The Celtic Symbol Of The Head


The Celtic symbol of the head was of central importance among the ancient Celtic tribes.  It was believed, in fact, to be the seat of the soul, the spirit and the power of the human being. Celtic art expert Paul Jacobsthal wrote that “Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world.” The head does not seem to have been actually worshipped by the Celts, but rather venerated, as, for example, modern-day Catholics venerate the relics of saints and attribute certain powers to them.Keep reading…

Head-hunting Pictish warriorThe ancient practice of Celtic warriors (and many other early peoples) of carrying the severed heads of their enemies back from the battle as trophies is thought to have been based on the belief that the head carried a person’s soul and power. This was the ultimate expression of victory – to take possession of the enemy’s soul, or, at least, the symbol of where his soul once resided. However, the fact that they are recorded to have been habitually placed on stakes around their dwellings and their temples shows that the head was also valued as a type of amulet with protective power.

Celtic three-faced stone head

Three-faced stone head from Corleck, Ireland.
3rd-2nd C. BC.

A particularly interesting version of the Celtic head symbol is the three-faced tricephalic head. As the number 3 was sacred to the Celts and appears frequently in Celtic mythology and art, it is likely that the three-faced head represents one of their threefold (often known as triadic or triune) deities, such as Lugus (composed of Esus, Toutatis (of Asterix fame!) and Taranis. These threefold deities are also common in other mythologies and traditions of the world, such as the ancient Greek triad of Zeus, Athena and Apollo, the ancient Egyptian triad of Osiris, Isis and Horus and the Roman triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Christianity still retains its trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

heads on capital

Stone heads decorating a capital in the cloisters of Chiaravalle Abbey, Milan, Italy.

And just as the symbol of the trinity became a Christian symbol, so the Celtic symbol of the head (along with many other pagan symbols) was adopted and ‘consecrated’ by Christianity. Today we can still see in old churches heads carved in stone and wood, their ancient identities transmuted from pagan deity to Christian saint.