Native American Symbols and Their Meanings

Native American symbols dreamcatcher

Native American Symbols

Native American Symbols provide people with a fun and interesting story of life, the spirit and of course nature. The Native American people were very close or in harmony with nature, and the spirit was very important to them.

Native Americans liked to express ideas through symbols, sometimes they painted the symbols on their artwork, and sometimes they painted the symbols on themselves, like tattoos.

Native Americans saw the world in a different way than most other peoples, they believed that everything and every person has a spirit, this fact makes Native Americans different from any other tribe or people.

The use of symbols in Native American tribes differs from tribe to tribe. However we will do our best to show you the most important Native American symbols and we will give you their meanings as well.

LEGENDS & Native American Symbols

Totem animals

The word “totem” has long been used to define a number of Native American ceremonial artifacts, including prayer sticks, calumets (peace pipe), medicine bags, etc.
Today, this word is more commonly used to refer to an animal usually carved from stone, which houses the spirit or energies (properties) of that animal.
Across the continent, Native Americans of many tribes have used totem animals to accompany their prayers and ceremonies, as talismans for abundance in hunting and fishing, procreation, agriculture, protection of youth, health and long life, etc.

The use of totems can be personal or community. The carvings may symbolize or commemorate ancestors, cultural beliefs that recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events.

While Native Americans of various nations – from Eskimos to Navajo – sculpt and use totems, Zuni sculptors in western New Mexico are renowned for creating the most beautiful totems. Previously, they exchanged their work with other distant tribes. This art form has enjoyed a remarkable revival and today many artisans master traditional knowledge and techniques, using a wide variety of materials like never before.

Native american symbols totem pole
Native American totem pole. Photo credit: Max Pixel (CC0 1.0)

Traditional materials for totems are turquoise, lignite, seashell, catlinite, sandstone, alabaster and serpentine. Contemporary sculptors have also learned to use amber, lapis lazuli, sugilite, azurite, and other non-traditional semi-precious stones.
Certain stones have been associated with specific energies or elements of the earth. For example, turquoise can represent the sky or water, lignite can be used to signify eternity.

While it is important to recognize that each individual totems has its own unique power and spirit, certain animal forms have always had special significance. Here are some of the meanings symbolized by animal representations:

The Bear for Medicine; the Serpent for Enlightenment; the Horned Toad for Luck :; the Frog for Eternity; the Coyote for the Hunt, and the West; the Badger for the South; the Mountain Lion or Puma for the North; the Wolf for Speed ​​and East; the Mole for the depths of the Earth.

Dream Catcher

In Native American culture, a dream catcher or dream catcher is an Ojibway handicraft called a subakatchin made up of a ring, usually made of willow, and a loose net. The decorations that compose it are different for each dream catcher. According to a popular belief, the dream catcher, hanging from the bedroom window, is supposed to prevent bad dreams from invading the sleep of its holder by retaining them in the “web”.

Native American symbols dreamcatcher
Native American symbols dreamcatcher. Photo credit: Pxfuel

They will be burned at the first light of day. Acting as a filter, it retains the pretty dreams that will find their way to the center of the canvas, only to be filtered down to the feathers. Held, they can be dreamed of again another night.


Kokopelli is a mythical character often represented as a hunchbacked flute player, from the ancient Amerindian beliefs of the Southwestern United States, he is over 3,000 years old. Kokopelli was an image from the mythology of the Anasazi and / or Hohokams Indians, symbol of fertility, joy, celebration, long life. He is also a minstrel, a spirit of music, a storyteller, a traveling salesman, a rainmaker, a healer, a teacher, a prankster magician, a seducer, a fertilizer.

Kokopelli Native American Symbols
Kokopelli is believed to be the fertility deity and is often depicted along with other symbols associated with the fertility of farmland, hunted game, and human sexuality. Photo credit: johnhain / Pixabay

Kokopelli possesses the wisdom of age. This cheerful traveler has a lesson for everyone. His biggest lesson seems to be showing us that we shouldn’t take life too seriously. It is more particularly present in the country of the “Four Corners”, a high plateau straddling four states (New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona) whose intersection is on the Navajo Indian reservation.

