Universal Symbols are a good ideal, but truly universal?

Everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken the people flourished.

Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop.

Black Elk  Oglala Lakota wičháša wakȟáŋ

Black Elk, as a respected voice of one of the nations of Turtle Island, lays the foundation for our model. I’ve found his perspective shared to some degree in other cultures, in particular the Maya and Mexica (Aztec), the Ojibwe, Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee. There are unquestionably countless others, but these were the ones I came across earliest.


So this notion of the circle formed the basis of my thinking. There was the mathematical circle we learned in school, and its three-dimensional doppelganger, the sphere.


“It’s like you’ve known me all my life!”

But not all circles are created the same. There are a few particular ideas I have come across that seem to resonate well together. These symbols come from some pretty old and sophisticated cultures, and although the symbols themselves are quite simple, the ideas associated with them are rich, complex, contradictory, and all that good stuff.

This isn’t meant to represent the depths that each culture knows of these symbols, it is to look at how others have used circles to extrapolate complex ideas, and then figure out how to do that for ourselves, as Settlers of Turtle Island. As a destination for much of the global diaspora, people have brought all kinds of symbols and ideas with them. Let’s help them all play together.

the taoist yin-Yang. the complementary interplay of light and dark.


Zen Ensō – the open circle – With respect to Turtle Island, gatherings in circles are a given, where the opening is left so that anyone can join, and to remind us to consider those who aren’t in attendance. This puts all the participants on the same level, literally, and makes for more egalitarian, and considered decision making.


Medicine Wheels are symbols that found themselves on the four cardinal directions, although the colours vary from peoples to peoples. The most common colour palate I’ve seen in the Eastern Woodlands are variations of those below. The four directions are associated with the seasons, elements, animals, and so on, and form the mnemonic system by which they organize themselves.

Otherwise, it’s your choice: bagel, donut, croissant?


With these three symbols, one taoist by way of 11th Century China, one Buddhist by way of 8th Century Japan, or since the Creator put the peoples on Turtle Island in the first place.

The first step in designing a calendar is to look at the days of the year without any weeks, months, years associated with them.

365 Days at 45° N Latitude. – Northern Hemisphere

Each of the small circles around the perimeter represents a day, the entire circle is a regular year.

Although the majority of the world lives in the Northern Hemisphere, the amount of sunlight varies a great deal. In the Arctic, the idea of the Sun rising the East and setting in the West isn’t reflected in their environment. Just as in the Tropics, the position of the Sun changes a little bit from day-to-day, but nothing like the drastic swings seen at higher latitudes.

The light-dark images here are meant to represent the annual change in season according to the position of the Sun. So for many of us, that refers to how much daylight we get. At 45° N is swings from 8 hours at the Southern Solstice to about 16 hours at the Northern Solstice.

However, we have to take our friends in the Southern Hemisphere into account. Their seasons are opposite to ours, and this must be taken into account. The terms Northern and Southern Tropic takes away the symbolic bias (Cancer and Capricorn are widely known, but still represent a particular cultural bias). So we have the Northern and Southern Solstices.

365 Days at 45° S Latitude – Southern Hemisphere

In designing a new calendar for a new way of thinking about spacetime, about our collective needs in terms of society, in terms of calendar. The Gregorian Calendar is no longer tied to the seasons and the Moon as it once was, but there are many others that do. The Chinese calendar, a wide assortment of calendars in India, Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Muslim and countless Indigenous calendars follow the Moon and the seasons.

The Persian calendar is a solar calendar that manages to fit its 12 months together in such a way that they reflect the variation in the speed of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, such that 3 months fall between each Equinox and Solstice.

These cycles in nature have a very strong affect on our bodies, our health, our well being. The more we account for them in something as fundamental as a calendar, the more they will become a given.

What do you think?



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