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The Celtic Art Coracle Volume 1 Issue 1


The Coracle magazine was created primarily for Celtic-art students, to encourage practice, understanding and application of that artform; to provide an outlet to publish discoveries and inventions; and to provide reference materials. 

In presenting reference materials, the idea is to compare spiral, maze and knot designs from other cultures and other periods, and to discuss the symbolism and meaning of grid-based patterns such as found in Celtic art. 

The editorial policy of the Coracle magazine is to show how Celtic art stems from a common inheritance linking similar art forms from every part of the world and from earliest times. 

The Coracle provides artwork and articles for lovers of Celtic art, both traditional and original designs that show the construction of many patterns, occasionally compared to similar patterns from other cultures.


This issue was originally typed on a Remington, in January 1983, then pasted up and photocopied, folded, and stapled together as a small booklet of sixteen pages. The cover was printed on yellow paper. Subsequent issues were hand sewn rather than stapled, except issues 6,7,8, which were printed and stapled at a printer. But after that the magazine reverted to single sewn signatures, that were eventually bound together into books.

After five volumes, a couple of these books were brought to London, and a contract was secured to produce the Celtic Design series, which began with volume 4 of the coracle and went on from there, with eight volumes published throughout the nineties.

In 1996, the Coracle magazine was launched online, and the site has gone through several upheavals, been wrecked, rebuilt, and finally, in the Autumn of 2001, I am concentrating on finishing the project, that is, to put up all the early volumes on the web, and then to link them to the subsequent Celtic Design books, where appropriate. I expect this will take a few years more.

The coracle is a small, one-person riverboat, shaped like a circular basket, with a shallow draft and a single paddle. It goes nowhere fast, but a long way, eventually.

photo: Terry Kenny, coracle maker, Newport, Shropshire
 [click on the image if you are interested in reading more about the coracle: use the Back button on your browser to return to this page, or right-click on the link to open in a new window]

Looking back, it seems to me now that the content of these first issues was all over the place, not surprising, as it took a while for the style of the magazine to emerge. For a couple of reasons, while working over the early material  from 1996 - 2001, I gradually decided to edit the Coracle while converting it for the web, rather than stick to a faithful archive copy. 

First,  the only reliable way to archive printed material is simply to scan the original hard-copy, without changing a thing. But as the original magazine is already available in hard copy,  this did not seem to me to be my top priority. Since the pages have to be formatted for the web, anyway, and things like type size and fonts are more-or-less left to the users discretion, some editing is unavoidable. And once any editiing is allowed, the result is nolonger true to the original publication. 

Secondly, in converting the magazine from paper to pixels,  a lot must be changed  in the layout.  Apart from navigation bars at the side, top and bottom,whch are to web pages what binding is to a book,   a certain amount of padding is inescapable in hard copy, as  the magazine was designed to fit sixteen pages per issue. This is not so in a web document, although I happen to have kept to sixteen pages, out of habit. Some elements -  such as the publishers imprint -  need to be repeated in a printed copy, where each issue is a separate document, but a website is a single document, the whole volume is all here, at one time,  so at least one page in each issue is eliminated, which throws the pagination out of whack: what to do with twelve redundant pages in each volume? Then there are articles which  are obsolete, such as twenty-year old advertisements, that properly ought to be cut. And once a cut has been made,  the remaining material has to be rearranged,  to avoid empty pages. As a result of such unavoidable editings, the web edition necessarilywinds up as a completely different document. 

So now I may as well revise the material of these early volumes completely, and feel free to republish what seems to me to be the best of the original material, without feeling bound to the original format, or content, in  too-slavish a manner. For instance, the original was black and white, or black on coloured cover stock: but there is no reason not to use all the colours available on the screen. That is one of the great pleasures of web design, a million colours cost no more than one. Although I am not in a hurry to use all the available colours, I intend to replace some of the black and white graphics with the coloured drawings from which they were photocpied. Most of the spirals in this issue, for instance, were coloured. Susan Yee experimented with colours to see which would photocopy as black and which would come out as white, on different machines. A lot has changed in twenty years. When I first heard of desk-top publishing, back in 1983, I thought, I can do that, and I went out. bought a typewriter, set it on my desktop, and published the first issue of the Coracle. Back then,  I thought softwear was a type of undergarment. 