The Medicine Wheel

Medicine wheel, is one of the Native American symbols and it’s originally a sacred circle laid out by the Amerindians using stones, and whose iconographic representation has become a symbol of the Amerindian culture which has been assimilated in New Age mysticism. Also called the circle of life, the medicine wheel is the basis of all indigenous traditions in the Americas. This circle can be used as well in the rituals of shamans as in the everyday life of the laity (the people of a religious faith).

Medicine wheel Native American Symbols
The wheel is a symbol that recalls the nature of man, of the universe and of the Great Spirit, but, since the symbol is only a simplification, it serves to make people understand how it is not possible to describe something immeasurable like the divine, but at the same time it helps to get closer to it. Photo credit: PublicDomainArchive / Pixabay

In American Indian culture, the term medicine is not limited to the physical healing of the body as in the West, but rather denotes the power derived from knowledge of the secrets of the universe, including those concerning spiritual health. In other words, the medicine wheel is the mirror of the union between man and the universe, it is the reflection of the divine, it is the means to understand the cosmic and moral laws.


One of the oldest representations of the wheel is found in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming and dates back to 200-500 years ago: built with white stones, it reaches a diameter of 28 meters.

The wheel symbolizes movement, the passage of time, life and the seasons. The center is the symbol of the Great Spirit, the cross also symbolizes the cosmic tree which has its roots on the Earth and branches towards the sky. The cross also indicates the four sacred directions.

The South symbolizes summer and is childhood. The associated color is red, that is, blood, vitality. Symbolizes physical strength and health. It is associated with water, an element that has a strong duality in it: a symbol of life and death. The Totem animal is the mouse, smart and quick to learn.

The West is the symbol of the Earth, of the material world, of growth. It is associated with autumn and its color is black which absorbs all colors and protects them. Black is also the color of the Curtains of the Moon where women used to retire during the menstrual period. It is adulthood and the Totem animal is the Grizzly with its strength.

The North is a symbol of old age, winter and wisdom. The color is white that sums all the colors of light and is therefore a symbol of integrity and knowledge. The Totem animal is the Bison who sacrifices himself for the life of man and provides him with what he needs.

East is spring, birth to new life after death, and is associated with yellow, fire, vitality. It symbolizes enlightenment and the totem animal is the eagle which of all creatures is the closest to the sun.


Feathers among Native American symbols have a sacred meaning, representing the sacred essence. They are a symbol of Peace and Freedom of mind.
They are also used during purification and healing rituals to disperse harmful energies and attract beneficial energies into the body of the sick person.

Eagle feathers lead our thoughts and prayers to the Great Spirit.
With the gift of a feather, we receive part of its essence.

Feathers symbolizes respect, honour, strength, courage and wisdom in Native American symbols
Feathers symbolizes respect, honour, strength, courage and wisdom in Native American symbols. Photo credit: Pxhere

So when a person receives an eagle feather, it is the most honorable gift. The Native American people, as well as other peoples, have long recognized the medicinal and healing properties of bird feathers. They use them, among other things, as tools for directing and bringing healing energy into an injured or sick person, because they are known to capture and redistribute beneficial energies.

Animal totems and their meanings

In Native American culture, animals have a strong meaning. Indeed, they are a true spiritual guide for the young people who, to find their animal totems, set out in search of vision in the forest for several days without eating or drinking. We can relate this to a shamanic journey, that is to say a journey which is made to change his states of consciousness in a controlled manner in order to find his inner world. Adolescents approaching adulthood, for example people born to the Sioux, performed these rituals, in search of their totem pole so that they could later solve the mysteries of life they were going to face. During this trip, the Indians suddenly saw in a very real way an animal appear to them, it is at this moment that this one became the animal totem. Ceremonies were then celebrated to formalize each event.

We will now move on to the most exciting: the meaning of each animal Native American symbols.


Represents the community, the party. She invites us to celebrate happy events, or just the mysterious and wonderful existence of life. She whispers to us that a harmonious life in community exists.


The antelope encourages reasonable behavior. She knows the tricks of life. She can act truthfully and fearlessly. The antelope corresponds to people who work in medicine.


