For centuries, symbols have been used to tell stories and convey deep meanings in Native American jewelry and art. These symbols have molded the distinct styles of the craftsmanship we see today.
At Palms Trading Company, our knowledgeable staff can help decipher these symbols to add further meaning to the antiques you purchase. While the meanings behind some symbols may vary from tribe to tribe, the overall message of many symbols in Native American jewelry and art is often similar.
We’re here to explain common symbols in Native American culture and show how knowledge can help owners of these antiques connect with their own handmade pieces of art.
Common Symbols in Native American Art
Native American cultures are rich and diverse, with many tribes, artistic expressions, and ancient techniques to explore.
Each tribe has its own unique symbols, which were traditionally used to communicate within and beyond the tribe to tell stories and pass down knowledge from one generation to the next.
It’s important to note that many of these symbols cross with each other, frequently appearing in various art forms. However, some symbols appear more often in one artistic expression than the other.
In Native American art, many symbols represent various aspects of their beliefs, culture, and daily life.
Let’s explore some of these symbols and what they represent.
Spirals, often represented as a nautilus shell, symbolize life’s journey, growth, and change as we try to find our way to the center. It signifies the cyclical nature of life and the constant pursuit of personal and spiritual growth.
These symbols can be commonly found in pottery, basketry, and various other forms of artwork.
In some tribes, spirals can also represent water, wind, and creatures associated with spirals, like snakes and snails.
The sun represents life, abundance, and warmth. In the history of many Native American cultures, the sun was extremely important to daily life.
It provided heat and light and facilitated the growth of crops. It symbolizes the renewal of life and is often used in various art forms, including pottery and jewelry.
The turtle is a symbol of longevity, wisdom, and protection. This turtle symbol can be found in pottery, jewelry, fetish carvings, and other art forms.
It’s associated with creation stories and Mother Earth–the earth goddess in many Native American cultures–because it was believed that the turtle retrieved mud to create her.
One of the most iconic symbols in Native American culture is the supernatural thunderbird.
While the mythology of the bird varies from tribe to tribe, it’s commonly known as the ruler of the skies.
Representing power, strength, and protection, it’s a common motif found across various forms of Native American art and jewelry, such as pottery, sculpture, fetish carvings, and bolo ties.
Common Symbols in Native American Jewelry
More history and spiritual connection go into your Native earrings and necklaces than you might know about. Your piece of jewelry carries a complex past.
At Palms Trading Company, we believe Native American symbols create beautiful jewelry designs and carry important cultural and historical knowledge.
Understanding the stories and meanings behind these symbols enriches our appreciation of authentic Native American jewelry.
Below are some common symbols that appear in general Native American culture that are frequently seen in various tribes’ authentic jewelry.
One of the most recognizable symbols is the feather. It represents a connection to the spirit world and is often incorporated into headdresses, Native jewelry, and regalia. The symbol often adorns earrings, cuff bracelets, necklaces, and other jewelry accessories.
Feathers most often symbolize honor, respect, and a connection with the divine. Feathers are often seen as gifts from the sky or a gift from The Creator themselves, a being often worshipped in many Native American tribes as the Earth’s creator.
The feather connects the owner, the bird in nature, and the divine together.
The dreamcatcher, a popular symbol today, is believed to protect the wearer from negative energies and bad dreams.
They were originally used in ancient history as talismans to protect sleeping people, especially children. These symbols are popular as necklaces and earrings.
The intricate design of the dreamcatcher reflects the creativity and spirituality of Native American artisans. Positive dreams are filtered through the web, while negative ones are caught and dispelled at first light.
Arrowheads symbolize alertness and protection. They’re popular in pendants, brooches, and earrings.
They’re used to boost the wearer’s courage and provide security. Depending on the tribe, arrowheads could symbolize good fortune or grant powers in hunting and warfare.
Representing strength and courage, bears are a common motif in Native American jewelry. They’re often incorporated into necklaces, earrings, and bracelets as bear claws.
However, a bear pendant with wood or silver carved into the shape of a bear is also popular. The bear pendant and claw bracelets were commonly used to offer protection to warriors and leaders.
Doing Research on Common Symbols Enhances Your Piece’s Depth
The world of historic Indigenous jewelry is a treasure trove of symbolism.
If you see a symbol and know which tribe your piece came from, research the meaning behind the symbol in relation to the tribe. Doing so adds more depth to your piece and allows you to foster a deeper connection with your beloved work of art.
By doing your own research, you help preserve the cultural heritage of these ancient tribes.
If you’re unsure which tribe your piece comes from, our educated staff can help. We have extensive knowledge of our various collections of authentic Native American art and jewelry for sale.
Learning More About Common Symbols Strengthens Your Connection With Nature
If there’s one thing to notice about the symbols above, it’s that many of them have something to do with nature, the natural order of the universe, or natural resources.
Many of these symbols are used interchangeably in art and jewelry to emphasize our connection to the natural world.
The sun often symbolizes warmth, growth, and life, while the moon is associated with the cycles of nature and renewal.
Animals in Native American work are a way to pay homage to the natural world and its teachings. Animals are seen as spiritual guides and embody qualities we can learn from.
Weather patterns are another frequent theme, as seasons and climate greatly impacted the survival and daily practices of tribes.
Embracing and seeing how these symbols show up in your daily life can be a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness with the Earth and its creatures.
It empowers us and encourages us to appreciate and protect the land we live on, a value deeply cherished by Native American communities.
Shop With Us for Meaningful Native American Jewelry!
At Palms Trading Company, we offer our clients the largest selection collection of authentic Native American jewelry and art, each piece brimming with intricate symbols and cultural depth. These symbols connect us to the history, stories, and wisdom of Native tribes, which our staff can happily teach you about.
We source our goods directly from local artisans without a middleman, so you can be sure you’re getting a unique, genuine piece of history at a fair price with us. And if you want to learn more about the history and story of a piece to enhance its meaning to you, our friendly staff are always happy to provide you with detailed information.
Check out our selection of authentic Native American jewelry for sale today!