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Sacred Circles: Circle Symbolism


part of abstract collage focusing on circles


acrylic ink spiral in blue, gold, and red

21 JANUARY 2018


No Beginning and No End

On September 7, 2016, I began posting a daily CIRCLE OF THE DAY on my Facebook page. It all started because I had noticed that a lot of art work featured circular patterns or forms of one kind or another, especially symbolic sacred circles, and I began to wonder what it was that made them so universally appealing.


The answers to this question were far more interesting - and just far MORE - than I expected. This post looks back at some of the answers I found in my original circle quest, along with new things I've learned in my daily circle searches.


ancient hand-cut rock crystal ball encercled by a bronze ring

Hand-cut rock crystal ball encircled by metal ring used as a ritual object in bronze-age Afganistan

The symbolism of the circle is as endless as the circle itself, and is considered, as far as I can tell, to be a sacred symbol by almost every known culture on Earth:


Circle Symbolism: A Universal Symbol

photo of a solar eclipse orange-red circle on black

"The circle is the most common and universal sign, found in all cultures. It is the symbol of the sun in its limitless or boundless aspect. It has no beginning and no end, and no divisions, making it the perfect symbol of completeness, eternity, and the soul. The circle is also the symbol of boundary and enclosure, of completion, and returning cycles. (SymbolDictionary.net)


left: Solar eclipse

photo of full moon through a tree by Theodore McCauley

Right: Harvest Moon by Theodore McCauley 



No one can say when the circle began to be thought of as a sacred symbol, but it's not difficult to figure out why. Two circular objects inexplicably moved through the sky each day, and the sun was worshipped by many ancient peoples for the warm and light that it brought. The night-time orb of the moon was often seen as its companion or counterpart, having opposing or complimentary energies and powers.





photo of giant water lily pad by Jonathan Singer

close-up photo of human eye

Giant Amazon Water Lily Jonathan Singer Human eye wikimedia




photo of circular pond ripples

close up photo of center of narcissus blossom

Ripples  on the Pond Narcissus Blossom Nature's Favorite Shape


Obviously, they also couldn't have helped but notice that nature has a particular fondness for circular structures in general. They also occured in the repetitive cycles of time - days, months, and years. Understanding and predicting these cycles was important to their survival, and so took on spiritual significance. "The circle symbol meaning is universal, sacred and divine. It represents the infinite nature of energy, and the inclusivity of the universe. Our ancient kin observed a circular aspect to the cycles of time, specifically in the movements of the seasons. In waltzing rhythms of time, and with the revolutions of the earth 'round the sun, we can feel the same kind of evolution in annual time and seasons - just as our forefathers and mothers did." Avia Venefica, What's-Your-Sign.com


It's not surprising, then, that many of the oldest artifacts discovered are made in the shapes of circles and spheres. The purpose of the objects below is a mystery.


photo of ancient artifact bronze circle with moon phases
ancient clay disk with mysterious symbols

Bronze sky disk, Germany, 1600 BCE Phaistos disk -  fired clay from Crete, 2000 BCE


neolithic carved stone spheres from Scotland

Neolithic carved stone spheres, Scotland

"The circle is a universal symbol with extensive meaning. It represents the notions of totality, wholeness, original perfection, the Self, the infinite, eternity, timelessness, all cyclic movement, God ('God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." (Hermes Trismegistus))(University of Michigan Symbolism Project)


photo bird's-eye view of Stonehenge

STONEHENGE, in Wiltshire, England, is a prehistoric monument consisting of a ring of standing stones and earthworks which align with the solstices and equinoxes. Photograph by David Goddard/British Geographic


carved spiral on ancient Norman church in Cornwall


Because of the circle's profound spiritual symbolism, humans throughout history have built the circle's sacred form into not only religious rituals, but also physical constructions. From the spiral on an ancient Norman church in Cornwall...






photo of Chartres Cathedral's rose window


...to Chartres Cathedral's Rose Window...











women's circle dance in bronze age rock art from Zerovschan Tajikistan


...to a women's circle dance in bronze age rock art from Zerovschan Tajikistan......









sacred circles are everywhere.


hand-cut collage of circle motifs with Tibetan deity

Sacred Circles, mixed media collage

In this piece, I've combined circular symbols from both science and spiritual traditions. To me, they are interconnected, all parts of the same universal oneness.

I found this quote from Black Elk on a wonderful post about circles by Margaret Bremner on her blog, Enthusiastic Artist:


  Black Elk,

a medicine man and visionary

of the Oglala Sioux, said, “Everything the

Power of the World does, is done in a circle.  The sky 

is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball,

and so are all the stars.  The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.

Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as

ours.   The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.   The

moon does the same, and both are round.  Even the seasons form

a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to

where they were.  The life of a man is a circle from childhood to

childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

Our tipis were round like the nests of birds, and these

were always set in a circle; the nation’s hoop, a

nest of many nests where the Great Spirit

meant for us to hatch our

children.”



monoprint painting ofmoon eclipsing the sun

Path of the Eclipse, monoprint with mixed media

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the circle to human history, thought, and daily life. What's significant is that circular marks have been found in all parts of the world, over an incredibly long range of time.


One commenter on a CIRCLE OF THE DAY facebook  post said, when I apologized for the number of circles in a particular post, "There is something comforting about circles. You can never go overboard." And in fact, psychological testing shows that people relate circular shapes to emotions such as peace and happiness. ("Why Humans are Obsessed with Circles, According to Science") Please stay tuned for the upcoming post in which I explore the relationships of the circle to human psychology and spirituality. Or sign up for my newsletter below to receive notication of new posts!

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