Celtic Tree of Life. The tree was an important part of early Celtic spirituality. To the Celts, the tree was a source of sustenance- a bearer of food, a provider of shelter, and a provider of fuel for cooking and warmth. Trees were also associated in the Shamanic beliefs of the Druids and other Celtic peoples with the supernatural world. Trees were a connection to the world of the spirits and the ancestors, living entities, and doorways into other worlds.
Wood from sacred trees had magickal properties, which was reflected in the Celtic Ogham alphabet, wherein each letter represents a particular sacred tree (modern Ogham divination is based on the uses and importance of these sacred trees to the Celtic people). Some trees provided food, some wood for making hunting weapons; others were sacred to the fairy-folk. In Celtic creation stories, trees were the ancestors of mankind, elder beings of wisdom who provided the alphabet, the calendar, and entrance to the worlds of the gods.
The most sacred of all was the Oak tree, which represented the axis mundi, the center of the universe. The oak was the doorway to the Otherworld. Its Celtic name, daur, is the origin of the word door.
Countless Irish legends revolve around trees. One could fall asleep next to a particular tree and awake in the fairy realm. In Celtic legends of the Gods, trees guard sacred wells and provide healing, shelter, and wisdom. Trees carried messages to the other realm, and conferred blessings- to this day, trees can be seen in the Irish countryside festooned with ribbons and pleas for favors, love, healing, and prosperity.
The interlaced figures known as Celtic knots represent sacred trees and plants, and the sacred animals of the forest. The Green Man or foliate god is the animus of nature; the spirit of the forest and of the hunt, is pictured as a spirit face in the form of gathered leaves and sprouting tendrils.
The triquetra (often, triqueta) is a tripartate symbol composed of three interlocked vesica pisces, marking the intersection of three circles. It is most commonly a symbol of the Holy Trinity (Father, son, Holy spirit) used by the Celtic Christian Church, sometimes stylized as three interlaced fish.
This symbol predates Christianity and was likely a Celtic symbol of the triple Goddess, and in the North, a symbol of the god Odin. Triplicities were common symbols in Celtic myth and legend, one of the possible reasons Christian beliefs were so easily adopted by the Celtic people.
The triqueta makes an ideal Christian symbol. It is a perfect representation of the concept of "three in one" in Christian trinity beliefs, and incorporates another popular Christian symbol, the fish, in its original form of the vesica pisces. It is sometimes enclosed within a circle to emphasize the unity aspect.
In Wiccan and Neopagan belief, the triqueta symbolizes the triple aspected goddess (maid, mother, and crone). Some Christians have protested this "appropriation" of the symbol...however, ironically enough, the original Christian fish symbol was derived from an early symbol of venus, one representing female generative organs- making the triquetra perfectly appropriate symbol for a Goddess revival. The triquetra is also considered to represnt the triplicities of mind, body, and soul, as well as the three domains of earth- earth, sea, and sky.
The Solar cross is probably the oldest religious symbol in the world, appearing in Asian, American, European, and Indian religious art from the dawn of history. Composed of a equal armed cross within a circle, it represents the solar calendar- the movements of the sun, marked by the solstices. Sometimes the equinoxes are marked as well, giving an eight armed wheel. (The swastika is also a form of Solar cross.)
The sun cross in its most simplified form (shown above) is known in Northern Europe as Odin's cross, after the Chief God of the Norse pantheon. It is often used as an emblem by Asatruar, followers of the Norse religion. The word "cross" itself comes from the Old Norse word for this symbol: kros.
The Celtic cross is a symbol of the Celtic Christian Church, borrowed from the pre-Christian Celtic Pagan emblem of the sun God Taranis:
Another similar symbol is the emblem of the ancient Assyrian God Shamash: The Lauburu (four heads), a traditional Basque emblem, is also a form of solar cross: The Etruscan God Ixion was often depicted crucified on a solar wheel (note the similarity to the Chi-Ro cross): The Aztec solar deity Quetzalcoatl, depicted crucified on an equal armed cross:
There are many symbols associated with Druidry, ancient and modern:
Wreath and Staves, or Druidic sigil:
The sigil is the identifying symbol of one of the earliest Druid reconstruction organizations, Reformed Druids of North America. It is strictly a modern symbol, having no root in historic Druidry.
The Awen, or 'rays,' a glyph with three vertical lines or rays converging at the top: The Awen is a not genuine symbol of Druidry, but associated with several modern groups. Awen in the Celtic language means means "inspiration," or "essence," and refers to spiritual illumination. The three parts of the Awen symbol represent the harmony of opposites- the left and right rays symbolizing female and male energy; the center bar their harmonious balance.