The number of legs of the spider is 8, which refers to infinity. It is the infinite diversity in the creations. 8 is two times 4, which are the 4 winds, the 4 cardinal points. The spider symbolizes responsibility. We ourselves weave our web of destiny.


Represents great wisdom, authority and power, courage. Its feathers are often used in sacred rituals. He is the objectivity and clarity of mind necessary for decision-making and the search for priorities. Represents Spirit, the ability to live in the spirit realm while remaining connected and balanced in the earth realm. The Eagle brings enlightenment and enlightenment. He teaches to look up to the higher realms so that your heart reaches the Sun and that you learn to love the shadow as well as the light. The eagle embodies divine strength. He can go very high in the sky, higher than any living being, and he is equated with the Great Spirit. He dominates with his gaze the whole of life. The eagle teaches that it is necessary to consider both positive and negative events, the faces of shadows and light, which helps to further develop one’s self. Eagle feathers are used by shamans to heal the aura of sick people. Come to the end of your fears, look beyond your horizon, connect with the aerial element and fly! This is what the eagle urges.


Considered to be the master of the ocean which represents the Archivist, the library of the Earth. It brings us back to the original language, sound, which carries within it the whole of destiny. Who knows his origin, knows his future. The dolphins are his warriors and the sea otters are his messengers. This mammal knows how to deserve a lot of respect and symbolizes long life and power. The whale is the keeper of the secrets and history of the Earth.

Aries / Sheep

It means breakthrough, success. It also represents rooting, connection, balance. He knows how to stay hooked to the ground and remind us of everyday realities.

BISON: He is the undisputed symbol of abundance. In Indian beliefs, if a white bison appeared, it meant that prayers were heard and there was going to be abundance in the harvest. The bison brought everything, food, clothing and leather.

BADGER (otters, wolverines, martens, minks, polecats, weasels and ferrets)

Most animals avoid meeting him. He is a totem animal of powerful healers and female doctors in Native American symbols of animal.


It represents gentleness. It teaches us to see beyond the material and superficial elements of life. The doe represents gentleness and unconditional love.

SWAN: The swan teaches us to accept the grace of change.

MALE COLIBRI (hummingbird)

The hummingbird is attached to beauty, to aesthetics. He loves flowers filled with perfume, and life. Hummingbird feathers were used in magic as a love spell.


It signifies pride and independence. He shows us how to develop our confidence and strengthen our sense of dignity.


means the earth, the journey. It symbolizes energy and speed. The horse is highly respected and is linked with shamanic magic. It is the first animal mascot of civilization. The teaching about the horse says that one cannot obtain power by force but that this power is attributed to one who is able to use it with respect.


The bat symbolizes rebirth. A bat is hanging upside down. Bats were idolized by the Mayan, Aztec, and Toltec civilizations.


considered as Loyalty. He conveys a sense of service to others, a deep and compassionate understanding. He represents volunteers, philanthropists, nurses, counselors, priests or soldiers. It is about loyalty to others, but also, and above all, to oneself. The dog, of course, is the loyal and devoted companion. He serves his master, so that he is always proud of him. The dog is considered, in some traditions, as the guardian of secret domains, the protector of ancient knowledge. He can defend his owner until death.


The owl symbolizes magic, clairvoyance. It is the eagle of the night.


The coyote is a sneaky and deceptive animal. He likes to deceive himself and others. He falls into his own traps and this does not not used as a lesson. The coyote shows us our crazy side.


Native legends say that the raven created light, fire and water. This cultural hero can be easily recognized by his straight beak. The crow symbolizes intelligence. Holds Magic.

CORNEILLE: She is the keeper of the great mysteries. In the crow mixes the past, the present and the future.


The dolphin teaches us everything to do with the breath that binds us with life and the life force. The dolphin teaches us that we must control our breathing in order to overtake, free us from the burdens that weigh on us.

TURKEY: The turkey is the symbol of generosity, sharing, and giving. The turkey teaches us that there is no point in being a materialist, you have to know how to share with others.


The squirrel is a small animal which stores its reserves, which is a collector. There are stocks in different places to be able to spend the winter without worrying about food.

