Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Symbol Spotlight: Circles and Mandalas

Ouroboros; mystical symbol of cyclic nature
The 11-ring labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral
Circles have a long history of spiritual significance all over the world.
A simple circle is essentially a single line with no beginning or end.  This attribute links it to the concepts of infinity, completion, wholeness, unity, immortality, the Whole of Reality, and cyclic systems such as reincarnation, the Circle of Life, the astrological spin of the stars and orbiting of the sun and moon, the cycle of the seasons and the concept of circular time.
 It is considered by many cultures to have sacred, holy, auspicious and protective qualities.

a Medicine Wheel
Circles are found in many cultures and mythologies as integral elements of sacred art and ceremony;  Buddhist mandalas (Tibetan) and yantras (Hindu), Native American Medicine Wheels and sand paintings, the Aztec Calendar, the Taoist yin-yang symbol, the pagan pentagram and sacred circles for spellcasting, Stonehenge in England, and other stone circles around the world, fairy hills and fairy rings, Greek tholos (circular temples) and labyrinths, Christian rose windows, African drumming circles, the alchemical symbols for the Four Elements, the wheel of the Zodiac, Australian Aboriginal Bora rings, sacred sun symbolism and communal ritual dances as old as human society itself.

Kalachakra thangka painted in Sera Monastery, Tibet

“Mandala" is a Sanskrit word for “circle”.  It has come to generally refer to sacred art in the form of a circle.
“Sacred art”, as I understand it, is art that is intended to uplift the mind or express a spiritual concept.  It is not merely decorative or entertaining – it has a functional purpose such as teaching, focusing the mind or creating a certain atmosphere or mindset.
Creation and/or contemplation of the image can help one enter an altered state of consciousness.

A mandala is a visual mantra - a tool that helps one cultivate mindfulness and focused awareness.
Jungian mandala
Carl Jung , an innovative psychoanalyst and contemporary of Sigmund Freud, saw the mandala as "a representation of the unconscious self."  He believed the act of drawing a “personal mandala” could connect the inner and outer segments of one’s being and express the state of one’s Self.  He used these mandalas to help him identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality.

"Aum Awakening" by Cristina McAllister
When I began making my symbol art, the circular mandala format was an intuitive place to start.  A round design lends itself to reflective symmetry, naturally creating balance and repetition to form harmonious patterns.

My mandalas are intended to help us be mindful of the subject matter, as represented by the various symbols within.  They are visual meditations, invitations to mindfulness and artistic celebrations.

Further Reading:

Mandala art of Paul Huessentamm:

Mandalas by Clare Goodwin:

A look at the visionary mandalas of Hildegard VonBingen, a Christian monastic nun in the Middle Ages:
Information on using mandalas as meditational tools:

The Mandala Project:


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