The Mandala is an interesting construct found in many cultures. It has potential for use in both art therapy and in ritual, and it’s applications and occurances are infinite.

Tibetan Buddhist Mandala

The word mandala is a Sanskrit term which means literally “circle”, or metaphorically, “completion”.

Pagans and witches usually gather in ‘circles’, a word used to describe the gathering of souls to do a working or observe a sabbat. Circles have connotations of equality, where everyone is of equal voice and import. We also cast circles to do workings, which reflect movement of the sun, the moon and the planets in the solar system (as above, so below!). Circles and circular movements are found throughout pagan practice. Casting circle, and opening the circle, is one of my favourite aspects of ritual.The circle is a powerful form.

The mandala can be interpreted as another representation of circular energy at work. It can be used to add greater depth to the intepretation of ‘the circle’ in pagan practice.

The mandala is fundamentally a visual construct which is easily grasped by the eye, for it corresponds to the primary visual experience as well as to the structure of the organ of sight. The pupil of the eye itself is a simple mandala form. The purest, simplest, yet most encompassing form is the circle. The most rudimentary, yet ever-evolving experience of organisms is that of light, this visible source of which is the sun.
The mechanism of the mandala is a depiction of the structure of the eye, the centre of the mandala corresponds to the focal ‘blind spot’. Since the blind spot is the exit from the eye to the visual system of the brain, by going “out” through the centre, you are going into the brain. The Yogin finds the mandala in his own body. The mandala is an instrument for transcending the world of the visually perceived phenomena by first centring them, then turning them inward.
Whatever science has been able to tell us the eyes of flesh, it has been less certain about speaking of the inner visual capacities. Whether called memory, dream, prevision, clairvoyance, hallucination, or intuition, there is no satisfactory answer to the causes and qualities of these phenomena. The tradition of the Perennial philosophy speaks of the third eye, the eye above and between the eyes of the flesh. It is the eye to which Christ refers, and which, in the Hindu tradition, is called Ajňa, the eye of wisdom, or the eye of knowledge. This is the vision of the eye of the Mandala. Go to the centre and know the whole. Follow this path. Turn inward and see with the eyes of fire the Mandala that is the whole.
From Arguelles, J & M. Mandala(1995).

The mandala representation we are probably most familiar with is from various Buddhist traditions. These are painstakingly and carefully created as either a support or guide for contemplation during meditation, a vision of Buddha attained in an enlightened state, or a representation of the universe itself. They are also created as a representation of the inner self.

The Aztec Calendar, also known as ‘The Stone of the Sun’

Carl Jung observed that these mandalas from Eastern traditions follow an unmistakable style or structure despite being allegedly free or individual in their nature- however the very idea/symbol of concentric circles and imagery systematically implanted within is an archetypal one that occurs across cultures. Jung saw it as a representation of the unconscious self and believed his paintings of mandalas enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality.

To interpret the term broadly as Jung has, the mandala is seen to be rampant throughout nature & culture, and can be detected, analysed, and broken down within the fields of botany, physics, chemistry, geology, anthropology, art, poetry and theology (plus many more!)

Mandalas in Nature

On a microcosmal level, mandalas are absolutely everywhere if we care to look. Visible to the eye, mandala patterns can be found in eyes (as mentioned above), flowers, fruit, leaves, spiderwebs and fungi. Beyond the power of the eye we have atoms, particles, snowflakes and crystals. The circular pattern adds a majesty and beauty to the inherent forms.

Passionfruit flower

On a macrocosmal level, mandalas take on a grander scale. Weather patterns such as the cyclone or hurricane spiral, planets, solar systems and galaxies- the universe itself could be interpreted as a giant mandala. Fractal mandelbrot sets found in mathematics form infinite and complex mandala shapes.

Mandalas in Ritual and Religion

In Wicca the circle is rampant. The circle that is cast for ritual, the wheel of the year, the pentagram, the seven pointed star and the cone of power are all mandalas. Astrological charts, the zodiac wheel and faery rings also form beautiful mandalas.

Australian Aboriginal motif- earth ghost connecting with female snake power

The mandala can be found in Native American traditions across both continents. The medicine wheel and dream catchers, and the Aztec and Mayan calendars could be said to form mandalas. In Celtic tradition, the Celtic Cross, the helix of energy and the triple spiral are mandalas of their own; and the labyrinth form (found across Europe) is a very physical and mythologically significant mandala form. Indigenous Australian art often features mandala-like forms; traditional art, bora rings and water holes for example.

The halo as seen in Renaissance art and religious iconography is an empowering mandala-form. Mandalas can be found in art from cultures in Asia, India and Africa, aswell as Pacific island nations.

