36 Common Native Indian American Symbols & Complete Meaning

When European explorers came to America, Native Americans did not communicate through writing the same way Europeans did.

Instead, they preferred to use pictures and symbols and pass on information through verbal storytelling. This mode of communication is not limited to Native Americans; even before writing was invented, people across the world documented events, concepts, plans, charts, and emotions by painting images and symbols on rocks, leather, and other surfaces.

Objects and deities

Native American Indians associated many everyday objects with a profound natural or cosmic force.

The mystical powers imbued within these objects could be wielded and manipulated by tribal wisemen, or even the lay people in certain circumstances.

Understanding the mystical symbolism behind these objects is a window into Native American religion itself.

1.      Kokopelli the Flute Player

Kokopelli is a fertility god worshipped by several Native American tribes in the Southwest of the United States. He is frequently represented as a humpbacked flute singer (sometimes with feathers or antenna-like protrusions on his head). Kokopelli, like many other fertility deities, holds power over both childbirth and agriculture. He also embodies the spirit of music and is a mischievous deity and skilled braider.

2.      Symbols of the trek

The snake tribe created this pattern, which was discovered at Gila Bend, Arizona. It describes how the group had already made this journey three times. The straight line linking the two spirals suggests that the party stayed in this location for some time.

3.      Hopi Kachina Rattle

The Earth is represented by the gourd rattle’s round, flat front, while the Sun and its life-giving rays are represented by the circle on the interior. The Sun is represented by the cross rotating to the left, as shown in the image. If it spins to the right, it represents the Earth.

The staff that runs through the gourd and acts as a handle represents the Earth’s North-South axis. The twin heroes Poqánghoya and Palongawhoya live at the ends of the Earth’s axis. They send out vibrations along the axis that create harmony and keep the Earth moving.

4.      Tapuat: Mother Earth Symbol

The cross in the middle of the labyrinth represents Father Sun, the source of light.

In this picture, the paths of the labyrinth end in four different locations. These are the cardinal directions that are emraced by the creator’s divine plan for all things.

Those who follow the creator’s plan will be reborn, as shown by the child being held in his mother’s arms.

Furthermore, the spherical form indicates the concentric rings of land that the Hopi have historically claimed as their own.

5.      The Skunk

The skunk is considered a Sun symbol because its powerful odor penetrates everything, much like the Sun’s rays, which stretch out throughout the entire planet and provide life to all animals.

This trait is reinforced by the markings on the skunk’s back, which are known as Sun shields and depict the face of the Sun or the supreme deity.

The inner circle (in white) symbolizes the Sun’s pure, white heat, while the middle represents the warmth that allows everything to grow.

The Sun and the four fires that come from it in the kivas are shown by the outermost circle, which links the four fire pits.

In the four kivas, four flames burn at the four points of the compass. The four little rectangles indicate the fire pits.

The strength of the ritual is represented by the four eagle feathers that erupt from the four fire pits.

6.      The Water Snake

The Hopi Snake Clan drew this picture of the water snake Páulukang on a rock near Oraibi. The lines that separate the snake’s body into segments correspond to the same parts of the human body.

The Snake of the South ceremony is still performed in the kivas of the first mesa during the Pámuya ceremony.

In the past, Páulukang kept people safe as they traveled through the South.

7.      The Water Jug Móngwikoro

The magical water jug, or móngwikoro, was gifted to each clan by the deity of the Fire Clan long before the Hopi began their journey. The water in this picture is symbolized by splashes on the left side of the magic jug.

Másaw ordered the people to select a holy person from each tribe to be in charge of the heavenly water jug.

This holy individual would have to pray and go without salt for four days before the clan traveled on, and another four days when the clan arrived.

Once at their destination, the water carrier could then bury the jug, and fresh water would begin to flow from it or the surrounding areas.

Másaw also provided the clan with highly explicit ceremonial instructions on how to create a replacement jug in case the original was lost or damaged.

For example, various portions of the sea have to be put in the jug throughout the ritual.

This would make sure that people would always have water, even if they lived in a desert, because the jug could magically draw water from the sea.

8.      The Two Horn Mongko

The mongko is the most powerful spiritual symbol. It proves that the clans and bands that own a mongko have finished their century-long journey. It is the Hopi’s supreme law.

The Two-Horn mongko is built from a flat piece of wood that has been painted white.

The blue split segment on the left represents all of the plants that cover the Earth. The other blue lines represent water.

The opposite side has a stepped finish, which explains the three essential principles of Hopi law: respect, harmony, and love.

