Native American Sun Dance Symbols

Native American Sun Dance Symbols

Exploring Native American Sun Dance Symbols and Ceremonies

Thoughts on Native American Sun Dance Symbols and Sun Dance Meaning

Ideally, this article on Native American sun symbols would be a feature during the summer solstice (around June 20-21st). But in reality, many Native American communities celebrate the sun year-round. But sun symbolism really rocks the party on the first day of summer.

The summer solstice marks the longest day of the year, and also the half-mark of the year. It is a paradox of a celebration because it acknowledges the brilliance of summer, while also recognizing the fading of the light. 

What? Fading of the light? Yeah, although it is the longest the sun shines upon the earth in the northern hemisphere, it is also the countdown to shorter days coming. From this point forward, the days will become shorter. This is symbolic of the inevitable relationship all life has with light vs. dark….symbolically this translates to the relationship of life vs. death.

The Native American sun dance is a powerful ceremony that embraces both light and dark sides of the summer solstice. Some tribes had an element of ritual that involved quite a bit of pain and self-depravation during the sun dance. These painful methods might include what is often misunderstood as self mutilation, weather exposure and starvation. In truth, these practices were NOT mutilating…they were an offering to the Spirits of nature, they were commitment to the sacred covenant made between man, beast, land, sun, sky, cosmos, and the Great Spirit the indwells all. 

The sun, the darkness, the winds, the sky…

they are all listening to our thoughts and words.

~Geronimo (Apache)

The Arapaho, Hidatsa, Crow, Cheyenne and Kiowa held true to the self-sacrifice nature of the sun dance. However, the Ute, Comanche and Shoshone observed the summer solstice and tribal sun dance without the sacrificial rituals. These tribes leaned on heavy symbolism on this day during their sun dance ritual. Some of these elements and symbols include:

Colors red, black, white and yellow. Each color has a specific meaning on this day and in a Native American sun dance. 

Red: It is the symbol of the sunset. It represents the uniqueness of this being a day that holds the most light of the sun, but it also marks the color of the setting sun. In the sun setting, it recognizes the shortening of days on the heels of the longest day of the year.

Yellow: This represents divine light, specifically and typically lightning. Lightning is often seen as divine intervention and communication in Native wisdom. 

Black and White: These two colors on the summer solstice speak about the balance of nature, the balance of life. As mentioned earlier, Native understanding is intimate with the concept of light vs. dark and life vs. death. It’s all about the natural cycle of life and embracing the power of nature and the universe to move in its perfect rhythm.

Other Native American sun dance symbols and meanings…

Buffalo: The buffalo is a symbol of power, comfort , provision and plenty. Every piece of it was used, and one buffalo provided a tremendous amount of luxury. From meat to clothing, tools to essential oil…the buffalo was a sacred animal that was often honored during the summer sun dance.

Willow: Because the buffalo like to eat the willow, willows were often burned in sacred summer ceremonies. The willow is also a symbol of the sun because of its expansive, fast growth. Willow branches were often cut and fanned upon ceremonial fires in the evening – the smoke was considered to be a message to the sun gods.

Sage: Just like the willow, buffalo like to eat sage too. So, sage was burned in much the same way and for same reasons as the willow. The pungent scent was thought to cleanse the people and the entire village. The aroma was thought to waft to the heavens and be a message to the sky gods.

Perhaps you can incorporate some of these symbols today and tomorrow. Sun dance ceremonies often last several days.  Maybe you might create your own sacred tradition for the summer solstice…a ceremony to give thanks for all you have, and embrace all the bounty that is to come.

Burn some sage, take a walk in the sun, appreciate the good stuff, embrace the light in your life…every day is a good day to recognize all we have been given, but the summer solstice is an especially good time to make a big shin-dig out of our gratitude.

I hope you have enjoyed this article on the Native American sun dance. If you liked this article, check out the links below for more information on the summer solstice.

As always, thank you for reading! Be sure to check out the links below for more Native American symbols and sun symbol meanings.

Summer solstice blessings to you!

Brightly,

Avia

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