The Galactic Spiral
Located from our perspective near Alkaid
(the tip of the handle of the Big Dipper)
Photo courtesy of NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute
Gazing into the heart of a spiral galaxy, we sense a familiar path, a journey taken long ago, resonating from another lifetime perhaps. We are awed by the vibrant colors that the Hubble space telescope beams back. Despite the high-tech clarity of these images, a primordial urgency rises to greet us. If we stare long enough, the pinwheel of stars entrances our sensibilities until we enter a golden realm of déjà vu, traveling back to the ultimate Source. It is the Tibetan mandala, the Navajo sand painting, and Dante's Mystic Rose all rolled into one.
Some call our planet "Spaceship Earth" as it slowly rotates and revolves around the Sun. Our own Milky Way drifts through space like a bioluminescent starfish. Technically called a barred spiral galaxy, it is estimated to be over 100,000 light-years across and 1000 light-years thick at the outer edges. The elegant theories of modern astronomers place a mysterious black hole at the center of most galaxies, including our own. As the ultimate manifestation of the devouring Hindu goddess Kali (Sanskrit for "black"), nothing escapes this juggernaut's "event horizon," or rim-- analogous to Kali's necklace of skulls. Suns and planets, comets, galactic dust, gravity, even light-- all are subject to its voracious attraction. To the Maya this dark heart was known as Hunab K'u, the Only Giver of Movement and Measure, represented by the stepped fret or spiral.1 Located upon the star road of the Milky Way in the direction between the zodiac constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpius, our own Great Mystery beckons.
Merely one among incomprehensibly vast multitudes, the solar system where we live is poised on the inner edge of a sidereal arc, a dozen or so of which form our celestial spiral. This local arc is known as the Orion Arm.
The Earth Spiral
Double-spiral design on ceramic bowl.
Serrated edge represents clouds.
Four-mile Ruin, Arizona c. A.D. 1380
Jesse Walter Fewkes, Twenty-second Annual Report
Bureau of American Ethnology, 1900-1901
Many examples of the painted spiral exist in ancestral puebloan pottery from the American Southwest. In particular, the whirlpool or double-spiral motif represents the "gate of Masau's house." 2 One of these gates is located near the Sipapuni at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the portal through which the Hisatsinom 3 emerged from the past Third World to the present Fourth World. The Hopi periodically journey to this sacred area to gather ritualistic salt. Therefore, one of their names for the Grand Canyon is Öngtupqa, literally "Salt Canyon." Masau'u (also spelled Masau or Masaw) is the Hopi god of war, death, fire, the Underworld, and the earth, but he is also god of transformation. He was present when the Hisatsinom emerged upon the surface of the earth and began to make their migrations; he was there again when they finished them after many centuries. With his dibble stick and sack of seeds, Masau'u is also the humble agrarian deity who lives in balance with the earth, providing a paradigm of purity and simplicity. It is Masau'u with whom the Hopi established their divine Covenant.
On a naturalistic level the spiral represents water, an indispensable element, especially for a desert existence. (See the photo of a woman at Acoma pueblo balancing upon her head a ceramic jar with a spiral design.) The presence of a spiral petroglyph (in Hopi known as potave'yta) can mean that a water source is or was nearby. One of the major Hopi shrines is called Potavetaka (literally, "spiral nest"), or Point Sublime on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Here again we see the spiral motif --an icon of passage or transcendence-- associated with the canyon that the Hopi consider their Place of Emergence. In addition to water, the spiral can refer to the whirlwind or "dust devil," a sometimes malevolently destructive force in nature. On the other hand, whirlwinds frequently precede rain, so they can be viewed as propitious.
Stylized spiral petroglyph with "pueblo" symbol at the center.
Near Homol'ovi Ruins State Park, Arizona.
In rock art the spiral connotes migration across the surface of the earth, especially if it is adjacent to footprints carved in the stone. In this context a spiral signifies the number of rounds, or pasos 4, a clan made as it journeyed though the centuries toward its ultimate goal of the sacred Center of the World, what the Hopi call Tuuwanasavi, namely the three Hopi Mesas. While a Muslim's circumambulation of the Kaba in the holy city of Mecca may take a dozen hours, the Hisatsinom/Hopi circumambulatory migration around their axis mundi took a dozen generations, but probably many more. During this time the Ancient Ones built pueblo villages, lived there for a number of generations, then moved on when Masau'u instructed them to do so.
