05 Mar 6 Sacred Symbols From Indigenous Cultures
Modern technology has allowed us to connect with each other in unprecedented ways, sharing and learning from different cultures around the world – including indigenous cultures.
Today we’re going to take a look at the sacred symbols of these ancient, shamanic societies. No doubt you’ll recognize some of them, which have been discovered and adopted by spiritual seekers from all different backgrounds and integrated into the rich tapestry of New Age culture. Others are less well known, but equally beautiful, powerful and profound!
At one time, the Celtic language and culture was spread throughout Europe, but Roman expansion and the rise of the Germanic tribes eventually drove the Celts back to the British Isles – particularly Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
One aspect of Celtic culture that is still prevalent today is the Celtic Knot. These continuous, interwoven patterns appear in many forms, including the three-pointed Triquetera, a symbol of Christianity and the Holy Trinity:
The “Shield Knot” is another common variety. It features four distinct corners, resembling a square within a circle. The Shield Knot was used as a symbol of protection, to ward off evil and danger:
But whatever from they take, Celtic knots always represent unity, eternity, and the inter-connectedness of all things. The knot has no beginning and no end, and is intricately woven together, like the fabric of existence itself.
One of the most common shamanic symbols of all is the Native American medicine wheel, also known as the “sacred hoop.” Traditionally, the medicine wheel would be created out of rocks and totems, as a ritual prayer or meditation. They are usually quite small, created as a personal altar or piece of artwork. But they can be huge, sprawling constructions, created as part of a tribal ceremony.
The Medicine Wheel represents many things: the four directions, the elements, the seasons, the different stages and cycles of life, and much more. It serves as a spiritual and meditative practice, to help us to stay centered, grounded, and in sync with the rhythms of Nature.
Kokopelli is a deity worshiped by the indigenous people of the Southwest United States – like the Hopi and the Zuni. He was revered as the god of fertility, birth, agriculture and music. He was depicted as a trickster, a dancer, hunched over and playing his flute – traditionally, with an erect phallus (he was a fertility god, after all).
Nowadays, Kokopelli (minus the phallus) has become an icon, a symbol of the Southwest. His image is found everywhere throughout the region, on t-shirts, signs, souvenirs and other memorabilia.
The arts and crafts of West Africa are often decorated with Adinkra, a rich language of symbols created by the Akan people from Ghana and the Ivory Coast. And perhaps the most common of all adinkra symbols is this one, known as Gye Nyame:
Nyame is the name of the Akan sky god, and this symbol translates as “only God” or “except for God.” It stands for the supremacy of God, and the unity of all Creation. It’s also fascinating that this symbol for the Akan sky god looks just like a spiral galaxy!
Labyrinths can be found all over the world, from ancient Egypt and America to the British Isles – although the word itself comes the island of Crete, and the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.
They come in two different types, Mazes (with many different paths, some of which are loops or dead ends) and Meanders (with only one possible path, which winds back and forth many times, but ultimately leads to the center).
Labyrinths symbolize many different things: ebb and flow, creation and destruction, the seven energy centers of the body, the layers of human consciousness, and most of all the spiritual journey to the innermost Self.
Another symbol that appears in ancient cultures around the world is the Ouroboros, the snake (or dragon, serpent, etc.) that swallows it’s own tail. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Gnostics, Hindus and the medieval alchemists of Europe, all used this image as a symbol of rebirth, renewal, the cycles of Nature, and the life force of the universe which is eternal and self-created.