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Druid Symbols

 

 

It is rather difficult to talk about any universal system of Celtic symbols, because there were many different Celtic tribes, each having own religious and cultural traditions. Still, there are a number of symbols that appeared quite often and can be seen even today on stone carvings.  The Megalithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange (Ireland) was built about 3200 BC. It is one of the oldest burial mounds in Europe. Its walls   are decorated with different stone carvings, depicting spirals, lozenges, chevrons and key patterns. Here are some most common of the symbols used by the Celts.

The Circle
The Circle is the most simple geometric shape, and is a fairly universal symbol among world religions, though connotation may be different. The circle on the "Celtic" cross is a good demonstration of a pagan symbol being absorbed by Christianity, for it is known that the early monks placed the pagan circle symbol on the "Celtic" cross to try and convert the native pagans more easily. Circles are also the shape that many megalithic monuments are constructed in, which is why we call them "stone circles" and "round barrows". The circle is a natural shape for religious symbols for it is the shape of the sun, the moon, many fruits, the bird's nest, the portal through which we all were born, and the human eye. Since it has no beginning or end, it easily represents God's love;the Alpha and Omega; birth, death and rebirth.
The Spiral
The counterclockwise spiral often represents the sun but is also the cosmic symbol for the natural form of growth; a symbol of eternal life, reminding us of the flow and movement of the cosmos. The whorls are continuous creation and dissolution of the world; the passages between the spirals symbolized the divisions between life, death, and rebirth.
The Clockwise Spiral
A basic element in Western ideography, the clockwise spiral (starting from the middle) is strongly associated with water, power, independent movement, and migrations of tribes. The sign's association with water may rather focus recurring rainy seasons, than water in general. Well in accordance with the law of the polarity of meanings of elementary graphs also often seems to denote the sun. But maybe not the ordinary sun, but the eclipsed sun. See the entry below. As stated in the entry of the basic graphic elements the dot and the spiral were used by man already 24,000 years ago. But thereafter the first instances of are found carved in rock faces not more than about 5,000 years ago. Be that as it may, one finds on discos from Crete from around 2000 B.C., and as an old symbol for potential power in Tibet. It also appears among rock carvings in Utah.
Alternate Spiral
A more circular and closer drawn version of the above entry sign is seen on many neolithic rock carvings. Until recently the meaning of this ideogram eluded researchers, but things have now changed. On rock carvings in Scandinavia one often finds signs which look like a strange type of boats or sleighs with short vertical lines on them. They have hitherto been interpreted as representing people. Together with them a lot of small, round signs, and the ideogram , can be seen. Why would people, thousands of years ago, hire rock carvers to work for long hours with the carving of these, seemingly rather meaningless pictures of ships or sleighs together with small, round signs and , in hard rock, as if they were messages important enough for posterity to be made to last thousands of years? Why did neolithic men think these pictures should be conveyed over eons to posterity? A breakthrough in the understandning of these strange ideograms seems to have been made in 1991. An archaeologist got the idea that the small, round signs on those rock carvings could be signs for stars in the sky. He fed the structures of some of the rock carvings into a computer and had the computer to compare them with representations of the constantly changing structure of the constellations of the brightests stars of the sky, century for century for some thousands of years. What he found was that the rock carvings were documentations of the configurations of the visible planets and the brightest of the fixed stars at times of total solar eclipses.Thus the sign might mean the eclipsed sun

Another idea states that the loosely wound anti-clockwise spiral represent the large summer sun and the tightly wound, clockwise spiral their shrinking winter sun.

sym-03.gif (2321 bytes) The Double Spiral
A variation of the preceding entry sign consists in fact of two interconnected , that is spirals with clockwise rotation (from the center seen). , made up not by lines but by rows of dots, has been found engraved on an amulett of mammoth tooth which is 24,000 years old, and thus must have been engraved by Cro-Magnon mammoth hunters. The sign , often used to denote the sun, is at the center of the amulet, with two on each side of it. During the Bronze Age was an often used graphic structure for decorations of artefacts of all types. In ancient Greece it was common on vases and amphoras, and often signified water or the sea. An older variation on the same theme is , found on rock engravings from the Bronze Age in Scania, Sweden. This variation, however, is much more graphically sophisticated, as you will soon realize if you try to draw it.

Another theory: a double spiral is used to represent the equinoxes, when day and night are of equal length.

Symb14.gif (1112 bytes) The Double Spiral (variant)
This sign structure is uncommon because it is closed. Since it is very difficult to draw, it probably had magical significance. It is often found on vessels and representations from the Bronze Age. This instance is found on a rock carving from Scania, Sweden. See
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The Dual Centered Spiral
The dual centered spiral is also prolific in stone carvings. It has associations with motifs from other cultures such as the Yin Yang symbol. It signifies the duality of nature and balance.