In general, the spiral found in both rock art and ceramics may simply connote motion, with a clockwise spiral denoting ascension and a counterclockwise spiral denoting descension. 5 (Was it not Jung who stated that clockwise motion represents the conscious, while anticlockwise motion signals the unconscious?) According to author Ani Bealaura, the spiral is manifested in the upper and middle worlds in a direction opposite to that of the underworld. "The right hand, deocil, or clockwise motion in Celtic belief represents the emerging, growing, material manifestation of energy. This is the direction in which one would cast the circle of protection and send energy into the environment. It is also used to banish unwanted energies. The left hand, widdershin, or counter clockwise motion represents the inward turn and to draw energy into material manifestation. It is the principle of grounding energy. It is also used to take the inner journey of gaining insight and enlightenment, and takes one to the 'underworld' or 'dreamtime'. It is also related to seeking Cerridwen's Cauldron of Inspiration." 6 The mythological poet Robert Graves claims that the Celtic god Bran (the Greek Cronos and the Roman Saturn, whom we have identified with the Hopi Masau'u) was associated with the alder, whose buds are set in a spiral pattern. This, he says, is "a token of resurrection. 7. Graves also recalls the Celtic designation for the megalithic site of Newgrange in Ireland as the Spiral Castle. "In front of the doorway of New Grange there is a broad slab carved with spirals, which forms part of the stone henge. The spirals are double ones: follow the lines with your finger from outside to inside and when you reach the centre, there is the head of another spiral coiled in the reverse direction to take you out of the maze again. So the pattern typifies death and rebirth..." 8 John Frayne, an artisan of Celtic jewelry, states that spiral of opposing directions refer to solstice suns: "A loosely wound, anti-clockwise spiral represented the large summer sun. A tightly wound, clockwise spiral represented their shrinking winter sun." 9
Noon on summer solstice, triangle of light enters spiral.
One counterclockwise spiral petroglyph located at Homol'ovi, Arizona may well represent the Pleiades constellation, due to its relative position to other images on the rock panel. In effect, it forms part of an ancient star map of stone. But like many spiral petroglyphs across the Southwest, including the famous one at Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon 10, this spiral is first and foremost a solstice marker. At noon on the first day of summer, a small triangle of light precisely intersects the center of the spiral, verifying for agricultural and ceremonial purposes the longest day of the year. If one stumbles across a spiral petroglyph, there is a good chance that it functioned as well as a boundary marker, helping the Hisatsinom to make geodetic sense of this expansive and starkly beautiful desert landscape.
Spiral petroglyph at V-Bar-V Heritage Site, Verde Valley, Arizona.
This tight spiral is reminiscent of the coiled plaques that the Hopi weave from yucca fibers.
The spirals woven into the plaques made by Hopi women (primarily those of Second Mesa) symbolize the path we take in life's journey, and the adversities we face along the way. From Techqua Ikachi Newsletter, # 21:
"This is a coil basket symbolizing the road of life. It is called "Boo-da", meaning some great test which we will experience during our journey. Hopi tradition says we started our travel from the center or beginning of life, when life was perfect. But soon we began to face new obstacles. Small groups of ambitious minded men wanted to change their ways away from the original path. There were only small groups at first, but with time they increased to great numbers. Those who wanted to keep to their original ways became fewer and fewer. Since mankind has lost peace with one another through the conflict because of the new ways, the Great Spirit, the Great Creator has punished the people in many ways. Through all of this there was always a small group who survived to keep the original ways of life alive. This small group are those who adhere to the laws of the Creator, who keep the spiritual path open, out from the circle of evil. According to our knowledge, we are not quite out of the circle. The men with ambitious minds will decrease, while the people of good hearts, who live in harmony with the earth, we will increase until the earth is rid of evil. If the Hopi are right, this will be accomplished and the earth will bloom again. The spiritual door is open, why not join the righteous people?" 11
Is it merely a coincidence that this Hopi term is a homonym for Buddha, the primary figure in one of the world's great religions? We are reminded of the Dhammapada, the spiritual path taken by followers of the Enlightened One, and of the Noble Eightfold Path: 1. right understanding 2. right purpose 3. right speech 4. right conduct 5. right vocation. 6. right effort 7. right alertness 8. right concentration. Those who follow these precepts may in Hopi terms be the ones "...who adhere to the laws of the Creator, who keep the spiritual path open..." In addition, the "circle of evil" is reminiscent of the transmigratory Wheel of Life.
On a more psychospiritual level the spiral represents a gateway between worlds or dimensions. It is the doorway through which the shaman begins his or her ecstatic quest from the physical to the spiritual plane. (Note: The word spiral comes from the Latin spira, "coil," while the term spirit is derived from the Latin spirare, "to breathe.") In a ritualistic trance the shaman's "breath-body" searches the interstices of the spirit world for a specific cure or a personal vision to bring back to the tribe. Thus, the spiral functions as a portal or gateway from the mundane to the eternal realms. The Yaqui sorcerer don Juan Matus calls these respective states the tonal and the nagual, although it is much more complex than this simple dichotomy. 12 Anyone well versed in the techniques of non-ordinary reality, however, can gain access to the latter, as we have seen in the tutelage of Carlos Castaneda.
The morphology of the spiral is also manifested in the "vortex" areas located in many spots around the globe-- for instance, those in the Sedona, Arizona region. In Terravision: A Traveler's Guide to the Living Planet Earth, Page Bryant defines the term: "A vortex is a mass of energy that moves in a rotary or whirling motion, causing a depression or vacuum at the center.... These powerful eddies of pure Earth power manifest as spiral-like coagulations of energy that are either electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic qualities of life force." 13 The vortices can be likened to various acupuncture points upon the etheric body of the Earth. An electric (yang) vortex --Bell Rock and Airport Mesa, for instance-- energizes and enlivens the body and the mind, creating or rejuvenating a sense of optimism or faith. On the other hand, a magnetic (yin) vortex --such as Red Rock Crossing-- calms and heals the psyche. It also encourages the flow of creative or artistic energy and may even stimulate the brain's temporal lobe to variably induce vivid memories, visions, lucid dreams, and past life or out-of-body experiences. An electromagnetic vortex --Boynton Canyon, for example-- readjusts any physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual imbalances one may be experiencing. The native peoples have used these earth spirals for millennia, and they remain a natural source of invigoration and regeneration today.
