Spirals have drawn me in since childhood. Not really understanding anything of their symbolism, they would appear as dreamy doodles on the outskirts of my journals and later in the interlocking tattoo along my lower back. Over time I came to understand that even more than a cool shape, spirals are a form of grandmother medicine, providing teachings that are simple and easily overlooked but also organic, wizened, and containing some quiet power.
Often our lives follow the spiral’s shape, circling us through certain life lessons, over and over again. As we put less and less faith in ideas around linear time, the spiral moves us through phases and seasons as we stand ready to learn.
We can find evidence of the spiral in ancient and indigenous art ranging from the carvings of Bronze Age stones at Newgrange in Ireland to the paintings of Australian Aborigines, a symbol that has clearly awakened some inherent mystery within people throughout the ages of human history.
When we see nature dance and rejoice in this universal design element, it is awe inspiring. The sacred geometry of spirals are everywhere: in the shell of a snail, the head of a Romanesco cauliflower, the unfolding of a rose, the tail of a chameleon, a freshly curled fiddlehead fern, a cyclonic storm on Jupiter, a threatening coastal hurricane, bathwater spinning down a drain, and the Pinwheel Galaxy. It is a symbol that links the microcosm, like the whorls on our fingerprints, to the macrocosm of the largest swirling galaxies.
The spiral encourages us to hold our noses and jump with both feet into the cauldron of darkness: the feminine black of possibility. It is in the spiral that we watch all things to move towards life, the push of aliveness in a growing seedling, a growing child, growing dreams, even a growing universe. The spiral reminds us to trust in life, trust in change, trust in love, trust in knowing when to hold tight and when to let go.
Here the great mystery teaches us a reverence for the painful beauty in all of the mundane miracles of everyday life. Here we find a beauty that hurts. These are the moments that openly tenderize us with the gorgeousness of life, keep us wishing we could hold on to them, just as they are, forever. But this beauty is meant to be fleeting. It is meant to pierce us and keep our blood moving.
The living world stretches, slithers, flows, and rotates. Even the straight lines that we perceive on a tree or a leaf always have a slight bend to them. Even what seems to be the most inescapable lines in nature, like the horizon, are not lines at all, but a gentle curve of a certain diameter that is impossible to perceive with the naked eye. It is us humans that have designed lives made with straight and tidy rows, always ready to box up what wants to run free.
Dancing the path of the spiral, we find ourselves part of this impermanent, quivering lattice of life. We do not forget the soft ache of our brief existence. We know our lives as sacred.
Looking up and around, we appreciate and take pleasure in the absurd possibility that we live on a Goldilocks planet—a ball of rock hurtling through space that’s just the right distance from a sun to grow life but not fry all of that life to a crisp. The spiral reminds us that we are part of this miracle and so many more, the repetition of this symbol acting as a direct connection into the great mystery that powerfully moves within us and all around us.
Photo: Marine gastropod from the 480 million year old fossil beds of Chazy Fossil Reef in the lands of the Abenaki Nation (now known as the Isle La Motte, Vermont).