Did you know that the symbolic meaning of a pinwheel is “to turn one’s luck around?” Chinese culture believes the pinwheel is an instrument to turn obstacles into opportunities and as such they are a revered symbol during Chinese New Year festitivies.
Pinwheels are found world-wide all over the globe and basically have retained their simple, recognizable shape and function from culture to culture. Their symbolism is really quite profound representing such diverse concepts as childhood innocence, unseen energy, wish fulfillment and transformation. In many parts of the world, pinwheels have a deep spiritual significance as well.
What do you think of when you visualize or interact with a pinwheel?
Many concepts come to mind:
- childhood memories of fun, carefree days, happy memories
- a strong but delicate plaything or toy
- a simple, old-fashioned item that offers a less-is-more experience
- time-tested, enduring, unchanging
- easily broken, fragile
- colorful, shiny, dazzling
What else can you think of?
For many the pinwheel is an icon for childhood innocence and happy memories of youthful experiences. Many people fondly describe their childhood interactions with pinwheels at the circus, a carnival, parade, birthday party, 4th of July fireworks or a picnic. They are usually smiling when they talk about their childhood interactions with pinwheels, using words like whimsical, carefree, innocent, happy and playful.
Often, people enjoy retelling how, as a child, they’d run with the pinwheel in their hand or hold it out the car window catching the wind with it and watching it spin. With questioning, they usually admit that it felt powerful and strong whirring furiously in the breeze and by extension it made them, as a child, feel strong and powerful, too.
People often talk about how the dazzling colors of the pinwheel and the shiny metallic blades made it beautiful, alluring and precious. Add to this allure the candy that was sometimes found inside the stick with the whirring of the spinning blades and it’s no surprise the pinwheel evokes delight and wonder for people of all ages.
What childhood memories do you have of pinwheels?
Energy and Movement
Pinwheels also symbolize the wind–the often unseen energy that causes movement and animation. It can move us along, then stop us in our tracks, only to start up again, as if without our permission–just like the rotati0ns of a pinwheel which reacts to the presence or absence of wind. This can be likened to the cycle of stopping and starting and other energetic concepts such as:
turning things over and over
spinning your wheels
spinning in a vicious cycle
dizzying, out of control feelings
being caught in a whirlwind or a windstorm
being swept away
riding the wind
discovering what the wind blew in
following the wind
feeling the breeze
And still others think of how it is often something external that moves us. Pinwheels make people feel energetic and inspired. Like the pinwheel, the slightest wind, the most gentlest of breezes or the touch of the finger sets them spinning to express their color and movement.
The wind is a powerful energy source–we breathe in its air and we become animated. Like the wind that animates a pinwheel, our inner voice is often an unseen energy hard at work in our lives nudging us along, constantly whispering to us, reminding us that it is there and accessible, and always looking out for our best potential. Like the wind, our inner voice is often unnoticed, ignored, taken for granted, or discounted.
The two videos below offer visual reflections of the power of the wind, and its counterpart, our inner voice, using the pinwheel as its visual metaphor–always turning, spinning, and offering up a kaleidoscope of wisdom, grace, dignity, and colorful possibilities.
If we combine the symbolism of childhood innocence, movement and animation and the unseen forces behind our inner voice, the pinwheel symbolizes the idea of powerful energy.
Pinwheels are also lifegivers. As windmills–giant pinwheels in the sky–they bring energy in the form of lifegiving water and life-sustaining electricity to people and animals across the world. So…pinwheels are also about the energy of life.
Metaphors for Living
Pinwheels are noted for their opposite characteristics and features. This makes pinwheels fascinating symbols for every day life and living.
They represent both strength as well as fragility. They can spin furiously in the strongest winds but they can break easily; they are sensitive. Pinwheels represent the dual notions of movement and stillness. Both are necessary for balance in every day life. Pinwheels work hard but they also rest. Pinwheels represent obstacles and freedom. If something is in their way, they can’t spin so they need a clear path. Most of us can identify with that idea.
Here are some other “opposite” metaphors for the pinwheel:
- simple and complex
- beautiful and ordinary
- fast and slow
- work and play
- freedom and staying in one place
- uniqueness and sameness
- ending and beginning
Can you think of some more?
Though all pinwheels resemble each other and are instantly recognizable, they are all different and unique from each other. Some have four blades, others have six or even eight. Some are shaped like flowers, others like stars, or wheels. Some people feel that pinwheels represent the diversity of humanity.
Each pinwheel is different in its color, material, size, effects, and speeds. Some moving, some still. Some stuck. Some unstuck. Some furiously spinning. Some calmly waiting for the next movement. Some shiny and dazzling, some more sedate and pastel. Pinwheels, then, represent diversity in the human condition.
Spiritual Meanings and Uses
Chinese culture uses the pinwheel primarily during the Chinese New Year celebrations. Special pinwheels are created by highly trained and revered artisans which bear wishes for good luck, longevity, health, and prosperity to be bestowed on its owner.
These wishes, in the form of traditional couplets or verses, are attached to the pinwheel and as the wind blows the blades of the pinwheel the wish is sent into the Universe for manifestation in the New Year.
Pinwheels are also often seen in temples and cemeteries. This is a relatively new phenomenon but one that is growing in practice. Pinwheels bring movement to graveyards and cemeteries–places normally affiliated with the idea of stillness.
No one really knows for sure the actual significance of why people are placing pinwheels at graves but it could be to signify the loss of a precious child and the subsequent loss of innocence. It can also be a reminder of the constancy of the eternal human spirit that resides in each of us–as the wind blows, the pinwheel becomes animated again and begins to move, thus evoking the idea of the spirit.
Next time a pinwheel shows up in your life, or you see one in someone’s garden, at a store, at a festive event, you’ll know more now of its deeper significance and message. It might be nudging you along by saying:
it’s time to get some energy moving on that project you’ve been putting aside
it’s time to think differently about that obstacle that keeps getting in your way
it’s time to stop spinning for awhile, to rest and then start again.
When you encounter a pinwheel, it’s up to you to decide what it means, as a symbol, in your life.
Isn’t it time to turn your luck around?
How has a pinwheel been working in your life?
I’d love to hear from you!
To read about my encounter with a Pinwheel Maker from Mexico, click here.