A similar theory posits a matrix of "dome centers" enclosing sacred sites all across the Earth. These canopies of etheric energy are thought to exist spatially between spirit and matter. Co-authors Richard Leviton and Robert Coons claim that the domes as they are experienced today are merely memories encoded in Gaia's etheric body of the quasi-material domes that have appeared three times before in our planet's history (reminiscent of, though not directly corresponding to, the series of Hopi "Worlds"): "It is... not accurate to construe the Domes as mechanical material vehicles according to our customary understanding; they are more like transdimensional magnetic/energy facilitators overlaid on the physical landscape. In the first Dome Presence there were no humans on Earth; in the second Dome Presence there was primitive human life; and during the third Dome Presence there were some humans who could clearly see the Domes and understand their function. What these early humans saw is recounted in various ancient mythologies (notably the Irish and Sumerian) as the Houses of the Sky Gods." 14 These resonance patterns acted as both terrestrial havens for the gods from above and instructional centers for spiritual novitiates. "Dome enclosures were like immaculate, high consciousness meditation halls where human awareness could be healed, uplifted, even interdimensionally transported through the domed exit points in the Houses of the Gods, facilitated by megalithic engineering." 15 Elsewhere in this article the co-authors identify these energy forms as "wise domes" (as in wisdom-- the missing "e"s belonging to the Elohim, the Sons of Light) which assisted the "magelithic" (as in magus) cultures. 16 The domes are connected by a nexus of "dome lines," or "pulsating energy channels," which are similar to ley lines. Radiating centrifugally from these sacred energy loci are spiral arms generated in harmony with the Golden Proportion.
The Golden Mean Spiral
This special type of spiral is created in nature according to what is called the Golden Mean, Golden Section, or Divine Proportion, which is simply the ratio (phi) of 1 : 1.6180339... It is derived from Fibonacci's series, or a numerical list whereby each new number is the sum of the previous two numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144... ad infinitum. Regardless of how large the spiral becomes, the ratio of its dimensions remains constant. For instance, the proportion AB to AC is the same as BC to BD or CD to CE.
The Golden Mean can also be applied geometrically to form the Golden Rectangle, the sides of which contain the phi ratio. The dimensions of the fabled Ark (spelled with a "k") of the Covenant is known to have conformed to Golden Mean proportions. This Hebrew artifact was 45 inches in length and 27 inches in both width and height. (2.5 cubits by 1.5 cubits by 1.5 cubits, with an ancient cubit equaling 18 inches.) 17 Although the sacred object was considered sacrosanct, it has apparently disappeared, and speculation on its whereabouts continues.
The growth of many objects in nature is determined by the Golden Mean, including the whorl pattern of sunflowers, pine cones, the distribution of leaves on a stem, fingerprints, and hurricanes. Undoubtedly the Christian mystical poet and painter William Blake intuited the essence of the Golden Mean in one of his little "Songs of Experience":
"Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.
"Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go." 18
Besides the obvious golden/sunflower reference, the pun on "aspire," viz., "a spire," points to a synonym for the word spiral. And perhaps we would not be overly stretching the matter to note the pun on the word "pined" in reference to the evergreen, whose cones develop their seeds according to Fibonacci's ratio. In other natural forms such as the chambered nautilus and the horns of the bighorn sheep, growth occurs by addition to the open end of the spiral. The object always retains its geometric shape according to the phi ratio; thus, the morphology remains proportional.
Horn size is a symbol of rank, with male horns sometimes weighing as much as 30 lb.
Petroglyph of bighorn sheep (left)
and possibly two elks.
Perry Mesa, Arizona
The bighorn sheep is a common zoomorph found in Hisatsinom rock art. The Hopi god of fertility is called Alosaka (or sometimes Muy’ingwa) and is represented by two curving horns on his headdress. Each member of the Two Horn (Al) Society also wears a pair of curved horns on his head. This religious fraternity plays a crucial role in Wuwutsim, or the New Fire Ceremony of tribal initiation which takes place in November. 19
This Golden Mean spiral starts at the Heart chakra located at Grand Falls, arcs through the San Francisco Peaks (home of the kachinas, or katsinam), sweeps by Oraibi, Shungopovi, and Walpi (the Belt), intersects Orion's right hand, circles into the Hyades horns, and passes through Gamma Tauri.
