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December 31, 2007

Black holes, Yin-Yang, the Big Dipper, and the Wheel of the Year

A simulation called Step By Step Into A Black Hole depicts a theoretical descent into a black hole and the subsequent view of the outer universe from inside the black hole. In the first pictures we see the black hole as a bubble of darkness (scroll down) in an otherwise starlit universe. From inside, we see mostly darkness with a bubble of starlight. The two opposing views remind me of the Yin-Yang or Tai-Chi symbol, with its two sides of light and darkness, contrasted by bubbles of their opposites contained within each half (in the eye of the fish). This led me to question — and research a little more — the origins of the symbol.

I’ve always thought of Yin-Yang as a purely philosophical or even spiritual concept, one of integration, interdependence, and balance. I never thought of it having any connection to our physical universe as conceived by scientists. But according to two sites I came across today, here and here, it may originate from prehistoric observations of the Big Dipper — or the Plough, as the constellation is known in China — as it changes apparent position in the night sky through the course of a year.

If true that the symbol originated from celestial observations, then its origin is the same, an observation of the changing seasons, that we find in the western, European pagan precursors to the Neopagan Wheel of the Year, only instead of the seasonal changes observed in daylight hours or the points on the horizon where the sun or moon rises, it measures the concurrent changes in the predominant feature (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) of the night sky. Please note that what I refer to as the Wheel of the Year, as we know it today, is a fairly recent invention used in Wicca and Neopaganism, but is based for the most part on ancient European celebrations of the seasons, including the solstices and equinoxes — which no doubt hold some connection to ancient astronomical markers such as Stonehenge and Newgrange. There are also possibly similarities in the origins and symbolism of the Native American Medicine Wheels, which would take another in-depth post to explore, though this appears to be a good resource to start with.

I only found two sites that mention the possible origin of the Yin-Yang symbol with the Big Dipper’s path, though other sites certainly hint at the possibility, and according to one Chinese Mathematical Astrology site, “The most important constellation in the heavens to the Daoist is the Plough (or Dipper).” The eight trigrams of the I-Ching Ba Gua, with their broken and unbroken lines could be perceived as gradations of light and darkness pertaining to the seasons of the year, and might be seen to correspond with the eight quarters and cross-quarters of the Wheel of the Year. They are often depicted or written of as corresponding to the elements, the four directions, or the seasons. Most sites I found have more to say about the meaning of the Yin-Yang symbol than its origin, but nearly all say it’s based on “precise observation.” Most also associate its meanings with the sun and moon as well as to the seasons. I’ve included more links below.

Where does the Yin Yang Symbol come from? (also linked above)

The Sacred Wheel of the Year as revealed through the I Ching (also linked above)

Tai Chi Symbol, Yin-Yang Emblem, Taiji Tun by Michael P. Garofalo

Tai Chi & Taoism (lists movements of the Tai Chi form that take their names from the Big Dipper or its seven stars)

Taoist Nine Star Astrology (also linked above)

Tai Chi Symbol (Gin Soon Tai Chi Chuan Federation site)

Chinese Philosophy: Yin and Yang

I-Ching (Wikipedia article)

And if you’re ready to jump traditions and do even more exploring, check out this page of a much larger resource site:

ABORIGINAL STAR KNOWLEDGE: Native American Astronomy (also linked above)


Certainly the symbol is more likely to have originated from a simple observation of the heavens, without the aid of a telescope, than from anyone way back when conceptualizing a black hole. But I still like my observation that a theoretical journey into a black hole resembles this ancient symbol in some regards. The universe seems to repeat its basic patterns, and the spirals of galaxies we observe at great distance with sophisticated technology find their counterparts depicted on stone walls our ancestors decorated eons ago. Even though our cultures and philosophies took many different turns through the course of time, prehistoric humans everywhere started out with similar reverence for the natural world, and based our traditions on observations of the world and heavens around us.

Happy New Year!

File: — Barbara @ 3:58 pm PST, 12/31/07

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