Ojo de Dios is a Spanish phrase that literally means "eye of God," though some also refer to it as "God's eye." Spaniards originally discovered these mandala-like items when they arrived in the New World. The original versions contained only two sticks, with yarn woven around them in a circular pattern from the middle, but modern day versions are more elaborate and brightly colored.
The first recorded mention of the ojo de Dios were those created by the Huichol Indians. These tribes lived in parts of the Sierra Madre mountain range located in Mexico. The items consisted of two crossed sticks with bright yarn holding the sticks together. The use of these objects spread into the United States, where different tribes adopted them and changed the design. There's indication that the Navajo used the ojo de Dios.
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The purpose of the ojo de Dios is to protect those praying at altars. The Native American tribes believed that the object was the symbol of things not seen and the power to see those things hidden from the naked eye. The original objects contained two crossed sticks, with each of the four points symbolizing a different element: water, earth, fire and air. These objects were placed on altars used by the tribes and given as a token to the gods.
Christians adopted the ojo de Dios for their own needs. Today it's a popular type of arts and crafts for children, though some believe it symbolizes the belief in one God. The type of ojo de Dios used by Christians typically grew from the same objects created by the Navajo. This version has eight or 12 sides, rather than the traditional four. The emphasis is on the eye in the middle of the object, which is created in a different color than the rest of the ojo de Dios, to symbolize the eye of God.
The ojo de Dios is often related to prayer; the artist expresses a prayer while creating the object. The prayer asks God to watch over a specific someone, since many of these objects are created for a child or loved one. The actual object is meant as a prayer for a specific purpose, with many prayers relating to money, health or power. The ojo de Dios is also used in spiritual ceremonies or rituals.
The ojo de Dios features four, eight or 12 sides, which are symmetrical. The sides of the object are made of wood, typically thin and flexible reeds. Yarn is then wrapped around the edges and sides to create an eye-catching pattern. In the exact middle of the ojo de Dios is a rectangular piece covered in a contrasting color. These are typically 12 inches long, though some modern day examples are much smaller or larger, some measuring two feet or longer.
The ojo de Dios originated in Mexico before moving to other parts of the world. In the United States, these objects are most popular in the Southwest, particularly around New Mexico and Arizona, where traditional ones are still created and sold. It has also spread to more areas, including Bolivia and other parts of South America. The objects are typically made by Indian tribes and those with an interest in Native American or Indian tribes.