In our culture we take wheels for granted. They are on every vehicle we see; daily living without wheels is almost unimaginable. Phrases like “what goes around comes around,” “coming full circle,” and “when I get around to it” express the cycles that wheels represent.
The wheel symbol has been used repeatedly all over the world from the oldest times we know of to the most modern. The concept of the sun as a wheel was widespread in antiquity, and the wheel is often used as a solar emblem. The oldest wheel symbols have four spokes. There are also six, eight, and twelve-spoked wheels. All are astronomically associated.
Wheels indicate movement. The rim of the wheel divided into sections illustrates the passage of time. The divisions are astrological, symbolizing the passing of seasons and the cycles of the heavens. The Wheel of Signs - the zodiac - denotes the revolution of a year. Mithraic wheels symbolize the sun’s movement in the heavens. The Buddhist solar wheel symbolizes the passage of time and cosmic forces. The winged wheel indicates swiftness. In Greek symbolism a six-spoked wheel is an attribute of Zeus (Jupiter) as sky god. Wheeled crosses sometimes symbolize the sun; the Celtic cross has a wheel at the crossed bars, symbolizing winter solstice.
Horse-drawn chariots became a great weapon, combining high speed, strength, durability, and mobility that unmatched by infantry. Chariot racing became a sport in the arenas of Rome. In Ireland a wheel brooch is bequeathed from one ruler to the next. The use of wheels has facilitated wealth and power.
In alchemical symbolism the wheel contrasts the movable (the perimeter) and the fixed (the center). The Wheel of Fortune tarot card is based on the number two: contrary forces, the duality. The turn of the fateful wheel is irreversible once set in motion. As some are considered lucky in love, and some unlucky, the Wheel of Fortune exemplifies the eternal cycle of good and bad luck, prosperity and poverty, stability and change - constantly subjecting mortals to the turns of Fate; the Wheel of Life raises them up and brings them down.
In mystical thinking the wheel represents the Unmoved Mover. The Taoist sage is he who attains the central point of the wheel and remains united with the Origin, bound at the center. The sage, the Unmoved Mover, can move the wheel without himself moving. The Buddhist wheel represents the dynamism of peaceful change, destiny, fate, karma, and sovereignty. It is associated with the lotus and the chakras. The Wheel of Law, Truth, and Life is one of the eight emblems of good luck in Chinese Buddhism. To the Hindu, the wheel is a symbol of unending perfect completion. In the Old Testament book of Daniel, flaming wheels appear around God’s head, and in Ezekiel’s vision wheels are full of eyes which do not turn as the wheels go, symbolizing omniscience and dynamic power. In other mythologies a golden wheel represents spiritual power.
As the world turns is a contemporary phrase with an ancient meaning: We are all riding around the sun on this chariot called Earth. What a trip!
About Symbologist Michelle Snyder
Michelle earned her post-graduate degree at the University of Wales. She is an author, columnist, publisher, artist, and teacher. Her artwork, inspired by her love of symbolism and folklore, has appeared in galleries from Massachusetts to California. Michelle is co-owner of White Knight Studio with her husband Jay Robert.
Books by Michelle, available at Amazon:
Symbology ReVision: Unlocking Secret Knowledge
Symbology: Hidden in Plain Sight
Symbology: My Art and Symbols
Symbology: My Art and Symbols
Symbology: Fairy Tales Uncovered
Symbology: Decoding Classic Images
Symbology: World of Symbols