Native American Symbols -
What Are They? What Do They Mean?

Did you ever wonder what some of the Native American symbols and Native American designs mean? Why a feather? Why depict corn? Read on...

Part of the reason for the soaring popularity of Native American Indian art is the embellishment of the item with traditional symbols, motifs and designs...

Whether you buy a subarctic caribou parka or floral beadwork or quillwork from the Northern Woodlands, you are carrying home with you not only an art piece, but also a slice of Native American history and culture...

With the creation of each new handcrafted piece, contemporary Native American artists preserve the spiritual and cultural values of their ancestors...


These Native American symbols and Native American designs are truly captivating when you consider their variety, the number of tribes and appeal. Symbols on jewelry, weavings, baskets and pottery can be so intricate and carefully designed that it's impossible to imagine that they don't have deeper cultural meaning.

Every culture has it's own interpretations of symbols and designs. In the case of the Native Americans, with forced migrations and forced communal living, some Native American symbols have merged. And, over the years, symbols and designs have been subject to interpretation and translation by non-Indian dealers and traders.

If you want to learn more about Native American Symbols, all of which spring from their spirituality, please look at some of the excellent books on Amazon. Buy one or two and become intrigued.

Explore Native American Animal Symbols
Explore Native American Totem Images

Explore Native American Fetishes

Info Snippet: Did you know... to appease reservation agents and local missionaries, Native artists occasionally decorated items with Christian symbols.

And, the designs and symbols vary from craft to craft...geometrics, stars and whirls are unique to weavings. Metal dies for jewelry are rooted in leather stamps.

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Info Snippet: Did you know... The form of the silver naja, or pendant, at the end of the squash blossom necklace is traceable to Moorish Spain and even farther back in time to a device used to ward off the evil eye.

Following is a general list of Native American symbols that includes plants and other elements of nature. There are a few animal symbols below, but the majority are on the Native American Animal Symbols page. So, What do They Mean?

