Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Spiral

In the Tibetan tradition, the spiral is the symbol used to describe the origins of the Universe. The spiral shown here turns in a clockwise direction, following the path of the Sun, symbolizing the seed of potential energy; a good way to understand the power and movement contained within the spiral is to think of a coiled spring.

This particular emblem looks like a drawing of a snail shell; indeed, the spiral crops up in many places in the natural world, in both flora and fauna and in other phenomena, and has inspired not only artists but also mathematicians and philosophers. The unfurled fronds of the tree fern, in New Zealand, inspire the spiral motifs in Maori art. The tremendous energy of the whirlwind or twister is a physical example of the energy and power that can be contained within the spiral.

The spiral is rich in symbolic meaning. It radiates optimistically out from its center, ever expanding, full of endless possibilities. It has a three-dimensional quality that speaks of a journey in time, too, from past to future. The spiral represents the cyclical phases of evolution, and somehow inspires a curiosity about what is coming next.

Spiral motifs appear all over the world. From Neolithic cave complexes in Europe, on carvings of the Goddess from the Paleolithic era, on Celtic stone carvings such as the ones at Newgrange, in the Hindu pantheon where it appears, for example, as the Kundalini Serpent, woken up from its tightly coiled state, spiraling up from the base of the spine.

In Africa, the symbol for the Sun shows a cooking pot surrounded by three red spirals. The Aztec Feathered Serpent God, Quetzalcoatl, shared the same symbol as the Tibetan seed of life: their warrior God, Huitzipotchli, has a coat of arms featuring five spirals contained within a circle.

The double spiral weaves in one direction and then in the next, a reminder of death and rebirth.

In Hindu temples, pilgrims walk in a circular path around the various shrines, taking an additional spiral around ritual objects such as the lingam/yoni. This clockwise journey is not only a meditative process but "charges" the energy of the place. There is also a (possibly apocryphal) story that Britain managed to repel a possible German invasion during World War Two when a massed grou0p of witches met together to protect the country by concentrating on creating a huge spiral shaped pillar of energy.

There are dances and movements, too, which recreate the energy of the spiral. Perhaps the most dramatic instance of this is the Turkish whirling dervish. A more sedate example is the folk dances that involve a spiral line of dancers circling in and out from a central point. The same idea is echoed back in the spiral dances of Native Americans.

Spiraling back to the symbol on the snail shell, it is fascinating to note that, for the Mayans, the winter solstice was considered the start of the year, the time just before "real" time began. The symbol that represented this concept was the snail; the spiral on its shell inspired the Mayan sign for zero.

From: Element Encyclopedia of Signs and Symbols

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