Myths of Whirlpools

     The spiral wave, the whirlpool, a
newgrange tomb markingnd the vortex are symbols deeply set in the human imagination. Their figures were incised on rocks and painted on pottery thousands of years ago. Northern European myths associate whirlpools with transformation, with communications between realities, between the living and the dead, with a rupture of levels, with the turbulence of the turning point moments in our own lives. When we confront major changes, we are sucked into a whirlpool, and perhaps jetted out the other end. A new myth with similar content appears in the science fiction of galactic black holes as in Stephen Baxter’s Ring.
     Historian of science Giorgio de Santilliana with Hertha Von Dechend trace some of these myths back to prehistoric sources. They write,
“The engulfing whirlpool belongs to the stock-in- trade of ancient fable. It appears in the Odyssey as Charybdis in the straits of Messina – and again, in other cultures, in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific. It is found there too, curiously enough, with the overhanging fig tree to whose boughs the hero can cling as the ship goes down… But the persistence of detail rules out free invention. Such stories have belonged to the cosmographical literature since antiquity. Medieval writers, and after them Athanasius Kirchner, located the gurges mirabilis, the wondrous eddy somewhere off the coast of Norway, or of Great Britain…. For the Norse the whirlpool came into being from the unhinging of the Grotte Mill [the Sampo]…No localization is indicated here, whereas the Finns point to directions which are less vague than they sound. Their statement that the Sampo has three roots – one in heaven, one in the earth, the third in the water eddy – has definite meaning, as will be shown.” 29

sicilisan triskele  Triskele, the symbol of ancient Sicily, found in Neolithic Sicilian artifacts, shows three feet bent in apparent circular motion emerging from a sun center.

     From early on the sun was an object of awe and worship as the energy source that enlivens the whole process of evolution on earth. The Triskele, I fancy, behaves like a whirlpool caused by the sun’s heat on the waters. The Triskele, in this imagery, would represent a whirlpool with both cosmic and oceanic elements. But why three legs? Three is a recurrent theme in vortex imagery.   Odysseus dies in a whirlpool. His ship goes around three times.
                                   odysseus' ship goes down
     Tides, currents, thermohaline oscillators, the great globe spanning subsurface streams, all of them periodic, animate the oceans of the world and generate eddies and whirlpools in water and air. A power spectral analysis of the kinetics of moving water at the surface of the sea might very well show traces of all the main frequency bands of life. We would find the circadian in the daily warming and cooling at the surface layers, the infradian in the monthly pull of the moon on the tides, and the ultradian rhythms in the fast components of the solar radiation interacting with water molecules and hydration structures, and the movement of wind waves with their swells pulsing like respirations.

water maserEven the water in space, observable in water masers in the Milky Way, shows a spiral form, periodic rotsation and a related power spectral distribution. Studies of the rhythms in water masers would bring a cosmic dimension to the origins of life not yet explored.

     But water waves and chemical vortices seem to be sluggish sources  for the fastest oscillations in living tissues. Could the electrical pulses in nerve cells have an independent non-aqueous source in nature? Can we identify environmental pulsations moving in these frequency ranges?