The Wheel Symbol

As the means by which a vehicle travels, the wheel was a sacred object in its own right. In Pagan times, vehicles were buried frequently with their Celtic owners, perhaps to serve as the conveyance of the dead person in the otherworld. Both the sun and moon, worshipped as deities, were portrayed as driving chariots through the sky. In northern Europe, ritual vehicles were used to transport images of deities around the country in sacred journeys that sanctified or cleansed the land. Wagons accompanied the dead in La Tene period tumuli, the wheels being detached and ranged along the walls of the burial chamber. Even in Christian times, images of Jesus mounted on a wheeled donkey were pushed through the streets on Palm Sunday, perhaps in continuation of the rites of the wheel-god.

By themselves, wheels appear in Celtic Paganism as an attribute of the heavenly thunder-and-lightning god, Taranis, 'The Thunderer', whom the Romans assimilated with Jupiter, and the British Christians with God the Father under the title Daronwy. The wheel-god Taranis was acknowledged by the Pagan Celts from the Balkans to the British Isles. Remains of the worship of the wheel-god have been found all over the Celtic realms. They range from coins, small wheel-brooches and votive images to lifesize statues of the deity. The shrine site at Cold Kitchen Hill in Wiltshire has yielded many wheel-form brooches and votive wheels, which can be seen in Devizes Museum. Sometimes, deities are portrayed with wheels. One is carved on the left side of a Roman altar dedicated to the Great God Jupiter, kept at Tullie House, Carlisle. A Gallo-Roman altar of Jupiter found at Laudun in Gard, France, shows the god holding a sceptre in his left hand, while on the right is an eagle and a five-spoked wheel. Another statue of Jupiter, found at Vaison in Vaucluse, France, shows the standing god holding a wheel, accompanied by an eagle.

Elsewhere, the wheel-god is depicted on the first-century bce Celto-Thracian silver cauldron from Gundestrup in Denmark, while in medieval East Anglia the wheel-god became the hero-giant Tom

Hickathrift, who saved the people of Wheels appear in Celtic Paganism as an the Cambridgeshire Fens by defeat-. . r / 1.1 i i ing the fearsome giant of Wisbech.

attribute of the heavenly thunder-ana- &

Hickathrift s weapons were not a lightning god, Taranis, 'The Thunderer'. sword and shield Instead> he used the axle-tree of a cart as a quarter-staff, and a wheel as a shield. Hickathrift and the giant are shown on a seventeenth-century pargeted wall of the old Sun Inn at Saffron Walden in Essex. In Huntingdonshire, a similar figure, called Old Hub, appeared alongside the molly dancers at the midsummer festivities, marking the high point of the sun in the year.

The wheel is the most significant attribute of the Celtic Cross, and it appeared in a pre-Christian context along with the columnar form on Roman columns dedicated to Jupiter. A different representation of the wheel-column can be seen on a pagan Roman grave-stela in Carlisle Museum. In the form of a rectangular slab surmounted by a triangular pediment containing a lunar crescent, it bears three wheel-crosses. One is at the apex of the pediment, while the other two are at the junction of the rectangle and the triangle. They are depicted as supported on bulbous pillars in the manner of Celtic Crosses. From this, it is possible that pillars with wheel-crosses existed in Roman times as Pagan, rather than Christian, monuments. In support of this hypothesis, there are Christian Anglo-Saxon representations of crosses which closely resemble their pre-Christian forerunners. The Lechmere stone at Hanley Castle, Hereford and Worcester, is a fine example of this type of cross.

In later iconography, the sunwheel was taken from the Pagan sun gods and goddesses and used as a symbol of the Christian godhead. The Fuldauer Sakramentar in the University Library at Gottingen, dating from around the year 975, shows this in a remarkable image of traditional cosmology. One illuminated page is in the form of a diagram composed of three circles. The outermost circle contains personifications of the seasons and months. Inside this, the second circle has the four elements, while the central circle is reserved for God. In his hands, he holds the heads of the sun and the moon, while beside him on either side arc two golden six-spoked wheels. In Classical art, the sun-god Helios is depicted riding in the car of the sun, a wheeled vehicle pulled by four horses. This image was perpetuated in the Eastern Orthodox church in the shape of Profitis Elias, the Jewish prophet Elijah, who flew to heaven. Orthodox icons still being made today at the monastery of Mount Athos depict the prophet, whose Greek name Elias is a continuation of Helios, riding heavenwards in a chariot of fire pulled by the four horses of the sun. Sometimes the chariot of Profitis Elias is shown inside a roundel at the centre of a cross, in place of Christ. As a holy sign, the wheel was employed by Romanesque sculptors. In southern Germany, a carving of the wheel god is prominent on the monastery tower at Hirsau in the Black

The wheel is the most significant attribute of the Celtic Cross, and it appeared in a pre-Christian context along with the columnar form on Roman columns dedicated to Jupiter.

Forest, and it is the central feature of the tympanum of the main entrance of the cathedral ofjaca in Spain.

As a more abstract symbol, the sunwheel has continued to be a protective sigil until the present day. It was stamped by the Germanic Pagans on the funeral urns in which they buried the ashes of their dead. Also, as the Circle of Columbkille, the sunwheel cross was the talismanic sigil of St Columba. Celtic Christians used it to invoke his power as a protection against all harm. Sacred signs inscribed within a circle have a long history as magical talismans. Known generally as insigils, they play an important role in protection. Medieval Irish magicians ascribed great magical power to the circular design called Feisefin, the Wheel of Fionn MacCumhaill (the Irish hero Finn McCool). Consisting of a circle on which certain letters are written in the ogham alphabet, Fionn's wheel was used as a protective talisman against harm from other human beings, or evil spirits. The Northern Tradition magic of Scandinavia and Britain uses similar insigils with bind-runes.

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