A compelling visual library celebrating the pervasive form, Instagram account @spiral_spore_encyclopaedia documents the reoccurring appearance of the spiral throughout life, seamlessly spanning the realms of nature, science, art and design. Spirals exist all around and within us, patterning our very existence, from microcosm to macrocosm, defining structures from the tiny vortices of subatomic particles and DNA, to the galaxies where stars are born and the conditions for life are created. The protean spiral is nature’s most favoured pattern of growth and there are countless examples of it to be found everywhere.
From the tusks of elephants and the teeth of rodents, to the claws of cats and beaks of birds, spirals are universal. They are found in the volutes of waves, the swirls of weather systems, and the shoots of plants, as well as in many aspects of human anatomy. The fibres in the ventricles of the heart run in spiral lines so that the muscular constriction by which the blood is forced onward, and the circulation kept up, is like the twist of a screw; in the labyrinth of the inner ear, and precisely coiled, is the cochlea, which analyses frequencies and consists of a spiral canal in which lies a smaller membranous spiral passage.
The spiral form is integral to structural strength and it is speculated in science that all curves of growth are based on it. It is a prominent instance of how nature tends to repeat the use of a successful design over and over again. Perhaps one of the most striking exhibitions of the spiral form in nature is the shell of the nautilus, a marine mollusc related to the squid, which approximates closely to the proportion of the Golden Ratio (1:1.618). This proportion became integral to the geometry of antiquity in the construction of sacred buildings including the Giza Pyramids and the Greek Parthenon.
From the painted and engraved walls of the Upper Palaeolithic to the decorated megalithic standing stones of the Neolithic, spirals have persisted. They are there in ancient art from all over the globe, from Stone Age societies in Europe and the Near East to pre-dynastic Egypt, in China and Peru, and throughout the history of Polynesian and Maori communities in the Pacific. At Brú na Bóinne in Ireland, a significant centre of human activity for almost 6000 years, the symbol is a dominant feature. And in America, the Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, Utah boasts several panels of very well preserved petroglyphs; it is thought the concentric circles here indicate a solar calendar of some kind.
Pythagoras acknowledged the Golden Spiral in the 5th century B.C. as a mathematical expression. The Ancient Egyptians’ term for the Golden Ratio was ‘neb’, translating as ‘the spiralling force of the universe’, also meaning ‘lord’, appearing in names of pharaohs, and used as one of the sacred names of the Sphinx. Later in history, during the Renaissance, artists extensively used the Golden Ratio, or the Divine Proportion, a term coined first by Da Vinci in his book De Divina Proportione, to achieve an aesthetically appealing sense of balance. Today, the spiral continues to appear frequently in contemporary art, design and the development of new technologies, as well-documented by @spiral_spore_encyclopaedia.
Geoff Ward, with an introduction by Colin Wilson, Spirals: The Pattern of Existence, 2006, Green Magic
Theodore Andrea Cook, Spirals In Nature And Art: A Study Of Spiral Formations Based On The Manuscripts Of Leonardo Da Vinci, 1903/2009, Kessinger Publishing
John P. Miller & Peter Robinson, ‘Ancient Symbols In Rock Art: A Human Perspective, A Human Prerogative’, The Bradshaw Foundation
Feature image: Ruth Bernhard, Star Shell, 1943 / via @spiral_spore_encyclopaedia