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Celtic Cross Meaning

Understanding the Symbolism and Meaning of a Celtic Cross

The Celtic cross, considered to be a symbol of eternity, has an ambiguous history and meaning to it. In this Historyplex article, we will try to understand what is the symbolism of the Celtic cross.
Kanika Khara
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2018
The Celtic cross is a religious symbol seen all over Ireland, Scotland, Britain, and Wales and is now gaining popularity worldwide. But what exactly is the meaning of the Celtic cross in tarot reading, and what are its origins? In the quest of knowing the answers to these questions, I am sure most of us must have come across different information on the Internet, in books, from folk lores etc. But sadly most of these sources offer a little amount of information or have different interpretations about its meaning and history. This again leaves us with a bunch of vague, undefined details. Hence, if you are one of those who wants to know about the Celtic cross, keep reading this article, for it has summed up information that you might be looking for!
Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross Closeup
  • The cross is a Celtic symbol that combines a cross with a ring surrounding the intersection of the four arms which are equidistant from the center, indicative of the human desire to know and experience the unfolding mystery of life.
  • According to an Irish Catholic priest, Celtic cross symbolizes eternity that emphasizes the eternal and infinite love of God, depicted through Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross.
Closeup of Celtic Cross
  • Further he explains that crucifixion was not only important just as an event, but the circle in the middle of the cross represents the divine mystery of how, through crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus continues to bestow his love and hope of salvation to the faithful mankind endlessly.
  • As per some other scholars, the cross also represents the meeting place of the Divine energies, and the center of the cross section is the energetic touchstone wherein all cosmic power resides.
Celtic Cross Meaning
  • There are different interpretations in various cultures and traditions regarding the Celtic cross. For instance, in some cultures the four arms are interpreted as the four elements (earth, air, fire, water), the four directions of the compass (north, south, east, west), the four parts of man (mind, soul, heart, body) or four ways to ascension (self, nature, wisdom, god/goddess).
  • Hence, we can say that each branch symbolizes a branch of higher wisdom and the center is the unification of all these four elements, giving an exhilarating feeling of oneness and unity.
Celtic Cross
  • As per some believers, the cross also represents navigation or is considered as a symbolic compass that guides us through a spiritual sea. For example, when we find ourselves stuck or trapped between different uncertainties of life, the cross can redirect our focus and help to move our thoughts in the right direction.
  • The meaning of Celtic cross is also believed to mark the four Celtic fire festivals; Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh, related with specific activities with the time of the year they fall.
Beltane Fire Festival
Samhain Celebration
  • Their unique time depictions are believed to provide stability and faith in the otherwise uncertain and transitional world. Apart from this, Celtic cross is also conceived to delineate day and night, especially if we consider the horizontal bar of the cross as a literal horizon, the top half would represent sunrise, and the lower half sunset.
  • Some believers also denote it as rising and falling of self-consciousness, with the center of the cross as the focal point of balance. Since the Celtic form based the western direction (where the sun sets) with a reflective quality (looking back, recollecting) and a forward quality (forecasting, looking at the future) to the east (where the sun dawns), according to some believers the vertical crossbar represents the past and future with the middle circle representing the present.
Celtic Cross History
Chi Rho Symbol
  • Though the Celtic cross is commonly used as a Christian symbol, it has a history that dates back much further than Christianity. This cross is believed to have inferred from the Chi Rho symbol, as popularized by the Roman emperor, Constantine.
  • In Greek alphabet, the first letters of the word Christ are Chi and Rho. When these letters are combined together, they look alike to the cross at the center of the Celtic cross. However, till now no one is sure about the origin of the cross's distinctive circle, but as per some ancient scriptures and philosophies, the circle represents the moon, and a cross and circle together symbolize the sun.
  • Apart from these, according to a well-known legend in Ireland, Celtic Catholic cross was brought in by Saint Patrick or Saint Declan during his period converting the pagan Irish to Christianity. Moreover, it has also been claimed that Patrick combined the symbol of Christianity with the sun cross, to impart pagan followers a conception of the importance of cross by relating it with the essential life-giving properties of the sun. However, no examples have lasted from this early period to support this belief.
The earliest versions of Celtic cross were cut up onto slabs that were placed flat on the ground and were known as recumbent cross slabs. But with time, they evolved into upright slabs called erect cross slabs, with some depicting a slightly rounded top. However, both the versions were decorated with traditional Celtic style, comprising patterns like spirals, knotwork, foliage, biblical tales, and animals. The most recent evolution of Celtic cross is the freestanding (without stone), statuesque crosses with extended arms and circle, usually seen in the form of gravestones in Irish churchyards or as war memorials all over Britain. Nowadays, the Celtic cross appears in jewelry, T-shirts, tattoos, coffee cups, and other retail items.
Woman with celtic cross tattoo
belt with Celtic cross
Silver Celtic Cross