In the middle of the mongko is a corn cob, representing humanity. A little jug filled with earth hangs from a corn cob; it also contains a small drop of water and is held by a cotton net. The Earth and the sea are represented by this sphere.

Also, there are four turkey feathers attached to the wood. This suggests that the wild turkey is part of the wilderness on Earth and that people will never fully understand or control this wilderness.

9.      The Beauty Way

The two dark figures represent the side of the Earth that is dark, while the two bright figures represent the side of the Earth that receives sunlight.

The portrayal of darkness and light symbolizes man’s capacity for both good and evil. Only by keeping these competing forces in check can harmony be established.

This therapeutic artwork is intended to restore balance between a sick person and the forces that surround him. Spiritual creatures are summoned during the ceremony.

The individual in question can identify with them and therefore overcome the problem. Beauty, order, and harmony (hózhó) will be restored to the sufferer.

10.  Mother Earth and Father Sky

Mother Earth is seen on the right. The four sacred plants—corn, beans, pumpkin, and tobacco—are depicted on her body, colored in traditional turquoise paint.

Father Sky’s body is covered with images of the Sun, Moon, and Stars. The horns that these two deities wear on their heads symbolize their extraordinary strength.

The zigzag line in the man’s body represents a link to the Milky Way.

The joining of their arms shows the two deities’ intimate bond. A yellow pollen line connects their heads. In addition, each of them wears the opposite hue on the bottom part of their bodies: the woman wears the man’s dark blue in addition to her turquoise, and vice versa.

A rainbow surrounds the image to protect it, yet it is open to the east so that the spirits summoned by the image can enter. The medicine bag (top left) and the bat are symbols used to guard the open side (top right).

11.  Sioux Peace Pipe

The Sioux peace pipe, also known as a calumet or chanunpa, is a ceremonial pipe that is an important part of the spiritual and cultural traditions of the Sioux people.

The pipe is typically made from a hollowed out piece of red catlinite, a type of clay found in present-day Minnesota, and it is decorated with intricate carvings and beadwork.

The pipe is used in various ceremonies, such as the pipe ceremony, which is a sacred ritual that is used to establish peace and harmony among the Sioux people and other tribes.

The pipe is also used in other ceremonies such as naming ceremonies, healing ceremonies, and other rituals.

The pipe is considered to be a sacred object that connects the Sioux people with the spiritual world, and it is treated with great respect and reverence.

12.  The Forked Tree

The split tree is a symbol of how people are divided. People have a tendency to believe it is the other person who does not understand or is incorrect.
This “other one” is symbolized by the forked tree. The tree is divided in two, but it still functions as a whole. 

Both sides are identical and end with branches and leaves that are likewise identical. One side is always a mirror image of the other.
Of course, the issue arises: which side represents the observer, and which side represents the one who is observed? Is he one or the other? Everyone sees themselves in others.

The forked tree also represents a person’s inner strife. One half of that individual has the ability to love, while the other half has the capacity to hate. It is critical that both sides know each other; otherwise, that individual will be split apart.

The same is true for various ethnic groups; they must attempt to appreciate each other or else bloodshed and devastation will result. If one side of the tree attempts to split from the other, the tree will either grow stunted or die.

13.  Dream Catchers

The dreamcatcher is a part of the traditional Ojibwe spiritual belief system, and it is said to have originated with the Ojibwe people. The dreamcatcher is meant to be hung above a person’s bed and it is believed that the web catches bad dreams and prevents them from reaching the sleeper, while allowing good dreams to pass through the center hole and reach the sleeper.

The dream catcher is a tradition that started with a Sioux woman whose child had terrible nightmares. She went to the old spider woman for assistance since she couldn’t see any other way forward.

She was instructed to make an unending circle out of willow branches and to weave a net of life using cotton threads. Since then, the dream catcher has served to help people celebrate their dreams and their lives.

14.  Naskapi Supreme Being

In the myths of many early Indian cultures, the circle is a symbol of the self or creation itself.

The Naskapi frequently depict their supreme deity as a mandala, and not as a human figure. In the picture below, the black figure in the middle of the circle represents the center of every living being’s soul.

A stylized snake, which represents transformation and regeneration, surrounds the figure. The zigzagging stripes on the outer circle represent the ability to learn. The points on the motifs suggest that everyone’s point of view is connected, even if they are all slightly different from one another.

