The circle has been an omnipresent symbol throughout human history. From Dharma wheel to Peace Sign; from Stonehenge to Colosseum to Marina City; from Pythagoras’ circle appreciation to Pi number – the circle has always had a special place in human culture.
That is especially true for our culture’s spiritual and symbolic realm.
These all-encompassing properties of a circle have roots in the depth of human consciousness.
All of us are deeply aware of the cyclicity of life on Earth. The Sun circles around the Sun and around its own axis, bringing about the cyclical changes in nature – day and night, the change of the seasons, and tides. Another circle – the iris of the human eye – is said to be a window into one’s soul.
But these examples are only the beginning. Or, to put it differently, as the circle has no beginning or an end, the circle could have an equally endless number of meanings in the human mind. Reaching beyond the domain of physical nature, the circle has engraved itself deep into the symbolic realm, the world beyond the physical one.
Tackling such a large body of meanings is surely challenging to compress into one article.
Still, let’s try to be bold and brave and explore as many spiritual and symbolic aspects of the circle as possible.
What’s The Secret Of A Circle As a Spiritual Symbol?
The circle is the heart of many spiritual symbols for several reasons.
- First of all, the circle represents wholeness, which is what all spiritual seekers are out for.
- Also, the circle is all-encompassing, symbolizing the notion of totality.
- The circle has no beginning or an end; thus, it is infinite – as all spiritual realms are.
- The circle is, quite logically, the symbol of cycles, including those spiritual ones. The symbols such as the Dharma wheel or Uroboros reflect this notion well. The concepts such as the “wheel of fortune” are also reflective of these principles, but related to more down-to-Earth topics.
- Finally, the circle represents the Original Perfection – God One of the most famous quotes on the topic comes from the Latin booklet written by an anonymous author called Liber XXIV philosophorum. Among other definitions, it says thatGod is ‘an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’
Interestingly, the circle is one of the rare shapes – if not the only one – that symbolizes both the Masculine and the Feminine. We all know that it is part of both masculine and feminine symbols – as well as a part of those related to other, non-binary genders. However, the Sun is also the symbol of the Masculine, while the full Moon is associated with the feminine.
Famous Spiritual Circle Symbols
Because of the abovementioned deep symbolic connections to human perception of the divine, the circle has put itself as the main framework for the evolution of many symbols from various religious and spiritual systems. Let’s look at some of the most famous and most interesting ones.
The Dharma Wheel, also known as the Dharmachakra, or the “wheel of dharma,” is one of the oldest symbols of Buddhism and its main representative sign often featured in the center of Buddhist places of worship. What cross is followers of Jesus Christ, Dharmachakra is to the followers of Gautama Buddha. It is also used in Hinduism and Jainism.
Dharmachakra looks like a chariot wheel, with its circular shape representing the perfection of Dharma – the nature of reality as presented by Buddha. The rim represents meditation, mindfulness, and discipline that hold together its spiritual practice. The spiritual practice itself is represented in the form of eight inner lines – the spokes – which stand for eight paths of Enlightenment that help one reach the state of Nirvana.
Ensō, The Zen Circle
Ensō, also known as Zen Circle, the Circle of Enlightenment, or the Infinity Circle, originated from the practice of Zen Buddhism. One of the main characteristics of Ensō is that is painted in one stroke of the brush, which brings a special sense of elegance, fluidity, peace, and wholeness – despite the circle not being a closed one.
The essentially minimalistic Ensō circle manages to convey some complex principles of Zen Buddhism – the enlightenment, the emptiness, and finding beauty and acceptance of imperfection in “incompleteness” of our Earthly experiences.
It is said that it is best to draw Ensō at the moment when your mind is completely uninhibited, swiftly and effortlessly. Naturally, this takes some effort and practice – both in terms of the spirit and the hand movements.
Flower Of Life
We’ve seen Ensō and the power of a single circle, but imagine a symbol with numerous overlapping circles that create a Mandala-like structure. In fact, you don’t need to imagine – just look at the Flower of Life.
This symbol is thought to have existed since the time of Sumerians, the world’s first civilization. It is one of the oldest and finest examples of sacred geometry, an intricate concept – and an ancient science – that explores energetic and sacred patterns of this world by utilizing means of geometric shapes.
Flower of life consists of 7 basic overlapping symbols that are thought to represent patterns of creation. All the rings inside of the flower have their own significance.
The labyrinth is also an ancient symbol, present in many cultures. The circular shape of a labyrinth and the fact that its winding path leads to the center and then outwards are the features that distinguish it from the maze.
The labyrinth combines features of a circle and those of a spiral both physically and symbolically. It usually symbolizes a spiritual path or a life path – and the process of maturation and growth that happens to a person taking it. Also, it represents a journey onto one’s own self during the process of enlightenment or individuation. In some cultures, the entrance represents the entrance into this world, and the exit a passage into another world. What happens in between is the earthly life.
