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American Indian Symbols

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Representative symbolic beliefs of my lower Red River American Indians.
Many of the religious beliefs of the Ceremonial Complex or the Southern Cult, where also shared by the Eastern Woodlands tribes, probably spread through the dominance of the Mississippian culture in the 10th century.

We are the Rigolet band of Pascagoula Choctaw

Our vision is to achieve true sovereignty by attaining self-sufficiency. We will preserve and enhance our traditional values by living and teaching the inherent principles of respect, honor and integrity as embodied in our life-ways. We will utilize effective stewardship of our human, financial and natural resources. We will develop strong leadership through education, accountability, experience and positive reinforcement.

Being 500 + Indian Nations means, thousands of different Indian cultures existed before Columbus arrived. They were as distinct as the European cultures of the British, the Spanish, the Vikings, the Russians, Greeks and others.

Cowboy movies during the 20th century portrayed the Plains people as living in tipis, wearing war bonnets or feathers in their hair. As a result the common assumption is that all Native people were like those portrayed in films. This is very far from the truth.The Plains people did live in tipis, and they were nomadic.
The lower american Indians lived in permanent very strong thatched-roof houses constructed of trees mortared with clay & straw.

In Indian culture there was no priesthood or organized system of temples or churches , it is an individual relationship

Indians did not worship creatures in nature Many seem to think Indians worshiped the sun, trees, animals, and spirits. There is one Creator although called by different names.The priests who first arrived in America watched as American Indians raised their hands to the sun and prayed. Since they considered themselves "civilized" rather than "savage", took this to be worship of the sun. If the priests had asked, they would have been told them the prayers were for the deity that created the sun, not the sun itself.
Du pratz

The same goes for animals and other aspects of nature. Indians believe they have a living spirit within them.Great honor and respect was given them , but Indians do not worship them.

The American Indian belief system starts with the basic premise that there is the Creator, the Great Spirit or God

For Southern American Indians symbols were used to represent the spiritual and physical worlds and to enrich their daily lives, this to bridge the gap between the spiritual and physical realms. Many fail to understand that the symbols were not an object of worship but rather an object, which helped to raise the worshiper's mind and heart beyond the material toward a closer communion with the unseen creator.

Most American Indians believe that in the universe there exists an Almighty-a spiritual force a God that is the source of all life and to exist throughout the universe. The sun is viewed as a manifestation of the power of the Almighty. Europeans often thought American Indians were worshipping the sun, when, in fact, they were addressing prayers to the Almighty, of which the sun was a symbol.

From whence we decended
Among the Mississippian culture and later it was the hawk (rather than the eagle) that was considered the messenger of the gods. Their art has numerous representations of the sharp-breasted hawk and/or hawk man. Among historic Southern tribes these sharp-breasted hawks were sky spirits who used their razor like breasts as weapons. As creatures of the sky they were in constant warfare with the spirits of the underworld as protectors.

In Southern Native American Indian spirituality above all and with nothing of more importance was the sacred fire

The sacred fire & Green corn ceremony

The sacred fire was diligently maintained throughout the year. The annual lighting of the new flame always occurred during the green corn ceremony.

The green corn ceremony was a feast of thanksgiving to show gratitude for a successful corn crop, functions of the ceremony varied from tribe to tribe. Fire was the earthly representation of the sun, sustainer of all life and respect for the all-powerful deity who created the sun.

Fire was never polluted with water; so fires were never extinguished with water except in funerary ceremonies an act that symbolized death.

Repetition and formal correctness are defining characteristics of all societies in ceremony; the southern Indian was no exception.

With knowledge that humans were creatures of error, as in all societies a source of redemption was necessary. In many societies sin is the faulting factor, in southern Indian society maintaining purity and avoiding pollution exemplified this.

All social wrongs committed in the previous year was forgiven with the exception of murder. All suffering social restrictions could return as full social beings.

Indeed the extinguishing of the old polluted fire and the lighting of the new brought redemption and a renewed social structure.
Before the ending of the ceremony a man was sent to summon the women who came and stood outside the square meeting ground, the priest gave a speech to the warriors reminding them of their responsibilities to remain pure and carry their responsibilities bravely.

Then in a much less polite language the priest gave a speech to the women, the told them if any had failed to extinguish the old fire or if any of them were impure they must depart immediately or that the divine fire would punish them and their relatives. He assumed a sharp tone in cautioning them not to break marital or sexual rules.

He reminded them to endeavor in the coming year to stay pure else the divine fire would take vengeance on them.

After this the priest ceremoniously lit the new fire , the women relit all fires in the homes and began cooking large quantities of new corn and vegetables for feast and celebration.

