who brought these designs along with their teachings of Christianity when attempting to convert the Celts of the day.
However, the Triquetra has been speculated to be the oldest symbol of spirituality.
It appears in the ninth century in the Book of Kells as a decoration, with no particular religious significance, and the symbol has been found in Norwegian churches dating to the 11th century.
This symbol matches the Celtic belief that everything important in the world comes in threes.
You might recognise it from Thor’s hammer in the modern day movie.
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9. The Triskele – Celtic Symbols
Another Irish symbol that represents the Celtic belief of the triad is the triskele or the triskelion.
The triskele is one of the oldest Irish symbols, and you can find many of them on the kerbstones of Newgrange.
According to researchers these carvings were believed to be made during the Neolithic times or around 3200 BC.
You can see evidence of this around the world as you can see from the image below from Athens, Greece:
Recommended reading: Triskele: Book One of the Bwy Hir Trilogy
10. The Claddagh Ring – Celtic Symbols
The Claddagh Ring is widely known in Ireland as the symbol of union and loyalty.
It is believed that Richard Joyce, a fisherman from the village of Claddagh near Galway, made the ring for her lady love.
The woman who eventually became his wife.
Waited for him for years after Joyce was kidnapped by pirates, sold into slavery, and later regained his freedom.
The Claddagh ring has been worn by some famous celebrities over the years. Including Julia Roberts, Walt Disney and Jennifer Aniston. Read the post on the celebrities wearing the Claddagh ring here.
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We also made this video from the first five Celtic symbols in this article:
What other Celtic symbols do you know about?
Be sure to pin this Celtic Symbols image to your Pinterest board and if you enjoyed these be sure to browse some incredible Celtic Jewelry here:
Thanks for reading,
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