Symb07.gif (2155 bytes) The Spiral of Life
This structure is called the spiral of life and was found in the remnants of an old temple from the Bronze Age in Ireland. The sign is drawn in one single line without beginning or end. Compare with , an old Celtic sign that was also used in pre-Columbian America, and in Greece and neighboring countries in antiquity. See The triple spiral denotes the Threefold Goddess. The circle, spiral and wheel are all powerful symbols representing the cycle of life, death and rebirth, including the seasons of the year.
Symb12.gif (1110 bytes) The Triskele
The ancient structure has been found both in pre-Columbian America and in Bronze Age Europe. In Europe it is especially associated with the Celtic tribes. These symbols are called triskele or triskelion.
The Triskele is used to symbolize the cycles of life with in the three fold, or three spheres of influnce in the material world. The three spheres (Land, Sea and Sky) represents the three aspects of the material world that are contained in every object. Each aspect ever flowing outward and always returning to the point from which it started.
sym-13.gif (1583 bytes)

The Triskele (variant)
This symbol is also used to symbolize the Druidic Threefold Sister Goddess: Fotla/Eiru/Banba. Ireland, or Erin, is named after Eriu. It also symbolizes the Wiccan Threefold Mother Goddess: Maiden/Mother/Crone. The Triskele was a representation of the importance of the number three.

