The Triskele – History Behind This Ancient Celtic Symbol (Including Appearances)

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Ah, the time has come, my last Celtic Symbols article “the Triskele”. Pronounced “Treeskeel or Try Skeel”

I guess I have been putting this one off as it would conclude my list of 10 ancient Celtic Symbols.

When I wrote the initial post the idea of writing 10 additional articles on each symbol seemed like a mountain of work but here we are about 12 months later. 

Did you know:  The triple spiral has been speculated to be the oldest symbol of spirituality. Often referred to by many as a Triskelion, its earliest creation dates back to the Neolithic era, as it can be seen at the entrance of Newgrange, Ireland.

Entrance of Newgrange, Ireland showing the spiral of the Triskele
It can be seen at the entrance of Newgrange, Ireland.

Today I will be talking about the Triskele AKA the spiral. And of course, as with many of the other Celtic Symbols, this finds its way into many forms of artworks and tattoo enthusiasts. 

Example of a Triskele spiral

Again with this article if you have been following for some time I will try to keep things as non-technical as possible so that by the end of it you will have a much better understanding of the Triskele and its history. 

But first what is the difference between a triquetra and a triskele?

what us the difference between a triquetra and triskele

Don’t let their similarities fool you they are quite different. I covered all about the Triquetra in this article.

Whether you are looking for a trendy tattoo or a designer piece of inspired jewellery it is important to know the main differences between the two. 

 

  • From its pre-Celtic origins, the triskele has become widespread in Celtic art and architecture. Versions are found on ancient monuments across Ireland. 
  • Once again you can see that the Celts loved all things in threes: 
  • The spirals could have changed over the centuries but the base meanings include:

Three stages of life: life, death, and rebirth

Three elements: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

Three domains: earth, sea and sky, past, present and future.

  • While the main differences are the visual aspects there are more similarities than differences between the triquetra and the triskele. Both are holy symbols to Christians and to Pagans.

The Triskele appearances throughout history

As my studies of these ancient symbols have interested me none has had a more diverse appearance than the Triskele. 

Now when I say it has had many appearances throughout history you might be thinking to the above image of the 5,000-year-old Newgrange entrance and are not overly impressed. 

Well here is a picture of the Triskele symbol on a jug from Egypt dating back to 1400-1350 BC! 

Beaked jug (ewer) decorated with triple spirals. Late Helladic III, 1400-1350 BC

You may know this symbol as the triskelion but both terms come from the Greek words tri, “three,” and skelos, “leg.” 

  • The spiral and the triple spiral are among the oldest spiritual symbols created by humans.  

Familiar as an ancient symbol of Sicily, the symbol dates back to when Sicily was part of Magna Graecia, the colonial extension of Greece beyond the Aegean.

Pliny the Elder attributes the origin of the triskelion of Sicily to the triangular form of the island, the ancient Trinacria (from the Greek tri- (three) and akra (end, limb)), which consists of three large capes equidistant from each other, pointing in their respective directions, the names of which were Pelorus, Pachynus, and Lilybæum.

Could this symbol have a deeper meaning that perhaps we overlooked due to its simplicity? Your guess is as good as mine. 

Celtic symbol and their meanings

The spirals found on ancient tombs have been drawn in one continuous line.

When the triple spirals are drawn in this way it has been speculated that this represents life and death.

The Triskele appearances in modern day: 

Just like with the Irish Harp this Celtic Symbol has already made plenty of appearances in modern-day including:

  • A triskelion is featured on the seal of the United States Department of Transportation.
  • A triskelion shape is a basis for the roundel of the Irish Air Corps
  • A triskelion shape was used in the design of RCA’s “Spider” 45 rpm adapter, a popular plastic adapter for vinyl records
  • The Flag of the Isle of Man bears 3 legs based on the Triskele.Flag of the Isle of Man
  • In the Marvel Universe, the intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. uses the Triskelion as its headquarters. You may also remember they used the Triquetra on Thor’s Hammer.
  • In the television series Merlin, it was used as a symbol of druids.
  • You can find other references on the Wiki page here.

Closing points on this incredible symbol: 

Newgrange Ireland

As you can see like with many of these ancient Celtic Symbls they have rooted themselves in not just our past but in modern-day as well. 

A timeless symbol that’s meaning has changed from century to century, I am just glad that it is still around today and still holds a wonderous thought into a deeper meaning. 

Do you have any views on the Triskele/Triskellion? Comment below. 

Thanks for reading and do read my main post on Celtic Symbols if you haven’t already. You can find subtopics for each major symbol throughout the article. 

And don’t forget to join my weekly dose of Irish(join here) that I send out every Friday straight to your inbox. 

history of the Triskele

Thanks,

Stephen 

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4 thoughts on “The Triskele – History Behind This Ancient Celtic Symbol (Including Appearances)”

  1. Frankly, I was quite surprised when the triskele sort of manifested itself in my painting showed above. I knew of the symbol and for the most part its Christian connotations but I had never used it in any of my drawings or paintings before. The subject matter though is of a very spiritual kind so one must say that it is on point. Best Regards, Tine ‘Heines’ Jensen, Denmark

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