The “Frozen Wheel” is clearly the linchpin of the island’s mysterious properties, but what is it really? A likely answer can be found in some of the most esoteric studies of comparative religion as published in Hamlet’s Mill by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend.
Across the world, there are central themes to the very oldest of religious and occult traditions that are consistent, no matter the geographic location. One example of these is the “Great Flood”, the most familiar example of which is the Old Testament flood of Noah. This story has been passed down through the ages by as many as 100 distinct cultures, all across the globe. Hamlet’s Mill, or Amlodhi’s Quern, is another of these stories.
Appearing as the hourglass-shaped Mt. Meru of Buddhist tradition, the ‘churn of the Milky Sea’ of the Hindus, and countless other variations from ancient Egypt to the Maya, the Mill is a focal point between the forces of good and evil (or light and darkness). As it turns, so is the fortune of mankind churned or ground out. In ancient Scandinavian tales, the Mill was pushed round by two giantesses, who ground out gold and bounty until the gift was abused and the giantesses were forced to push the Mill day and night without rest. For their master’s hubris, they cursed the Mill to only grind out misery and death. It was cast into the sea, where the tears of pain that it still produces salt the waters.
This brings us to LOST, and the “Frozen Wheel”. It appears to be an item of extreme antiquity and is, if not the driving force behind the island’s properties, at least the control valve for the energies. The Mill would be an item of extreme power, as mentioned by Dr. Chang, and also great care would have to be taken to keep it out of the hands of those who would exploit it (as Ben said Charles Widmore would). When the Wheel was turned by Ben, it shone out a gold light, just as Hamlet’s Mill ground out gold for its master. What might happen if the Wheel were turned by someone who did not have the protection of the island in mind?
The pervasive story of Hamlet’s Mill is also seen as an allegory for the precession of the Zodiac. This precession is the incredibly slow turning of the sky in relation to the sun’s rising and setting. Based upon the sun’s position among the stars on the Spring Equinox, we are currently leaving the Age of Pisces and entering the Age of Aquarius. This is not just astrological interpretation, but an actual measured progression of the turning of the earth, solar system, and galaxy. In many traditions, the Mill was the source of the Milky Way in the sky, a great churn that the gods used to turn the heavens. This links the Mill (and thus the Wheel) to the turning of time.
Many incarnations of the Mill were also seen as the center or axis of the world. Mt. Meru of the Buddhists toppled at the time of the Buddha’s death, but many other traditions have the center axis of the Mill as a post or tree upon which the great king of the age was sacrificed to make way for the next.* This transition is not a smooth one, and at the end of an age, the Mill will slip off its axis, or break a pin. During this time, the world is in chaos, civilizations fall. It is at this time that the king is sacrificed to make way for a new era. The entity that appeared as Christian Shephard to Locke told him that the Wheel “had slipped off its axis” and that only Locke could set it right again. Ben could not use the wheel without it unhinging because he was no longer the “king”. Locke was, and only his sacrifice could set the Island back on its axis.**
Other interesting connections with this myth include the imagery of the fire-bow or fire-drill. This was the first tool shown in use on the Island after Ben turned the Wheel (Bernard used it on the beach). In ancient Egyptian tradition, the Mill was portrayed as this tool, turned back and forth between Horus and Set (light and dark). This was also one of the hieroglyphs on the countdown clock in the Swan station.
So, with this ancient esoteric knowledge at hand, it is no surprise that the Wheel shone out golden light, that it is a source of tremendous energy, and that it has power over time. It makes sense that the leader must be sacrificed to set the Wheel aright if it slips off its axis. The combination of many different cultural traditions, from the darmacakra to the hieroglyphs, no longer seems odd. The Wheel is in its correct place under the ocean and in the cold dark, waiting to grind out misery or happiness, as its master wishes.
* This axis is seen by de Santillana and von Dechend as an allegory for the unseen axis of earth that points to the current North Star, Polaris. Modern astronomy knows, however, that Polaris was not always and will not always be the Pole Star. The same wobble or shift that produces the Zodiacal precession also moves the sky in relation to the axis, gradually pointing to a different place in the sky. The stars along this track are referred to as the pins, or hinges, of the Mill. These stars are thought to be represented by the kings in an unending succession to the “throne” of the Pole Star.
**Which brings the question: did Ben purposely pass off leadership to Locke because he knew or suspected that the Wheel would slip its axis soon? This might also explain why Richard passed leadership to Ben: neither of them is willing to be the sacrifice. Locke is, and that is part of what made him “very special”.