Native American cultures have a rich spiritual tradition characterized by various sacred symbols that hold deep meaning. These symbols often represent concepts like the circle of life, connections to nature, and core values. Some important sacred symbols across Native American tribes include the medicine wheel, dreamcatchers, and animal totems. Understanding the significance of these symbols provides insight into the indigenous worldviews that have endured for generations.
The Medicine Wheel
The medicine wheel is one of the most ubiquitous and important sacred symbols in many Native American cultures. It represents a variety of concepts relating to balance, cycles, cardinal directions, and the circle of life.
The medicine wheel is depicted as a circle divided into four quadrants, with each quadrant representing a cardinal direction – north, south, east and west. The four directions often also represent the four seasons, the four elements (earth, air, fire and water), and the four aspects of the human being (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual).
Different tribes have various meanings associated with the medicine wheel. For example, the Lakota people see the medicine wheel as a sacred hoop which represents the cycle of life. It shows that all things are interconnected and teaches balance through the four directions. For Navajo people, the medicine wheel represents the circle of life and the four phases of life – childhood, adulthood/parenthood, elderhood, and death.
Key Aspects of the Medicine Wheel
Some key associations with the medicine wheel symbol across Native American tribes include:
- Cardinal Directions – North, South, East, West
- Four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter
- Four elements – Earth, Air, Fire, Water
- Four aspects of life – Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual
- Four phases of life – Childhood, Adulthood, Elderhood, Death
The medicine wheel emphasizes that life is a circular journey and reminds people to live in balance and harmony with all creation.
The dreamcatcher is another common Native American symbol across tribes that is considered sacred. It is a protective talisman that is meant to catch bad dreams while allowing good dreams to pass through.
Dreamcatchers are often hung over beds or in homes as a filtering device against nightmares and bad medicine. They are usually made out of a woven web attached to a small sacred hoop with openings at the center.
There are variations to the legend behind the origin of dreamcatchers among different tribes. But a common theme is that the web catches the bad dreams while allowing the good dreams to slide down the feathers below and enter the mind.
According to Ojibwe legend, dreamcatchers were made by a spiritual ancestor named Asibikaashi who wove a web over a willow hoop and used it to protect children from nightmares. The story is as follows:
Asibikaashi, theSpider Woman, tookcare of the children and the people on the land. Eventually, the Ojibwe Nation spread to the corners of North America and it became difficult for Asibikaashi to reach all the children. So the mothers and grandmothers weaved magical webs for the children using willow hoops and sinew. These “dreamcatchers” filter out bad dreams and allow good thoughts to pass through the center.
Among the Lakota tribe, legend has it that the willow hoop represents the circle of life and the web is meant to mirror a spider web which catches small prey just as the dreamcatcher catches bad dreams. The good dreams that pass through guide the people in right and balanced living.
Dreamcatchers are widely hung in sacred places and ceremonies. Their symbolism reminds Native Americans to reflect on their dreams for guidance and strive for positivity.
Native American tribes have various animal symbols that represent important spiritual meanings and clans. These sacred animals are known as totems and serve as guides believed to protect, symbolize values and keep traditions alive.
Common Native American animal totems include:
- Eagle – representing courage, wisdom and connection to the creator
- Bear – representing strength, family and healing
- Wolf – representing loyalty, communication and compassion
- Turtle – representing perseverance, connections to earth and longevity
- Buffalo – representing sacred life, abundance and good fortune
- Raven – representingCharm, trickery, change
- Snake – representing rebirth, healing, transformation
In many tribes, particular clans or families will have an animal totem that represents them based on the values associated with that creature. Tribal members often look to their totem for guidance and to represent themselves.
Totems featured in Native American culture range from mammals to reptiles, birds, amphibians and even some insects. They connect the peoples’ spirits to sacred qualities and provide wisdom.
The medicine wheel, dreamcatchers and animal totems are some of the most significant sacred symbols integrated into Native American cultures. They convey indigenous spiritual values, worldviews and important life lessons. These symbols will continue guiding generations of Native Americans through their circular path of life. Understanding their deeper meaning provides richer insight into the tapestry of Native American traditions.
|Eagle||Courage, wisdom, connection to the creator|
|Bear||Strength, family, healing|
|Wolf||Loyalty, communication, compassion|
|Turtle||Perseverance, connections to earth, longevity|
|Buffalo||Sacred life, abundance, good fortune|
|Raven||Charm, trickery, change|
|Snake||Rebirth, healing, transformation|