A common symbol in ancient Druidry was the Sun wheel, or wheel of Taranis, the Celtic sun God:
The wheel is identical to other solar wheels and represents the solar calendar. The Solar cross and Celtic cross motifs derive from this symbol.
The most recognizable symbol of Druidry is the world tree, with branches and roots entwined.
The world tree, like its Norse counterpart represents man-the branches symbolize the cosmos, the roots the underworld, the tree their union in mankind.
The Green Man is a mysterious, eerie figure depicted mainly in medieval European stonework, believed to represent an ancient vegetation deity. The Green man is nearly always depicted as a "foliate head," that is, a face made of leaves and vines. Sometimes, it appears as a human face peering out from leaves, other times with animal features.
The image of the Green man may have been adapted from Roman decorative stonework, or from Celtic interlace figures. Older versions bear a very close resemblance to Celtic and Norse interlace figures, and often combine plant and animal features. One of the oldest examples was discovered on an Irish obelisk that dates to the third century BCE. This may be the Derg Corra of Celtic myth, the man in the tree.
The name "green man" was coined in the late 1930s. Other names for this figure are Jack in Green of Jack of the Green.
Many believe the greenman is related to the pre-Christian Celtic deity Cernunnos; others that it is simply an expression of the forces of nature, or even a reminder that we, too, are part of the cycle of life. There is no real evidence linking the images to any particular philosophy, cult, or belief, although the faces are strikingly uniform through time.
The greenman is not a strictly European phenomenon- similar images appear in Asian, Indian, and Arabic architecture and art as well.
Whatever his origin, the Green Man is now an unmistakable mascot of the Neopagan religious movement, where he serves as the embodiment of untamed nature, an emblem of the male principal, and a symbol of fertility andvibrant life energy.
The triskele, or triple spiral, a symbol closely related to the triquetra, is a tripartate symbol composed of three interlocked spirals. The spiral is an ancient Celtic symbol related to the sun, afterlife and reincarnation. The example above comes from the Neolithic "tomb" at Newgrange, where it is supposed by some to be a symbol of pregnancy (the sun describes a spiral in its movements every three months; a triple spiral represents nine months), an idea reinforced by the womblike nature of the structure. The symbol also suggests reincarnation- it is drawn in one continuous line, suggesting a continuous movement of time.
Triskeles are one of the most common elements of Celtic art; they are found in a variety of styles in both ancient and modern Celtic art, especially in relation to depictions of the Mother Goddess. They also evoke the Celtic concept of the domains of material existence- earth, water, and sky, and thier interelations.
The spiral is probably the oldest symbol of human spirituality. It has been found scratched into rocks from thousands of years ago, on every continent in the world. The religious significance can only be guessed, but it has been found on tombs, and possibly has a connection with the sun- the sun makes a spiral shape every three months in its travels. A triple spiral motif found on Celtic tombs is drawn unicursally (that is, in one continuous line), suggesting a cycle of rebirth or resurrection. (this hypothesis is bolstered by the fact that many of these appear to be deliberately placed where they catch the first rays of the sun on the solstice).
In modern times, the spiral is still spiritually significant. It is the symbol of spirit in Wicca, an emblem of the Goddess.
The septagram, a continuously drawn figure having seven points, is far less common than the pentagram. It is however important in Western kabbalah, where it symbolizes the sphere of Netzach, the seven planets, the seven alchemical metals, and the seven days of the week. It is a sacred symbol to Wiccans who follow the "Faery" tradition, where it is called the Elven or Fairy star. The seven pointed star is also an important part of the seal of the A.A., the inner order of Aleister Crowley's OTO.
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One of several dancing figures from a cave painting in Ariege, France, dated 10,000 BC. Nicknamed the "dancing sorcerer," it is believed to represent a shaman in ceremonial dress, or in the form of a shape shifter. The composite creature has the tail of a wolf, the body and antlers of a deer, the eyes of an owl, and the paws of a bear. It may be related to early depictions of the Celtic deity Cernunnos, the master of animals.
The Picts were a tribal people who lived in Northern Britain and Scotland until about a thousand years ago. Their language is lost, except for fragments, although they left behind a wealth of "picture stones," large monoliths carved with mysterious symbols whose meanings are mostly unknown. There are about fifty major symbols. Some are easily identified as animals or mythical creatures; others are completely mysterious, such as the "crescent and V-rod" and the "double disk." They may have originated as tattoos or amulets. After the fifth century, most Picts converted to Christianity, and most of their carvings reflect this change; many of the so-called "Celtic" crosses dotting England and Scotland are in fact Pictish stones.
