(About) A Symbol of Change and Revolution
Fine ironwork is a rare skill kept closely guarded by the most experienced of metalsmiths. Fortunately, House of Warfare are not a cabal of Celtic metallurgical sorcerers – they’re just a very highly-regarded company of swordsmiths, armour-makers and jewellers whose designs never fail to delight the LARP and re-enactment community. Their Triskelion Pendant is a fantastic opportunity to bring an extra level of depth to your impression or outfit with a rugged symbol whose meaning is tantalisingly obscured by the mists of intervening millennia.
Our Triskelion Pendant is hand-forged by expert artisans with decades of cumulative experience. It is made from plain unpolished iron to give a fantastic antique look – this ancient warding symbol would have been made from easily available local materials in the distant past, and so our Celtic triskelion is as authentic as can be. It features a robust ring threaded into the cutout so that the cord can be attached extra securely. The cord is waxed, and is adjustable to fit.
The triskelion is an enormously diverse symbol, and has different meanings in different times and places: from the ancient Celtic peoples of Ireland, all the way through to the flags of modern states (and the US Department of Transportation) – but themes common to all are change, time, and destruction and rebirth. Buying our Triskelion Pendant is a no-brainer if you want to bring an extra depth of mysticalism to a LARP outfit inspired by Celtic or Iron Age culture, or if you are portraying a fantasy seer or mystic. Its hand-made construction and authentic materials also mean it would pass muster in the most stringent re-enactment circles. If you’re looking to buy a Triskelion Pendant, look no further.
(History) The Triskelion Eternal
The triskelion is an extremely widespread symbol, appearing amongst the material culture of the earliest civilisations in Europe, and in use almost constantly through to the Early Modern period and beyond. The word ‘triskelion’ appeared in the 19th-century amongst early antiquarians, who noticed a recurring symbol of three crooked legs joined at the hip which appeared on coins across numerous different cultures – it is the diminutive form of the Greek τρισκελής (‘triskeles’), meaning ‘three-legged’. The triskelion was a flexible symbol: whilst it generally symbolised a ‘rule of three’, its specific meaning varied significantly, as you’d expect from a symbol that is thousands of years old. For older societies without an extensive (or any) written record, we have to rely upon associations and educated guesses to reconstruct the symbology of the past. Here follows a brief history of the triskelion.
Ancient Origins: Stone Age Malta
The earliest proto-triskelia yet found are seen at the ancient megalithic temples that were built on the Mediterranean island of Malta around 4000 BCE. These structures were thought to be the oldest standing structures in the world, and have only recently been predated by the Göbekli Tepe megaliths in Kurdistan. The later medieval inhabitants of Malta themselves believed the structures to have been built by giants, such are the size of the stones used to build the chambered trilithons – one such temple bears the name Ġgantija, meaning ‘Giantess’. Spiral patterns appear all over the temple complexes, such as on this altar at the Tarxien temple. The clearest examples of the proto-triskelion is the spectacular painted ceiling of the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, which can only be likened to a Cistine Chapel of the Neolithic age. They are sadly barely visible to modern eyes, the lack of care shown by successive antiquarian expeditions and tourism having badly degraded the site, but fortunately a photographer on an early archaeological expedition captured them for posterity in 1903.
As to the meaning of the triskelia at these ancient Maltese sites, we can only make educated guessed based on the material traces left by the people who used them. Amongst the items excavated at the Ħal Saflieni site, there were a number of fine works of art including a finely painted pottery bowl, human and animal figurines, as well as an astonishing reclining female form known as the Sleeping Lady. Scholars have theorised that the themes that emerge from these objects are of spiritual rebirth, and ancestor-worship. Does that mean we can tentatively assume that the meaning of our triskelion pendant as a symbol of life, death and rebirth?
Lit By The Midwinter Sun: Neolithic Ireland
Built roughly a millennium after the late-Stone Age temples on Malta is the enormous Neolithic structure at Newgrange. Although it was originally classified as a passage tomb, consisting of a series of stone chambers inside an enormous mound of earth, contemporary scholars now accept that it is something on a much greater scale, and it is usually today classified as an ancient temple.
The scale of Newgrange is simply vast: the earthen barrow heaped over the stone structures is beyond enormous, measuring 250 feet wide by 40 feet high, covering over an acre in total. It is clearly the central focus of a network of tombs situated around the bend in the River Boyne over which it looks, known as the Brú na Bóinne in Gaelic (‘the Palace of the Boyne’). The other Stone Age passage tombs which make up this network, called Knowth and Dowth, are themselves impressive feats of engineering, but pale into comparison with the central temple at Newgrange. The Neolithic inhabitants of the Boyne Valley must have been cunning engineers, as geological analysis shows that the enormous stones which line the tombs must have been transported from at least 20km, likely by the river, and then hauled uphill to the location of the temple. It has been estimated that Newgrange consists of at least 20,000 tons of stone. This would be a monumental undertaking today, let alone in a period before the construction of Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Egypt.
