The Celtic version of Yin and Yang, the Wheel and Axis

The Celtic concept of the Cosmos is of a Wheel and Axis working together.

In a recent blog a reader called Danny Williams explained in the comments the concept of yin and yang.  Williams explained yin and yang in terms of a pendulum, and the interaction of gravity and inertia that drove the Cosmos through the constant inbalance between the two parts.  Williams said that if there was ever balance between yin and yang then the Cosmos would die, since there would be no motion through the activity of inbalance of the parts.

In Celtic philosophy there is no concept of a single universal entity or force like that of the Hebrew religions, instead there are two parts working together.  These parts are symbolised as a Wheel and an Axis.  The wheel is female and the axis is male.  It is best to think of the Celtic Cosmos as like a chariot wheel that moves through the interaction of the wheel and its axis.  The Wheel and Axis is central to all the symbols and stories of the Celts, its earliest reference is the cup and ring markings on megalithic stones of 5000+ years ago, it resurfaces as the swirling circles of Celtic knot work as a triskelion.  Celtic coinage and the famous Gundestrup Cauldron all contain wheel images. The name of the Irish druid Mug Ruith means “slave of the wheel”, and a central theme of druid philosophy is based on the Wheel and Axis.

The Axis is usually symbolised as an oak tree, and the Wheel as the turning of the solar year through the seasons, each season with its own genius loci and attributes.  The Megalithic Culture of Britain originally built wooden henges to symbolise the Wheel and Axis like that of Seahenge, or replaced the short-lived wooden henge with a longer lasting stone version, like that of Stonehenge. The Wheel and Axis philosophy continues to reveal itself in the form of modern day Maypole dancing.

The yin of Celtic culture is the Wheel, whose genius loci is the earth goddess.  Celts dealt with concrete concepts, that which can be sensed in the world around them.  The Wheel of the Celts expresses the raw essence of nature, the earth goddess:

  • Vitality : nature can rape a million men to death, and not break a sweat.
  • Fertility : nature can drop a million babies in one minute, and thats just the warm up.
  • Space : nature has no concept of limit, it will fill the entire Universe with babies.

The yang of Celtic culture is the Axis, whose genius loci is a horned god. The Axis expresses what exists in space, that which we can see, the world of material objects. To explain the three attributes of the Axis I will use Greek terms.

  • Truth : the object is revealed.
  • Production : the object is produced.
  • Action : the object is in motion to actualise its potential.

The Wheel, as like a woman, provides the potential in the Cosmos, she has a vulva (space) with an egg (fertility) with desire to reproduce (vitality).  For the potential of the woman to manifest as a physical object in space, a male is required to set off the process, to realise the hidden potential of the Cosmos as an actuality.  The Axis reveals what is hidden by the Wheel, manufactures its form, and then enlivens the object into activity, where it moves from potential to actuality.

The Wheel is always in motion, a concept that is expressed in Celtic stories and artwork.  The swirling images of the Celts expresses constant change and motion. All stories convey how objects, the underworld, personalities and events are constantly shifting and merging. A noisy war horn one moment become a horn of plenty overflowing with wine in a peaceful setting the next.  Two fighting animals shift from dragon to piglet.  An ugly hag shifts to a beautiful maiden.

The Wheel turns through the seasons. The Greek versions of Celtic genius loci for each season are Spring (Persephone), Summer (Apollo), Autumn (Hermes) and Winter (Hades).  Each season marked a specific set of activities and functions of the Celts, lambing in Spring, celebrations in Autumn. Every object in the Cosmos is subject to the Wheel, and everything has its place. Everything must act in season or suffer disaster, for instance the drink of mead (made of water, honey and yeast) is produced in Summer when the bees are at their most productive, and drunk in the autumn harvest. The Celtic archetypes shift from maiden to hag, and the underworld from a dark sinister place to a land of summer based on the turn of the Wheel. Arthurian legend and some Celtic poetry uses a metaphor of a revolving castle to describe the Wheel and Axis.

In quantum mechanics particles turn around a center like a Wheel and Axis.  Our solar system of planets turn around the sun.  Our galaxy is like a Wheel with a black hole at its center.  There is a good chance that the Universe follows a similar Wheel and Axis motion like the rest of creation.

The concrete evidence is there for all to see of the Wheel and Axis, the baby becomes a man, become a corpse.  The day, the lunar month and the solar year cycles through a period of fullness and emptiness conveyed by day and night, the new and full moon, the seasons.

