The spiral is a fascinating image. It is a primal symbol in the history of mankind. They have been found carved into rock all over the world and date to the dawn of humanity’s ability to express itself artistically. What were the ancients trying to convey?
The spiral can be found in three main forms in Nature: 1) expanding (like the nebula); 2) contracting (like a whirlpool); and 3) ossified (like a Nautilus). We live in a spiral galaxy. The spiral may be the most important form in the universe. The very stuff we’re made of is a spiral, the famous double helix DNA molecule.
Imaginally, the spiral possesses tremendous imagistic power. Because it is of the utmost importance to our existence, it exerts a tremendous influence on the psyche. It can be taken both macrocosmically and microcosmically. Some take it as a shape symbolizing the evolution of the universe. It can also represent unity and multiplicity. There are innumerable symbolic associations.
One such idea is that the spiral is a circumambulative path to a different mode of consciousness.
According to Jung, it is a symbol both of the unconscious and the inward journey, as well as the underworld. As the latter, it is mentioned in Virgil’s, Aenead as inscribed at the gateway to Hades. (Fundamentals Of Symbolism).
In Jung’s view, the alchemical attempt to transmute base metals into gold (the philosopher’s stone) was actually a psychological process which had been unconsciously projected onto the various material substances used in the process. The alchemists were usually not aware of the projection, according to Jung. They really believed they could turn base metals into gold. The symbols used by the alchemists were really representative of what he termed the process of individuation. Jung stressed that individuation must not be understood as a linear development, but as a “circumambulation of the self,” that is, the movement, a spiraling, is toward the center, which Jung says is the Self. One of the symbols in alchemy which represents this process is the Ouroboros, the serpent which devours its own tail. This means that the process is circular and self-contained, according to Jung.
An explanation, which sounds very Gnostic to me, comes from famed Rosicrucian scholar, Max Heindel. He mentions this in a discussion of the god, Mercury:
[His] wisdom-teaching is symbolically represented by the caduceus or “Staff of Mercury,” consisting of two serpents twining around a rod and indicating the solution of the riddle of life, or “Whence have we come, why are we here, and whither are we bound?” showing the pupil the spiral path of Involution by which the divine spark has buried itself in matter, also the spiral path of Evolution by which humanity will eventually again reach the Father’s bosom, and the short road of Initiation represented by the central rod around which the serpents twine (The Message Of The Stars).
I noticed recently how similar the caduceus symbol is to the DNA double-helix. That’s pretty amazing, considering the caduceus has been around for thousands of years.
The depth and richness of spiral symbolism is such that one could write a large book on the subject.
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