On Diagram 1 to the right, we see the golden mean spiral as a component of the geomorphology of northern Arizona. Marked in blue on the map, "terrestrial" Orion closely mirrors his celestial counterpart, with prehistoric "cities" corresponding to every major star in the constellation. The Belt is represented by the three Hopi Mesas, where the primary habitation of the Hisatsinom's descendants is located. Near the top right of the map, the blue-white supergiant Rigel (Orion's left leg) correlates to Betatakin ruin at Navajo National Monument, while the faint yellow star Saiph (Orion's right leg) is represented by the ruins in Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The red supergiant Betelgeuse (Orion's right shoulder) corresponds to Homol’ovi Ruins State Park, whereas the blue giant Bellatrix (Orion's left shoulder) is equated with the ruins at Wupatki National Monument. Orion's upraised right arm points toward the Hohokam ruins near the contemporary city of Phoenix, while his left arm is aimed at the smaller Hisatsinom ruins located throughout the Grand Canyon. Also depicted on this map are Taurus and the Pleiades, corresponding to Grand Canyon Caverns and Grapevine Canyon respectively. In addition, a chakra line runs from the Belt's middle star Alnilam (corresponding to Shungopovi, first Hopi village settled) through the Third Eye of Orion (Walnut Canyon National Monument) southwest across Arizona toward the mouth of the Colorado River (not shown on map). In the opposite direction (northeast) this same line traverses Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado (also not shown).
The esoteric philosopher Dan Winter has positioned the center of the Golden Mean spiral at the Heart chakra of Orion. It passes through Bellatrix and then arcs across the Belt stars of Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak. In Diagram 1 the center of the spiral wells up from Orion's Throat chakra, which on this map correlates to Grand Falls along the Little Colorado River. The Hopi word for this site is Söynapi, which means "sound of rushing water." Another name for it is Pòosiw, "waterfall." However, the near homonym poosi'ytaqa refers to a medicine man using a crystal for diagnosis. 20
This Golden Mean spiral starts at the Sipapuni (Hopi "Place of Emergence"), arcs through Oraibi (oldest continuously inhabited community on the continent, settled c. A.D. 1100), swings through the Third Eye chakra of Orion at Walnut Canyon, then continues its sweep through the middle of the horns of Taurus.
In an alternative positioning shown in Diagram 2, the center of the spiral is focused upon the Hopi Sipapuni. This schematic unifies the Grand Canyon with Mintaka/Oraibi and in turn with the San Francisco Peaks, home of the katsinas (katsinam). Furthermore, the Golden Mean spirals in both diagrams conjoin Orion with the open "V" (or "Y") of the Hyades in Taurus, whose red eye Aldebaran the Hopi associate with their celestial god Sotuknang. 21 Hence, by this mystical coil the god of earth and the Underworld (Masau'u/Orion) is linked with the god of the sky and lightning (Sotuknang/Taurus), In other words, "As Above, so Below."
The Dual Spiral
We have determined that the terrestrial equivalent of Orion in the American Southwest is represented by the Hopi god Masau'u, whose whirlpool gate was mentioned above. This correlation is akin to that of Orion/Osiris in Egypt, where the three main Giza pyramids represent his Belt. (Cf. The Orion Mystery by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert.) In Sumer circa 3000 B.C. Orion was worshipped as the god Ninurta (also called Ningirsu according to place), son of Enlil. Not only was he known as the god of fields and canals who brings fertility but also as the god of war and the hunt who brings death. At one point he was so aggressive that Nature herself struggled against him, the very stones battling his ire. Quite significantly, Ninurta is also referred to as "champion of the celestial gods." Now exhibited at the Louvre, a Sumerian stela fragment from the beginning of the third millennium depicts Ningirsu with the classic Orion club in his right hand and an eagle with outstretched wings in his left hand. However, in other representations of the deity his weapon is shown as being flanked by two S-shaped snakes. 22 This, of course, reminds us of the caduceus carried by the Greek god Hermes, with its pair of serpents entwined around a central staff surmounted by a pair of wings.
Double spiral, clockwise (left) and counterclockwise (right), with staff.
