The most universal Celtic symbol for the sun is called the Sun Cross. This symbol comprises a simple cross inside a circle and has been found amongst artifacts dating back to prehistoric Europe during the Bronze Age. It is particularly attributed to the ancient Celts, in particular the Druids and paganism. The Sun cross is a simple representation of the polarities of the western world and stood for the sun and the tree of life.
Another sun symbol dating back to the Bronze Age is connected with the chariot wheel. It is not clear whether it has roots in Celtic culture but the four-spoke wheel was meant to represent its solar connection.
However, the sun wheel was an important symbol and was often depicted in their art. The ancient Celts presented wheels as offering to the gods. They left them at shrines, threw them into rivers and many are found in tombs cast as amulets in bronze and worn as decoration.
The Celtic sun wheel is associated especially with the Celtic sky god Taranis. Taranis was depicted wielding a thunderbolt and a wheel. Celtic coins are also thought to depict wheels yet more importantly they correspond to pagan sun cult worship as the wheel for the druids represented the sun.
Apart from the wheel representing the sun, the ancient Celts created the symbol we are most familiar with today and which we call the sun cross. The sun cross was used in many pagan pre-Christian religious ceremonies and rituals. Some say it may even have been used in druid sacrifices. The druids attributed its power with being able to preserve and create life.
Celtic Cross Meanings
The sun has long been attributed with cosmic power and is commonly found in ancient Celtic artifacts. It is thought that the druids attributed many powers to the sun such as strength, energy, force and life and they placed female powers within its rays. Today we see many of these depicted in Celtic symbols such as wheels, spirals and circles. The triple spiral in particular is associated with the Sun
The pagans considered the sun to be the center of existence perhaps for its life giving essence. These were a people who lived many centuries before Christianity and today their beliefs and worship symbols are legendary. It is believed that they made their appearance in Britain as far back as 1000 BC. Their social culture was a mix of cosmic religion and pagan worship. They left no written word that could explain their practices. Instead they left us symbolism and as a result their exact meanings are lost forever.
The Celtic symbol for the sun depicted by a circle is easy to understand. The cross captured inside the circle is easy to understand as being the tree of life. Why they coupled the two together is evident as they were a people who worshiped nature and attributed great power to its elements. .
The word Druid is derived from the Greek word Druidae. Today we understand it to mean someone immersed in knowledge. Each clan had their own sacred tree called the Tree of Life which stood as totem in the middle of their territory. This tree was purported to being the center of their universe. The fact that they coupled it with the sun speaks of the importance they placed on the sun and its symbiotic relationship with the center of the universe.
The symbolism of sun crosses
What is less obvious is what the druids read in the meaning of this sun symbol. There are different schools of thought pertaining to the symbolism attached to this pagan cross. One school believes that the four sections of the arm are equidistant from the center and depict their desire to understand self, nature, wisdom and the gods. Where the arms meet is said to symbolize the concentration of cosmic power.
Other explanations tell us that this symbol is rooted in the four elements of the earth while others believe these four sections depict the four compass points. Where the arms join it is meant to imply the joining of heaven and earth.
There is a belief too that the ancient Celts saw the sun as being something different from that of a cosmic power capable of giving life. Instead they believed the sun to be a god and the name given this sun god differed from tribe to tribe.