Petroglyphs and stone-carved symbols

Petroglyphs are symbols that have been cut, jabbed, or scratched into the surface of a stone. This carving may leave a clear image in the rock or go deep enough to reveal a different color of rock that hasn’t been worn away by weather.

The petroglyphs were created for a variety of reasons, most of which are unknown to current culture.

They should not be mixed up with hieroglyphics, which are symbols that represent specific words, or thought of as “ancient Indian graffiti.” Petroglyphs are deep cultural symbols that communicate entire spiritual and mythical concepts and stories.

Each image’s context is vital and essential to its meaning.

Some petroglyphs have meanings understood only by the people who created them. Others are tribal, clan, kiva, or social symbols.

Some are religious symbols, while others depict who arrived in the region and where they went.

15.  Immortality

The large X is a sign of immortality, strengthened on each side by two 90-degree angles that represent East and West and two arrows pointing towards its center.

16.  Time

A line connecting alternating dark and bright circles represents the impact of time. The oracle indicates whether the individual in question should take time, offer time, or adjust a situation according to the current scenario.

17.  Wealth

A narrow V with multiple horizontal lines represents the capacity to accumulate worldly or spiritual riches. This inner and outer wealth already exists; all that is necessary is for the person to learn how to access it.

18.  Self-Development

The broad V with multiple horizontal lines represents the growth of a person’s skills, abilities, and virtues. It is a sign of personal growth.

19.  Firmness and truth

When a broad U-shape meets an upside-down V, it represents a truth-loving, firm person. The person  is not easily tricked or fooled since the person constantly observes how others behave and what they are up to.

20.  Positivity and truth

The broad U-shape by itself generally symbolizes a happy individual or someone who lives the truth.

21.  Time of learning

A downward-pointing arrow in the middle of a curve symbolizes a time of learning. This sign represents the beginner who is ready to follow the path of truth. It also a symbol that can strengthen one’s endurance and willpower.

22.  Live life intensely

This symbol represents the sense of taste, or in a wider sense, sensory experience and pleasure. It can help you live life more intensely and, in a sense, acquire a taste for enjoying life.

23.  Wisdom

A wavy line terminating in an arrowhead represents the energy of knowledge. If the head is pointing down and to the left, it implies that the individual is wise in his own life and has identified his actual self.

If the head points down and to the right, this indicates a person who sees far and whose calm abilities of observation allow him to form predictions about future events.

24.  Self-Confidence

Two parallel vertical lines that intersect at the bottom represent belief in one’s own personal capabilities and talents. They stand in for someone who rarely asks anybody else for advice but follows their own sense of direction and guidance.

25.  Marriage

The symbol of matrimony is a vertical line that connects the middles of two Vs. It may also apply to any other type of long-term partnership.

It may also apply to any other type of long-term partnership.

26.  Inner Strength

This symbol represents inner power and  can aid in the development of courage and bravery.

27.  Foreseeing the future

This is a symbol for predicting the future. This ability increases the energy of future events, thus hastening their fulfillment. It also provides early warning of possible risks and can help prevent them.

Animal Symbols

According to Native American belief, each individual is linked with nine animals who will follow him on his life’s journey and cultivate his gifts and abilities. Each animal represents one of the seven directions: East, West, North, South, Up, Down, and Inside. Along with that, there are the two escorts on our left and right that will frequently visit our dreams.

28.  The Weasel

The weasel watches behind the scenes and notices all the small details that contribute to a successful event. As a result, it was common for rulers in the past to wear ermine or weasel fur clothing. People often underestimate people with weasel powers because they are too shy to share their insights.

They are typically unrivaled in the corporate world since their keen skills of observation constantly reveal their opponents’ objectives.

29.  The Eagle

The eagle represents heavenly strength. It can fly higher in the sky than any other living creature, bringing it closer to the Great Spirit. From those heights, it can see the totality of existence.
The eagle highlights the importance of seeing the complete picture of life, with all of its bright and terrible aspects.

This implies that we should see both positive and negative experiences as lessons that can serve a greater purpose and aid in self-development. The power of the eagle, then, necessitates belief in divine guidance, and only by assessing one’s spiritual strength can one obtain the power of the eagle.

30.  The Otter

The otter represents feminine vitality. Its components, water and earth, are likewise feminine. The otter’s balance ability allows it to play and have fun with its pups all day.

Because it is innocent of aggressiveness and disharmony, the otter would never spark a conflict. As a result, it approaches everyone with curiosity and kindness. It will only defend itself if it is first harmed.

