The five kingdoms
The Celtic cross has become so famous these days that its notoriety overflows, as the drawing of its branches, the circle of the traditional Celtic regions (Wales, Scotland or Ireland).
This revival, especially under the form of equal branches, is partly due to the use of the symbol as the swastika at a certain time. Now, this misuse treats the true meaning of these representations with disdain. It is therefore appropriate to go back to the source and rediscover the real signification of the Celtic cross.
The origin of the symbol of the cross in general and the Celtic cross in particular dates back to the dawn of time. Its meaning is closely linked to the number 5 = 1 + 4: 1 depicts the Unity, the Principle, the Centre from which everything is coming and to which everything is going back alongside the 4 compass point directions. The branches overflowing the circle suggest that the manifestation of the Centre and the way back to the Centre operate well beyond the limits of the human sphere and cover the space immensity.
An illustration of this meaning is given by Ireland itself, a country divided in the old days into five kingdoms of which one carried the name of “Mide” or “Midh” (from the ancient Celt “medion” or Middle). The kingdom of “Midh” was formed from removed territories of the four other provinces. This central region constituted the domain of the supreme king that had authority over the other kings.
The division of Ireland into four kingdoms plus the central region is related to the most ancient traditions, notably Chinese and Indian where the four Masters presided over the four compass points. The island of Ireland was for this reason called the “island of the four Masters” or else the “green island” (Erin). Now, these denominations did traditionally refer to another land, a lot more northern and unknown, where one of the main spiritual centres, or even the supreme Centre 1, was in the old times.
This division of the Irish territory should consequently be more understood in a symbolic rather than in a geographic or historic way. The four provinces are described by the four branches of the cross, the fifth one by their intersection and the outline of the island by the circle. The immensity of the ocean lets us glimpse at endless possibilities of territorial discoveries and, in particular, of the supreme region. This distant region infers that the true Centre of the cross could not necessarily be located at the branch crossing.
1 back The adoption of the green colour to characterize the supreme land should not be surprising. In all Celtic languages, the same word “glas” refers at the same time to the main colour in the sky (blue) and on earth (green). The choice of that (double) colour underlines the union of Heaven and Earth within the primeval tradition.