The Carousel Collection
The circle has always had magical properties. It is said to be the purest and most profound symbol in existence. It has no beginning, and no end. In this sense, it represents infinity, eternity, wholeness of spirit, and femininity.
Circles rule the world! Mathematically speaking, a circle is defined as a shape in which all points are equidistant from the center. The study of its unique qualities led to the development of calculus and geometry. It was recognized before the beginning of recorded history, and is the basis for the wheel. Together with the invention of circular gears during the Industrial Revolution, it made machinery and much of modern civilization possible. Today’s technological marvels, computer hard drives, DVDs and CDs, are all circular.
In the spiritual realm, the circle has long been a sacred symbol. A few examples illustrate this.
Almost ten thousand years ago, around the 7th century BC, Babylonian astronomers learned how to divide the ecliptic ~ the circular path of the Sun across the sky over the course of a year ~ into twelve equal zones of longitude. These divisions were marked by the heavenly constellations through which the Sun traveled. This created the first known celestial coordinate system. Building on this, astrologers later devised the Zodiac Circle or calendar. Images of people, animals, and other symbols, represent the astrological and astronomic signs dividing the year into twelve equal portions.
The Wheel of the Year is a Wiccan and Neopagan symbol for the yearly cycle of seasons. It consists of eight festivals, called Sabbats, spaced at roughly even intervals throughout the year. The passing of time is seen as cyclical, represented by the turning of the wheel. The human experience of birth, life, decline and death, is reflected in the passing seasons. Wiccans also see this cycle as reflecting the life, death and rebirth of the Horned God and the fertility of the Goddess.
The Buddhist Wheel of Life embodies the Four Truths of Buddhist teaching: the existence of suffering, its origins and cause, and the ending or prevention of suffering, leading to freedom from suffering, or Nirvana.
Christianity brought with it a continued reverence for the symbol. Christian saints and the Holy Family are shown with circular haloes, representing their divinity. Labyrinths and six-petaled roses, with their circular patterns, offer a prayerful path to the heart of God at the center. The Celtic Cross a characteristic symbol of Celtic Christianity, combines the cross with a ring surrounding the intersection.
What place in this rich history of circles, does the carousel hold? It is certainly a more frivolous example of the beauty of the circular pattern, the mystery of the wheel. With its modern association with fairs and amusement parks, it is easy to lose sight of the history and deeper meaning of the carousel.
It has a long, if secular, history. Back in the12th century, it was developed as a training device for knights to practice their jousting skills for tournaments. Powered by men or draught animals, a wheel with spokes on which wooden horses were mounted, revolved around the center pole. Knights, mounted and carrying lances, competed to spear a brass ring on the center pole as they spun past. This honed their skills while safeguarding their valuable horses from injury.
Jousting and tournaments gradually lost favor. Injuries to men and horses needed for real wars, became too costly. However, the carousel did not disappear. Instead, it evolved into a pleasure machine that allowed men, women and children from all walks of life to participate in the fantasy of riding, without risk of injury.
By the 17th century, German, Italian and Russian woodcarvers were creating ever more beautiful and intricately carved horses for carousels. Often, they were suspended by chains from an overhead spoked wheel, turned by real horses who were tethered to the wheel, and walked around it.
In the 1850’s, the carousel crossed the Atlantic from Europe to America.
Four sons of the Dentzels, a German family of wagon-makers, who had turned their woodworking skills into a carousel-making enterprise, immigrated to the United States. In the hold of the ship, they carried a full and complete carousel, with which they hoped to make their fortune in the New World.
Their venture was a huge success. They set up shop in Pennsylvania, and became one of the greatest carousel-carving families in America. Other fine European craftsmen arrived to add their skills to the Dentzels, and carousels and merry-go-rounds took off. At one time, there were over 7,000 carousels across the country.
The Golden Age of Carousels was the early 20th century. Liberated by success, woodcarvers created ever more fanciful and exotic menageries of animals for their carousels. Zebras, pigs, lions, ostriches, elephants, unicorns and dragons circled the platforms with the bounding horses. The technological advances of the Industrial Revolution replaced human and animal locomotion with steam powered engines, and eventually electricity. Advances in engineering made it possible to have carousel animals go up and down, as well as round and round. Electricity allowed the carousel canopies to be festooned with lights. And fairground organs, like the mighty Wurlitzer, added music to enhance the magical experience.
This Golden Age came to an end with the Great Depression of the 30’s, followed by World War II. Grim times were not made for frivolous delights. Skilled craftsmen and precious resources were turned to more practical uses. The time consuming and priceless creation of original woodcarvings was no longer sustainable.
Today’s carousel animals are usually made of fiberglass. And while the Dentzel family still has a carousel company in Port Townsend, Washington, the carousels they now sell are usually small, and filled with fiberglass creatures created from molds of the original wood carvings. They are nothing like the glorious creations of the early family. But they keep the tradition alive.
When I first encountered images of the original German carousel carvings, I was entranced. I had always loved carousels. But the carvings were so unique and beautiful, that I wanted to create a line of e-note cards, honoring these exquisite works of art. Something in them spoke to me, and made me want to revive their memory.
I have made a beginning. Already, we have Frog, Leopard, Turkey, and Reindeer carousel images. A little goddess, who in some way embodies the qualities and background of the animal she rides, is mounted on each. I plan to create a full line of twelve. They will be a kind of carousel zodiac! Wherever possible, they will be accompanied by original Wurlitzer or calliope music that suits them.
However, I cannot forget the sacred aspect of the circle. Every carousel image reminds me that our existence is a perfect circle, punctuated by ups and downs. And that, in this life at least, we only go around once. It is short, but sweet, and filled with magic.
That is why we must live our ride with passion and joy. Too soon, it will be time to get off. And, unlike the carousel ride, we don’t get to buy another ticket for another go around!
Anne Baird, Designer/Owner of GODDESS CARDS, is a self-taught artist who has been painting and writing since childhood. Her chosen media for her unique line of greeting cards is watercolor, with touches of gouache, ink and colored pencil.
Her GODDESS CARD line grew from a birthday card she created for her daughter, Amanda, in 2001. Amanda was disheartened at being a curvaceous beauty in the Land of Thin. (Los Angeles.) That seminal card declaring, “You’re a GODDESS, not a nymph!” evolved into a long line of love notes and affirmations for ALL women. At over 125 cards, the line is steadily growing.
Anne is inspired by the archetypal Legendary Goddesses, who have so much to teach today’s women. Her greatest inspiration however, comes from the Goddesses of Today, who write her with wonderful suggestions and thoughts that expand her consciousness and card line.
She has launched an E-Goddess Card website, where the Goddess on the Go can send Goddess “e-cards”, enriched with music and stories, at the click of a mouse. (A virtual mouse.)