We’ve all heard of the Celtic people, but what exactly are they? The term “Celtic” generally refers to the peoples of Western Europe and Great Britain from 500 B.C. to 400 A.D. The Celts lived in small villages with warrior chiefs in charge and were a significant part of the Iron Age. However, symbols of Ireland and symbols of the Celts are not always the same thing, even though some Celtic symbols have morphed into Irish symbols.
The symbols that came from the Celtic people are very interesting indeed, and it’s easy to wonder what in the world they all stand for. Some of these symbols are easily recognized by most people, while others are only familiar to people with a reason to explore their Celtic heritage. The symbols are found on all types of items, including clothing, jewelry, and housewares, to name a few, and if you’d like to learn about what some of the most popular symbols mean, keep reading.
1. The Awen of the Three Rays of Light
This circle of three lines with three rays of light on the inside of the circle is a popular neo-Druid design often used in tattoos and artwork. The symbol represents the harmony of opposites that occurs naturally in the universe. The rays on the inside are said to represent females, males, and in the middle, the balance between the two genders.
2. The Celtic Cross
This cross is a standard cross shape with a circle in the middle of it, but contrary to what many people believe, it is not a symbol of Christianity. In fact, the Celtic cross predates Christianity by several thousands of years. Although no one knows the original meaning of the cross, some think it may be made to represent the four cardinal directions.
3. The Shamrock
The shamrock is a three-leaf plant whose leaves are each shaped like hearts, and it is the national flower of Ireland. Its meaning is simple: it is meant to symbolize good luck. If you find the rare four-leaf clover, it is supposed to symbolize even more luck. If you want good luck in your life, find and keep a shamrock!
4. The Celtic Tree of Life
Round in shape and containing a fully grown tree, for the Celts it symbolizes balance and harmony. A true Celtic tree of life is so well-made that if you spin it 180 degrees, it will look exactly the same as it did before you turned it. In Celtic times, it was thought that the relatives of the Celts were there inside of the trees, which means there was always a link between the living and the dead.
5. The Dara Knot
Looking much like a round maze, this is a very recognizable symbol of the Celtic people. “Dara” is based on the Irish word for oak tree, and the knot symbolizes the intricate root system of a live oak tree. The lines throughout the symbol have no beginning and no end, a common theme in Celtic knot designs. It also comes in several different designs, but all of them center on the oak tree and its roots.
6. The Ailm
A simple design because it is merely a circle with a cross on the inside of it, the Ailm is a symbol of Irish Celtic strength; the only Celtic symbol that does this is the Dara knot. The Ailm represents the conifer or silver fir tree, both of which were once believed to have the power to heal a person’s inner soul. It also comes from the once-used Celtic Ogham alphabet, with the ogham being a group of trees thought to be able to dispense both knowledge and wisdom.
7. The Triquetra / Trinity Knot
Another very recognizable Celtic symbol, the trinity or Triquetra knot is thought to be the oldest symbol of spirituality. Several Celtic knots represent family unity, eternal love, and strength, and this is one of them. Also called the Celtic triangle, it is a beautiful and elaborate knot that shows a circle that is interwoven with a three-pointed symbol that is continuous. As soon as you see it, you’ll recognize it.
8. The Serch Bythol
This one is definitely a lesser-known symbol of the Celtic people, but it is important nonetheless. Since the early Celts were in touch with their emotions and relationships and therefore placed a lot of emphasis on this, the Serch Bythol is made up of two Celtic knots that symbolize an everlasting love between two people. Each part of the knot is well-designed and intertwined with the other one, representing two people who will be together forever in mind, body, and spirit.
9. The Celtic Motherhood Knot
This is a beautiful and very intricate design that looks like a mother holding her child. It symbolizes the bond between mother and child, as well as faith in God and the Celtic heritage. Some people interpret it to be the Madonna and child, but regardless of how you think it originated, it is definitely a symbol of the love and strong bond between a mother and her child.
10. The Triskele
Comprised of three joining spirals, the triskele is also called the triskelion and symbolizes the Celtic belief that everything happens in sets of three. Have you ever heard the phrase, “the third time’s a charm”? The belief that everything happens in sets of three is still prevalent today in the Celtic people, but this symbol can also represent the inner and outer worlds; the unity of your physical, spiritual, and mental selves; and birth, death, and rebirth.
11. The St. Brigid’s Cross
Often used as a wall hanging and looking like a giant cross made of twigs and sticks, this cross is said to honor St. Brigid, who was well-known for her charitable acts. It is used to celebrate Imbolc, which is the beginning of spring and also the festival of Brigid. Brigid was also believed to be a goddess who was a giver of life. The cross often hangs in people’s homes to ward off evil spirits and is an important representation of spring.
12. The Green Man
Another familiar Celtic symbol, the green man has a head that is surrounded by foliage, and he is said to represent life and rebirth. The symbol dates back to roughly 400 BC and is important in the pagan and Celtic cultures. He is also called the Man in the Tree, the Derg Corra Viridios, and the Jack O’the Green. These days, he is often used to represent the environment.
13. The Eternity Knot
Celtic eternity knots are any knots that have a closed path. In other words, they have neither a beginning nor an end. This is according to a Celtic art teacher by the name of George Bain of Scotland, who gave the eternity knots their meaning. These knots can be basic and simple or a little more intricate, and they are considered an ancient symbol for the Celts because you do not always see these symbols today.
14. The Five-Fold Symbol
Made out of five perfectly formed circles, it is said to represent the balance of human nature. Some experts claim the five circles represent the five basic elements of the universe: fire, sun, earth, water, and air; while others claim the middle of the symbol represents the universe and the other four circles represent fire, earth, water, and air.
15. The Single Spiral
This is a very common symbol of the Celtic culture and is a very basic design that includes one line that goes in a circle to present one single spiral in the end. Some interpretations include the radiation of ethereal energy; the expansion of the consciousness, which includes its knowledge and perseverance; and the concepts of birth, growth, and death. The most interesting thing about the symbol is that its design is accomplished with just one single line.
16. The Celtic Bull
The Celtic people have long associated the bull with things such as wealth, abundance, fertility, virility, and status, as well as kinship and close ties with the land. Celtic villages and clans always thought that the bull represented both prestige and prosperity, and it started with sacrificial Druid rituals that considered bulls to be very revered animals. In earlier times, the bull represented stubbornness and a strong will.
Although not all Celtic and Irish symbols are the same, some of them do overlap. Even today, the Celtic people are proud of their heritage, which has resulted in tons of symbols that have lasted through the ages.
Celtic symbols are intricately designed, and while some of them have different trains of thought when it comes to what they mean, many others are just the opposite. Many symbols, including the Claddagh and others, are associated with the Celtic peoples but are actually Irish in nature.
Exploring the meanings of these symbols can be a lot of fun, and you can do this research online because this is the fastest way to learn more about them. The Celtic heritage has given us a lot of these symbols, and it can be a lot of fun to become familiar with what all of them mean.