All creation is subject to the Wheel and the Axis, all are destined to die, and to renew.  There is no concept of balance in the Wheel and Axis, just the idea of change and motion through a cycle of death and rebirth.  There is however the idea of concordance, for if the Wheel and Axis conflicts, then outcomes reverse, where there was bountiful harvests there is famine; where a people enjoy life, they lose the will to live.  Each season in the Celtic solar year has three positive attributes, and three negatives of those attributes if the Wheel and Axis goes against each other.  The ideal then in Celtic philosophy is concordance rather than balance, you plant your seeds in Spring, tend the crops in Summer, harvest in Autumn, and store the crops well in Winter. Failure to follow the cycle of the Wheel results in disaster (bees in the natural environment produce no honey in Winter). In every relationship there is a man and a woman, who follow specific functions. If either gender is absent, or fails to play their part, the Wheel and Axis reverses leading to negative outcomes.

The Celtic stories commonly describe in concrete terms what happens when the Wheel and Axis reverses through conflict between the parts. If there is a problem with the Axis: everyone falls asleep (there is no action); objects are stolen (objects vanish); and objects become invisible (objects lose their actuality returning to potentiality).  Without the Axis the experience of an individual is a void of black empty silence (a version of hell).  If there is a problem with the Wheel:  there is no fertility, thus famine and drought; there is no vitality, so people lose the will to live, and babies, if born at all, will be born sickly and weak; since the Wheel deals with space, without space objects will collapse into each other, with patterns dissolving into anarchy and chaos, there is war and all aspects of civilisation breakdown, children are born deformed and mutated. The eventual realisation of no Wheel, is at first something akin to complete screaming madness (another hell), ending in an experience of collapse like a star that becomes a black hole, one that has mass but no space.

It is in my opinion unlikely that the ultimate extreme of void or black hole will ever be experienced by the Cosmos as a whole, but rather degrees of it in either direction if a Wheel and Axis conflicts.  The most likely outcome of a human being or the human species going too far in either direction is respectively death and extinction.

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6 responses to “The Celtic version of Yin and Yang, the Wheel and Axis

  1. That’s great! Absolutely fascinating.

    Like you with your knowledge of Celtic philosophy, I can’t help but read it with my head in ‘Eastern Philosophy’ mode… (as my head always is these days!) and you are talking of exactly the same principles as those that are deep within the idea of Yin Yang. – Everything is governed at it’s source by the constant interplay of two opposing ‘forces’.
    In fact I’ve just remembered that one of the earliest entries in my book (The Colour of My Mind) introduces the idea of an extra layer to Darwin’s evolution theory, in that there are two extra facets that should be considered: ‘Desire’ and ‘Balance’ and I see now that this was the first part of my own discovery of the universal ‘forces’ that you and I speak of. This was back in 2005 before I knew of Yin and Yang!
    (Nowadays, I would now explain that Desire is the creative force, analogous to Yin, or the Wheel, but that Balance was a misnomer. Chaos may have been a better word at the time…)

    Just to clarify for other readers:
    Yin would be the soft, inactive, creative, feminine aspect.
    Yang would be the hard, active, destructive, masculine aspect.

    I am finding it more and more that the older philosophies seem to all have the same ideas at their heart, simply expressed in different ways. As a result, I can’t help but feel more and more confidant that these older philosophies are the right ones to ‘follow’ as opposed to the belief systems where it is necessary to believe in self-aware, benevolent deities of some kind. It just seems that this is an anthropological bastardisation of the original source. And even those seem to have the same core, but it is hidden by all the other stuff!

    Your very last paragraph is interesting though, as this is the only place where I would disagree.
    In my explanation of Yin Yang through the movement of a pendulum I described how the final resting point of the pendulum is the point of death.
    I tend to think that there will be a death to all things including the universe. I think that all things tend toward an end, and that if they never get there, then that would mean to me that they were being given a nudge now and again to inject a little new energy… just like the pendulum would need… and this would have to mean the interjection of something greater than the universe itself – a diety! – and that just doesn’t gel with me.
    Actually, your last paragraph points toward balance, in that there is always something preventing the ‘tipping point’ from going too far one way or the other… and you did say “There is no concept of balance in the Wheel and Axis, just the idea of change and motion through a cycle of death and rebirth. There is however the idea of concordance…”

    Thankyou for educating me.

    • The human race share common roots, thus I see that certain memes and memories will be shared across all cultures, for instance a shared racial memory of the floods that came after sea levels rose after the last Ice Age.

      I agree with you that this Universe should follow everything else and “die”, though in Celtic culture they see existence as a constant cycle of death and rebirth. There is a possibility that there may be many universes. There is a lot we do not understand about this Universe.

  2. Reblogged this on The Colour of My Mind and commented:
    A very interesting post on another version of Yin and Yang… simply under another name.

  3. Wow, “I am finding it more and more that the older philosophies seem to all have the same ideas at their heart, simply expressed in different ways.” I just posted something today before reading this post your blog and this is just one of those perfect moments of synchronicity – reinforcement : )

    • Human beings I think came from one common location on earth, and thus retain and share similar ideas, which evolved over time to reflect their new circumstances as they migrated across the world as nomadic hunter-gatherers.

  4. Reblogged this on supersede and commented:
    Just came across this wonderful blog post – synchronicity at its best!

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