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Native American Symbolism: The Thunderbird
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Native American Symbolism: The Thunderbird

Thunderbirds are an often-depicted element in Native American artistry. Frequently incorporated into Native American earrings, rings, pendants, pottery, and paintings, the thunderbird holds immense symbolic significance for the Native American Peoples. Read on to learn more about the significance of the thunderbird symbolism in Native American culture and the beauty of incorporating this significance in Native American jewelry.


The Symbolism of the Thunderbird

The thunderbird holds major significance for indigenous cultures in North America. Seen as protection against evil spirits and an overall symbol of power and strength, the thunderbird is considered one of the most powerful spirits in many Native American cultures. The thunderbird is also said to transform into human form by removing its feathers like a cape and its head like a mask, and it wields lightning snakes hidden beneath its wings as a tool or weapon. The namesake of the thunderbird is from its flapping wings, which is said to sound like thunder, and its existence is thought to bring forthrains and storms.


Tribal Legends of the Thunderbird

Throughout the various North American indigenous communities, legends of thunderbirds have been passed down through oral history and the rich storytelling tradition of different tribes. While the thunderbird was a common mythical creature, the specific characteristics often varied from tribe to tribe, with some viewing it as a terrifying and powerful force, while others saw itas a sacred yet natural part of the animal kingdom.

  • In Pacific Northwest communities, thunderbirds were often called upon for support with crops in times of drought or scarcity. According to legend, the thunderbird agreed to help, but only if he was depicted with outreached wings on top of a totem pole forever after.
  • The Algonquin tribe believed that the Thunderbird oversaw the upper world while the underworld was controlled by the equally revered Horned Serpent.
  • The Navajo tribe viewed the Thunderbird as a spirit, not from this realm, and its legends depict the Navajo war spirit Nayanazgeni going to battle with the Thunderbird.
  • In Ojibwe legends, thunderbirds were depicted as fighting underwater spirits, journeying through the sky with other birds, and often punishing immoral or ethically questionable humans.
  • In Sioux history and culture, it was believed that the Thunderbirds were great protectors against the Unktehlia, the reptilian monsters which resided in the region.


Shop Native American Earrings & Jewelry


The thunderbird is often depicted on beautiful Native American earrings, rings, and other indigenous artforms. At Palms Trading Company, we offer a wide variety of authentic pieces that incorporate thunderbird symbolism and imagery made by local indigenous artists. Get in touch today and let our expert and knowledgeable staff help you find the perfect piece of thunderbird jewelry or art.