mad in pursuit notebook


Staring into the universe: dot-in-circle motif

ancient agate bead from Mali, Africapende congo masquetteCultures the world over seem to have an affinity for the dot-in-circle motif. I've always been curious why these tiny symbols have been carved into so many ritual objects. [Photo left: dot-in-circle motif on a carved "masquette" of the Pende people, DR Congo (4"/10cm)]

When you think about it, the dot-in-circle may be the first shape combo we discern as an infant -- the mother's breast, the loving eye. Focus, centering, safety -- the source of all goodness, the haven. In some cultures (Egypt, China, European alchemy/astrology) it becomes a symbol for the sun, the source of all life.

Yesterday I spent time photographing tiny agate beads, shaped and drilled a thousand years ago along the Niger River in Mali, Africa. I took the time to spread them on a light box and set up the camera with its macro lens, tethered to the computer so I could magnify my likiffa glass beadttle treasures.

Much to my surprise, right in the agate, among the random swirls, there were dotted circles.

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour... [William Blake, Auguries of Innocence]

I found myself right in the mind of the person who discovered this pattern first -- oh! order amid the chaos -- the miniscule sacred space, just our secret, between me and you -- the pearl in my oyster.

[Photo right: a powder-glass bead fabricated by the Kiffa people of Ghana, Africa (abt 2 cm/less than 1")]

[Photo top: taken with a macro lens on a light table to show the bead's translucence and subtle inner design; enhanced in Photoshop to emphasize contrast]

dot and dashAug 8, 2012 (update Aug 7, 2012)