Moose (big deer or alces)

Symbolizes Endurance. He teaches us that acting in moderation increases our endurance. It is linked, too, to brotherhood, the friendship that rises above competition and jealousy. Momentum is the symbol of self-respect.


It symbolizes Patience. She never worries about “having to do without it” because she has confidence in providence. She reminds us that we need to demonstrate patience and confidence in certain life situations.


The frog has the power to call rain with different sounds. It symbolizes water, it has a relationship with the Iniatic rites that have to do with water.

DRAGONFLY (odonata insect)

The dragonfly symbolizes deception of the senses and transformation. Its sparkling wings are reminiscent of magical times and make it possible to realize that this world is made of only an apparent reality.

HARE (jackrabbits)

Symbolizes rebirth, balance. It represents intuition, and brings the exaltation that accompanies rebirth and great fruitfulness. The hare signifies fear, its fear of being killed, eaten by humans or animals. He teaches that in fact, you attract what you dread the most.


Often associated with the spiritual power that a man had to acquire in order to become a good hunter. The wolf symbolizes family, endurance, Intuition, Learning.

LYNX (wild cat)

The Lynx is the animal that holds the secrets among totem animals. It preserves old forgotten secrets.


Calls for joy, helpfulness. It invites us to become children again, to have fun and to accept the flow of life and experiences.


Calls for vigilance, creative power.

BIRD-FLY or Female hummingbird

Represents elegance and flexibility.


The great hunter represents strength and wisdom. The bear is still considered a dignitary. The bear symbolizes protection.


The butterfly is the symbol of metamorphosis, of change. There are 4 steps to be taken to become a butterfly; the 1 st is the egg, the birth of the idea, then, the state of larva which is to know if one carries out his project. Then there is the cocoon where we have to bring this project to oneself, to link it to our person. And comes the blossoming, the birth of the long-hatched project. These stages are repeated throughout our life, because of ideas, projects we have several in a single life.


In the medicine wheel, the porcupine represents the innocent child. He is of a kind and loving nature. No aggressiveness ever emanates from this animal.


The puma embodies the energy of power in its purest form. It can be used positively among the wise or negatively for those who abuse.


It represents love, the dilemma. It is the call of the sea, of the depths, of the unconscious.


The skunk or polecat is very confident in himself. It is a serene animal, which is aware of its strength and power.


The fox is a very smart animal, which knows how to be very discreet. He is very quick and attentive to his family.


Symbol of abundance and prosperity. Two salmon symbolize good luck. Develops wisdom, rejuvenation.


It represents transformation, vital energy. It symbolizes our successive deaths and rebirths, as well as sexual energy. The serpent shows the movement of birth, life and death well, as it changes its skin. The forces he holds are transformation, immortality, creation.


The mouse observes what is going on around it very carefully. The strength of the mouse invites us to see things in great detail.


The armadillo has a breastplate that effectively protects it from its attackers. He teaches us to set limits and see what experiences we are willing to have in life.


Represents fertility, power, abundance and prosperity.


In the indigenous imagination, the turtle is associated with great myths of the creation of the world. Slow and tenacious, this animal symbolizes wisdom and perseverance. Noble qualities that have allowed the indigenous nations to survive, for millennia, in the land of America. It is also the symbol of health. The oldest symbol of planet Earth; she personifies the goddess of energy and the Eternal Mother.

The turtle represents Mother Earth in Indian belief. Its shell is its protective shield. The fact that she makes her eggs hatch in the sun teaches that you have to think carefully about your ideas before unveiling them. Its slowness tells us that we should not rush things, that it will come in due time. She teaches us to protect our feelings and withdraw into oneself.

SOW or female pig

It develops generosity, discovery. The many litters of the Sow symbolize abundance and fertility. It reminds us that life is generous, giving to all and constantly regenerating things and beings.


Relates to food, to the mother. It reveals to us the generosity, the nourishing and regenerating force that surrounds us. It is found everywhere: in our friends, our children, in our meals, in our dreams and in nature.

ELK (wapiti or deer family)

The elk is an animal which has great endurance, and which knows its limits.

Sources: PinterPandai, American Indian COC, My Mondo Trading, West Coast Art Gallery Inc

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