The Tryzub is the national symbol and coat of arms of Ukraine. You will see it displayed in a variety of places—on flags, books, posters, and many other items that are of Ukrainian origin. Tryzub (тризуб) is Ukrainian for “trident” and is typically gold on an azure background.
Meanings and symbolism of the Trident
The number “3” has always been known to be a very mystical number, even in pagan and ancient eras. In pagan times, the number 3 could refer to the triad of the beginning, middle or the end; the sky, earth, and waters; or the sun, the moon, and the earth. Legends and stories have genies granting three wishes, princesses having three fairy godmothers, or people encountering three animals, whether they be bears or pigs. There are even three kings that visit the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem!
The most commonly recognized association of a trident is with Poseidon, the sea god of Greek mythology. You or your children may even recall seeing this character in the Disney version of the movie “The Little Mermaid!” However, tridents as symbols have been found in many societies. For example, a trident is the weapon of Shiva, one of the three deities of Hinduism. For the Ukraine, the trident is one of the earliest Christian symbols and was associated with St. Vladimir the Great (980-1015 AD), who is credited with baptizing the country of Ukraine in the Christian religion.
History of the Ukrainian Tryzub Symbol
As mentioned above, the Tryzub dates back to the times of Kyivan Rus, when it served as the coat of arms of the Riurykide family dynasty. The symbol appeared on both coins and on the bricks of Kyiv churches.
Later, as mentioned above, St. Vladimir (or Volodymyr) the Great adopted the Ukrainian Tryzub for his Royal House and added the Greek Cross of Kherson to the middle bar after he was baptized as a Christian. The trident was redesigned to have two Cyrillic letters facing one another to represent his name. The “B” in the Cyrillic alphabet is a “V” sound in English, signifying Vladimir.
The Tryzub was formally adopted as the coat of arms of the Ukrainian National Republic in 1918, linking the modern country of Ukraine with the Kyivan Rus rulers of medieval times.
Hidden Meanings of the Ukrainian Tryzub
Back in the day, when I was learning about Ukraine and the Tryzub symbol, I recall being told that you could see the Ukrainian word “ВОЛЯ” within the symbol. At the time, that was especially significant, because that work means “freedom,” something the Ukrainian people have lacked throughout history. At that time, Ukraine was locked behind the Iron Curtain, unable to speak their native language or practise their religion. Freedom is something that the Ukrainian people seem to be fighting for even today.
There are a number of other hidden meanings that you also may want to consider. The Ukrainian trident looks like a stylized falcon, hawk, or other bird of prey. These birds also symbolize freedom, courage, and bravery.
Other possible meanings revolve around the concept of three. Christians will, of course, recognize the significance of the trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three bars of the trident point to the Trinity, with the cross on the middle bar representing Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In Ukrainian life, the Tryzub may also refer to the trinity of the family: Father, Mother, and Child.
Regardless of the meaning that you personally attach to the Ukrainian Tryzub, it is certain that this symbol has a richness of history and importance to all Ukrainians and people of Ukrainian ethnicity the world over.
For me, the Tryzub symbol reminds me of the Ukrainian dance group that I participated in for several years. Our name was the Tryzub Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, and the dance troupe still performs throughout Canada and educates young dancers in this wonderful art form.