The top of the banner features the astronomical universe under which our journeys take place. The central icon combines moon and sun, surrounded by stars. The moon/sun is pierced by an arrow, symbolic throughout the portal of the journey itself. The remaining elements in this panel foreshadow in an abbreviated way many of the themes that are highlighted on the rest of the portal banners and that we might encounter on our journeys. These include the written word (symbolized by the stylized script below the second star on the left), natural philosophy (the geometric shapes), the anthropomorphic world (the printed circuit), the biocentric world (the feather), the geocentric world (water and energy), and the spiritual world (the All-Seeing Eye).
The central element of the next panel is the Venus, symbol of fertility, life, and continuity of generations. It is the first on the banners of the Continental icons, each representing one of the broad continent-based cultures that contribute to the musical/artistic/mythopoetic aesthetic found at the fire circle. The Venus represents the European continent, as her representations are found in Neolithic archeological sites scattered all throughout Europe. She also evokes the tradition of iconic representation in three-dimensional, sculptural form, a central aesthetic of our fire circle, manifested by the many Watchers and Eye-dolls.
The Venus is surrounded by icons that represent the many spiritual traditions that are practiced and honored at the fire circle. Moving clockwise from the top right these are Islam (star and crescent), spiritual alchemy (rod of Aesculapius), Taoism (yin-yang), Roman multi-deism (Jupiter), Christianity (Celtic cross), Egyptian multi-deism (ankh), Jainism, Judaism (Star of David), Hinduism (om), and Buddhism (wheel of life). The Venus is crowned by the winged heart, symbolic of Sufism, given a special place in the banner in honor of our festival site hosts. All are crowned again by journey arrows.
Below this comes the Continental icon for Africa, symbolized by a series of 15 adinkra symbols. Adinkras are traditional decorative motifs for the Ashanti people of West Africa. From left to right, top to bottom these are:
- adinkrahene: king of Adinkra designs, representing greatness, firmness, leadership, magnanimity, and charisma
- adwo: peace, calmness, spiritual calm, and continuity
- akoma ntoso: representing four hearts, centrally linked, signifying understanding, sympathy, and agreement
- epa: representing handcuffs, symbolizing slavery, captivity, and oppression, as well as equal law and justice
- hwemudua: representing a measuring stick, symbolizing examination, superior quality, excellence, and quality control in both goods and human endeavors
- nkyinkyim: representing a twisting path, symbolizing initiative, dynamism, versatility, toughness, adaptability, devotion to service, and resoluteness
- ohene adwa: representing the king’s stool, symbolizing political authority and the philosophical construct of the community as a political unit
- tamfo bebre: represents an enemy stewing in his own juices, symbolizing the importance of learning from the past and the dangers of ignoring the past
- woroso: representing the sickle, symbolizing tools and agriculture
- aya: representing a fern leaf, symbolizing open defiance to an oppressor or intimidator
- fihankra: representing a house, symbolizing safety
- kuronti ne akwamu: representing the council of state, symbolizing democracy, interdependency, plurality of ideas, and complementarity
- kramo-bone amma yanhu kram-pa: representing the interlinked polarities, symbolizing the dangers of deception and hypocrisy
- owo foro adobe: representing a snake climbing a tree, symbolizing prudence, steadfastness, and diligence
- asase ye duru: representing communal land, symbolizing power and communal authority
The Journey Arrows in the lower right corner take on a new form, symbolizing that not all journeys involve straight lines or single paths.
The central element here is the Rainbow Serpent, symbolic of the Aboriginal traditions of Australia. The Rainbow Serpent appears in many Aboriginal creation stories and is associated with the birth of the world and all beings during the Dreamtime. Below the Serpent are three plants, symbolic of natural transformation and the forms of life that can use the power of sunlight to transform simple molecules into complex molecules, thus making all life possible. Through their near-perfect form, they also symbolize agriculture, a cultural relationship between humanity and the natural world that both gives and takes away life.
