Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Five Universal Shapes

                                   © Home Sweet Home_5X7_Pen and Ink

One of my life's passion is Folk Art. They tell a million stories about a cultures experiences through some simple shapes and form. What is even more fascinating is the striking similarity in their way of expression even if they haven't had any cultural overlaps. A lot of my work is inspired by these basic shapes and forms and what they represent.

This interest of mine got me attracted to the book "Signs of Life" by Angeles Arrien. This Book talks about the Five Universal shapes, what they represent and how to use them to understand our inner landscapes. The author, Angeles Arrien, is a Cultural Anthropologist who has dedicated her life researching and understanding these cultural similarities. She is an inspiration! 

The five basic shapes are: The circle, the square, the triangle, the cross, and the spiral. These symbols bear similar meaning in different cultures.

  • The circle symbolizes wholeness, a complete cycle. 
  • The square with its equal sides symbolizes balance and stability. 
  • The Triangle represents goals and dreams
  • The cross stands for relationship
  • And the Spiral... you guessed it, represents personal/spiritual growth.

The book then guides the readers to a 'Preferential Shapes Test' to understand the state of ones inner mind. The test is simple. You just have to order the shapes from position 1 to position 5 as per your preference. The Author says: "The sequence in which someone places the shapes when taking the test is most important in showing which of the five universal processes of change and growth is being experienced most intensely by that person at that time."

I took the test and was amazed at the accuracy of the results. Try it out, I am sure you will also be equally amazed. And do stop by again to let me know your thoughts.

"While I stood there I saw more than I could tell, and 
I understand more than I saw; for I was seeing in a 
sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit,
and the shape of all shapes as they must live
together like one being"
- From the book 'Black Elk Speaks'


  1. I took the test and it seems to be right on as well ... very interesting. Very surprising actually because it reflected the changes I'm going through these days. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Meg.. that's what I found surprising too. My results also changed from the last time I had done it around a year ago.

  3. Thanks for the little challenge - I was indecisive about the placement of two shapes and when I reviewed their meanings, I understood why.

    Joyita, I like the blog's new background!

  4. Hannah.. I am glad it was fun. I was blown away with the accuracy of my test interpretation. Truly amazing.

    Thanks... I wanted to revamp it. Try out the new templates. They are pretty cool.

  5. Hmmm...what fun! Here's what I got:
    spiral, ❍, ▲, ☐, ✕
    Although they make look like a line of symbols--they make a lot of sense to me(as others above have said). Thank you for the challenge--> I especially like the spiral, personal growth, paired with the circle, completion of a cycle. It makes perfect sense as I've almost completed another solar year--but am definitely searching.

  6. Hannah.. yes it does. Actually what makes even more sense is the position of each symbol. I will post that today.

  7. Hi Joy
    I love that you posted about one of my favorite ways to 'level the field' with every group I work with.
    I first took the Universal Shapes test in 1991 and have been creating mandalas from my three shapes ever's endless the ways they can be combined.
    With children I play a game that I invented called 'I Spy with My Artist's Eye'...they learn the shapes and then find them in the environment and incorporate them into their work...viola! wonderful work and no one feels as though they 'don't know where to start'.

    Angeles Arrien rocks! and the book 'Signs of Life' is gorgeous isn't it!

    Great to visit you Joy ;-)

  8. Donna, that is a very interesting game!! I can picture the small giggles of fun and cute smily faces as they run around playing this game:)
    Yes the book is awesome. And I am so happy to see you stop by.

    @ Sago... it is very interesting. I loved the painting you made with the symbols and posted on FB. One part of the exercise is to make a personalized Mandala with the symbols you posted on the 1,3 and 5th position. that should be fun to do.


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