The word Triskel or Triskelion comes from the Greek language and means three-legged. Although it is present in many parts of the world, and in many traditions, it is particularly associated with the Celtic culture and the Iron Age period. It is in fact pre-Celtic, for example it can be found on the circa 3200 BCE megalithic tomb at Newgrange in Ireland.
My particular practice of druidry has taken inspiration from the ancient mythology of Britain and its roots in the oral traditions of the Island. Many British myths have been preserved in the stories and tales found in the Western part of Britain known as Wales. Works such as the Mabinogi, Hanes Taliesin, and the poems of Taliesin have been my inspiration and the foundation of my practice. The following thoughts are those of my own exploration of the Celtic Three Realms and how I have come to experience and understand them. I do not define how we should express and understand these divisions, I only state that I was inspired to explore them and came to my own understanding of them, as detailed below.
The three-fold division of the universe is present within most of the Brythonic mythology to a greater or lesser degree and I use this three-fold division to explore the tripartite nature of the universe rather than the classical four-fold division usually found in neo-paganism. I use the three divisions: Land, Sea and Sky within my metaphysical cosmology, and as a starting point for the majority of the ritual forms that I use within my practice. On the surface it would appear that they can be associated with three of the four classical elements: Water, Air and Earth. Each arm of the triskelion represents, to me, one of the three realms: Land, Sea and Sky.
The following is a brief explanation of how I understand these realms. I offer them as an example of how I have incorporated a triadic understanding of creation into my practice which, I believe, is fully consistent, and honours my ancestors. I do not claim that this is how the ‘Druids’ of old understood them, or that they are in any way a reconstruction of our ancient past. It’s simply a system that I find works for me. In that spirit I offer these descriptions for your interest and, hopefully, it will shed some light and insight into the subsequent exploration of the symbolism of the Three Realms.
The Realm of Land
The Realm of Land contains all that is physical and grounded in the universe. it is not just the earth but is symbolic of all that is physical including all matter within the universe. When we contemplate the Realm of Land, or call to the powers of land, we are reaching out and connecting with every physical aspect of the universe whether that is in the form of solid land, material of the stars or the molecules that make up everything present in the universe.
As a druid I honour the material universe; for it sustains us, and allows us to experience our existence as separate entities, yet connected by the very material of that physicality. My druidry in no way rejects the physicality of the universe nor do I seek to separate myself from this physicality, for without the Realm of Land the ultimate creative source that created our universe would be unable to be in relationship to itself, for we ‘are’ the universe singing in praise of itself.
Within the human brain the Realm of Land would be associated with the matter of the brain. It is the physicality of matter that allows the illusion of separation to be maintained, thus allowing the evolution of universal consciousness, the source of all-being
The Realm of Sea
When we contemplate and call on the powers of sea we are not calling on the physicality of the seas or waters of the universe, for they belong in the realm of land, but on connection and communication.
Imagine stepping into the cool waters of the sea, you are in contact, and therefore connected to, the waters of all the seas. In the same way the waters that connect with your feet are also the same waters that connect with every other part of the planet. The seas are not separate entities but are a whole, a unity, every part in communication with every other part. By connection to the seas we are also in connection to all the seas that surround the land masses on the planet. All rivers eventually return to the sea and lose their individual natures but they continue to exist within the great oceans and eventually are taken once more into the skies to fall again as rain upon the earth and once more to become part of the life of the rivers.
It is this process which we honour and call upon when we call to the powers of sea. It is our singularity, our oneness and our connection to the web of all; for we have been all that has been, all that is, and all that will be. The sea is representative of our universal soul, our connection to the wholeness of the universe, the very life force that flows through and connects with all that is. It is the source of our higher knowledge, our intuitive nature, our emotional connection to the wholeness of nature and the universe. Within the manifestation of the physical brain it would be associated with the activity of the right brain.
For me the nature of sea is very similar to the Icelandic understanding behind their word innsaei which is usually translated as intuition but which has three distinct, yet related, aspects to it. Once again we see the appearance of the principle of three within this word, three aspects:
- “the sea within” the borderless nature of our inner world;
- “to see within” to know yourself well enough to sense your relationship to nature and other, and;
- “to see from the inside out” the ability to access your intuitive nature and sense the world from your inner perspective.
See the film ‘Innsaei: The Power of Intuition’ available on various online streaming providers
The Realm of Sky
To raise our eyes to the sky and to call upon the Realm of Sky is, in my opinion, to call to the greater powers of the universe, the universal mind that is the ground of all being. It is the abode of the gods and goddesses, and just as the air feeds us and keeps us alive in a physical sense, so does the Realm of Sky ‘inspire’ our very souls and feeds joy and expression into our lives.
This is the realm that allows us to exist outside of time and space. Our minds, unfettered by physical constraints can soar into the skies and dwell in the abode of the Gods. In the Realm of Sky we can be one with the mind of the universe with the realisation that our individual minds and the universal mind are of the same substance. The power of the creativity that moulds and forms the universe, from the beautiful unique shape of a snowflake, to the vast spiral arms of a galaxy, is called upon when we call upon the powers of sky.
Within the human physical brain ‘sky’ would be associated with the activity of the left brain. That the universe IS mind has been understood since ancient times and was published in the Kabylion. The first Hermetic principle, The Principle of Mentalism states,
“THE ALL IS MIND; The Universe is Mental.”
Where is Fire?
At first glance it would appear that fire is missing, but on closer examination it can be seen that the classical elements, although present within the three realms, are not exactly the same. Fire is present within the triskelion system as the force of transformation and movement, an aspect of the force that animates and transforms the universe. In my opinion the triskel is not a static symbol but is in constant flux, each spiralling arm of the spinning triskel orbits constantly around the centre point of the symbol, the point of stillness. he realms are not static, or, fixed but are forever transforming and interacting, learning from their interaction
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (~535 to ~475 BCE) had some interesting things to say regarding the principle of fire, “The name for this condition of perpetual change is ‘fire’.”
“Fire is not a substance, like the water or the aer which his predecessors said was the basis of the material world. Rather, it is a process, an activity, an event. Fire isn’t something that ‘is’; Fire happens.”Myers, Brendan. The Earth, The Gods and The Soul – A History of Pagan Philosophy: From the Iron Age to the 21st Century (p. 64). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Fire is the force that brings the Universe to life and causes it to express itself in its own song, it is the power of evolution and the desire to transform. Fire is the song, Fire is the Logos!
Christopher Hickman was born in England but has lived in a beautiful part of Wales for the last 13 years. He is 58 years old, married with four children and four wonderful grandchildren, at the last count! Christopher calls himself a panentheistic animist following a druidic path. He previously trained with the Anglesey Druid Order for 10 years and is currently working his way through the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids bardic grade. Look for an upcoming book that explores the common ground between druidry, other spiritual belief systems, sacred geometry, cosmology, metaphysics, and a bit of tarot and kabbalah for good measure.