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The Spirits That Are Linked To Native American Jewelry
Aside from their gorgeous silverwork and resplendent gemstones, Native American jewelry is full of spiritual symbolism. Each nation has a distinctive symbolic language, but many images recur across their crafts. Here are some of the spirits associated with Native American jewelry.
You can learn much about indigenous belief systems just through the bracelets, necklaces, and brooches made by the first nations of North America.
These cultures place great spiritual importance on the environment. They see humans and the earth as existing in a reciprocal relationship. It is no surprise, then, that the most important feature of Native American jewelry is its visual references to the natural world.
The most famous use of animals in jewelry by Native American are the Zuni animal fetishes. The Zuni people belong to the Pueblo tribe of New Mexico. Over hundreds of years, they have perfected the art of carving turquoise into mesmerizing animal forms. They were handed down as family heirlooms for generations. Their bearer takes on the essence of the animal depicted. Smaller versions appear in Zuni necklaces, interspersed between other beads.
For the Pueblos, the dragonfly represents life-giving rain that renews the land, plants, and animals and allows human life. The butterfly is also a common symbol in Native American jewelry and indicates transformation. This insect is also seen as a messenger from the spirit world, a communicator in dreams, and a symbol of peace.
Mythical creatures are also important. In the Pacific Northwest, the thunderbird is an iconic symbol. It is believed that its enormous wings cause thunder, wind, and sounds of warning. The thunderbird represents power.
The Navajo commonly use the turtle or tortoise in their jewelry, such as this Turtle Necklace with Quartz. The animal represents water and, by association, the preciousness and fragility of life. The bear signifies strength, leadership, and protection in Navajo jewelry symbols, while snakes are a powerful healing symbol or fertility sign.
The Kachina is an important deity in many Native American cultures, especially for the Hopi and Zuni people. This ambiguous deity represents something rather abstract and expansive - namely, anything that exists. Kachina can stand for things, concepts, or people. Accordingly, there are many different kinds of Kachina.
The Zuni celebrate the Kachina every summer by organizing a dance. The men wear turquoise and silver bracelets and necklaces. Some men dress as the female Kachina and require silver jewelry to represent this deity.
The Yei are supernatural beings worshiped by the Navajo people. They act as mediators between humans and their Great Spirit. One particular Navajo myth states the Yei are the creators of the first woman and man. They gave humans life wisdom before leaving them. You can usually recognize a Yei deity as a figure wearing a triangular skirt over their long legs.
One Yei is the rainbow man. A symbol of both the natural and spirit worlds, the rainbow man is a guardian spirit of the Zuni Indians. He became a popular symbol in Native American jewelry around the mid-20th century, especially in mosaic inlay pieces.
Central to the Native American nature worship is the emphasis not only on single elements of the natural environment, like animals and plants, but on nature as a great unified being. This is encapsulated in beliefs about Mother Earth and Father Sky.
Zuni inlay jewelry often invokes the spirit of Mother Earth. She is represented by red coral, while Father Sky is represented by turquoise. In other tribes, green turquoise can represent Mother Earth while blue turquoise represents Father Sky. Some Native Americans believe the gem was a gift from the spirits and call it the Sky Stone.
The Spirit of Turquoise
Turquoise is an extremely important stone to many Native American cultures. Each nation associates the stone with different properties and spirits.
The Navajo believe that turquoise brings good fortune to the wearer. The mineral is ceremonially cast into rivers to appease the rain god Tó Neinilii so that he waters the land. They also associate the stone with the wind spirits. The howling wind was the sound of the spirits looking for the stone.
The Acoma Pueblo believe that the creator, Iatiku, passed the knowledge of the turquoise craft to the humans. The stones are believed to make the wearer beloved.
The Hopi believe that turquoise is the waste of lizards, an animal they believe moves between this world and the world below. The stone was carried as protective talismans by Hopi miners.