I was asked over the Thanksgiving holiday by a family member why I wear a spiral symbol on my charm necklace every day. Despite wearing this symbol for years, I still get asked. Ah, well, what can you do?
When I took a trip to Greece in 2005 I learned a little bit about the spiral and its meaning. I liked it so much that I found a nice little jewelry shop on Mykonos and bought a silver spiral charm for my necklace.
The spiral as a symbol is found all over the world and has meanings in many different cultures and belief systems. For the ancient Minoans of Knossos, Greece, the spiral was a symbol of infinity–it just kept going! It is a symbol of constant motion, of balance, and of awareness. The Minoans understood this symbol and found an ancient meaning which they incorporated into their culture. The Phaestos Disc, a stone tablet with ancient Grecian writing on it found in the Minoan palace of Phaestos, is one huge circle and the writing is in a spiral. Significant? Probably. But it’s also an example of the importance of the spiral. Have you ever tried writing in a spiral? Not easy! It’s not something you want to do unless you have you, and that with us using ballpoint pens and thin paper! Why would you want to write in a spiral with a chisel? That just makes it harder!
The most dominant representation of the spiral comes from Celtic cultures. For the ancient Celts, a spiral was representative of growth, birth, and expansion. It could also have the meaning of energy radiating outward or inward (a spiral can go both ways depending on how you’re looking at it). The Celts also use a triple spiral called a triskele that is representative of the triple goddess and in later Christian periods came to be associated in some places with the Holy Trinity.
There is an African symbol called the “dwennimmen” that is a series of spirals combined into one symbol to fork something else. This is called the “ram’s horns” and is a symbol of strength and humility. Even though the symbol is not strictly that of a spiral, this is clearly showing how the spiral is a pervasive image that can often be co-opted for use in other ways that would change its meaning into something else.
The spiral is a largely positive ancient symbol representing eternity, change/growth, and even the evolution or movement of the universe. Some say that the spiral is a goddess symbol, and I suppose it can be, though that meaning is usually associated only with the triple spiral and not the single spiral. I prefer the ancient Minoan tradition for the spiral, myself: infinity and change.