At the heart of symbolism

The wind rose directions

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The wind rose

The wild roseWhat is the connection between the rose and winds ? The rose naturally refers to the wild form of the plant, the dog rose whose flower has five petals. However, in ancient Greece for example, the wind rose described four principal winds and cardinal directions only. Therefore, this fifth petal could only represent the gathering of these winds and directions under one heading. Indeed:

  • The four winds (Boreas, Notos, Eurus and Zephyrus) were perceived as violent gods imprisoned in the caves of Aeolus, the god of all winds located at the centre;
  • The four cardinal directions (Arctos, Mesembria, Anatole and Dusis) made reference to astral bodies apparently turning around the polar axis.

In other words, the four winds (or directions) were placed under the aegis of a fifth wind (or axis). The location of the fifth wind (or axis) was the terrestrial centre, the intersection point of the polar axis with the horizon plane (for more details, see the Description of the celestial sphere).

The terrestrial centre symbolizes the place where all things are brought together in an undifferentiated state. The four cardinal directions are radiating from this unified centre and the four winds are meeting at the centre. The terrestrial centre is, at once, a starting and an ending point at the source of diversity and the return to unity. All things coming from the same source must necessarily return to it.

It follows that there are not 4 main winds (or cardinal directions), but 4 + 1. As for the heart of the calyx of the flower, it represents the centre of all beings and things (manifested or not), that is to say of terrestrial as well as human and spiritual order.

The multiplication of wind and cardinal subdivisions would lead us to the same conclusions, irrespective of the considered traditional forms.

Some other forms of the wind rose

In ancient China

Anterior and posterior to Heaven trigram  arrangementsIn the Middle Empire, the wind rose was made of eight radial directions associated with eight different winds. The Liji or “Book of Rites” described them as the following: E (the roaring wind), SE (the cheerful wind), S (the great storm), SO (the cool wind), O (the lasting wind), NO (the sharp wind), N (the cold wind), NE (the burning wind).

The 8 winds are in correspondence with the 8 trigrams of the posterior to Heaven arrangement, that is to say after the fundamental polarization between Heaven and Earth. It is a reflection in the horizontal terrestrial plane, of the Unity represented by the famous yin-yang symbol located at the centre and surrounded by the eight trigrams. Let us note that in the trigram diagram, south is represented “above” north in accordance with the most common Chinese traditional form, turned towards light, south.

In traditional India

If we stick to the terrestrial plane and composition of the corporeal world (in the general sense of the word), vayu symbolizes the moving air, the wind. It represents one of the substantial elements at the basis of the constitution of all bodies, namely:Elements in the Indian tradition

  • Tejas (fire);
  • vāyu (air or wind).
  • Ap (water);
  • Prithvī (earth);

These elements are gathered within ākāśa (ether) in a unified state. In other words, the corporeal being reintegrates a first state of higher order while rejoining the centre, symbol of ether.

The air is associated with the transverse movement while fire and water (or earth) are respectively in connection with the ascending and descending movements. These movements correspond to the cardinal directions and explain why south is “above” rather than “below”. However, unlike the Chinese tradition, the orientation of the Indian tradition is not turned towards south, but east.

In Norse mythology

Wind rose of the Norse traditionIn the prosaic Edda of the Norse mythology, Norðri, Suðri, Austri and Vestri characterize four elves associated with the four compass points (N, S, E, W). They support together the celestial dome made of the skull of the giant Ymir, sacrificed and dismembered by the Aesir gods to create the universe. These four beings are probably the four winds blowing in the four compass directions and endowed with colours. They correspond to the four deer that nible the stems and leaves of the Nordic World Tree, Yggdrasil, while moving along the compass directions.

Obverse of a Greek coin from the sixth century before our eraLet us obverse that the circular shape of the rose and the radiation of its petals from the centre evoke the wheel. The representation of a 5-spoke wheel on the obverse of a Greek coin, from the sixth century before our era, throws some light on this relationship. The insertion of the wheel within a square shape emphasizes even more the development of the terrestrial manifestation and its link with the wind rose.

The wind rose and the wheel

The inner motionless centre of the wheel symbolizes the Unit which radiates in all directions towards the outer moving circle.

The 4, 6 and 8 spoke wheelNow, the number of spokes of the wheel is mostly even for reasons of symmetry. Then, their contact points with the circle are opposed two by two and represent the manifestation of antagonisms from the centre, the Unity. These opposites are actually complementary, for they are reabsorbed into the Unit during the reverse movement from the outer circle towards the inner centre. The wheel is a symbol of the manifestation of the Unity in its various forms and of the return of the manifestation to its integrated state within the same Unit. In other words, the wheel symbolizes the World in its differentiated form and unified state.

The wheel rotates around a motionless axis which represents the World Axis, the place of the ultimate balance of its manifestation. The axis unifies all states of the World, from the terrestrial to the celestial states while going through the intermediate states. In order to highlight the different degrees of these states, the Axis is represented vertically compared to the horizontal wheel. In this case, the wheel is the wind rose in the plane of the horizon and the vertical Axis, the axis connecting zenith and nadir. The terrestrial perception of the world, specific to the wind rose, favours the zenith-nadir axis rather than the polar axis devoted to the celestial vision.

As the symbolism of the wheel goes beyond the terrestrial world, it encompasses that of the wind rose. However, the symbolism of the wind rose, especially the 12 wind-rose, must have influenced that of the wheel. Does not this rose quite naturally recall the cycle of the 12 months of the (solar or lunar) calendar ? And that is probably why the wheel has also become a solar or lunar symbol in various traditional forms without losing its original and main meaning as the symbol of the World.

Like the spokes of the wheel, the winds coming from all directions meet at the centre, the motionless place where all winds are brought together in a unified state, and represented by a higher Wind as in the Greek mythology. This central Wind paradoxically symbolizes the Still Wind, the place of calm, far from the surrounding tumult, like the eye of the cyclone.

The wind rose shows the various possible directions to the terrestrial being. He can always follow one of them, butif one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable” (Seneca). And this port can only be the centre, the only place where the terrestrial being can achieve an integrated state. Becoming conscious of the unity of the corporeal elements, of their inter dependencies constitute the first step towards the vision of a globalized world which, in return, allows the being to understand that he is part of a Whole and that he himself is a whole. The reconciliation of the being with the world and himself is the only way to get out of a world scattered to the four winds and to enter into a harmonized world.