Symbolism of Circles in Arts and Crafts

Symbolism of Circles in Arts and Crafts
09/10/2016 Rachel
HEra Made mandela vest

Rayela Art snake

Circles have had symbolic meaning for us throughout our recorded history. We could easily write a book about how they reflect our views of the world and spirituality. Instead, let’s just have a bit of fun and think about how the symbolism of circles permeates what we make today.  Many of us use circles in what we make, such as the crocheted vest by HEraMade above. Do they have meaning?

Several years ago, I thought deeply about what I wanted for my logo. I ended up picking a Hopi snake and added some feet to it, creating a cartoon that had meaning for me.

The Hopi version of the snake had several interpretations: the snake symbolized female energy, shaped into a circle represented eternity, and it was close to the earth. As I come from a Biblical background, there always needs to be a reference to the spiritual meaning as I see it. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the snake is blamed for Eve’s fall. It is wily and devious, offering her the fountain of knowledge if she steps away from obedience.

Finally, I am terrified of snakes and have had encounters with them walking in the Kentucky woods with my dogs. So, choosing it as a symbol means embracing my own fears, whatever however they may manifest themselves. I added the feet because this is a “pre-sin” snake. Snake skeletons show that they may have once had legs. Christian lore says they got knocked off when God punished the snake and condemned it to slither its path on earth. My snake embraces my worldview of complexity, contradictions and humor.

Where else do we see the symbolism of circles?

All over! Some examples follow below. Click on the images to visit our member’s shops:

Earth

Ever since we have been able to photograph Earth from space, our home planet has become our most beloved circle. We fly in the universe, lost in its magnificence, small in relevance, wondering about the unknown, where we fit in the big picture. Yet, it is our treasure, what we know and what we literally cling to, our Mother Earth.

Mariann Johansen-Ellis world and cat etching

Mariann Johansen “World of my Own”

Sun and Moon

Married in many cultures, their gender varies between female or male. Worshiped and feared, both have navigated history, set the time for planting, birthing and hair cutting. The sun, source of life and energy, also cruel and a killer. The moon, affording rest and comfort while guiding the creatures of the night.

Prairie Mile Tile Mountain Sillhouette, night scene with moon

Prairie Mile Tile Mountain Sillhouette

 

Spirals

Spirals are a form of circles that also show up in many cultures. They can symbolize movement, eternity, journeys, and unending process. The oldest of these come from fossil formations and as gifts of the sea.

Lilygirl Pendant, Goniatite with Opal

Lilygirl Pendant, Goniatite with Opal

Rings

“The circle that binds us together.” Rings symbolize union, promise and eternity. Wedding rings have great cultural significance for most of us. Rings are also used to illustrate unity in the Olympics logo.

Afghan Tribal Arts Tribal Ring, Carnelian

Afghan Tribal Arts Tribal Ring, Carnelian

Tribal Designs

Circles are used in tribal and ethnic designs around the world with varied meanings. Many make use of bold geometric shapes to carry hidden messages. Although many of these have been lost to us in modern use, the designs live on. This is a fine example of a Naga textile, brought to us by Culturalpatina Gallery:

 

Culturalpatina Naga Textile

Culturalpatina Naga Textile

Dream Catchers

One of my favorite uses of circles comes through the dream catchers made by Native Americans. Branches are bound together into a circle, with two intersecting ones forming a cross down the middle. A webbing of gut, almost lace-like, fills the spaces inside the quadrants. A pouch attached to the middle holds protective amulets. The dream catcher is hung above the bed and bad spirits are caught in the webbing and dispelled, keeping the sleeper safe. The design, circle with four quadrants, is found all over the world. Again, eternity, life, cycles and union define the circle. The four quadrants reference direction (north, south, east and west) and the four elements (earth, wind, fire and water). Few symbols can capture so much! The same design is found in Something Else Studio‘s treasure chest:

Something Else Studio Treasure Chest

Something Else Studio Treasure Chest

 

What are some of your favorite uses of circles?

If you are a maker, what do they mean to you? Feel free to post links to your work and show us more circles.  We have a Dot category in our Market which will fit in well here…

Comments (2)

  1. Meenu 3 years ago

    I really enjoyed this feature, Thanks! As a designer I find circles absolutely one of the most inspirational of all shapes. It is one of the simplest and yet most profound of shapes. I think of circles as symbolizing harmony and unity, by its very nature, it is all inclusive. I grew up seeing ceremonial mandala drawings all around me and still find it fascinating.

    • Author
      Rachel 3 years ago

      Thank you, Meenu! You do a great job of making that message clear with your jewelry. I especially love the ornate treatment you give around your shapes. Your circles have always said “Mandela!” to me.

We'd love to hear from you, so don't be shy! Leave a comment!