Homol'ovi Ruins State Park, Arizona
The archetypal motif of the entwined twin snakes is found at differing times in diverse parts of the world. Many Westerners are now familiar with the age-old Tibetan practice of kundalini, a form of Tantric yoga. The word Kundala means "coiled," and refers to the energy of the cosmic serpent asleep at the base of the spine. In addition to the chakras, or energy wheels, positioned along the spinal column (Susumna), two subtle nerves called the Pingala and the Ida form a double spiral that interlaces the backbone, channeling solar (masculine) and lunar (feminine) energy respectively up and down the spine. The chakra system apparently is not restricted to Asia. Sir John Woodroffe (a.k.a. Arthur Avalon) remarks in this regard: "I am told that correspondences are discoverable between the Indian (Asiatic) Sastra and the American-Indian Maya Scripture of the Zunis [sic] called the Popul Vuh. My informant tells me that their 'air-tube' is the Susumna; their 'twofold air-tube' the Nadis Ida and Pingala. 'Hurakan,' or lightning, is Kundalini, and the centres are depicted by animal glyphs." 23 An epithet for Huracan (or Hurricane), the lightning deity of the Maya, is "Heart of the Sky," 24 the exact phrase used to describe the correlative Hopi god Sotuknang. The Hopi glyph and accompanying hand gesture for lightning is formed by a "...sinuous, undulating motion..." i.e., a spiral. Another Hopi design for lightning is a series of lozenges, while yet another is shaped like a modern expandable coat rack-- both of which are two-dimensional representations of the 3-D double spiral. 25 Significantly, Frank Waters and White Bear Fredericks discuss in detail the Hopi version of the chakra system, which has many parallels to the Asian one. 26
To exemplify the spiral icon, the renown mythologist Joseph Campbell draws our attention to a Sumerian libation cup of King Gudea (c. 2000 B.C.), which features a pair of copulating vipers interlaced along a staff. 27 He also discusses the tenth century Cross of Muiredach located in Monasterboice, Ireland. This elaborately carved stone cross depicts spiral serpents interlacing three human heads, while on its upper portion "the Right Hand of God" touches a halo-like disk. 28 In addition, Campbell cites the fifteenth century Aztec codex Fejérváry-Mayer, which depicts a pair of serpents (possibly rattlesnakes) intertwined upon an altar with their heads facing outward in opposite directions. 29 Finally, he mentions the Navajo medicine man Jeff King, who was born in New Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century and died at about age 110. From boyhood this traditional Navajo frequently visited a stone carving near a cave of a particular mountain near his home. This carving represented two entwined spiral snakes positioned with their heads pointing east and west. Unfortunately the sculpture was lost when a rock overhang collapsed and it was washed away. 30 These exemplars from widely disparate cultures demonstrate the universal nature of the spiral, in both its therapeutic and its shamanistic dimensions. Originating from the healing snakes of Asclepius, the ophidian emblem, of course, is widely recognized today in reference to the medical profession.
In all the excitement about the human genome mapping project and its potential for medical science, we sometimes forget the ineffable beauty of the DNA double helix, that spiral staircase gently uncoiling itself with a mathematical precision inside every living thing. Perhaps the ancients intuited even more so than we do its spiritual significance beyond aesthetics. For instance, from the Introduction to his intriguing online book entitled Living In Truth: Archaeology and the Patriarchs, Charles N. Pope writes: "The double helix or twisted pair was actually used as the fundamental literary structure of the Torah. Torah is customarily translated as 'Teachings' or 'Law.' However, the ruling class of ancient royal society was conversant in many languages. According to the early 1st Century AD Jewish master Philo of Alexandria, Moses studied the languages of all 70 nations of the known world. The related roots 'tor,' 'tort,' 'tur,' 'ter,' etc. are found in many other tongues, including Greek and Latin. They are the basis of common English words such as tornado, torture, torment, torsion, turbine, storm, turban, tour, tower, turret and turn, all of which denote or imply 'twisting.'" In this regard we are startled by the fact that a New World native people like the Hopi would use a similar etymology. Specifically, the Hopi word tori means "twisted spirally" while the word toriritaqa means "whirlwind." The village at the base of Second Mesa is called Toreva, or Toriva, literally "twist water," probably referring to a spring.
Is it merely a coincidence that the syllable denoting spiral is the same in many different languages all across the world, including the Uto-Aztecan language of the Hopi? Is it not more likely that some degree of intercultural exchange in very ancient times should cause the root word tor to be found on a global basis? We should remember that this is not just some widely dispersed common image which could be explained by the theory of universal archetypes, but instead a mutually occurring phoneme. Both the spiral form and its specific signifier were apparently necessary for its dissemination.
According to J.E. Cirlot's A Dictionary of Symbols, "The double spiral represents the completion of the sigmoid line, and the ability of the sigmoid line to express the intercommunication between two opposing principles is clearly shown in the Chinese Yang-Yin symbol." 31 Obviously the iconography of the spiral is sacred beyond belief, superseding any belief systems to reach deeply into the processes of both history and biology.
The Healing Spiral
We have talked about the spiral in nature, but what about the nature of the spiral? In essence, the three-dimensional spiral assumes its form by merging the circle (eternal) and the line (temporal). We may think of particular cultures (Hindu and Buddhist, for instance) tending toward the former, with their weary cycles of ceaseless incarnation, suffering, and death-- all of it illusory, all of it maya. (i.e., The eye is on fire; forms are on fire. The ear is on fire; sounds are on fire. The nose is on fire; odors are on fire, etc. "And with what are these on fire?" "With the fire of passion, say I, with the fire of hatred, with the fire of infatuation; with birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair are they on fire." 32) On the other hand, Western culture (heavily influenced by Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity) is decidedly linear, with a clear beginning and an eventual yet inevitable end of time (i.e., "I am Alpha and Omega..." 33). This continuum is punctuated by either revelations or theophanies, which are appearances of the divine within the temporal, most notably the incarnation of Christ at the very center of the historical time span.
