Thursday, February 24, 2011

Universal Symbols: The Sacred Circle

Before I begin this intro to the symbolism of the circle, I'd like to give a warm welcome to our new interns, Rachel Denney, who is contacting spiritual and cultural representatives, and researching sacred text, and Linda Gradert who is researching sacred symbols, beginning with the five basic symbols. Thank you for your hard work and dedication!

Throughout history and across cultures, there are five symbols- five basic shapes that are found in sacred art. While their specifics may vary from one tradition to the next, their basic meanings remain primarily the same cross-culturally.

The first of these is the sacred circle. In life, it appears as the sun, moon, and planets. Our own earth, representing and controlling seasons, natural cycles, the passage of time. A full rainbow symbolizes completion, the end of a tempest.

In western religious iconography, a cruciform halo is always used only to depict or adorn Christ, while the circular halo signifies angels, saints and other holy figures. The cruciform halo is a combination between the circle and cross- another universal symbol we will cover in a later blog.
In Eastern traditions the circle takes the form of the Dharma Wheel, and is the primary shape of the mandala, created in sand as a meditation by Buddhist monks.

The circle, in the form of an Ouroboro, or serpent devouring its own tale, was also an important symbol in alchemy, the precurser to modern chemistry. As the ouroboro, the circle represents the unity of all things, and the cycle of creation and destruction and recreation, and specific to alchemy, of chemical change. One thing becomes another, things change states but never truly go away.

The circle in the form of a ring has had a variety of similar meanings down through the ages, often worn as talismans for success or good fortune (as in the ancient Egyptians and Romans) or to ward off disease (as in parts of Europe during the middle ages).
The ring represents union and eternity, making the exchanging of rings a popular symbolic gesture in marriage ceremonies.


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