A triskelion or triskele is a motif consisting of three interlocked spirals, or three bent human legs, or any similar symbol with three protrusions and a threefold rotational symmetry. Although it appears in many places and periods, it is especially characteristic of the Celtic art of the La Tène culture of the European Iron Age.
The symbol has been used in many parts of the prehistoric and ancient world and has been found on sixteenth-century gold Mycenaean cups, on Babylonian pottery, and on coins from Lycia, Pamphylia, and Pisidia. The legged version has been discovered in the Khwaresm satrapy of the Archaemenid dynasty in Persia and also on a silver coin minted in the Indian Mauryan empire. In particular, triskelli symbols can be found on coinage from the Danube region with Vindelici gold staters and similarly from Gaul's Bituriges.
Spirals at New Grange are found singly, or in pairs, running in the same direction or deliberately opposed. The only known example of a triskele or threefold arrangement is also located on one of New Grange’s kerb stones. Primarily, the spiral is typical of funerary symbolism common in Irish tombs as well as those of other megalithic cultures. Historically, spirals in both Megalithic and Neolithic art were closely akin with spiritual issues of the cycle of death and rebirth.
Daniel Hansen in his article in Circle Magazine, Mentions other Druidic magic symbols, such as the Sun Wheel (Rota Taranous) and the Celtic Croos, which are found throughout the Celtic countries. He also mentions that the circle represent mystery or eternity and the cube signifies truth. The Swastika (fulfot) and the Triskelion (Trifot) are symbols found throughout western Europe and Celtic countries. When spinning counter-clockwise many consider them destructive and war-like, but they are creative when spinning clockwise.
Many of the curvilinear Late-Celtic patterns which are used to fill a circular space are based upon the triskele…as the triskele was a well-known sun symbol in the Bronze Age. The triskele arrangement of three spirals round a central spiral survived the decoration of the illuminated MSS. of the Christian period.
If the wheel, the circle/ring, and other symbols are to be seen as symbols for the sun, the triskele, like the swastika, is a symbol for the motion of the heavenly bodies-- that is, it is a sun wheel with three blades. Both symbols appear in very early European and Asia culture. For the Celts, they are documented at the latest in the La Tene period (3rd/2nd century B.C.). Because of cultural exchanges that obviously took place at that time, the Celts borrowed from the Greeks winding patterns and other designs, such as tendrils, and developed their own shapes from them. As a result, the distinctiveness of the curves increased, and the trickle developed into a typical Celtic sun wheel, which today has become an emblem of Brittany, the Isle of Man, and partially..Ireland.
The three-branched gyratory motif from the insignia of the Islae of Man might be a very ancient Celtic design, but it is not uniquely Celtic...the various versions of the item itself...come from an ancient Greek root, Triskeles [three-legged].
The triskele, a motif characteristic of the European Celts of the Iron Age, is related to the triple-spiral, and triskeles comprised of human legs form the national symbols of both Sicily and the Isle of Man. Three-legged animals have been associated in myth and folklore with the whole spectrum of human concerns. Their attributes encompass the sun and divine power (East Asian crow), the moon and earthly riches (Chinese toad), the male sexual principle (Mediterranean bull and perhaps West African stallion), toys for children (Saharan mammal figurines), and even sacrifice and death (Mediterranean bull, Scandinavian ghost-horse, and West African funerary figurines).
In the Romano-Celtic period, from approximately the first to the third century CE, a sculptural style of stone bas relief emerges and combines the Roman emphasis on depicting the body with the Celtic interest in abstraction, simplification, and triplism. The resulting work retains a clearly Celtic aesthetic and poses a specific understanding of the composition of three similar figures positioned horizontally in a shallow relief space. Sculptures of the Three Water Nymphs, Genii Cucullati, and The Three Mothers all derive their structure from the prominent sanctity of the number three. Just as the Celtic three-legged whirl depends on the three arched lines to symbolize a center of energy and sense of regeneration, the depiction of gods and goddesses in groups of three increases their potency, creates a structured energy moving from figure to figure and on to the viewer.
Perhaps one of the reasons the depiction or use of three (the triad, the triangle or triplism) was important was the actual image itself, other than what it visually represented. That is, simply by "being," the triple motif notified the viewer that they were entering ritual space or hearing a sacred story -- a symbolic road map for all cultures to follow. The power was held in the image itself, a cosmic "take notice here."
In our day, we tend to identify triplism with the number three. Looking only at folklore it is easy to find the value of accumulation -- three wishes, three princesses, three brothers, three horses of different colours, three fairies, three attempts, the three Fates and on and on. But it would be insufficient to consider the value of three as contained only in the effect of increase.
This tendency of three, or triplism, was marked long ago by primitive mankind. Observation of the moon brought the earliest identifications with three. The moon could be seen growing, at full, and dying. When it did "die," it was invisible for approximately three days before reappearing. These phases came to represent the eternal cycle of renewal -- creation, preservation and conclusion.