The spiral pattern is one of the most common in nature, from snail shells to whirlpools to entire galaxies.
It is also one of the oldest patterns created by humans, with evidence of rock carvings throughout the world, some dating back tens of thousands of years. So it is not surprising that it features prolifically in Celtic culture.
In fact, the spiral is the oldest symbol in Celtic culture. In Celtic belief it is thought to represent the sun or the radiation of ethereal energy.
The symbol of the spiral in various forms can be found on carvings throughout Europe where the Celts travelled. This has led to a belief that the symbol could also represent migration, perpetual movement.
The Celts were travelling tribes and this theory matches up with other migratory tribes who used the same symbols thousands of miles away. There is also a link to water. The spiral occurs naturally in the form of waves and other cultures have used the spiral to depict water. Also related to migration, some of the spiral carvings in Scandinavia are thought to represent the stars and their positions in the sky.
The double Spiral
The double spiral is found at many Celtic grave sites and has been linked, not only to the sun but to the idea of death and rebirth. This could mean the transference of energy from the body to the soul or the body giving life back into the earth, a constant cycle of life, which is a popular theme in Celtic symbolism.
In relation to the sun, the double spiral is thought to represent the solstices or the equinoxes. Sometimes the double spiral appears as a loose anti clockwise spiral joined with a tight clockwise spiral.
This is thought to represent the large, warm summer sun and the small shrinking winter sun whereas equal sized spirals represent the two equinoxes where the days and nights are of equal length, a sign of balance.
Clockwise and anti-clockwise spirals also represent energy in different ways – clockwise: emergence and growth, anti-clockwise: drawing inward.
A Triskele is a triple Spiral. It had huge significance for the Celts. Find out more about the triskele
All images copyright Ireland Calling
Brigid’s Cross (Brighid’s Cross, St Brigit’s Cross)
Celtic Cross - symbol of faith and culture
Claddagh Ring - symbol of union and loyalty
Easter Lily - sign of peace and hope for the future
The Green Man - symbol of rebirth
The harp - national emblem of Ireland
Shamrock - national flower of Ireland
The Spiral - thought to represent the sun
Celtic Tree of Life (Crann Bethadh)
Triquetra - the Trinity Knot
Triskele - From the Greek meaning ’three-legged’