In the Sanskrit language, the word “Mandala” means “to circle.” Mandalas are very complex drawn designs that can incorporate many geometric and organic shapes – but their basic shape is always circular.
The Mandala has an important place in Eastern spiritual systems as a symbol of the Universe and Oneness with the source of our creation. They have a practical use in spiritual practice – focusing on a particular mandala brings up a specific type of focus, and drawing mandalas promotes mindfulness and focusing of one’s energy.
The Pentagram, also known as Pentacle, is composed of a five-pointed star and a circle surrounding it. The four lateral and lower peaks of the star represent the basic Earthly elements – air, water, earth, and fire, while the upward-pointing peak represents the spirit. The circle is there, of course, to connect all these elements, which is pivotal for their role in the world. A pentagram without a circle is simply a five-pointed star.
Although mostly connected to some modern spiritual movements, Pentagram is actually an ancient sign. It was first known to be used by ancient Babylonians as a protection against evil. Today, the Wiccan and Modern Pagan teachings continue this tradition, using the pentagram in a similar manner. Additionally, its long history of magical ritual use does continue today (but is not as extensive as in the olden days).
The pentagram, especially its upside-down version, is a symbol that is often interpreted as Satanic and is indeed often used by people who identify with this path. However, it should be pointed out that there is no original historical connection between Satanism and Pentagram.
The spiral actually counts as a circular symbol, despite it not being a true circle. It is one of the oldest sacred symbols, which is not strange if we look at how often it occurs in nature. Snail and Nautilus shells, rosebuds, water swirls – all of these have spiral as their central form.
In parallel, the symbol has occurred in many religions around the world. Although the meaning of these ancient spiral symbols is not always entirely clear, it is most commonly claimed to symbolize the female womb. The center of the womb-spiral gives birth – and life flows out of it. Because of that, it symbolizes creation in general.
Another meaning of the spiral is that it is a symbol of human destiny, which is rarely straightforward. We can see the symbol of a labyrinth as sort of an evolution of this concept of the spiral.
The ancient symbol of ouroboros represents a snake or a dragon eating its own tail, creating a full circle with its own body.
Although you’d think that such a unique and particular symbol is related to one particular culture, that is not true.
Archaeologists have found the oldest known ouroboros symbol on a dug-out jar from has today’s Eastern China. It belonged to the neolithic Yangshao People, who lived along the Yangzte River.
However, the ouroboros appears in the historical and archeological layers of many other cultures around the world, including but not limited to Greek, Egyptian, Nordic, Indian and Amazonian. It was featured on artwork, artifacts, and even in temples.
So, what does the ouroboros symbolize? Depending on the context, it can symbolize eternity, immortality, rebirth, protection, unity, the life cycle, and natural cycles.
Yin and Yang
Yin and Yang is a universally popular symbol – not only in spiritual teachings but perhaps even more so in the popular culture. Its attractive, contrasting, symmetrical look has made it a popular decoration item, especially when it comes to wearables such as clothes and jewelry.
What does the Yin and Yang symbol really mean? One of the most recognizable spiritual symbols, Yin Yang, stems from Taoism and represents the unity of the opposites. The two halves of the circle – one black and one white – represent the unity of opposites and the contrasting nature of reality. It is mostly regarded as a symbol of masculine and feminine energy, united in holding the energy of the universe.
Taoism is a lot about duality and achieving harmony within duality, and the Yin and Yang represent this notion perfectly. It reminds us that everything in the world – even if we see it as an extreme – needs a counter-force to balance it out, no matter if it’s inherently light or dark.
Circle In Spiritual Architecture
Many ancient spiritual buildings and configurations have had a circular shape. In fact, the oldest known temple – Göbekli Tepe, built on the territory of today’s Turkey 9500 and 8000 BCE, is composed of a series of stone circles.
The Roman Pantheon has a circular structure as one of its centerpieces. The body of the building is an immense circular space, lit by the light that floods through the “oculus” – the 27-foot-wide opening at the center of the dome. Since then, the oculus has become a standard in many spiritual buildings of the time.
Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most famous circular monument. Located in England and dating back to It consists of an outer ring of huge vertical sandstone slabs. Its evolution spanned over millennia. The henge monument was built about 5,000 years ago; the stone circle was erected about 2500 BC, during the late Neolith; the site itself was used for ceremonial purposes from about 8000–7000 BCE.
To Round It Up
If God is an architect of this world, then he sure loves to use circles in his sacred geometry. The shape of a circle dominates the natural world both physically via its shapes and symbolically via the cyclical nature of both space and Earthly events.
In time, as the human mental and spiritual consciousness grew, this circle dominion has extended itself beyond the natural world and planted itself firmly into the roots of the civilization. Today, we have a myriad of circular symbols to enrich our everyday spiritual quests. Let’s observe them, appreciate them, and use their power wisely, in a creative manner – as the creative infinity is precisely the circle’s inherent value.
What is your favorite circular symbol, and why? In what ways have you experienced its power? Let us know in the comments!