Karen Cain once described the ballet dancer as someone who must dare to make all her blunders in the limelight. Just as an experienced dancer need feel no compulsion to reproduce faithfully all the mistakes of her  apprenticeship, so the reader may reasonably expect that the editor has learned enough by now to avoid republishing the mistakes of the first issue, and may be trusted to leave in the past all that properly belongs only in the archives.  

All twelve issues of volume 1 are obtainable for $30, plus postage.  If you want to order copies of the first volume, feel free to e-mail me, or at the address posted at the foot of each webpage. 


The cover design
, entitled,  the Keeper of the Purse, is a combination of early Celtic and medieval Irish art. The figure in the middle is the stag-god of Gaul, Cernunnos (so-called after an isolated inscription, apparently related to the latin word for deer, cervus). There is little if any evidence that the stag-god was called Cernunnos outside of the locality where the inscription was made. By whatever name he was known, the cult of the stag god was apparently widespread late- Roman times.  

There is a famous carving from Rheims, which show the Gaullish god sqatting cross-legged, which is what inspired the pose shown here. Curiously, there is a figure from the earliest civilisation in the Indus valley, also horned, seated the same way. Perhaps this convention was linked to this god in very ancient times, preserved in the squatting god from Rheims. We see it also in an antlered figure on a panel in the Gundestrup cauldron, also seated upright with legs bent, holding a torc, which is the usual signature emblem of this icon. But from the Rheims figure, it appears that he was sometimes depicted carrying a purse filled with coins, like Mercury, the god of commerce.

The surrounding frame is taken - anachronistically - from the 12th-century bell shrine of St Patrick, and is the late medieval style that resulted from the fusion of Celtic and Viking styles in Ireland. It is sometimes called the Urnes style, after a Scandinavian stave church, the door of which is framed with a woodcarved arch in similar style. I adapted it here to emphasise the shape of the grid, which is designed to look like the pre-Celtic great goddess of the late neolithic, such as the snake godess of Crete, often depicted wearing a bell skirt, and with arms akimbo. The face of the goddess figure, below whom he sits,  is not indicated, because the goddess of Nature is said to love to hide. By placing him so, I was thinking of showning him in the role of her attendant and her son. In the design, her hair falls like an archon either side, and changes into two horse's heads, like the heads of the two great beasts on either side of the solar disk, just as the keystone of the arch is a ring which replaces of the face of the goddess. 

This figure of the sun between the two beasts is a very widespread Celtic motif - a solstice symbol, in which two beasts devouring the sun at midwinter, and fleeing from the sun at midsummer,  the time of  golden grain and horn of plenty, which I suppose is the proper time of year for a fertility god such as Cernunnos. As lord of livestock and harvest, he is naturally a patron of wealth to farming people.  He is shown with a purse overflowing, as on the stone carving from Rheims:  it does seem that the antlered god was associated with wealth, like another guardian of the purse in classical mythology, Plouton. 

This design was originally made for the lid of a leather purse, which is why I selected this aspect of the stag god, and also why the piece was titled, the Keeper of the purse. The lower part of the image depicts  two birds in the coiled horns of the a dragon descending into the terrestrial plane below: the two sides of the dual nature of everything in this world. 

The dragon does not appear on the Bellshrine of St Patrick - there what looks like a serpent's head was probably intended as a vase, or gourd, from which the spirals spring like branches of the tree of life, although these branches do, in fact, turn into snakes heads, so I feel my interpretation is not out of tune with the imagery of the Irish model. I emphasised the dragons head, because the great serpent is also emblematic  both with the antlered stag god of Gaul, as well as with the goddess, and, as a dragon, is associated with gold, also. The whole design was conceived as an exploration of the iconography of the celtic stag god, which as a theme in Celtic art is a very rich source of mythic symbolism.

Aidan Meehan, Vancouver 2001

Contents v1.01

Art Aidan Meehan 1983


The Celtic Art Coracle Vol 1
Contents Coracle Press 1983
ISSN 0828-8321 
All Rights Reserved

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