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What symbols represent the Cherokee?

What symbols represent the Cherokee?

The Cherokee are an indigenous people native to North America who have inhabited the Southeastern Woodlands for thousands of years. Cherokee culture is rich in symbolism that conveys core values, spiritual beliefs, and a deep connection to the natural world. Certain symbols and motifs appear frequently in Cherokee art, mythology, and rituals, each holding unique meaning. Understanding these symbols provides insight into Cherokee worldviews and cosmology.

Some of the most prominent Cherokee symbols include the seven-pointed star, spider, owl, rattlesnake, and cross within a circle. Each of these symbols represents key aspects of Cherokee philosophy and spirituality. Though their meanings have evolved throughout history, they continue to be profoundly important for the Cherokee people today.

The Seven-Pointed Star

One of the most significant Cherokee symbols is the seven-pointed star, which represents the seven clans of the Cherokee people. The ancestral seven clans are Blue, Long Hair, Bird, Paint, Deer, Wolf, and Wild Potato. Each clan had different roles and responsibilities within Cherokee society.

The seven-pointed star was typically drawn with one point facing up, representing the Great Spirit, and the bottom point facing down, symbolizing mankind grounded on earth. The star’s seven points demonstrate how the clans are all connected yet remain individual. This reinforces the interdependence and harmony between the clans.

Beyond the clans, the number seven also had broader symbolic meaning for the Cherokee, representing completeness and wholeness. The star often appeared on tools, housing, clothing, and other objects as a reminder to maintain balance across all aspects of life.

Spider Symbol

Spiders feature prominently in Cherokee myths and symbols. In the Cherokee origin story, the Great Spider is a messenger sent by the Great Spirit to teach the people how to lead virtuous lives. Spider’s web connected the Upper World of the Great Spirit to the Under World beneath the earth.

As such, spider represents feminine energy, wisdom, creativity, interconnection, and the many legends and fables passed down orally over generations. Images of spiderwebs conveyed the fragility yet strength of community ties and ancestry. Clan tattoos sometimes incorporated webs or spider shapes to honor this history.

Specific types of spiders also carried meaning – the black widow represented grief and mourning, while the spider spinning its web exemplified creative power bringing ideas to fruition. Spiders remind Cherokee people to respect traditions and elders who came before them.

The Owl Symbol

Owls are associated with sacred knowledge and the powers of spiritual vision in Cherokee symbology. They represent the ability to see beyond the visible world into truths of the soul. The owl sees and hunts at night, beyond the limits of human eyesight, just as the wisdom it imparts transcends ordinary understanding.

Owls adorned war clubs, pipes, jewelry, baskets, and clothing as protectors and guides. Their feathers and images invoked heightened observation skills, especially during ceremonies or rituals. If an owl appeared before hunters or warriors, it was seen as divine blessing for success on their mission.

As nocturnal creatures, owls bridged the gap between night and day, acting as messengers between worlds. The owl reminded Cherokee to value inner knowledge and perception as much as outward strength. Its presence signifies keen intuition beyond the obvious.

Rattlesnake Symbolism

For the Cherokee, rattlesnakes symbolized energy mastery and balance between potent forces. Rattlesnakes shed their skin to rejuvenate themselves, representing power to recreate and begin anew. Shedding was akin to resurrection, activating heightened senses and energy.

Rattles on tails signified control – rattlesnakes could warn when they chose to strike or remain quiet and hidden from threats. Warriors applied this lesson, staying calm within while fierce when circumstances dictated. Serpent imagery encouraged courage, control, and decisive action tempered with wisdom.

As creatures of the earth, rattlesnakes also represented the Under World and served as guardians of sacred spaces like ceremonial grounds and tribal council chambers. Rattlesnake motifs on clothing or artifacts amplified mystical energy during rituals.

Cross Within a Circle

The cross within a circle appears across Cherokee arts, symbolizing the meeting place where peace between man and nature created balance. The circle represents the yearly cycle, the sun and moon, and harmony with the environment.

The cross depicts the four cardinal directions – North, South, East and West. Together, the cross and circle demonstrate unified duality – the masculine cross housed within the feminine circle, different yet intertwined. This reflects the Cherokee worldview of complementary forces working together.

For Cherokee shamans, the symbol invoked celestial power and protection during important rituals. It also marked tribal gathering spots and boundary lines on maps. The cross and circle remains a prominent tribal seal for Cherokee groups and conveys center, unity, direction, and community.

Other Common Motifs

Beyond these main symbols, other natural images commonly represent core Cherokee principles:

Butterfly – Beauty, transformation, hope, and life’s journeys

Falcon – Power, wisdom, freedom, vision, and guardianship

Bear – Strength, leadership, protection, healing, solitude

Deer – Grace, innocence, nurturing, sensitivity, provider of sustenance

Turtle – Connection to land, self-reliant, slow and steady, anchors heritage

Fox – Cunning, intelligence, stealth, feminine power, quick action

Arrow – Directional energy, precision, movement, and shelter

Enduring Meanings

While the original context for many Cherokee symbols has evolved, their core ideas continue reflecting the values and worldviews central to Cherokee identity. Passing down the symbols honors those who came before and helps maintain connection despite outside cultural influences.

Each symbol’s layered meaning provides teachings about living in harmony, fulfilling responsibilities, and revering ancestral wisdom. The symbols encode a cohesive philosophy that has preserved Cherokee heritage. For craftsmen, artists, and storytellers, incorporating these images allows maintaining traditional knowledge across generations.

As the Cherokee adapt to changing times, visual reminders in the form of symbolic art and craftwork reinforce their cultural foundations. The icons reflect respect for community, reverence for nature, and belief in greater powers that guide humankind. Simple on the surface, Cherokee symbols contain multitudes. Their continued presence pays homage to the past while conveying timeless messages.


Cherokee symbols arose from a cosmology rooted in the natural world, with core values of balance, interconnection, community, and veneration of ancestral wisdom. Images like the seven-pointed star, spider, owl, rattlesnake, and cross within a circle have deep, multilayered significance beyond their surface meaning. While details and interpretations have shifted over generations, the essence of these symbols persists in unifying and guiding the Cherokee people. The icons provide an enduring symbolic language for conveying the Cherokee outlook and relationship to the universe. Their presence in art, clothing, artifacts, stories, and ceremonies celebrates heritage and safeguards Cherokee principles for the future.

Symbol Meaning
Seven-pointed star Interconnection of the 7 Cherokee clans, balance, wholeness
Spider Creativity, wisdom, interconnection, storytelling
Owl Inner wisdom, spiritual vision, sacred knowledge
Rattlesnake Mastery over energy, rebirth, decisive action
Cross in circle Unity of complementary forces, harmony with nature