  • Arrowhead - Alertness.
  • Arrow Pointing Right - Protection.
  • Arrow Pointing Left - Warding of Evil.
  • Bear - Gentle Strength and Dreaming.
  • Bear Track/Paw - Good omen.
  • Broken Arrow - Peace.
  • Buffalo - Abundance.
  • Buffalo Horns - Success.
  • Cactus Flower - Romance and courtship
  • Corn - Symbol of Life. It is the mainstay for many tribes.
  • Corn Maiden - Gave the corn of her own body to feed her family so they would not have to hunt the beloved animals. After she passed on she was reborn in the corn stalks and provided the seeds which continued to provide food for all.
  • Corn Pollen/Cornmeal - Blessing for protection, understanding and forgiveness.
  • Cougar - Power, Swiftness and Balance
  • Cross - Paths crossing.
  • Crossed Arrows - Friendship.
  • Deer - Graceful Gentleness and Sensitivity.
  • Dog - Loyalty and Protection.
  • Eagle - Courage, Spirit, and Bravery.
  • Eagle Feather - Chief.
  • Enclosure - Ceremonial dance
  • Feather - Symbols of prayers, sources of ideas or marks of honor. Sacred universal symbol of flight within the spirit world and serving as messenger to Great Spirit.
  • Feathers Fanned into a Circle - Related to the Sun and The Creator.
  • Fence - Guarding good luck.
  • Fetish - Spirit and power
  • Flowers - Symbolize a relationship to the sun.
  • Handprint - Symbol of a human's life, achievements and legacy, the creative spirit, channeled energy.
  • Headdress - Dance.
  • Hogan - Permanent home.
  • Horse - Power.
  • Kachina - A Kachina can be a force of nature such as life, death, fire, flood, or the spirit of a revered ancestor, and the dancer at a ceremony.
  • Kokopelli - Flute player. Known as the seed bringer and water sprinkler; a fertility symbol.
  • Lasso - Symbol of Captivity.
  • Leaf - Wealth.
  • Lightning Arrow - Swiftness.
  • Male Child - Father's pride.
  • Man - Life.
  • Man in the Maze - Tohono O'odham symbol of life cycles and choice, and eternal motion with the goal of achieving harmony. The man is named "U'ki'ut'l".
  • Mask - Symbol of a human's animal spirit and prayer to sacred deities.
  • Medicine Bag - Vessel containing herbs, remedies, and or stones necessary for healing and protection.
  • Medicine Man's Eye - Wisdom.
  • Moon - Earth Protector and Guardian in Night
  • Morning Star - Honored as a Kachina by most Pueblo tribes, sign of courage and purity of spirit.
  • Mountain - Great abundance, plenty.
  • Music - Ritual of communication with the Great Spirit with the Singer's Life Breath (during a method of settling disputes between tribes).
  • Oak Twig - Summon the holy
  • Path - crossed paths.
  • Paths Crossing - Life's Journey.
  • Pipe - Used in negotiations of peace and war, to offer sacred tobacco smoke to the four directions, and in religious ceremony.
  • Plants and Herbs - Survival including food, tools, basketry and healing.
  • Prayer Stick - Carved and painted cottonwood or cedar sticks decorated with feathers and images for a specific prayer, planted at sacred sites to send prayers to The Creator or to The Kachinas.
  • Rain - Plentiful, good crop.
  • Rain Cloud - Symbol of change, renewal, and fertility.
  • Rain Drop - Good luck.
  • Rattle - Ceremonial songs are accompanied with rattles which are often used to represent the characteristic sounds of animals and nature.
  • Rattlesnake's Jaw - Strength.
  • Sacrifice - Offerings of food, tobacco, cornmeal, pollen, feathers, shells, beads, herbs, and such given to Spirit and Deities in blessing and prayer.
  • Saddle Bag - Represents a journey.
  • Shaman's Eye - Medicine.
  • Sky Band / Rainbow - Leading to happiness.
  • Shell - Served as Wampum (money) in trade. Used in decoration of traditional dress and jewelry, as essential utensils of cooking, gathering water, and digging.
  • Spiral Pattern - Whirlwinds, cycles of life, eternal renewal and water essential for life.
  • Squash Blossom - Symbol of plenty, abundance.
  • Steps Pattern - Represent Kiva steps or clouds, direction and change.
  • Sun - Earth Guardian in Day, Healing Energy
  • Sun Face - Giver of life, warmth, growth, goodness.
  • Sun Rays - Constancy.
  • Thunderbird - Sacred bearer of happiness.
  • Thunderbird Track - Bright prospects.
  • Tipi - Temporary House.
  • Tobacco - Sacred Herb used to make offerings, treat disease, seal agreements, and smoked for enjoyment.
  • Tomahawk - Hatchet-like object used in ceremony and war. Often showed carvings of owner's life events.
  • Lasso - Symbol of Captivity.
  • Totem - Guarding spirits of an individual, family or tribe.
  • Totem Pole - Go to Totem Poles for more information.
  • Twins - in most creation stories; overcame great odds to defend the people from all enemies; duality of life.
  • Warding Arrows - Warding off evil spirits.
  • Water House or Corn - Life.
  • Water Running - Constant life.
  • Wave Pattern - Water and cycles of life, renewal and water element essential for life.
  • Wolf - Teaching, A Guide to the Sacred.
  • Zia - Symbol of the Zia Pueblo, also represents the sun, the four directions, and the circle of of life.
  • Yeii Spirit - Navajo spirit considered to be a communicator between Man and The Creator. Yeiis control the natural elements.

Info Snippet: Did you know... Traditionally, designs were derived from dreams, which served as an inspirational resource throughout life.

So, now you know a little about some Native American symbols such as Yeii, the Squash Blossom and Kokopeli! Refer to the other pages on the site for additional information on the type of item you're interested in.

Check out some very nice graphics. Perhaps even treat yourself to one of the wonderful posters at Posters.Com.

Native American Indian Designs and Symbol Guide:

has a very nice page with pictures and text discussing Native American symbols and designs.

Native American Symbols:

also have a great page with symbols, names and meaning.

If Native American symbols/symbolism is of interest, become familiar with their various forms and elements. Visit museums to study the various forms, materials, tribal affiliations and designs. Go to art shows that showcase Native American artisans. Antique shows are also a good venue - go through the booths of vendors selling these items. If they are passionate about what they have for sale, they will answer your questions. And, of course, inter-tribal powwows are excellent venues to look and ask.

You can also go the The Indian Arts and Crafts Association for a listing of registered and certified Native American Artisans.

Above all, anything being marketed as genuine Native American art must legally be just that. The spirit of the law is that any artwork or craft fashioned by a Native American, the artisan must be a member of an Indian Tribe, and their membership has been verified and certified.

These Native American artisans are practicing their art perhaps as a livelihood. And, through their art, they are keeping their culture, history and spirituality alive.

Let me know if you are interested in contacting a Native American artisan about Native American symbols. I can help with historic items as well as an appraisal service. Use my contact form and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

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