Below, you can view some of the more common Pictish signs:
Pictish animal signs may have been related to Gods and Goddesses, and included boars, salmon, wolves, and birds:
Some of the most famous Pictish carvings are of monsters, mermaids, and other sea creatures:
Most unusual are the enigmatic symbols known as the "V-rod," "Z-rod," and "double disks," all named for their unusual shapes. The V-rod is a bent arrow superimposed on a crescent; it is thought by some to be a symbol of death:
The z-rod is found in combination with a serpent, a tomb/doorway, or a double-sun (double disk), all possibly symbols of the afterlife:
Another object commonly inscribed is the mirror, often paired with a comb. These are often found near female names, and are believed to be a symbol denoting a woman's memorial:
A gigantic earthwork found carved into chalk bedrock on a in Dorset, England hillside. The figure is of indeterminate age, but is believed to date from the Iron age, and is probably a representation of the Celtic God Ogmios.
There are many symbols associated with Wicca and modern pagan belief. Some of the most universal are:
The pentacle, a pentagram within a circle, represents the integration of body and spirit, and the mastery of the four elements. The pentacle is used in a number of Wiccan rituals, and as a Grade sign. It is often worn as a symbol of recognition amongst practitioners, especially those who practice a code of secrecy:
Hidden pentacles are pentacles disguised in more intricate designs, and may be worn when it is not safe or appropriate to wear a standard pentacle:
For a thorough explanation of the history and meaning of this symbol: Pentagram.
A stylized representation of the Horned God, who represents the masculine aspect of the universe, the archetypal horned Shaman, also related to the Greek Pan, the Celtic Cernunnos, and the Egyptian Ammon. This symbol is sometimes called the "horn moon," and as such, is a symbol of the Goddess Diana, especially in Dianic Wicca.
There are several representations of the Lunar Triple Goddess symbol, representing the three aspects of the moon (waxing, waning, and full) and womankind (mother, maiden, crone), as well as the Lady, or Goddess:
The eight pointed wheel of the year symbol marks the Solstices and Equinoxes, important holy days in the Wiccan Ritual calendar. It is derived from the sun wheel, or solar cross:
The cauldron is drawn from ancient Celtic mythology. The Celts used cauldrons for food and for ritual use, where it symbolized abundance, and divine inspiration. As a ritual tool, it is mostly symbolic. Often used to represent the fire or water elements, it is also used for scrying, for mixing herbs, for consecration, or to hold the ingredients for a spell. It is generally held to be a feminine symbol:
The image of Cernunnos, a Celtic horned deity who is often considered the origin of the concept of the Wiccan horned God, symbolizes the power of nature, especially the domnain of forests and the animals that dwell in them:
The familiar symbol below is a simplified sillouette of a paleolithic Egyptian mother Goddess, probably a prototype of the Goddess Isis, and is often used to symbolize the "Lady," the feminine deity of Wicca:
The so-called witch's sign is used in some traditions to mark ritual tools. It is similar to the solar cross, but its exact origin is unknown:
Hecate's wheel is an ancient Greek symbol, and is an emblem of the Moon Goddess Hecate, and her triple aspect:
The Emblem of Seax-Wicca, an Anglo-Saxon influenced branch of Wicca, symbolizes the sun, moon, and the eight Sabbats, or holy days:
The "Elven star," or seven pointed star, is associated with practitioners of "Fairy" Wicca:
The Sheela-na-gig is a shocking, immediately noticable figure found in Celtic and medival stonework. Sheela is most commonly depicted as a squat, ugly female creature using her hands to display grotesquely large genitals. Sheelas of various ages adorn stone steles all over the Irish countryside ; they are also found in the intricate carvings in cathedrals and stone churches in ireland, England, and throughout Europe, often in tandem with the Green man.
Sheela is very likely related to the ancient Celtic Goddess; her images are often older than the churches they appear in, suggesting they are parts of much older religious sites. Many closely resemble ancient Viking figures of a creator goddess.
Usually known as "Bride's cross," this equal-armed cross is traditionally woven from straw in honor of Ireland's Saint Bridget (Bride, Brighid, Brigid) on her holiday, Candlemas, held on the second of February. There is a very strong likelihood that there never was such a personage as St. Bridget, and that she may have been a cover for worship of the Celtic Goddess of the same name. The cross itself is a type of solar cross, and both the symbol and the woven representation probably predate Christianity in Ireland.
The Mistress of animals, as she is sometimes referred to, is a fourth century stonecarving of an unknown Norse Goddess. She usually appears with serpents in each hand, possibly linking her to the ancient Babylonian Goddess Ishtar, or to the Cretan Bee Goddess. She is probably a creator goddess, as she is shown in a birthing position.
The triskele above her head most likely symbolizes the Goddess as creatrix. It is made up of the three animals emblematic of the Celtic domains of existence: the boar, representing the earth; the snake, an emblem of water; the bird, representing the sky.