The circle, from a psychological and symbolic perspective, is a figure that holds a multitude of meanings, deeply rooted in the collective unconscious of humanity. This simple, yet infinitely complex shape is one of the universal symbols that can be found in practically any culture and time in history.
Let us first consider the circle in its most basic form: a line without beginning or end, closed on itself. This characteristic gives it one of its most universal interpretations, that of wholeness and unity. In many cultures, the circle represents the notion of completeness, of perfection. It is a symbol of integration, where all opposing or complementary aspects of life or the psyche can coexist in harmony. Carl Jung identified the circle (or mandala) as a symbol of the psyche, representing the wholeness of being, the unification of consciousness and the unconscious.
Another interpretation of the circle is that of the infinite cycle. It represents the cyclical nature of life, the eternal return, where every end is also a beginning. This idea is reflected in many spiritual and philosophical practices, such as in Hinduism and Buddhism, where the circle symbolizes samsara, the continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth. In psychology, this aspect of the circle can be seen as representing the cyclical processes in human life: growth, change, transformation and regeneration.
The circle is also a symbol of protection. In many traditions, circles are used to demarcate sacred spaces or to protect against negative influences. Psychologically, the circle may represent personal boundaries or the safe space one creates for oneself, a refuge where the psyche can rest and regenerate.
In Carl Jung’s analytical psychology, the circle, or mandala, is a symbol of great importance. Jung observed that mandalas frequently appear in the dreams and art of his patients during periods of intense personal transformation. He believed that these mandalas represented an unconscious attempt by the psyche to restore personal balance and wholeness in the face of emotional or psychological chaos.
From a broader symbolic perspective, the circle is often associated with the feminine, the mother, and the eternal. In many cultures, it is seen as a symbol of the womb, the matrix of life, where everything is born and to which everything returns. This ties in with the idea of the circle as a container, a shape that contains and nourishes. In psychological terms, this can be interpreted as the welcoming and protective aspect of the psyche, the place where ideas, emotions and aspects of the personality are gestated and developed.
On the other hand, the circle can also represent the idea of limitation and enclosure. In a negative sense, it can symbolize cycles of behavior or thought that are difficult to escape from, or psychological barriers that limit personal growth. This aspect of the circle reminds us of the importance of being aware of our internal and external limitations and working to overcome them.
In art and art therapy, the circle is often used as a means to explore these inner aspects. Drawing or painting circles, or creating mandalas, can be a powerful form of meditation and self-exploration. This practice can help people center themselves, find balance and access deeper parts of their psyche.
What is the Symbolic Meaning of each of the parts of the Circle?
Each of the parts and aspects that make up the circle symbolize different elements and concepts that have been explored in various disciplines, including psychology, philosophy and spirituality. Breaking down the circle into its different parts allows us to delve deeper into its symbolic and psychological richness.
- The center: Represents the essential core, the‘I‘ or the‘self‘. In many spiritual traditions, the center is seen as the point of union between the physical and the spiritual, the microcosm and the macrocosm. In Jungian psychology, the center of the circle, or mandala, is often interpreted as representing the self, which is both the point of origin and the ultimate goal of the individuation process.
- The circumference: The circumference of the circle symbolizes the limits, the boundary between inside and outside. Psychologically it can represent the limits of the personality or the barrier between the conscious and the unconscious. Spiritually and philosophically, the circumference often symbolizes the cycle of life and the eternal nature of certain processes, such as reincarnation or constant change.
- The radius: The radius, which connects the center to the circumference, can be seen as a bridge or a path. It symbolizes the connection between the inner core (the self) and the outer world. In spiritual practice, this path can be interpreted as the soul’s journey towards understanding and enlightenment. Psychologically, it represents the process of personal exploration and growth, the connection between the core of our identity and how we express ourselves in the world.
- The diameter: The diameter, which divides the circle into two equal halves, often symbolizes duality: yin and yang, conscious and unconscious, masculine and feminine, light and dark. This duality is central to many philosophies and spiritual practices, as well as in analytical psychology, where it is seen as fundamental to the structure of the human psyche.
- The quadrants: If we divide the circle into quadrants, each can represent different aspects of existence or stages of life. In some traditions, the quadrants are associated with the four seasons, the four elements, or even with specific stages of human development, reflecting the cyclical and multifaceted nature of life.
- The surface: The surface of the circle can symbolize the field of experience or the reality in which we live. It is the space in which our lives unfold, a blank canvas for our experiences and actions. In a more spiritual context, it can represent the universe or cosmos, with the center symbolizing the primordial unity of all that exists.