In his short but masterful book The Tragic, Sacred Ground, Erling Duus underscores the paramount importance of the spiral as a mythological paradigm for our time: "The spiral is crucial, for in it the captivity of the sheer circle is broken, penetrated by the linear movement of historical time, while time is relieved of its burden and its homelessness. Where and when the two meet 'there is a whirlpool effect' and then a transformation wherein the spiral is created, maintaining yet liberating the circle and the line." 34 In other words, the line gives to the circle's sometimes stupefying languor a sense of ultimate direction, optimism, and eschatological expectation. Conversely, the circle gives to the line's frequently rootless monomania a sacred haven in the womb-arc of the natural world. When the spatial virtues of the circle and the temporal virtues of the line are fused, the result is the regenerative space-time of the spiral. Duus places his discussion within the context of the Lakota (Sioux). This tribe's central territory was the Black Hills of South Dakota, which were invaded by white settlers seeking gold in violation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. (Although his book speaks primarily about the Northern Plains, it echoes the general experiences of most Native American tribes, including those of the Hopi and the Diné of the American Southwest.) The Lakota, whose ethos is embodied in the icon of the medicine wheel, were confronted by the Whites, whose doctrine of Manifest Destiny justified the "straight and narrow" march of progress, at least in their own minds. As we know all too well from the history books, the clash of these two sets of values ostensibly played itself out with tragic consequences. This interpretation, however, is absolute only to the extent that we view the conflict purely in either/or terms: either the circle or the line.
If we instead embrace the spiral, a dialectic is created whereby we transcend the limitations of both thesis and antithesis, matriarchy and patriarchy, conservative and progressive, etc., while achieving in the process a genuine liberation beyond dualism. In no way is this an attempt to sidestep or deny the genocidal atrocities perpetrated by deracinated Europeans upon the native peoples of the Americas. The fact remains, however, that Europeans journeyed to the "New World" with their linear paradigm, perhaps with the ultimate albeit unconscious goal of experiencing the cyclic paradigm of Native Americans, and vice versa. In a sense each culture needed to perceive the other as an Other, thereby creating the icon of the spiral, which speaks both from the heart and to the heart in purely visionary terms. Reflecting vastly different world views, the symbols of circle and line were perhaps destined to be subsumed by this greater icon, viz., the healing spiral which rises above, conquering all polarities in its arc of reconciliation.
Not only does the spiral include history in its spiritual sweep, but it also encompasses biology, even allowing for the theory of evolution. Just as a cart, one with innumerable wheels perhaps, slowly moves forward in a straight line, so the process of evolution is simultaneously cyclic and linear. Again, Cirlot's dictionary states that the spiral is in fact "A schematic image of the evolution of the universe." 35 It is no coincidence, then, that the term evolution (e- "out" + volvere "to roll") means "to unroll" or "to open outward"-- the precise motion of the spiral.
The paleontologist and Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin remarks on the shift from the 2-D to the 3-D spiral in evolutionary terms: "We have no longer the crawling 'sine' curve, but the spiral which springs upward as it turns. From one zoological layer to another, something is carried over: it grows, jerkily, but ceaselessly and in a constant direction. And this 'something' is what is most physically essential in the planet we live on."36 Teilhard may well have said "...physically and spiritually essential," for he believes that all of Creation is an evolutionary process leading to what he terms the Omega Point. Forming the spiral axis of universal love at the heart of all centers, even God Himself is not exempt from the process and does not stand apart. He instead evolves along with the rest of Gaia and Her species toward the locus of convergence, viz., the culmination of cosmogenesis. In the increasing complexification of life, there is unification of spirit without the loss of either personal identity or humanity. Teilhard does not perceive evolution in the same light as do most scientists, however, whose paradigm conceives of the process as an ever widening spiral, devoid of purpose or goal. Teilhard conversely sees it as cosmic involution, irreversibly arcing upward and inward. It is a galactic path whereon evolutionary travelers are both pulled forward and animated by the supreme focus of the transcendent Omega. In these terms the spiral not only heals, it also redeems.
The Sky Spiral
Here we return to the celestial, though --following the true nature of our subject-- on a different level. If we conceptualize the spiral as uniting the eternal and the temporal (again, circle and line), we may also see this figure linking sky and earth. Historian of religions Mircea Eliade provides evidence of this from an initiation ceremony performed by the Wiradjuri tribe of Australia.
"... the men cut a spiral piece of bark which symbolizes the path between sky and earth. In my opinion this represents the reactivation of the connections between the human world and the divine world of the sky. According to the myths the first man, created by Baiame [highest of the Gods], ascended to the sky by a path and conversed with his Creator. The role of the bark spiral in the initiation festival is thus clear--as symbol of ascension it reinforces the connection of the sky world of Baiame." 37
We previously mentioned the icon of dual spiral serpents, and Hopi cosmology has a similar figure. Again we quote from the Hopi newsletter Techqua Ikachi, # 8:
"It has been said that there are two water serpents coiling the earth, from North to South pole. On each of the poles sits a warrior god on the serpents' head and tail, now and then communicating messages of our conduct and behavior toward each other; now and then releasing light pressure which causes the great serpents to move, resetting earth movements--a message also commanding nature to warn us by her actions that time is getting short and so we must correct ourselves. If we refuse to heed the warning, the warrior gods will let go of the serpents and we will all perish. They will say: we do not deserve the land given to us because we are careless." 38
These warrior twins are called Pöqanghoya, god of solidity, and Palöngawhoya, god of sound. The former sits on the North Pole, while the latter sits on the South Pole. In another version of the myth, the duo lives in the Grand Canyon 39, location of riparian whirlpools at the heretofore discussed Gate of Masau's House. Although the suffix hoya refers to "youth," Pöqanghoya (meaning literally "son of the Sun") is known as the elder, and Palöngawhoya (literally "water-dripping Sun) is known as the younger deity. Never functioning independently of each other, these two figures frequently assume a mischievous character. However, this dyad also plays the role of culture heroes, sometimes performing such Herculean tasks as the slaying of monsters. Not only were these twins responsible for the creation of mountains and canyons, but they also monitored the vibratory centers of the earth, such as the vortex points mentioned above. 40 Their primary duty, however, was to assure proper rotation of the planet. The dual spiral is represented by the pair of water serpents, each assigned to its polar station. The following quotation further describes the two spirals revolving from each pole outward into space, thereby providing the sort of divine connection to which Eliade refers.