It is the cryptic Neolithic art that surrounds and permeates the Boyne burial sites that has provided limitless inspiration for artists and artisans – including the makers of our Triskelion Pendant. The Brú na Bóinne site contains about a third of all Neolithic art known in Western Europe, a staggering proportion. Stone Age sites are often surrounded by a ‘kerb’ of stones that revet the ‘walls’ of the main tomb, and many of these are richly decorated. Some appear to be wholly artistic, such as Kerb Stone 56 at Knowth, which is inscribed by overlapping spirals. Some contain arcane but definite attempts to convey meaning, for example the cryptic Kerb Stone 15 at Knowth shows a ‘sundial’ that has been various theorised as a functional sundial, a diagram for how to make a sundial, or a complex calendar.
Triskelia in the Valley of the Irish Kings
However, it is the enormous entrance stone known as Kerb Stone 1 that holds the most interest for us out of all. It a grand canvas for an artist, being 10 ft long by 4 ft wide; it is covered in interlocking and overlapping spiral designs, but the left-hand half of the stone is taken up by a clear and undeniable triskelion: this is the oldest unambiguous triple-spiral yet discovered. There are signs that the entrance stone was carved after it had been placed, whereas the other kerb stones appear to have been carved first and then placed – it may well be that the ritual carving of this stone with the triskelion was the foundational act of the whole temple complex.
There can be no doubt that all three of these tombs also had an astronomical focus, since their entrances are precisely oriented as to fill with sunlight on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. As well as the vast monumental triskelion upon the entrance stone, there is a second smaller triskelion triple-spiral inside the passage tomb itself – and locals told the archaeologist who was excavating and restoring Newgrange in the 1960s, Prof. Michael J. O’Kelly, that it was said that the tri-spiral was illuminated by the sunrise on the Winter Solstice. This turned out to be exactly the case. Again, we see the triskelion at the heart of a ritual of birth, in a place of death and the veneration of ancestors, but this time with the added element of calendrical commemoration and the rising sun. This has led some to theorise that for the people of the ancient Celtic inhabitants of the Boyne Valley the triskelion was also a symbol connected to the circularity of time, and the cycle of past, present and future. As we can already see, the meaning of the Triskelion Pendant is overlaid with deep-running currents of symbolic history.
A Feminine Divine Triad: Classical Greece
Ancient Greece is where we see the development of the common Celtic triple-spiral into the true three-legged triskeles; we can see this design begin to emerge around the 500s BCE. It appears on the shield of Achilles as he drags the defeated Hector behind his chariot, as depicted on a hydria or decorative water jug at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It appears on coinage from across the Classical World, such as this Roman Republican coin from about 50 BCE, with the head of Medusa at the centre of the treskelion – this is where later numismaticians would ‘coin’ the word. It was also adopted by the leaders of the Greek colony of Syracuse on the Island of Sicily, possibly because of the island’s three headlands (as reflected in its Greek name Trinacria).
Again, the precise meaning of the Greek triskeles evades us, as neither the Greeks nor the Romans address it directly in any writing which has survived. The French antiquarian, archaeologist and coin-fancier Honoré Théodoric d’Albert de Luynes reconstructs the meaning of the triskeles as within the tradition of the ‘feminine triad’, where groups of three (three ears of corn, three crescent moons) are associated with the goddess Hecate, patron of wards and boundaries, as well as being associated with the underworld and with witchcraft. Whilst this is certainly possible, it seems that the addition of legs to the symbol is usual significant, and the Greek imbued the meaning of the triskelion with a lasting association with movement – hence why it remains in use by, for example, the Irish Air Force and the US Department of Transport. This aspect can also be represented by your own Triskelion Pendant, should you so wish!
(Curiousity) How Did The Isle of Man Get Its Triskelion?
Beyond the obvious mystery of the triskelion’s meaning throughout much of its history, there is another temporal mystery which remains a head-scratcher for modern historians: the Isle of Man’s triskelion. Since 1932, the Isle of Man’s official flag has borne a triskelion on a red background, but the symbol was being used by Man-based shipping well back into the 19th-century – and the symbol has been associated with the island since the medieval period. So where did the Isle of Man get its triskelion? One theory is outlined below.
The Isle of Man is a small island of around 220 square miles, roughly equidistant from England, Northern Island and Scotland in the Irish Sea. It was culturally strongly Celtic, retaining its own language, Manx, until its decline in the 19th-century under mass tourism. In the late 9th-century CE, Man was made part of the Kingdom of the Isles, a Norse-dominated series of Scottish Hebridean islands. It remained ruled by the Crovan Dynasty, a family of fierce sea-reavers who were formally vassals of the King of Norway, all the way up until 1266, when their line died out. Through familial connections that the Crovans had formed with the Kings of Scotland, the island passed by inheritance to Alexander III of Scotland, marking a fundamental shift in direction for the island.
Alexander’s wife, Margaret of England, might have been the source of the triskeles. Her brother Edmund (later known as Edmund Crouchback) had been invested with the Crown of Sicily by the Pope at the tender age of ten, provided that their father, Henry II of England, could get rid of the Pope’s enemies who currently ruled Sicily. This proved to be ruinous for Henry, whose barons refused to fund the ridiculous ‘Sicilian business’, and eventually rebelled. The Papacy rescinded Edmund’s Crown soon after. As we know, the symbol of Sicily was the triskeles… Was this Margaret’s means of giving her husband the Sicily that her father and brother had failed to seize?
Our Triskelion Pendant binds all of this rich history and symbolism together into one symbolic hand-made necklace.
Are you a pendant collector? Then we recommend checking out the Snake Pendant!