What Is a Trinity Circle?

Catherine Beyer

Literally, the word triquetra means three cornered and, thus, could simply mean a triangle. However, today the word is commonly used for a much more specific three-cornered shape formed by three overlapping arcs.

Christian Use

The triquetra is sometimes used in a Christian context to represent the trinity. These forms of the triquetra often include a circle to emphasize the unity of the three parts of the trinity.

It is sometimes called the trinity knot or the trinity circle (when a circle is included), and is most often found in areas of Celtic influence. This means European locations such Ireland but also places were significant numbers of people still identify with Irish culture, such as among Irish-American communities.

Neopagan Use

Some neopagans also use the triquetra in their iconography. Often it represents the three stages of life, particularly in women, described as maid, mother and crone. The aspects of the Triple Goddess are named the same, and thus it can also be a symbol of that particular concept.

The triquetra can also represent concepts such as past, present and future; body, mind and soul; or the Celtic concept of land, sea and sky. It is also sometimes seen as a symbol of protection, although these interpretations are often based on the mistaken belief that ancient Celts ascribed the same meaning to it.

Historical Use

Our understanding of the triquetra and other historical knots suffers from a trend to romanticize the Celts that has been going on for the last two centuries. Many things have been ascribed to the Celts that we simply have no evidence for, and that information gets repeated again and again, giving the impression of them having widespread acceptance.

While people today most commonly associate knotwork with the Celts, Germanic culture also contributed a very considerable amount of knotwork to European culture.

While many people (particularly neopagans) view the triquetra as pagan, most European knotwork is less than 2000 years old, and it often (although certainly not always) emerged within Christian contexts rather than pagan contexts, or else there is no obvious religious context at all. There is no known clearly pre-Christian use of the triquetra, and many of its uses are clearly primarily decorative rather than symbolic.

This means that sources that display triquetras and other common knotwork and give clear definition of what meaning they held to pagan Celts are speculative and without clear evidence.

Cultural Use

Uses of the triquetra have become much more common in the last two-hundred years as the British and Irish (and those of British or Irish descent) have become more interested in their Celtic past. Use of the symbol in a variety of contexts is particularly prominent in Ireland. It is this modern fascination with the Celts that has led to erroneous historical claims about them on a number of subjects.

Popular Use

The symbol has gained popular awareness through the TV show Charmed.

There is was used specifically because the show was centered upon three sisters with special powers. No religious meaning was implied.