Its physical form also symbolizes the Native American idea of femininity. It is slim and brimming with exquisite coquetry. It teaches that being a woman does not imply jealously or envy, but rather spreading happiness and compassion. Thus, the otter represents the power of sharing compassion.

31.  The Butterfly

The butterfly represents metamorphosis into a higher state of being. It teaches us to make purposeful changes in our lives, to create new situations, and to realize our aspirations.

Every new concept and stride toward self-actualization reflects the butterfly’s evolution. A butterfly egg represents the beginning of a fresh idea. The larval stage is the point at which one must determine whether or not to put this fresh concept into action.

The cocoon indicates an introspective journey to connect with the concept and oneself. Finally, the butterfly’s hatching represents the start of a new reality. The new creation’s delight may now be spread to others.

32.  The Moose

The moose’s strength resides in its self-respect. Its pride and vigor are very inspiring. The moose teaches that one should clearly express satisfaction over a significant accomplishment, much as the moose does during mating season.

The goal is not to seek recognition, but to express fulfillment. Others will be carried away with your sense of accomplishment.

Clan leaders frequently wield the power of the moose. They may inspire and advise the next generation on how to utilize bravery properly and achieve success. They understand when it is appropriate to be cordial and when it is best to express one’s rage.

The moose demonstrates the importance of giving oneself a pat on the back and celebrating what one has accomplished. Similarly, you should applaud and encourage everyone else involved, because it is essential that everybody else receives encouragement.

33.  The Buffalo

The buffalo represents wealth. If a white buffalo, the holiest of animals, arrives, it means that prayers have been answered and a prosperous time is about to begin.

The buffalo tells us that if we treat the world with reverence and appreciation, we will find that all of life’s riches are readily available to us. It is essential to celebrate all gifts received and to pray for heavenly wealth to be given to others as well. The buffalo also symbolizes that objectives may only be achieved with the help of the Great Spirit.

34.  The Spider

The spider’s body and the total number of its legs form the number eight, the universal symbol for infinity. The spider symbolizes the infinite number of possibilities in creation. The number “four,” when doubled, represents both the four winds and the four cardinal points.

The spider teaches us to take responsibility for everything that happens in our lives. We spin the web of our fate. Victims who become entangled in the web have not yet learned this lesson and have been trapped in an unchangeable reality.

The spider teaches that each being is in charge of its own plan. It is critical not to get caught up in sensory illusions.

35.  The Wolf

The wolf is linked to the star Sirius in the constellation Canis Major. Ancient legends say that the teachers of the past came from Sirius. As a result, the wolf is a teacher who returns to his pack after a long hunt to share fresh observations and experiences.

It lives in a tight-knit social group while maintaining its independence. It picks a mate to whom it will be loyal for the rest of its life. When the wolf howls at the Moon, it identifies with its strength, spiritual force, and subconscious, which contains all knowledge.

The wolf can bestow upon you the ability to educate others on how to better grasp life and choose their own path. You will also be able to connect with your inner leader thanks to the wolf energy.

36.  The Hummingbird

The hummingbird cherishes both life and happiness. It appreciates the beauty of flowers and the tranquility of nature. It is sensitive to conflicting vibrations, which may cause it to fly away in fear or displeasure.

Its therapy is to bring love and pleasure to all living things, including flowers, animals, and humans. Many plants survive and blossom for the hummingbird because gathering their nectar is essential for their reproduction.

The hummingbird’s power rests in its ability to open hearts. As a result, its feathers are frequently employed in love charms. Its flight method is unique among birds in that it can fly forward, backward, and hover in place.

According to ancient Mayan beliefs, it already belongs to the next cultural age, the fifth world. This little, delicate bird has no concept of worldly problems; its existence is one long voyage of enjoyment.


Resources:

  • A dictionary of symbols by Cirlot, Juan Eduardo
  • A dictionary of symbols by Chevalier, Jean
  • Dictionary of symbols by Chetwynd, Tom
  • A dictionary of dream symbols : with an introduction to dream psychology by Ackroyd, Eric
  • Illustrated dictionary of symbols in eastern and western art by Hall, James
  • Dictionary of symbols and imagery by Vries, Ad de
  • Symbolism : a comprehensive dictionary by Olderr, Steven
  • Dictionary of mythology, folklore and symbols by Jobes, Gertrude
  • The complete dictionary of symbols by Tresidder, Jack
  • The book of symbols : reflections on archetypal images by Ami Ronnberg & Kathleen Martin
  • Man, Myth & Magic by Richard Cavendish

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