The spiral has fascinated and intrigued people for centuries. It is common in both Christian and pre Christian art and has been taken up by the modern Neo-pagan community. But its earliest expression is that found on Neolithic passage tombs, such as New Grange or on rock cut inscriptions all dating from the stone age.
What exactly the spiral, in all its many forms, meant to the pre-Christian peoples is however, like so much, unknown. Primarily, the spiral is typical of funerary symbolism common in Irish tombs as well as those of other megalithic cultures. Historically, spirals in both Megalithic and Neolithic art were closely akin with spiritual issues of the cycle of death and rebirth.
The serpent, important iconographically.to both manifestations of Brigid, is often used as a metaphor for infinity, in a sense, by the sloughing off of it’s skin it is continually dying and being reborn (Purce, 101) and it is this interpretation of the spiral, being a symbolic representation of a symbol, the snake or serpent, that I find rather interesting. We have, if this interpretation is correct, a double abstraction of a fundamental principle, birth and death, the never ending cycle.
That spirals have a, universal, association with the death can be seen from Spirals found throughout pre-Columbian art in Latin and Central America. The more than 1,400 petroglyphs (rock engravings) in Las Plazuelas, Guanajuato Mexico, dating 750-1200 AD, predominantly depict spirals, dot figures and scale models.( Rock Art Of Latin America & The Caribbean ) In Colombia monkeys, frog and lizard like figures depicted in petroglyphs or as gold offering figures frequently includes spirals, for example on the palms of hands.
Not cultures that one would have expected to have had contact with Neolithic Europe. So in taking the spiral as a symbol of the Deity, in all His or Her forms we are simply following on in a tradition that spans continents and centuries.
Some time ago I wrote a small piece on what the spiral meant to me, it was for a person who at the time I could call friend, and more, but it seems appropriate that perhaps today I share the thought with a wider audience.
Ancient cultures knew the power of the spiral symbol; they carved it on stones in sacred places.
When we watch the Sun on its annual migration from midsummer to mid winter and back again we see it each day rise lower in the sky and draw a smaller and smaller arc in the heavens each day till it reaches its centre at mid winter and then it rises higher and higher with a growing arc each day till mid summer.
If we were to join up the arcs in the sky we would see the sun spiral in to mid winter and then spiral out again to midsummer.
The spiral describes a journey, from light to dark and back again. So as we journey on our paths we should remember the spiral journey and remember that the spiral will take us out to the light again.
Purce, Jill. The Mystic Spiral: Journey of the Soul. Yugoslavia, Thames and Hudson, 1974. 85, 86, 94, 101.
• “Rock Art Of Latin America & The Caribbean”. International Council on Monuments & Sites. June 2006. p. 5. And p.99 Retrieved 4 January 2014.