This is the final stanza of Gary Snyder’s poem “For the Children,” which speaks to the nature of the journey we find ourselves in, and that we have enforced upon our children, through our inattention to right relations with nature. The complete poem is as follows:
The rising hills, the slopes,
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
In the next century
or the one beyond that,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.
To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:
learn the flowers
The spiritual practices that come to the fire circle are embedded within a world that follows rules and reflects patterns on their own, patterns that are far larger than the small spheres within which we view our own psychological lives and the human condition.
Our attempts to understand these rules have been manifested throughout the ages in many ways, including astrology (evolving to astronomy), philosophy (evolving to mathematics), alchemy (evolving to chemistry and physics), and shamanism (evolving to biology and medicine). Represented here are:
- pathways of a fission reaction, itself a form of an atomic journey;
- the first fourteen prime numbers (numbers divisible only by themselves and one);
- iconic representations of earth, water, air, and fire (clockwise from the upper left); and,
- the double helix of a DNA molecule.
The final panel on this banner grounds the journey once again in the astronomic universe, this time linking the heavens directly to Earth. The central icon in the square, the crossed circle, is a representation of the Earth, which is surrounded by four icons, each in its own quarter. Clockwise from the top are icons representing summer, fall, winter, and spring.
The Seasons panel is bordered below by the phases of the moon. Both the seasons and the moon’s phases are events that are perceived on the Earth and have been central to human conceptions of our relationship to the natural/spiritual world since the dawn of human culture; yet they are merely reflections of events being driven by astronomic realities, primarily the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, which remains the invisible but essential icon in this panel and in our lives.
The central icon at the top of the banner is the skull of the stag. This represents both the animal world (paired with the plants on the left banner) and the male figure (paired with the Venus on the left banner), and thus also represents the duality that is present throughout much of world.
The stag skull is surrounded by six stars, again denoting the connection between the Earthly realm and the heavens.
The stag skull rises above a representation of a fire circle. By itself, the fire circle icon represents the material form of the circle that lies on the other side of the portal as well as the psychological form of the circle toward which our journeys lead. Together with the skull, it symbolizes the appearance of form or matter (skull) from energy (fire). This transformation is one aspect of the work some people choose to do when present in the fire circle crucible.
The central icon here is the Tree of Life, symbolizing growth, diversity, and the unavoidable connection between Earth (in which the Tree grows) and the heavens (where sits the sun, the source of all energy). The tree is positioned on this banner in the same place as the Venus on Banner 1, further highlighting its representation of life; in this case, however, it symbolizes life even beyond that of the human realm. In both scientific and mythopoetic traditions, the Tree has been the metaphor to represent all of life.
Ten icons that are based on the theme of the circle surround the Tree. These are (clockwise from the upper right): elf cross (Scandinavian), Sun, spirituality, magic circle, four seasons of humanity (Native American), peace sign (1950s U.S. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), the Gnostic sun, rebirth, Vishnu, and Earth. Taken as a whole, these icons span a range of philosophies encountered on our journeys, including spiritual, natural, and cultural.
The panel is framed at the bottom with a bar of alternating black and white (again, a duality) segments. Starting in the middle, each segment is 0.61 times the size of the larger segment to its side. This number approximates phi-1, or the golden section. Phi-1 appears throughout nature as the root describing the pattern of sequential spirals, such as the spiraling of a seashell or the seeds in a sunflower. This image thus represents, albeit in linear form, the mathematical patterns that are seen throughout nature, linking life (which often appears chaotic) with mathematical order.
This panel is filled by the Thunderbird, another Continental icon. The thunderbird symbolized for many Native Americans in North America the manifestation of the Creator’s power and answer to prayer. Some archeologists also believe that the thunderbird is depicted in Neolithic rock art on the European continent, suggesting either a prehistoric cultural connection or a shared prehistoric experience between these peoples. Such a connection is repeated in modern times by the shared cultural beliefs and spiritual practices of many in North America and Europe.
This passage is a portion of a much longer poem called “Chinese Art and Greek Art” by Rumi. Jelaluddin Balkhi, or Rumi, was a Sufi poet/mystic who lived in thirteenth-century Persia. Other passages from this poem include:
In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you,
but sometimes I do,
and that sight becomes this art.
Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?
Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim the huge fluid freedom.
Perhaps the most complex of the icons on the Journey Portal, the central element are nine icons from the Faery tradition. The top three icons symbolize the Upper Realm and are (left to right):
- The Utterer (She Who Weaves Pattern): The female stellar principle of creation, breathing forth the stars and planets/ uttering the word(s) of creation,
- The Holy Formless Fire (The Star Void): Where a river of stars pour out of the void, the primary point of universal creation, and
- The Gate (of the Star Father): The male complement to the Utterer, forming the pattern of time and Space.
The middle three icons symbolize the Middle Realm:
- The Divine Ancestor: An androgynous being surrounded by rising and descending spirits (incarnate to discarnate),
- The Well (of Enchantment): The central point where the three worlds meet; the blood of the underworld rises to meet the surface world and the heavens are reflected in the pool, and
- The Guardian (of Nature): It is through him that humanity gains access to the spirits of the natural realm and the Faery; this symbol carries a key that connects to the lock of the Ancestor.
The bottom three icons symbolize the Lower Realm:
- The Dreamer (Rising Vision): The core consciousness of the Earth whose dreaming shapes the world (this is connected to the concept of original instructions) asleep at the center of the Earth; its dreams carry creation to the surface world,
- The Star Within the Stone (Stone Void): The Star represents a number of different things the fire(star) at the center of the earth- a reminder of our own stellar nature, and
- The Weaver (of Patterns / of Life and Death): The force that governs the transitions from life to death to life to death in all natural life.
Outside of the nine skewed squares (forming upright and inverted pyramids) are elemental iconic representations of the Upper and Lower realms, specifically the sun and star (Upper Realm) and underwater and underland (Lower Realm).
The star icon is based on the octagonal symbol for Inanna, who in Sumerian mythology journeyed through the seven gates of Hell to rescue her lover from the Queen of the Underworld. In life, her priestesses were sacred prostitutes; thus, the inclusion of this icon towards the middle of a banner but in a border position also highlights the importance but non-centrality of sexuality in the fire circle practice and in the journeys of our lives.
The central numerical pyramid is constructed of Fibonacci sequences. Each row is bracketed by ones (the centrality, or the monad). The expansion of each row is based on the pattern in the preceding row, specifically by adding together the two numbers that rest in its upper left and right corners. This Fibonacci pyramid highlights the place of numerical order in the natural world, this time in a two-dimensional structure. The placement of the sun and star in the same position on either side of the pyramid as in the Faery pyramid above emphasizes the connection between the spiritual and natural realms.
The Fibonacci pyramid is crowned with the All-Seeing Eye. On either side of the Eye are the hands of the artist, reflecting an artistic style first represented by humans on cave paintings tens of thousands of years ago. The hands are displayed as a negative image, the only such images on the banners, to indicate their separateness from the stories and imagery displayed elsewhere.
The Fibonacci pyramid is border below by two opposing journey arrows, which themselves are bordered by smaller journey arrows. Together they highlight the large and small journeys of our lives.
Embedded within the small journey arrows is the Japanese kanji called sho, meaning birth or life. This kanji is the artist’s glyph.
The labyrinth at the center is the classic representation of a journey outward followed by a return. A labyrinth can either lead to confusion, if one gets lost, or discovery, if by walking along a circuitous path with full attention one fully explores an area. When laid out on the ground, a labyrinth forces the pilgrim to walk over every inch of the circle, and not just those places that lie on a straight line from the outside to the inside.
The center of the labyrinth houses the triskele, a Celtic symbol representing the triplicity of sky, land, and water. It also represents a journey, as it was believed that movement from one world to another is inevitable.
The labyrinth is placed at the center of three larger, elliptical orbits, representing the path of electrons around an atom’s nucleus. Just as nuclei are at the center of virtually all forms of matter in the physical world, so too are journeys at the center of virtually all forms of existence in the spiritual world.