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More than words: The meaning of Native American symbols

http://www.freedigitalphotos.netOne of the most interesting characteristics of Native American language is how often symbols are used to communicate different ideas. These symbols can take on meanings, from literal representations of the world at large to more figurative and abstract images of complex themes and ideas.

Some of the most prominent of Native American symbol and their meanings.

1. The spiral and double spiral

Let’s start with a symbol we’re all familiar with: the spiral. Many civilizations have found special meaning in the spiral, including it in art and design. While it means different things to different people, it has been broadly interpreted to represent a cycle – of life, nature or spirituality. As one Chickasaw craftsman explains in the video, “Blow Guns: The Double Spiral Design,” the double spiral represents a series of journeys, or life lessons.

2. Feathers

Feathers are a common symbol for all Native American tribes, although the meaning may vary slightly from tribe to tribe. According to Lumbee lore, the Great Spirit bestowed wisdom on birds that they were to share with mankind. The legend attributes special significance to the eagle feature, which represents the duality of our existence, or the internal battle of opposing forces.  Some cultures saw the feather as a symbol of spiritual growth, and what appears to be common across many tribes is that the feather is given only to those esteemed enough to wear it.

3. Arrows

Featuring two simple arrow drawings crisscrossing with one another, the crossed arrows symbol represents friendship for various Native American tribes. The broken arrow is said to symbolize peace, and a single arrow can have different meanings, depending on what direction it’s pointed.

4. The sacred eye

Shaped a bit like an onion with an oval in the center and a diagonal slash on either side, the Sacred Eye symbol represents the “ogee,” which is a Chickasaw term meaning “all-seeing eye.” To members of the tribe, the sacred eye represents their perspective of the world and provides a unique image for this equally unique point of view. This ancient symbol can be found on pottery, shell engravings and other Chickasaw artifacts, and is still used by tribe members today.

5. Badger and bear paws

Designed to resemble the tracks of each animal, badger and bear paws are used to summon the power of the animal spirit and act as a sign of its presence. Badger tracks in particular are considered signs of healing and hunting efficiency, while bear tracks are a good omen for the future. Tracks of any animal can signify strength, well-being and leadership, as well.

Many people may not have an intuitive understanding of Native American symbols. For example, you probably wouldn’t automatically associate bear tracks with a good omen. However, learning about these symbols and their meanings can help us better understand Native American culture and get a better sense of the natural world as well. These symbols can even be a source of inspiration for your next design project.


Image courtesy : Akarakingdoms/


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