The triskelion, or triple spiral, is a an ancient symbol of reincarnation. It is found in artwork from Britain to Sicily, and is especially common in Celtic art. The exact meaning of the symbol varies, but seems to indicate a journey from birth, to death, to rebirth; hence the three separate but interlocking wheels, spirals, legs, or other symbols. A popular variant is the Three Hares.
A 16th century Dutch engraving of the Three Hares gives this riddle alongside:
The secret is not great when one knows it. But it is something to one who does it. Turn and turn again and we will also turn, So that we give pleasure to each of you. And when we have turned, count our ears, It is there, without any disguise, you will find a marvel.
The riddle is highlighting the interlocking ears. Apparently, the fact that the hares are an anatomical impossibility (three hares sharing two ears) made this symbol particularly popular, and it reminds me of a longrunning joke I had with a childhood friend over the logo of the Three Muskateers chocolate candy:
Three guys, but only four arms. Does the guy in the middle have no arms? We puzzled over this for years; children are easy to amuse.
Now that I am an adult I continue to puzzle over the triskelion, though. Here’s a piece of occasional furniture from the White Deer museum in Pampa, Texas. It seems to be a kind of love seat, but with three seats it doesn’t look very practical. Three people can’t sit in it and have any conversation. Who made this? And why?