Symbols from our museum ceremonial collection
Southern American Indians diligently kept the sacred eternal flame in fulfilling the commandments and in respect for the Great Spirit. The ancient cross in circle , with staff attached was an important sacred Ceremonial symbol of our ancient ancestors.Sun , Moon , Stars , Life. The Hawk was a Ceremonial symbol, with it's sharp breast it continually fights to protects us from evil spirits of the air.Connected to forces such as rain, wind, thunder, and lightning. These were `thunderers'with special power.No feather was taken by hawk kill. (Ceremony of the Hawk represents earth cleansing.) "Road of life" a path which one travels in his or her span on earth. . [The half diamond point design symbolizes] the many times we should come off our road to give aid to someone sick or of need, if only through expression of sympathy and concern.

The Cross
Another symbol for Mississippian culture was a cross-enclosed by a circle since it is found at every Mississippian site excavated. This symbol apparently reflected the Mississippian's worldview of the division of order.
The standard with the cross was an emblem of rank and importance. This is documented by both Rodrigo Rangel and the Gentleman of Elvas, chroniclers of the 1539-43 expedition of Hernando de Soto through the Southeast. Elvas describes "...a sort of fan of deerskin...the size of a shield, quartered with black and white, with a cross made in the middle...set on a small and very long staff...." Current thought is that the cross symbolizes the cardinal directions and the sacred fire, and the circle symbolizes the sun.
It was also considered a symbol of the all-powerful Sun creator (a reflection of the creator of the sun), which would encompass the sacred fire in keeping the commandments of God. This as spoke by a Natchez chief explaining an appearance by God to the Natchez in their distant past. The cross in circle was one of the most sacred symbols of our ancient Grandparents It represents the Sun, Moon and fire.
A truly sacred religious symbol to the Southern tribes was indeed this solar cross which was a symbol of both the sun and fire. It had several variations.
TOQUA, A LATE MISSISSIPPIAN TOWN, circa AD 1450. Life-size mural by Greg Harlin. Mclung museum

The Prayer Feather

A bird feather represents the winged creatures ,carriers of individual spiritual messages .Fill the feather with your prayer ,blow on it yourself or let the wind blow it.It carries your hopes and dreams and the prayer you made to God the Spirit.
Feathers were believed by the Indians to be a symbol of power, strength, and spirituality. The feathers were symbolic of prayers being taken up to the heavens. It’s easy to see how the first inhabitants of this land were fascinated by birds, and how the American Indian could believe that their feathers held special powers. The air currents of feathers were carried up to the heavens with attached prayers and then brought to the upper spirit world so they could receive the message of those down below. In addition, Indians believed that the feathers were a good protectant. Often, Hawk feathers could be seen hanging outside of an Indian dwelling.

Referenced to erroneously as the peace pipe

From Latin Calamus, a reed), the French in Canada gave this name to the peace pipe of the American Indians. This pipe occupied among the tribes a position of peculiar symbolic significance, and was the object of profound veneration. It was smoked on all ceremonial occasions, even on declarations of war, but its special use was at the making of treaties of peace. The pipe stem was of reed decorated with feathers, assorted objects or ever women’s hair. Native tobacco was used sometimes mixed with other herbs mixed such as sumac & sassafras leaves (not peyote) The pipe was offered as a supreme proof of hospitality to distinguished strangers, and its refusal was regarded as a grievous affront. In the east and southeast, the bowl was of white stone, red clay or deer antler sometimes pierced with several stem holes so that many persons might smoke at once.

"The calumet," says Father MARQUETTE, "than which there is nothing among the Indians more mysterious or more esteemed. Men do not pay to the crowns and scepters of kings the honor they pay to it; it seems to be the god of peace and war, the arbiter of life and death. "The calumet of peace is adorned with white feathers and the bearer may go everywhere without fear. The one for war is adorned with red feathers. They use them also in settling disputes, strengthening alliances, and speaking to strangers. When Indian nations entered into a treaty of alliance, a pipe of peace was exchanged between them, which was then called the pipe of covenant. It was carefully preserved, and generally lighted in council whenever anything occurred to disturb the alliance; then each smoked a little out of it. "When IBERVILLE," says PENICANT (Historical Collections of Louisiana and Florida," printed 1869), "arrived in Louisiana, the chiefs came to him smoking the calumet and singing the song of peace. The tube of the calumet for ceremony is long, and the bowl of the pipe is usually made of red baked clay or marble." For a further description of calumets used for other purposes, consult Jones's "Antiquities of Southern Indians," pp. 387-393.

Illegal narcotics were never into a pipe, people never got "high" from smoking one.


To Americans Indians, the wolf was a powerful spiritual symbol. They are considered to be teachers or pathfinders. The wolf star was red, an esteemed color, associated with the wolf by many tribes. Also known as Sirius, it is the brightest star in the Northern Sky. The Milky Way was the wolf's trail-the route to heaven.

