Spiral patterns, although associated now with the Celtic people, have in one form or another, been used in the art of many cultures worldwide. Appearing on rock art in Britain and Ireland as far back as the Neolithic period, spirals appear to have held important, though now forgotten, meaning with some of the earliest human civilisations. Considering that spirals still appear as a motif in the art of countries such as Ireland, spiral patterns are one of the most enduring symbols in the history of artistic production.
The double spiral is thought to signify balance, no doubt owing to the symmetry of the dual spirals. This symbolism is sometimes further extended, suggesting that the double spiral represents the equinox, when day and night are of equal length and an important time in much of early Celtic culture and religion.
Despite their long history, the meaning of spirals is still the subject of debate, especially as changes in the number and direction of the spirals is believed to change their meaning. The clockwise spiral was believed to represent the Sun – a popular motif in the early art of many cultures. Supposedly, a loose spiral represented long summer days, whilst a tightly wound spiral represented the shorter days of winter.
Triple Spiral or Triskelion
The triple spiral, also known as the triskelion, was one of the most pervasive symbols in Celtic art. Comprised of three interlocking spirals, it has been associated with cycles and motion, perhaps specifically with the lunar cycle. Additionally related to a supposed ‘three phases’ of life, the introduction of Christianity to the Celtics ultimately resulted in associations between the triskelion and the Holy Trinity.