"The Spiral Force of Pöqanghoya, which turns the Arctic ice, is so powerful that it extends into Space. In other words, the Spiral Force coming from Pöqanghoya is Spiraling into Space over the North Pole and making a giant invisible Tornado going up into Space. The same is happening in the South Pole; with His Spiral Force Palöngawhoya is making a giant invisible Tornado going up into Space. These giant invisible Tornadoes are different from other Tornadoes in two ways: First, they stay in one position, always over the Poles, never moving from Place to Place, and second, they are turning more slowly than other Tornadoes, but always in a Spiral Motion like a giant funnel." 41
In essence, the iconographic spiral unites terra firma and the firmament. The term covenant is derived from the Latin convenire, which literally means "to come together" or "to unite." Is this, then, the deeper significance of the spiral? To provide the Arc (in this instance, spelled with a "c") of the Covenant by which the worlds of earth and sky are bound? Chief Dan Evehema, who recently passed over at age 106, eloquently states in his "Message to Mankind" the dire consequences of not living in accordance with this covenant:
"We Hopi believe that the human race has passed through three different worlds and life ways since the beginning. At the end of each prior world, human life has been purified or punished by the Great Spirit "Massauu" due mainly to corruption, greed and turning away from the Great Spirit's teachings. The last great destruction was the flood which destroyed all but a few faithful ones who asked and received a permission from the Great Spirit to live with Him in this new land. The Great Spirit said, "It is up to you, if you are willing to live my poor, humble and simple life way. It is hard but if you agree to live according to my teachings and instructions, if you never lose faith in the life I shall give you, you may come and live with me." The Hopi and all who were saved from the great flood made a sacred covenant with the Great Spirit at that time. We Hopi made an oath that we will never turn away from Him. For us the Creator's laws never change or break down." 42
Many Hopi elders must surely feel that the world's spirals are wobbling out of control, as the prophesied end of the Fourth World approaches. We need look no further than our ubiquitous TV screens to see that Grandmother Earth is in turmoil. Environmental degradation on diverse fronts, multiple species extinction, inexplicable genetic mutations, radically shifting weather patterns, more frequent and more devastating hurricanes/tornadoes/floods, global warming with elevated levels of "greenhouse gases," one energy crisis after another triggering "rolling blackouts," increased seismic and volcanic activity, lethal epidemics and pandemics, aberrant human and animal behavior, daily terrorist attacks, oxymoronic "holy wars," the constant threat of chemical and biological warfare, proliferation of nuclear materials, transnational machinations with Machiavellian motives, local political subterfuge resulting in widespread citizen apathy, factional massacres, "ethnic cleansing," mass cult suicides, school shootings, "road rage," increased numbers of paramilitary groups and individual arsenals, addiction to the pornography of media violence or unseemly trivialities, rising prison populations, social chaos and anomie, mental and emotional exhaustion, increased psychosomatic illnesses, religious disorientation and uncertainty, disregard for humanistic or humanitarian principles, widening schisms between social classes causing increased inequities, dire poverty and famine on one hand and conspicuous consumption and opulent wealth on the other, unrestrained avarice and power mongering justified by glib cynicism within a moral vacuum, an almost total disregard for the Golden Rule-- the dismal litany goes on and on, all of it symptomatic of the End Times. Hopi elders did not need technology, however, to envision what is now upon us. They foresaw it long ago in their humble kivas, and have been preparing for the final Purification. It is much like the scenario described in W.B. Yeats' apocalyptic poem "The Second Coming":
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity." 43
As we have seen, the Spiral, or "gyre," is the elemental gate between worlds, realms, dimensions, individual life spans. Perhaps our current onus should be to help stabilize the dipole of the revolving/evolving axis which the Hopi warrior twins are keeping in precarious balance. Maybe the center can hold, if only we abide by the Arc of the Covenant and heed the hermetic maxim "As Above, so Below." If we manage to do this, the Creator just might let us walk a while longer upon the Spiral's numinous path.
from Eye of the Phoenix: Mysterious Visions and Secrets of the American Southwest
Copyright © 2001-20013 by Gary A. David. All rights reserved.
Original draft: August 2001, revised February 2011
Any use of text, photographs, or diagram maps without the author's prior consent is expressly forbidden.
