The Triskelion or Celtic swastika

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Nov 2, 2009, 12:16:21 PM11/2/09
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Walking as Art - Mythology & Religion
http://www.univie.ac.at/cga/art/religion.html
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<<The Triskelion or Celtic swastika

'The triskelion (from the Greek "three-legged") is one of the oldest
symbols known to mankind. The earliest representations of it were
found in prehistoric rock carvings in northern Italy. It also appears
on Greek vases and coins from the 6th and 8th centuries BC., and was
revered by Norse and Sicilian peoples. The Sicilian version has a
representation of the head of Medusa in the center. The Manx people
believe that the triskelion came from Scandinavia. According to Norse
mythology, the triskelion was a symbol of the movement of the sun
through the heavens.' It was derived from a design which showed the
spokes of a wheel and which, in turn, represented the rays of the sun.
Because of this it has been described as a solar wheel and was a
symbol of pagan sun worship. Related symbols are the cross and the
fylfot, or four-legged swastika. The swastika was a very early
decorative device used in India and was also found in ancient Greece
and on many altars in Rome. In Scandinavia the swastika was used to
represent the hammer of the Norse god Thor and in this capacity it was
depicted on carved stone crosses. In the Isle of Man it is found on
several Norse crosses such as one at Onchan which dates from around
the 10th century A.D.

It is the symbol of triplicity in unity, one of the basis of the
Celtic religion, and probably originally a solar symbol. Triplicity in
the Celtic civilisation is exemplified by:
- the staff of the Celtic pantheon: Lugh, Daghda (Taran), and Ogme ;
- the unique goddess who has three aspects: daughter, wife, and
mother ;
- the division of the society in three classes: priestly class, ruling
and martial class, and productive class (craftsmen, farmers,
fishers ...)
- the philosophical conceptions of the world based on number 3: the
three circles of existence, the bardic triads...
The triskell is also often said to represent the three dynamics
elements: water, air, and fire, or the wave of sea, the breath of
wind, and the flame of fire. One of these elements is sometimes
replaced by the furrow of the earth. A more complex interpretation
says that the centre of the triskell is the static earth, which
receives life from the three dynamic elements. The spiral could
symbolize life, dynamics and enthusiasm, as opposed to everything
straight and spellbound. Another design which appears to be related to
the Three Legs is the Triquetra, or triple knot. This has been defined
as an endless line forming three arcs symmetrically interlaced. The
device has associations with the early inhabitants of central and
north America and with the cult of Shamanism. The triquetra is also
found on carved stones in northern Europe and, like the swastika,
occurs on some of the crosses in the Isle of Man, as, for example, the
Calf of Man Crucifiction slab, which is of Celtic origin and dates
from about the 8th century, just prior to the arrival of the Vikings.
The 9th or 10th century wheel headed cross at Lonan also depicts the
triquetra.

It appears that the four legs of the swastika developed into the Three
Legged design. The device is well known in the island of Sicily and
occurs on a vase from Agrigentum which dates from the 5th century B.C.
The design appears also on a coin of Aspendus, a town in Asia Minor,
which is believed to date from about 500 BC. Another coin from the
same region is dated about 400-300 B.C. The Three Legs appeared in 317
B.C., again in Sicily, on the coins of Syracuse. The emblem also
occurs on a shield which is depicted on an Etruscan Vase preserved at
the Vatican, and is of unknown antiquity. There are other examples of
similar vases around the world, one being at the British Museum in
London. The Three Legged device was commonly found among the Celts and
Norsemen of north-western Europe. Closer to home, a simple version of
the Three Legs appeared on the 10th century coinage of the Norse King
Analaf Cuaran who ruled both in Dublin and in Mann.

Although we Manx will be loathe to admit the fact, it does seem that
Sicily had the Three Legs at a much earlier period than did the Isle
of Man. The Sicilian legs were always naked and often had the head of
Medusa at the central point. They usually had wings attached to the
heels and this would link them with the god Mercury or Hermes. The
Manx legs are normally encased in armour and have spurs on the heels.

The connection with Sicily probably comes about through the Norse
occupation of the Isle of Man from about 979 to 1265. The Vikings
sailed throughout the Mediterranean Sea and knew Sicily well and it
was probably these seafarers who brought the emblem to the northern
and western parts of Europe. A further connection with Sicily was that
the Scottish King Alexander III, who ruled over Mann in 1266, was the
brother-in-law of Prince Edmund. The Pope had promised Edmund the
title of King of Sicily in return for his military aid in a dispute.

The earliest use, which can be dated, of the Three Legs within the
Isle of Man is in 1310 when they appeared on the shield of Henry de
Bello Monte, Governor of the Island for King Edward II of England.
They also appear on the Manx Sword of State which is thought to date
from around 1230. Another early occurrence is on the market cross of
the village of Maughold which is probably late 14th century.

The representation of the triskell must be dextrogyrous (turning to
the right). A senstrogyrous (turning to the left) triskell would have
a maleficent, or at least hostile meaning. Traditional Breton dances
and processions always turn to the right. The war dances of the
ancient Celts started by turning to the left to show hostility, and
ended by turning to the right, as a sign of victory.

The triskell is close to the hevoud, another Celtic symbol and the
Basque lauburu, and is probably of pre-Celtic origin (for instance on
the cairn of Bru na Boinne in Ireland).

The motto of the Isle of Man, which often accompanies the arms, is the
Latin Quocunque jeceris stabit, which means "wherever you throw, it
will stand", referring to the triskelion. Between approximately 1735
and 1765 the island was ruled by the Duke of Atholl. During that time
two series of coins were issued in the name of the duke with counter-
clockwise legs. Before and after that time, when coins were issued in
the name of British monarchs, the direction was clockwise.

Another design which appears to be related to the Three Legs is the
Triquetra, or triple knot. This has been defined as an endless line
forming three arcs symmetrically interlaced. The device has
associations with the early inhabitants of central and north America
and with the cult of Shamanism. The triquetra is also found on carved
stones in northern Europe and, like the swastika, occurs on some of
the crosses in the Isle of Man, as, for example, the Calf of Man
Crucifiction slab, which is of Celtic origin and dates from about the
8th century, just prior to the arrival of the Vikings. The 9th or 10th
century wheel headed cross at Lonan also depicts the triquetra.

The Three Legs device appears on the Manx national flag, armoured in
gold and silver and with spurs on the heels, on a red field. This
flag, with the addition of the Union flag in the canton, provides the
Island's maritime ensign, known technically as "a defaced Red Ensign".
The Legs appear on all the Island's currency notes and on some of its
coins and postage stamps.

The Three Legged badge was popular as a tattoo, especially amongst
Manx seamen. Captain Bligh of the Bounty described his young
Midshipman Peter Heywood, who was involved in the mutiny in 1789, as
being "Very much tatowed & on the Right leg is tatowed the Legs of Man
as the impression on that Coin is". Bligh was married in the Isle of
Man and would be familiar with its coinage

In recent years the Isle of Man Government took steps to protect its
long-standing use of the Three Legs as the national emblem. Whilst it
does not seek exclusivity in its use, it can prevent others from
seeking to register the design as a trade mark exclusive to
themselves.

There is a town in Germany called Fussen, which is German for "feet",
which uses a Three Legs symbol. This is probably a modern usage of the
badge. There, it is called "Drei Fussen", or three feet. This is the
name given to the emblem in Manx Gaelic where it is known as "Tree
Cassyn", which also means Three Feet. >>
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Art Neuendorffer

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