Our ancestors learned from observing all aspects of nature. The traits of different animals showed them how to survive. Our ancestors learned to hunt from the wolf, for example; they copied the way a pack would corral and kill its prey. The first Americans were not the only ones who learned this method. At one time, everyone on this earth was a hunter/gatherer. Observance and respect for nature was a learning process which ingrained itself in our ancestors' lives and continues to this day.
Wolves were and are sacred to many American Indians because wolves mirror American Indian culture and behavior. Like American Indians, one male leader governs wolf packs. The tribal chief in this case is the alpha male dog. Wolves are also social, relying on one another for their survival, cooperation being a central theme. They protect their cubs and they entertain one another through play.

Our own galaxy consists of about 200 billion stars, with our own Sun & moon giving a fairly typical specimen ‘the milky way’. The milky trail as referred to by the Pascagoula / Appalaches was used by the wolf in coming and going from the spirit world of heaven, humans of belief could also run up & down this trail with the Wolf.
The wolf was known to defend its home against outsiders, a warrior, and a task with which each tribe had to assume as well. In some tribes Indian creation mythology involves wolves. Some myths tell of wolves supplying hungry & cold humans with food and hides.

Wolves are highly intelligent and social animals that form well organized packs. Every individual from the dominant pair to the weakest pup has a place in the pack hierarchy. Few wild animals can match the wolf's devotion to its young. Before and after pups are born, the pack remains close to the den, they are cared for by all pack members.

Many American Indian cultures have healing ceremonies, which call upon Powers to restore health, peace and harmony to the ill, and the wolf is one such Power.

When the Wolf has walked by you, this very presence will rekindle old memories within your soul.
Through experience you rekindle the emotional fires of the inner soul and question the reality and presence of your own consciousness.
You can own a thing only when you have come to own the emotional experience of it, and realize the responsibility for its creation, then you are free to continue. Wolf experience can make you whole. You will return to or stay with the Wolf many times in your life as you begin or complete your of experience and seek the inner truth.
Wolf to Dog transformation
According to an American Indian legend, the dog freely chose to become a companion to man. This legend has the virtue of being romantic – and true, at least according to some scientific theories. No one can determine exactly when the Native Americans welcomed the wolf into their homes and slowly developed the domesticated dog, but every dog loving person in the world owes them a debt of gratitude. The information that is available comes from archeology and anthropology. By studying ancient bones along with pottery, ceramic, jewelry and cave art, some theories on the role of the dog have emerged. Most researchers agree that several thousand years ago, a change slowly began to occur in the wolf populations. Some continued to thrive but others began to spend more time with people. It is possible that some wolves tended to be a little more playful than others. These wolves were not tolerated in the structured wolf pack; but this type of personality went well with people. Perhaps shunned by their peers, these more friendly dogs entered the camps of the American Indians. These dogs still looked to a leader for guidance and felt more comfortable knowing their place within a hierarchy. For this reason, the dog readily became an intricate part of the life of Native Americans. It seems logical that the American Indians would welcome the dog into his home and community. Over time, the dog was bred for qualities the Native Americans needed. These dogs were considered part of the family and were even given names based on their appearance, personality or characteristics. Some excelled at hunting while others were excellent protectors.

Apalache view: Animals are our "younger brothers or sisters on earth" in the other world specifically to dogs, their spirits walk the milky trail as they communicate, guided by the phases of the moon.
Now in a new comprehension of knowing, sensing that something he did not understand while on earth. Such as the appearance of a dead master why his hand it could not lick and whose feet he could not curl, in frustration only to howl mournfully.
All animals were created by our father in heaven and that they posses souls. Animals will be resurrected and placed in their appropriate places in Heaven. Animals and all living creatures shall be given knowledge, and enjoy happiness, each in its own sphere. These creatures will not then be the dumb creatures that many suppose them to be while in this mortal life.

Biblical: Revelation 4:8-11: John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them.
Nov.28th 2005
In Memory Of
Today death took a true friend & unconditional love
Treat me kindly , my beloved master, for no heart in all the world is more grateful for kindness than the loving heart of me.
He is home with God, as I touched his still body one last time my mind knows I will see him again in a short time, although for now this does not make my pain go away or my grief less.
I buried Mancho in his favorite spot, he will come to me when I call - come to me over the grim, dim frontier of death, and down the well-remembered path, and to my side again, for he belongs there by me. People may scoff me, who see no lightest blade of grass bent by his footfall, who hear no whimper, people who may never really have felt the love of a dog. I will smile at them, for I shall know something that is hidden from them,and which is well worth the knowing.The one best place to bury a loved dog is in the heart of his master and friend.11-28 - 05.
My beloved friend Mancho a part of my heart goes with you.I now know the meaning of unconditional love Red Wolf

The drum is the heartbeat of the people. It unites all in fellowship at traditional events unique to each tribe. Most songs are old , many span hundreds of years, having been passed down from generation to generation. Yes, songs, not chants. Indians are not Monks or of others that do chant.

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