Native American patterns and designs have symbolic meanings. The patterns are often repeated, representing the repetitive nature of our lives. The different designs are made up of one or more symbols to suggest hope and intent, to communicate with the Great Spirit and to identify certain roles and responsibilities or to record stories. Though some patterns and designs vary from one tribe to another, several designs and patterns have common meanings across the Native American culture.
Many Native American designs include border patterns that run around the edges of fabric, frame in a design or are used on jewelry and trims. Border patterns are often used to establish boundaries. They also include symbols that distinguish one tribe from another. For example, the Hopi border patterns have spirals to represent the cycle of life and continued renewal. These border patterns identify the Hopi from other tribes and help to distinguish the origin of a piece of work.
Animals and birds play an important role in Native American cultures. Animal tracks are often found in Native American designs. The different tracks used to create the patterns are determined by the meaning of a particular animal based on its nature and characteristics. For example, a badger and bear paw represents strength and well-being. Wolf tracks, on the other hand, represent direction, authority and leadership.
Because the snake is long, its image is found in many border patterns. Many Native American patterns with snake designs have the meaning of fertility.
Birds are represented in many Native American designs. Specific birds have significant meanings based on their strengths and the way they live. For example, a water bird is connected with thunder, lightning and dreams. Because the water bird travels far, patterns with this design represent distant vision and wisdom. The water bird pattern has become the symbol of the Native American Church.
Feathers represent the Creative Force. They are thought to be the source of ideas. Wearing feathers is a mark of honor. Native Americans used the feathers of many kinds of birds, adding the significance of each bird to the basic meaning of the feather. For example, eagle feathers connect the user with the Creator. Many Native American patterns and designs include the shape of different feathers. Feather designs are also found in many border patterns.
Kokopelli is a symbol that looks like a man bent forward in a dancing position holding his flute as if playing music. This Kokopelli represents fertility, and the legends associated with him all include stories of a traveling man who brings seeds and water; the women in the villages he visits are transformed by his music and soon become pregnant. The design of the Kokopelli is found as a solitary design as well as included in pattern combinations and border patterns.
The sun plays a very important role in Native American cultures. It signifies the giver of life. This pattern usually includes a circle with four rays in order to represent the four directions. The sun image is often displayed as one large, solitary design.