sym-14.gif (2380 bytes) The Triple Spiral
Originating as a symbol of the Triple Goddess (maiden, mother, crone) in pre-Christian times, the triple centered spirals were also found in illuminated manuscripts. This design may represent the waxing, waning and full moon. Frank Waters, an anthropologist who has studied the Hopi Indians and their culture, writes that the mirror image of the preceding entry sign was used by the Hopis in Arizona. Its spectrum of meaning seems to have been centred around the concept of several returns or homecomings. Waters has interpreted as tribal migration, cyclical in nature, by a people consisting of a few large tribes or clans.
sym-12.gif (1020 bytes) The Triskele (variant)
A stylized triskelion, Greek for three-leg. See This sign is associated with progress and competition, and originated in ancient Greece, where it for instance was used on coins. Nowadays one can find on the coat of arms of the Isle of Man, the island between Great Britain and Ireland. The Isle of Man is inhabited by Celts, and is related to , an early Celtic sign.
Symb10.gif (745 bytes) The Triskele (variant)
Another stylized triskelion (three-leg). This one is from a shield that was used as a prize at competitions in Athens around 500 B.C. It can also be found back on the coat of arms of the Isle of Man.
sym-07.gif (1952 bytes) The Triquetra
Called a Triquetra, Latin for three-cornered. In ancient and modern times the number 3 is seen an extremely powerful number. This is also one of the many symbols for the Holy Trinity from Christian symbolism.
Symb04.gif (1271 bytes) The Triquetra (variant)
Symbols of this type are called triquetras, which is Latin for three-cornered. This sign is a symbol for the Holy Trinity in Christian symbolism. Since one of the symbols for Jesus is a , one may also interpret this triquetra as a Jesus symbol, composed by three conventionalized, plaited fish.
Symb06.gif (957 bytes) The Triquetra (variaint)
A triquetra like the above entry sign, this one is from a runic stone in Sweden and around 1000 A.D.
sym-18.gif (1219 bytes) The Wheel of Being
At left is the Wheel of Being, or Fivefold Pattern. Consisting of four directions united by a fifth. Ireland is thought to be divided similarly into Leinster, Munster, Connaught, Ulster and Meath. Likewise, the Druidic universe was patterned as Four Powers or Elements unified by a fifth ­ Balance.
Symb03.gif (1268 bytes) The Sun Wheel
The ring cross or sun wheel was a common symbol in the Nordic countries, and can still be seen on ancient slabs and in many churches. It was also common in pre-Columbian America and throughout a large part of the Mediterranean region about 3,500 years ago. This particular version of the sign is also sometimes called the Celtic cross, although this name usually is used for a Latin cross with this structure at the center. Today, it is used as a logo by some new fascist organizations.
sym-15.gif (1301 bytes) The Celtic Cross
The Celtic cross or ring cross symbolizes the bridge to the Otherworld (Annwn) and to higher energy and knowledge. This is realised by the vertical axis representing the Otherworld and the horizontal axis representing the physical world (Abred). They meet in the centre, thereby creating a sense of wholeness. Basically, the horizontal line stands for the material world, the vertical line for the spiritual world and the circle the harmony of the two. The stones at Callanish are laid in the shape of a Celtic cross. Callanish predates Christ and dates back over 4000 years. That is why it is likely that Celtic cross was taken by the Christians from the Celts, and not the other way around.
Symb24.gif (1095 bytes) The Sigil
This symbol is a Druidic Sigil. A circle with two verticle lines intersecting it, the sigil sometimes is drawn as a wreath of leaves with two staves or spears.
sym-16.gif (1201 bytes) The Awen
The Awen Symbol, also called The Three Rays. The Awen is the single most important symbol of all the Druidic symbols. Starting from the right the first ray symbolizes the male forces in the material world. The left ray symbolizes the female forces in the material world. The center ray of Awen, stand for the balance nature enforces on these two competing aspects. Each ray has it's own name. Again starting from the right the names are "E", "Ah", and lastly "O". 'E' is the male ray, 'O' the female ray and 'Ah' is balance. Used especially in modern Druidry.
Symb16.gif (806 bytes) The Swastika
A Celtic swastika from a ceremonial shield made of gold, found in England.
bushyoaksil.gif (1520 bytes) The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is the symbol of the Otherworld. The roots were deep in the earth and the branches stretched to the heavens, its trunk exists within this realm.The Tree is usually associated with Druids and was widely used in Celtic art.
ogham15.gif (4133 bytes) The Ogham
Ogham (pronounced OH-am or OH-yam) was a system of writing which used horizontal or slanting notches cut on stone or wood. Each character indicates a letter and is named for a particular tree. The names of the main twenty letters are the names of twenty trees sacred for the druids. Ogham was apparently used by druids for recording tales, histories, poetry, genealogies, and so on.
The Torc
This was often a ceremonial neck piece worn by the Druids and often worn by Celtic hierarchy. The actual significance of this is unknown.
The Portal Tomb
Also called dolmens, they consisted of three or more standing stones capped typically by a large monolith and the dead would be buried under an earthen mound. Erosion over the millenia caused these structures which were built between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago to appear like an altar or table, hense the term dolmen.
The Viereckschanzen
These are roughly rectangular wall or ditch constructions that appear in the La Te/ne period from middle France. Inside of these rectangular wall and ditch enclosures, which also quite often had elaborate gate constructions, there often appear deep pits which in some cases still contained wooden statues of "gods" and a number of offerings. Equal pits, but without the surrounding wall and ditch constructions, have also been found on the British isles. Sometimes also small houses appear inside these Viereckschanzen, which in some cases appear to be the precedessors of later Gallo-Roman temples.
The Cairn
These were either large stones or a pile of stones that were placed on high ground, such as a hill, and used to worship their deity.
The Cromlech
This is a large stone placed upon two upright stones to make a able or altar. It was always placed in the center of the circle.
  The Owl of Wisdom
The Owl of Wisdom is associated with Bloeddewedd, and is a symbol of knowledge.
  The Stag
The Stag is associated with Cernunnos. This is the aspect of the wild hunt in which the spirits of the dead are transported to the underworld. The horns of the stag are symbolic of the Lord of the Animals. Also associated with Merlin.
  The Serpent
The Serpent is also associated with the God Cernunnos and is found on Torcs, the sacred neck ornament. Some serpent Torcs also have a ram's head which symbolize the power of nature and animals.
  The Horse
The Horse is associated with the Goddesses Epona and Rhiannon. This represents the power and fertility of the horse connected to the Kingship of the clan.
  The Bear
The Bear is associated with the Goddesses Artio and Andarta and the Gods Arthgen (Arthur) and Artogenus. The Bear symbolizes the King's connection to the land as well as the Constellation Arcturus, The Great Bear.
  The Bull
The Bull is associated with the God Esus, trees, and the three Cranes.
  The Boar
The Boar is associated with the Goddess Ceridwen and the God Math. The Pig is thus closely associated with shape shifting transformative powers as well as necromancy and flight.
  The Raven
The Raven is associated with the goddess Morrighan.
  The Salmon of Knowledge
Salmon of Knowledge is associated with the Goddess Cerridwen.
  The Hare
The Hare is associated with the Goddess Cerridwen.
  The Ram
The Ram is associated with the God Cernunnos.
harp.gif (1412 bytes) The Celtic Harp
The Celtic harp has three preferences: "laughing, tears and sleep". Harpmusic can sound happy or sad. Also relaxing and sereen. The Celtic harp also stands for immortality of the soul. The harp is an official national Irish symbol, but in other Celtic countries the bagpipe takes an important place into daily life.


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