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v1.12 preface
v1.12 cover
v1.12 contents


The Celtic Art Coracle volume 1 issue 12
Symbolism of the Centre

The ancient Greeks had a stone, the omphalos, at their sacred centre, the Delphic oracle at Delphi, the spiritual centre of the Greek world. Twice each year the Amphictyons met there and this assembly of representatives forms the only effective link between all the ancient Hellenic peoples. (see footnote) *

Before we return to the main purpose of this essay, an introduction to the interpretation of symbolic ornamentation, it is of interest that Ireland was set out according to a plan, the four provinces and the central domain corresponding to the form in which the high king laid out his own palace. It had a rectangular area in the centre of the court. 



* The Hebrew Beithel, "House of God", relates to Betyle, which like omphalos is another name for the sacred standing stone; c.f. Genesis 28: 16-19:

Jacob rose early in the morning and he took the stone he had used for a head-rest, set it up like a pillar, and poured oil on its summit to consecrate it. And he gave to this place the name "Beith-El."

Beith-El, "House of God", became Beith-lehem, "house of bread", the birthplace of the Christ. The symbolic relation between the stone (axis mundi) and the bread (Corpus Christi), the staff of life, is worthy of attention, especially in light of the Eucharist.

All this must be related to the question of "spiritual influences" (berakoth), and when one speaks of the "cult of the stones" it must be understood clearly that the cult was not addressed to the stone, but to the divinity resident therein (Guenon).

The Coronation Stone at Westminster, a large black rectangular block beneath the royal seat, was brought to Scotland by St.Columba from Ireland, where it was called Jacob's Stone, and remained there until the fall of the Stuarts and the end of the "Jacobite" lineage. The stone was a long time at Scone, where the kings of Scotland were crowned upon it, as Shakespeare recounts in MacBeth. Iona, where Columba founded his spiritual centre, had been a spiritual island to the Druids, and through the centuries it became such an important site of pilgrimage as to merit the description "Mecca of the Gaels". The graves of forty Scottish kings are to be found there, including that of MacBeth, in the vicinity of the Abbey.

Like Jacob, Columba also used a stone headrest, now at Iona Abbey. This oval, slightly larger than a person's head, has been shaped by the action of water, except for a simple engraved cross on one side. The cross is based on a square, with a semicircle set off from the midpoint of each side of the square and passing through the centre of the square. The four arcs so formed overlap along the diagonals of the square, at the corners of which the overlapping petals are broken and joined to the sides of the square to form the arms of the cross. These four arcs imply overlapping circles or centres of emanation which converge at the fifth centre, that of the cross itself, relating the symbolism of the five provinces and the Ming Tang to the construction of the cross.


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

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