Exploring Life-Affirming Native American Swastika Meaning
It may (or may not) be surprising to you that the Native American swastika meaning is about creation, expansion and connection. Among Native American symbols, the “swastika” or “four-angle cross” pre-dates the WWII era (by about 3,000 years) when, regrettably, the symbol got a very bad reputation.
Ironically, in Native wisdom the symbol has life-affirming themes and is also featured as an illustration of the evolution of various clans or tribes….nothing even remotely related to the svastika of the Nazi regime. This article attempts to clarify Native American swastika meaning by investigating various legends to keep a deeper meaning about this often misunderstood symbol..
Before launching into a few Native American swastika meaning legends, here are a few keywords as to how the Native mind perceived this symbol…
Various Meanings of the Native American Four-Angled Cross Symbol
- Spiritual Growth
- The Four Winds
- The Four Directions
- Elements in Nature: Fire, Earth, Air, Water
- Sacred Nature Features such as 4 Rivers or 4 Mountains (varies according to tribe and historical accounts)
Hopi Legends of the Spirit Walk
In one Hopi legend, the first portion is the cross (without the 90-degree angle bends). This symbol represents spiritual migration. The Hopi believed the first journey in life, is a spiritual one. In terms of following a spiritual journey, the swastika is an illustration of beginning spiritual progress at the crux and expand outwards. We start from the center and move out in four directions in a spiritual sense – extending our senses and spirit out into the ethereal realm. This makes up the cross (without the bend).
The second meaning of the swastika for the Hopi deals with the physical path. Meaning, the symbol traces the physical migration of the Hopi. This second path is represented by the second segment of the dogleg in the symbol. According to legend after the spiritual journey is made, then the physical migrations of the four clans began along the North/South axle of Earth and along the East/West axle of Earth.
There is another Hopi legend indicating the Native American swastika meaning is linked to a spiritual ceremony. One Hopi historical account describes the first clans that came into creation by walking out into the sun’s rays and exploring the land. To remember and honor this historical beginning of the people’s existence, subsequent generations of Hopi participated in a sun ceremony in which they danced out in four right-angled directions (as represented by the swastika design) to represent the first migration out as far as the sun’s rays extended.
After walking the length of the sun’s rays, it is said they then turned left (represented by the 90-degree angle) and walked as far as the earth would allow. This form of the legend makes the four-angled cross a sacred symbol of sun, earth and life. This is similar to walking a labyrinth, and this four-angled cross was often etched into the ground to trace the migratory path.
Winnebago and the Four Bird Clans
Another reference of Native American swastika meaning comes from the Ho-Chąąnk people (also known as the Winnebago tribe). Four birds in a four-angled design (shown above) have been located on Ho-Chąąnk burial grounds. This is a nod to both creation and death. One of their ancient Native creation myths describes four magical bird clans who came from the heavens to populate the earth.
In time, these clans evolved into different animal sects. But the bird clans were the first. This bird motif on gravesites is symbolic of flying back to the Great Spirit or Creator at the time of death. The first four sacred bird clans are: Eagle, Dove, Vulture, and Owl. The symbolic distinctions of each bird clan (and each branch of the angled-cross symbol) are as follows…
- The eagle provided power and the courage of a warrior as a tribal member walked through the afterlife.
- The vulture insured all physical remains of the body were removed so that the soul could be fully released to move through the afterworld.
- The owl gave his eyesight and senses through the shadowy unknown of the afterlife so the deceased could see clearly.
- And the dove gave the deceased a calm, sweet countenance…a feeling of nurturing and peace throughout the after-life journey.
The symbol in the middle is the union of all great spirits with the center of the crossing lines representing the ultimate Creator, as well as the ultimate destination of the soul.
Navajo Wisdom and Understanding Interconnectivity
Native American swastika meaning is also prominent in Navajo legends where the symbol is called the whirling or spinning logs (tsil no’oli’). In this tribe, it represents the four sacred mountains in their region which are the San Francisco Peaks to the west, Blanca Peak to the east, Hesperus Peak to the north, and Mount Taylor to the south.
The Navajo also honor the life-giving presence of the cosmos as well as the rotation of the earth with this symbol. It is an icon that represents the connectivity of life, humans, animals and the universe. In other words, the symbol illustrates how we are all connected and inseparable from the sun, earth, moon, and stars.
Closing Thoughts About the Native American Swastika Meaning
This symbol has been around for over 3,000 years. It’s been adopted, adapted and embraced by ancient Celtic people, early pagans, and is a well-known symbol among Buddhists, Hindus and featured in a myriad of other cultures.
Now that we have some background information on the Native American swastika meaning…we could legitimately call this a global or universal symbol. Its meaning is diverse, but the common denominator is that is a unifying icon that has reminded generations of humans that we are all connected. I hope you found this information helpful on your own spiritual migrations! As always, thanks for reading!
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