The Orouboros and Solomon’s Seal, often associated with Gnostic practices

Mandala Creativity
Making Buddhist Mandalas
Jung and the Mandala

Healing With Mandala Art Therapy – A Multi-Cultural Idea Worth Exploring

History & Meaning of the Mandala

The Mandala (Sanskrit for “circle” or “completion”) has a long history and is recognized for its deep spiritual meaning and representation of wholeness.

Many people and cultures have vouched for the mandala’s intrinsic meaning. Buddhists, Tibetans, and Hindus have all derived meaning from the mandala and its captivating beauty. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung has called it “a representation of the unconscious self.” The mandala is widely recognized as a meaningful reflection of its creator. Mandala art therapy & healing can be a great source of reflection on one’s soul.

Mandalas can be seen all around us, but are not just people-centric. They are larger than life. Mandalas represent life as we know it, but they also represent a larger ecosystem and universe that exceeds our consciousness.

The “circle with a center” pattern is the basic structure of creation that is reflected from the micro to the macro in the world as we know it. It is a pattern found in nature and is seen in biology, geology, chemistry, physics and astronomy.
Pink Lotus MandalaOn our planet, living things are made of cells and each cell has a nucleus — all display circles with centers. The crystals that form ice, rocks, and mountains are made of atoms. Each atom is a mandala.
Within the Milky Way galaxy is our solar system and within our solar system, is Earth. Each is a mandala that is part of a larger mandala.
Flowers, the rings found in tree trunks and the spiraling outward and inward of a snail’s shell all reflect the primal mandala pattern. Wherever a center is found radiating outward and inward, there is wholeness–a mandala.

This couldn’t have been explained more beautifully. Mandalas are everywhere. They are the structures of our cells, our world, and our universe.

Tree of Life Mandala Art Work

Utilizing the Concept of Mandalas in Art Therapy

The very nature of creating a mandala is therapeutic and symbolic. The shapes and colors you create in your mandala art therapy will reflect your inner self at the time of creation. Your instinct and feeling should inspire and guide you through the process of creation. Ultimately, you will be creating a portrait of yourself as you are when creating the mandala. So, whatever you are feeling at that time, whatever emotions are coming through, will be represented in your mandala art therapy.

As with most art therapy, it’s not about the final product…it’s about the journey. When you reach your destination, you will have a representation of something meaningful and personal…a snapshot of you for a brief moment in time expressed through your mandala.


Mandala Art Activity For Self-Discovery And Healing

Now that you’ve read about the concept of Mandala art and its history, you’re ready to learn how to create one and exercise the mandala’s power.

The core of mandala designs is the circle. You are not bound by any particular colors or materials to create your mandala art, so let your feelings and instincts guide you through the creative process.

Decide What Art Materials You Need

You will first need to select your drawing materials. Again, you are not limited here…some ideas to help you get started might be markers, watercolors, pastels, colored pencils, oils, etc. You will also need something to draw or paint on like a piece of paper, canvas, poster board, or anything else you can think of. I would suggest something around the size of 12×18 inches. If you have a compass lying around (or anything that will help you draw a circle), that would be helpful as well. Hint: you can use anything round and solid…a cup, a pan, or anything else that will help you draw nice clean circles.

A Good Location Is Important

It is also recommended that you create your mandala in a space that provides the least amount of distractions. The experience is meant to be a personal one. Unless, of course, you are participating in a group mandala.

In response to the September 11th tragedies, twenty Buddhist monks constructed a sand mandala (sacred painting) at the Sackler gallery. This seven-foot-square mandala, one of the largest ever created in the West, was offered for the healing and protection of America. In addition, the monks participated in chanting, meditation, and other traditional healing ceremonies.

Let Your Feelings & Emotions Inspire You

Again, there are no rules or constrictions with regard to mandala designs. You don’t have to use only circles, though your art should have some semblance of a circular design. Otherwise, you can do whatever strikes you. In fact, it’s encouraged to let your feelings inspire your mandala art and designs.

Your finished mandala will represent and reflect who you were at the time of creation. If you want, you can give your mandala a title and date of creation.

Now That You’ve Finished Your Mandala Art Activity

Once you’ve finished your mandala art activity, take note of the colors you used. Recognize, maybe even write down, what the predominant colors are in your mandala. Also take note of the least-used color(s). Now look at the images and shapes you’ve created. Take notice of any hard and soft lines, jagged or smooth edges. Are there any areas of high contrast? Now write down, in detail, your feelings and/or memories when you think about the colors, shapes, images, and designs on your mandala. You should be able to make some connections between your mandala and the feelings and emotions that you experienced while creating it.

This is meant to be a very personal and introspective activity and process, so the results are bound to vary. Again, it’s important to recognize that your mandala is a symbol, a reflection, of who you were when you created it. Ideally, the process of creating the mandala results in some form of self-healing, self-expression, and/or self-exploration.

Good Luck!

Here are some mandala-inspired artworks posted on Art Therapy {Lite}:

Art Therapy

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