The triquetra/trinity knot meaning and brief history

If you enjoy buying and wearing sterling silver jewelry or wearing pieces of clothing with Celtic knots, you are likely to have come across the triquetra. It is one of the most recognizable symbols in Celtic culture with various meanings attached to it.

The triquetra, also known as the trinity knot, is one of the most prominent Celtic signs and symbols in Irish culture.  This Celtic symbol has made various appearances in this modern-day, by featuring in the famous motion picture ‘Thor’ on Thor’s hammer as well as renowned American television series, Charmed, on their Book of Shadows. It also features on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album cover to represent the bassist John Paul Jones. However, what is the meaning and importance of the triquetra symbol?

What does the triquetra/trinity knot symbol mean?

A triquetra Celtic symbol contains a tri-cornered shape with three interconnected or overlapping Pisces and pointed outer sections that resemble a three-cornered knot. One of the interconnected ovals faces upward, while the other two pointing down, face right and left. Some describe the symbol to contain a Vesica Pisces shape, which means the intersection of two congruent circular objects. Sometimes, you may find the triquetra symbol interlaced with a circle.

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This Celtic symbol is quite ancient and has multiple meanings, which have evolved from its adoption by numerous cultures. Among the ancient Celts, anything that had three forms was considered sacred. From the three domains of existence to the three stages of life to the three elements, there was a holy meaning attached to triads. Therefore, the three sides of the trinity knot establish its versatility when it comes to interpretation. The symbol is common in a variety of faiths and cultures throughout the world.  

According to the Christian faith, the trinity knot explains the Holy Trinity of the father, son, and the Holy Spirit. When the triquetra is in its original form, the Vesica Pisces form, it denotes the symbol of a fish, which is a famous symbol in Christianity that predates the crucifix by hundreds of years. When you see a trinity knot closed in within a circle, it symbolizes eternal life or unity.

Among the Neopagans and Wiccans, the trinity knot symbolizes the threefold character of the Goddess as crone, maiden, and mother. When viewing the Goddess as a mother, it symbolizes creation, while the Goddess as maiden represents innocence. The crone form of the Goddess symbolizes wisdom and knowledge. The symbol may also be construed to represent the forces of nature; water, fire, and earth. The three overlapping circles on the emblem represent female fertility.

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In modern society, the triquetra symbolizes a variety of things, including Ireland’s ancient culture and heritage, or engagement or wedding rings when used in jewelry. Alternatively, the trinity knot is also referred to as the Irish love knot with the endless intertwining curves of the symbol representing eternal love. It may also mean longevity, with some people interpreting it as a symbol of an uninterrupted life cycle. The triquetra may also symbolize the stages of womanhood, from youth to motherhood to old age.

Other people may come across an inverted triquetra symbol, which represents the opposite of all the things that the right-side-up triquetra symbolizes. For instance, when it comes to the life cycles, life-death-rebirth, the inverted trinity knot implies rebirth-death-life. Some people denote it as the symbol of the beast or upending the truth, as in the case of an inverted cross.  

The triquetra/trinity knot history

The triquetra is an ancient Celtic symbol dating back as early as 500BC when it was used by Wiccans and Neopagans to represent the three forms of the Goddess, maiden-mother-crone. The exact origins of this symbol are a bit murky. Various artifacts of over 5000 years old have been found on Indian heritage sites with the symbol, serving as the oldest evidence of the trinity knot symbol. Similarly, carved stones and tombs in Northern Europe and early Germanic coins and rune stones dating from the 8th century AD have been found engraved with the symbol.

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The ancient Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels from the early 9th century, also has the trinity knot symbol in its content, among other decorative artworks. Christians believe that the triquetra originates from the Christian monks who introduced and converted the Celts. As a result, it was easy to use the symbol to represent the Holy Trinity because of its three sides and the attachment that pagan Celts attached to triads. It allowed them to establish a new religion without being too disruptive; thus, deflecting extreme hostility and criticism from ancient Celts.

However, the symbol, as depicted in the book, has no religious significance. The symbol has also been found in Norwegian churches, which date back to the 11th century. Pagan Celts attached spiritual meaning to the symbol, as it bears quite the resemblance to the Valknut, which is a symbol in Norse mythology related to Odin.

The triquetra symbol is also considered to have Asian origin. In Japan, there exists a tomoe, interpreted as hoping or wishing, which resembles the triquetra form. The symbol is common on family chests and in several corporate logos, like the mitsudomoe, a famous symbol for triple whorls.

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The triquetra/trinity knot use

As discussed above, the trinity knot has a wide array of applications that range from one culture to the next. In Christianity, it symbolizes the Trinity and the circle around it to represent the unity of the three parts of the Trinity.

Wiccans and Neopagans use the triquetra to signify the three forms of the Goddess often described as maiden, mother, and crone. It is also taken to denote the concept of time; past, present, and future, or the three forms of the universe; sky, sea, and land Some Neopagans also view it as a symbol of protection, though the basis of this interpretation is on the mistaken belief that ancient Celts attached the same meaning to the symbol.

The triquetra also serves as a means of prehistoric dating. Many people associate the symbol to pagans, but most European knotwork is less than 2000 years old. As such, it is likely to merge with Christian concepts rather than pagan contexts, when basing the interpretation of the symbols on religion. There are no records of pre-Christian use of the trinity knot before the establishment of Christianity in Ireland, and its use in Christianity was purely ornate.

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Similarly, people associate knotwork patterns with the Celts, but there is a considerable amount of knotwork patterns that originate from European and Germanic cultures. Therefore, the trinity knot is also useful in studying various cultures and their ancient belief systems. Today, the symbol is quite common in multiple television shows, pieces of jewelry, and clothing designs all over the world.

Conclusion

Whether you are a pagan, Christian, or somewhere in the middle, there is a good chance that the triquetra bears some significance to you. With such a wide variety of potent meanings attached to the symbol, no one else apart from you can dictate its relevance to your personal life. As such, the meaning of the trinity knot is open to interpretation, and everyone can derive their own unique meaning from it.

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