This article is about the motif consisting of three interlocked spirals. For other uses, see Triskelion (disambiguation).
Archaeological Museum, Athens - Gold cup from Mycenae
Triskele of the Amfreville Gaulish helmet.

A triskelion or triskele (which invariably has rotational symmetry) is a motif consisting of three interlocked spirals, three bent human legs, or three bent/curved lines extending from the center of the symbol. Both words are from Greek "τρισκέλιον" (triskelion) or "τρισκελής" (triskeles), "three-legged",[1] from prefix "τρι-" (tri-), "three times"[2] + "σκέλος" (skelos), "leg".[3] A triskelion is the symbol of Sicily, where it is called trinacria,[4] as well as of the Isle of Man,[5] Brittany, and the town of Füssen in Germany.

Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age use in Europe

Ancient Greek beaked jug decorated with triple spirals
Rhine Celts, electrum 'regenboogschoteltje' or rainbow cup with triskele
The flag of Sicily, featuring the triskelion symbol revived by Joachim Murat
The flag of the Isle of Man, is composed solely of a triskele against a red background

The triskelion symbol appears in many early cultures, the first in Malta (4400–3600 BC) and in the astronomical calendar at the famous megalithic tomb of Newgrange in Ireland built around 3200 BC,[6] Mycenaean vessels, on coinage in Lycia, and on staters of Pamphylia (at Aspendos, 370–333 BC) and Pisidia. It appears as a heraldic emblem on warriors' shields depicted on Greek pottery.[7]

Familiar as an ancient symbol of Sicily, the symbol dates back to when Sicily was part of Magna Graecia, the colonial extension of Greece beyond the Aegean.[8] Pliny the Elder attributes the origin of the triskelion of Sicily to the triangular form of the island, the ancient Trinacria (from the Greek tri- (three) and akra (end, limb)), which consists of three large capes equidistant from each other, pointing in their respective directions, the names of which were Pelorus, Pachynus, and Lilybæum.

The Celtic symbol of three conjoined spirals may have had triple significance similar to the imagery that lies behind the triskelion. The triple spiral motif is a Neolithic symbol in Western Europe. It is considered a Celtic symbol but is in fact a pre-Celtic symbol.[9] It is carved into the rock of a stone lozenge near the main entrance of the prehistoric Newgrange monument in County Meath, Ireland. Newgrange, which was built around 3200 BC,[6] predating the Celtic arrival in Ireland but has long since been incorporated into Celtic culture.

Asian usage

Traditional Asian versions of the triskelion include the Japanese Mitsudomoe, the Tibetan Buddhist Gankyil, and the Korean Sam Taegeuk.

Christian usage

As Christianity came into the forefront in Ireland before the 5th century, AD, the triskele took on new meaning, as a symbol of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, therefore, also a symbol of eternity. Its popularity continues today as a decorative symbol of faith for Christians of Celtic descent around the world.

Modern usage

A triskelion is featured on the seal of the United States Department of Transportation.

A triskelion shape is the basis for the roundel of the Irish Air Corps,[10] and the logo for the Trisquel GNU/Linux distribution.

A triskelion shape was used in the design of RCA's "Spider" 45 rpm adapter, a popular plastic adapter for vinyl records, which allows larger center-holed 45 rpm records (commonly used on 7" singles and EPs) to spin on players designed for smaller center-holed 33-1/3 rpm records (the standard for 10" and 12" LPs). The design was practical, the three curved arms providing equal spring and thus keeping the hole centred. The iconic design of the Spider has led to its adoption as a popular symbol for record and music enthusiasts.[11][12]

A triskelion is used as the badge of the Victoria Highlanders FC, a Canadian soccer team based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

One of the most commonly used symbols of the BDSM community is a derivation of a triskelion shape within a circle.[13]

The crest of the Breton football club En Avant de Guingamp combines the Flag of Brittany, the team colours and the triple spiral triskelion.

A design based on the Korean Sam Taegeuk was incorporated into the logo for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

Razer Inc, a company that produces computer components for gamers, uses a triskelion logo in the form of snakes.

The Triskelion is a symbol of the Hale family of werewolves in the MTV show Teen Wolf.

The Triskelion is a symbol that is frequently used on the BBC television show Merlin.

The 1960s TV Series Star Trek aired an episode in its second season called The Gamesters of Triskelion on January 5, 1968.

Reconstructionists and neopagans

The triskele, usually consisting of spirals, but also the "horned triskelion", is used by some polytheistic reconstructionist and neopagan groups. As a Celtic symbol, it is found primarily of groups with a Celtic cultural orientation and, less frequently, can also be found in use by some Germanic neopagan groups and eclectic or syncretic traditions such as Neopaganism. The spiral triskele is one of the primary symbols of Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism.[14] Celtic Reconstructionists use the symbol to represent a variety of triplicities in their cosmology and theology; it is also a favored symbol due to its association with the god Manannán mac Lir.[14]



  1. ^ τρισκελής, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  2. ^ τρι-, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  3. ^ σκέλος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek–English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  4. ^ Angelo & Mario Grifasi (1999-01-28). "Sicilia: Il Perchè del nome Trinacria". Retrieved 2010-06-20. 
  5. ^ "Isle of Man Government". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  6. ^ a b "Newgrange Ireland - Megalithic Passage Tomb - World Heritage Site". 2007-12-21. Retrieved 2013-08-16. 
  7. ^ For example, the trislele on Achilles' round shield on an Attic late sixth-century hydria at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, illustrated in John Boardman, Jasper Griffin and Oswyn Murray, Greece and the Hellenistic World (Oxford History of the Classical World) vol. I (1988), p. 50.
  8. ^ Matthews, Jeff (2005) Symbols of Naples
  9. ^ Anthony Murphy and Richard Moore, Island of the Setting Sun: In Search of Ireland's Ancient Astronomers, 2nd ed., Dublin: The Liffey Press, 2008, pp. 168–169
  10. ^ The Aircraft Encyclopedia by Roy Braybrook, ISBN 0-671-55337-2, p. 51
  11. ^ "We Love Life: Music - 45 RPM Adapters". 2009-11-26. Retrieved 2013-08-16. 
  12. ^ "Boing Boing: Gadgets - Twenty 45 adapters". 2008-12-05. Retrieved 2013-08-16. 
  13. ^ Luminais, Misty (May 2012). In the Habit of Being Kinky: Practice and Resistance in a BDSM Community, Texas, USA (PDF). Washington State University. p. 121. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Bonewits, Isaac (2006) Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism. New York, Kensington Publishing Group ISBN 0-8065-2710-2. p. 132: [Among Celtic Reconstructionists] "...An Thríbhís Mhòr (the great triple spiral) came into common use to refer to the three realms." Also p. 134: [On CRs] "Using Celtic symbols such as triskeles and spirals"