Natural Phenomena

Another forerunner of the Celtic Cross can be seen in a striking natural phenomenon. Under certain weather conditions, sun- or moonlight shining through airborne ice crystals produces halo phenomena. These are more common in northern latitudes, and there are many

Celt Sunwheel

The patterns of sun-dogs, rings and crosses that surround the sun under certain icy conditions in northern latitudes. As manifestations of the cosmic realms, they appear to be the origin of the sunwheel as a holy symbol.

Right: An early sunwheel-cross at St Dogmael's Abbey, Dyfed, west Wales. (Nigel Petmick)

recorded patterns of solar and lunar haloes, including arcs, circles and crosses, which have been exhaustively investigated by contemporary meteorologists. However, when one actually sees these events, they are most impressive, and no amount of scientific explanation can diminish their awesome effect upon the observer. Thus, in ancient times, they were seen as direct manifestations of the power of the solar and lunar deities. Most common among the many possible patterns is the sun-dog array, in which a parhelic spot of light or 'mock sun' appears on either side of the real sun, 22 degrees away from the sun's disc. Sometimes, from the 'mock suns' develops a circle that can produce a full sunwheel or even more complex patterns. The most important halo form in the present context is the sunwheel, which is a cross surrounded by a circle, with the actual sun at the centre and 'mock suns' at the four quarters. Also, according to many eye-witnesses over the years, spirit-lights that emanate from the earth sometimes take the form of an omphalos, a pillar, a tan or even a wheel-cross. St Trillo's seaside holy well chapel at Llandrillo-yn-Rhos (Rhos-on-Sea) in north Wales was founded at a place where the saint saw a Celtic Cross of light emerge from the ground.

Quartered circles like this are common in Cretan artefacts from the Minoan period, and they are also known widely in Northern Europe in carvings dating from the Bronze Age. There are numerous examples of the quartered circle in Scandinavian rock-carvings, which may date from as early as 1500 bce, and certainly no later than 500 bce. These wheels are considered by almost all observers to be the solar symbol, the sunwheel, and it is likely that wherever they occur they are all intended to represent this remarkable phenomenon. Among the many carvings,

there are several variant forms of the wheel. The pattern that was adopted later by the Celtic Christian church, and taken to be the basic form, is the four-spoked wheel. Although it is by far the most common, however, it is not the only form, as the number of spokes are variable. There are also examples composed of two concentric circles. In the Scandinavian rock-carvings, these forms appear in the same contexts, and thus are assumed to be versions of one another rather than completely different symbols. The circles may be shown alone, or with appendages that can be interpreted as supports. Sometimes they are carried by human figures, either above the head or as shields. They are borne on ships, and depicted as the wheels of actual vehicles.

Bronze Age rock-carvings of sunwheels from Sweden and Norway.

Some of the rock-carvings from Bohuslan in Sweden show figures that might be interpreted as the wheel symbol set up on some kind of support, such as a wooden or wickerwork framework. If this is the case, then the Celtic Cross has a direct precedent in the ceremonial symbolism of ancient northern-European solar Paganism. Two of the stone slabs that once lined the Bronze-Age burial cist inside the mound called Bredaror at Kivik in Scania, southern Sweden, have the fourfold wheel, perfectly delineated. They have been dated as c. twelfth century bce. Similar wheel-carvings exist elsewhere in ancient Europe. For example, at Carpene di Sellero in the southern alpine valley of Valcamonica, there are many such sunwheels dated at around 500 bce.

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