Brigid's Hearth




Wisdom of the Elements:

  The Sacred Wheel of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water






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       The Introduction               

In this day and age, when even our timepieces—previously circular and with pointers that moved in circular fashion—have become linear and digitalized, we are in danger of losing touch with the valuable truth of the sacred roundness of time and of life.

The symbol of the circle is used in many ways and in many cultures to describe relationships within a world view. A circle has no real point of beginning or end, save that which is arbitrarily chosen; therefore, it truly represents the eternal return—things coming around again and again.

Only in an abstract glyph, however, can a circle ever come back around again to the exact same place. Things are always just a bit different: each spring is a bit different from the one before and after it. The planets have moved to different locations in the sky, providing a unique, new, astrological significance. Over very long periods of time even the sun is seen to rise within a different grouping of stars on that particular day we call the Spring Equinox, a phenomenon known as the Precession of the Equinoxes. All the while, our entire solar system (indeed, our entire galaxy) is traveling with great speed through the vast reaches of our expanding universe, looking quite like an elongated spiral as it does so. Spirals become circles that become spirals that become circles. The Spiral of Existence becomes the Circle of Life, and the Circle of Life becomes the Spiral of Existence. Although we use the glyph of the circle in describing relationships within our world view, it is wise to bear in mind that a circle can be thought of as containing a spiral within it—a spherical container of spiraling motion; and a spiral can be thought of as containing a circle within it—or at least, as of generating a circle with its particular motion.

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The spiral has similarities to the circle but it also involves dimension. The spiral brings in the factors of height and depth, inward and outward, approaching and receding motion (relative to a center point).

The spiral brings time into space. Movements of up and down, in and out, approaching and receding, not only depict movement within space, but imply passage of time as well. If the circle defines space, then the spiral is the shape of the movement, perhaps the primary movement, occurring within that space. If a circle's defining of space is about circumference, then a spiral is about movement relative to the circle's center point—center to circumference and back again—as well as a simultaneous upward and downward movement.

It seems to me that the Spiral is the template, or movement-pattern/shape for life in this galaxy. DNA molecules exhibit a spiral shape. Seashells, snailshells, pine cones and flower petals around a stem reveal spiral patterning. Seeds spiral their way out of their seed casings as they burst into life and growth. The center of the spiral may be seen as the place from which the life-creating power of the universe bursts from numinous reality to space-time reality.

Related to the Spiral is, of course, spinning, which is the basis of all life. The spinning of the earth’s liquid, metallic outer core with respect to its solid inner core generates earth’s electromagnetic field. Gravity and Earth's electro-magnetic field are what hold us together, creating density and physicality. Our chakras spin, their vortex shape and spiraling motion bringing energy into us from the non-material realms. The dictionary definition of spinning includes concepts of both the drawing forth action, and the twisting, twirling, whirling motion that occurs when thread or yarn is spun from rough, unformed fibers.

Spinning, then, is the movement path that energy follows on its journey from the non-material to the material realm, from the spirit world into the physical life. Is it any wonder that our ancestors danced, circled and spiraled around their sacred fires, world trees, and within their stone circles? To circle or spiral dance in this way is to participate in the dance of life, the dance that brings energy into physical manifestation; to participate with the greater powers of the universe in the creation of life. Shamans, witches, druids, magicians all seek to draw energy from the non-physical into the physical realm, to make manifest, to bend, shape and mold reality. What an awesome responsibility this entails!

I am reminded of witches stirring cauldrons, or dancing in circles to raise and focus power, of Sufi dancers called whirling dervishes. All these give rise to an image of a circle with the power of the unmanifest flowing into manifestation from its center. I am reminded of European stories and legends of "spinning goddesses," or goddesses of the thread such as Holle, Perchta, Freya, Frigg, Athene, Arachne, Ariadne, who spun or who had dominion over the realm of spinning/weaving.

The spinning of fibers was, of course, a vital and integral part of everyday life not so very long ago, but the beliefs, customs and lore associated with it are remnants of a far older, half-forgotten knowledge of She who spins life into and out of being as She turns the Wheel of Time.

Particularly revealing in this regard are the legends of the Teutonic Goddess Holle (also known as Holda, Hulda, Harke, Berta, Perchta) recounted by the Brothers Grimm in their Teutonic Mythology. They tell us that Holle, who made her rounds at the Winter Solstice traveling in a golden wheeled cart, was quite concerned with spinning. As she made her rounds she checked to be sure that all spinning implements were in order, that the spinning was of good quality, but also to be certain that all spinning—and anything else that depended on rotary motion—was stopped for the time between Yule and New Year's Day (sometimes Twelfth Night). An old saying held that "from Yule till New Year's day neither wheel nor windlass must go 'round." Obviously this custom was related to the Winter Solstice, the longest night (pretty long in the far North) when all spinning motion must cease in honor of and in harmony with earth's apparent stoppage of motion. After New Year's day (or Twelfth Night) spinning motion could begin again. A new cycle of life had begun, was being "spun." The Goddess here reveals herself to be a goddess of time and of motion, particularly the spinning, revolving motion of the seasons, which seem to turn around the light/dark pivot points of the axis of the year. Her power is seen to be that of the circle, the spiral, of spinning and turning, and of the passage of time. Thus She is the power of manifestation: of power flowing from the Unmanifest to the Manifest world.