1. Hunbatz Men, Secrets of Mayan Science/Religion, Diana Gubiseh Ayala & James Jennings Dunlap II, translators (Santa Fe, New Mexico: Bear & Company, 1990), pp. 34-35.
2. Alex Patterson, Hopi Pottery Symbols (Boulder: Johnson Books, 1994), p. 29.
3. Hisatsinom refers to the ancestral Hopi. They are frequently misnamed the Anasazi, which is a Diné (Navajo) word meaning "Ancient One" or "Ancient Enemy."
4. Frank Waters and Oswald White Bear Fredericks, Book of the Hopi (New York: Penguin Books, 1987, reprint 1963), p. 35.
5. James R. Cunkle, Talking Pots: Deciphering the Symbols of a Prehistoric People (Phoenix, Arizona: Golden West Publishers, 1996, 1993), p. 26.
6. Ani Bealaura, "The Celtic Circles of Existence," A Book of Shadow and Light, unpublished manuscript.
7. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A historical grammar of poetic myth (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976, 1948), pp. 171-172.
8. Ibid., p. 103.
9. John Frayne, "Celtic Symbology and Motifs," Celtic Motifs web site, <http://www.thingzoz.com/celtic/index.htm>.
10. The Fajada Butte "Sun Dagger" petroglyph is an extremely sophisticated astronomical tool, indicating summer and winter solstices, vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and lunar standstills. It consists of one large counterclockwise spiral and one smaller clockwise spiral. Three upright sandstone slabs direct the sunlight so that just before noon on the summer solstice a downward pointing, vertical "dagger" bisects the center of the large spiral. On the winter solstice two vertical daggers of sunlight rest tangentially to this spiral. On both equinoxes a downward pointing triangle of light bisects the small spiral, which is located above the center and to the left of the large spiral. See Anna Sofaer's excellent web site The Solstice Project.
11. "Techqua Ikachi: Land and Life, the Traditional View," 44 Newsletters of the Hopi Nation, online publication. <http://www.jnanadana.org/hopi/techqua_ikachi_i.html>
12. Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power (New York: Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 1976, 1974), p. 116 ff.
13. Page Bryant, Terravision: A Traveler's Guide to the Living Planet Earth (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991), pp. 38-39, p. 89 and p. 91.
14. Richard Leviton and Robert Coons, "Ley Lines and the Meaning of Adam," Anti-Gravity & The World Grid, David Hatcher Childress, editor (Kempton, Illinois: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1997, 1987), p. 146.
15. Ibid., p. 150.
16. Ibid., pp. 185-186.
17. Graham Hancock, The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Arc of the Covenant (New York: Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster, 1993, 1992), p. 6.
18. William Blake, David V. Erdman, editor, The Poetry and Prose of William Blake (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1970, 1965), p. 25.
19. Waters and Fredericks, Book of the Hopi, pp. 138-141.
20. Kenneth C. Hill, Ekkehart Malotki, Emory Sekaquaptewa, editors, Hopi Dictionary: A Hopi-English Dictionary of the Third Mesa Dialect (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998), p. 531, p. 426.
21. A.M. Stephen quoted in Patterson, Hopi Pottery Symbols, p. 34.
22. New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, 1972, 1959), p. 60.
23. Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe), The Serpent Power: the Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga (New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1974, 1919), pp. 1-3.
24. Dennis Tedlock, translator and commentator, Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life (New York: Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1986, 1985), p. 341.
25. Garrick Mallery, Picture Writing of the American Indians, Vol. 2 (New York, Dover Publications, Inc. 1972, 1893), pp. 701-702.
26. Waters and Fredericks, Book of the Hopi, pp. 9-11.
27. Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988, 1986), p. 82.
28. Ibid., p. 83 and p. 88.
29. Ibid., pp. 90-91.
30. Ibid. pp. 89-90.
31. J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols (New York: Philosophical Library, 1971, 1962), p. 306.
32. Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, "The Fire Sermon," The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, E.A. Burtt, editor (New York: New American Library/Mentor Books, 1955), p. 97.
33. Revelation 1:8.
34. Erling Duus, The Tragic, Sacred Ground (Freeman, South Dakota: Pine Hill Press, 1989), p. 67.
35. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, p. 305.
36. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper Colophon Books/Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975, 1959), p. 148.
37. Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975, 1958), p. 14.
38. "Techqua Ikachi," op. cit.
39. Edward S. Curtis, Frederick Webb Hodge, editor, The North American Indian: Hopi, Vol. 12 (Norwood, Mass.: The Plimpton Press, 1922), p. 103.
40. Hamilton A. Tyler, Pueblo Gods and Myths (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, 1964), pp. 214-1-6.
41. Katherine Cheshire, Hopi Elder, Touch The Earth Foundation, online publication, http://www.wolflodge.org/wolflodge/spiritsakes/spirits.htm .
42. Chief Dan Evehema, "Message to Mankind," online publication, <http://www.thehopiway.com>, see Messages link on the left.
43. William Butler Yeats, M.L. Rosenthal, editor, The Selected Poems of William Butler Yeats (New York: Collier Books, 1968, 1962, 1934, 1931), p. 91.