The Spiral Symbol
The Spiral – A Universal Symbol
One of the most important symbols used by the ancient Celtic peoples, the spiral is actually a universal symbol shared by many other primitive cultures worldwide. Both in Ireland and in China, for example, it was used as a symbol of the sun. The ancient Egyptians depicted their snake god Mehen (meaning ‘coil’) as a protective force coiled around the sun god Ra. The koru spiral is one of the basic symbols of the Maori in New Zealand and abounds in their art and tattoos. The koru derives from the shape of a young fern and symbolises new life.
As in all primitive civilisations throughout the world, in fact, the Celts took both their deities and the symbols of them from Nature. And it is in Nature that we find the spiral in so many forms, from tiny fern fronds to the swirling shape of the galaxy itself (though with the naked eye this could not have actually be visible).
The Celtic spiral symbolises perpetual movement, either (or both) outward or inward, unfolding or receding, growing or dying. The Celtic spirituality was not separated from their bond with the earth and earthly things, as today in the west we are taught it should be. To the ancient Celts all things spiritual were in Nature, not ‘above’ it, and they looked to its symbols for their inspiration, guidance and learning. Hence the spiral symbolised a journey, both physical (from the centre outwards), as in life’s journey from birth towards death, and spiritual (from the outside to the inner point, the centre), as in the path from unconsciousness to spiritual wholeness.
The triskele symbol (above right) is a three-fold spiral which introduces additional spiritual significance with the sacred number 3, symbolising the eternal cycle of life (birth, life, death), the three elements of nature (land, sea, sky) and the aspects of the threefold goddess (maiden, mother, crone).