The Crossroads & the Wheel of Life

Posted: March 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

The Crossroads & the Wheel of Life

(left) Ifa Divination Tray, Yoruba culture
In their often cruciform shape Ifa divination trays not only represent a crossroads but are themselves a kind of crossroads. On the tray, the marks left by kola nuts on the powdered flat surface are read and interpreted by the diviner (babalawo) on behalf of devotees. The faces depicted on three of the four spokes of the “crossroads” are sometimes interpreted as the face of Eshu/Elegua/Legba, one of the few members of the Yoruba pantheon that is ever figurally represented. This interpretation remains controversial.

(right) Wheel of Life thangka (hanging scroll), Tibetan
Cycles within cycles of life and death are represented in this popular Tibetan Buddhist image where Death holds the cycle in his fangs as beings are born, flourish, suffer and perish. Though it is difficult to see in this small image, the bottom left of the Wheel’s 6 sectors depicts the animal realm in which creatures prey on each other. Coincidentally, the center of the wheel represents a snake, a chicken and a boar/pig grasping and devouring each other by the tail. Tibetan symbolism is largely derived from the complex iconography of the late Buddhist art of Bengal in eastern India.

While Trinbagonian culture derives in part from the cultures of West/Central Africa and eastern India, Shadow is not known to have been in direct contact with objects or images like this from either of these traditions (Yoruba divination and Bengali/Tibetan sacred diagrams). Yet his “Indigenous Knowledge,” as my colleague Winthrop Holder often calls it (i.e., his instinctive wisdom), caused him to explore the same ideas in “Story of Life” and “We Live to Die.”

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