Cherokee Symbols What Do They Mean?
If you’ve ever driven around Cherokee country, no doubt you’ve seen art that captures motifs associated with the mound builders, filled with lines, swirls, and intricate knots. But what does it all mean?
The truth is… we don’t know. There are lots of theories out there, stories created over time, and pretty convincing links to some of the knowledge passed down through generations. One of the biggest problems faced by Native communities is the meaning that ethnologists and archeologists put on traditional knowledge, without always having agreement and/or consent from the associated tribal communities.
What we do know is that part of being Indigenous isn’t staying in the past but using the treasures of yesterday to help guide us into tomorrow.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable Cherokee symbols is the soothing swirl of our Four Directions, often traditionally depicted with four interior black lines, interwoven to form a continuous cycle.
With this symbol, the focus is on:
- customary stages of life (childhood, adolescence, adulthood, elder)
- cardinal direction (North, South, East, West)
- seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn, winter)
- fluidity expressed through the flowing lines which mimic water, a very important part of all Southeast Indigenous communities
- an emphasis on the recurring number four
In keeping with this tradition, our Four Directions Collection expands this shape to also include a total of seven lines. This particular symbol has been found in Missipian Mound cultures artifacts.
The numbers four and seven are central to Cherokee life. For example, we look to the Seven Generations that came before us to ensure the success of the Seven Generations to come. We also have seven clans (wolf, deer, long hair, paint, blue, wild potato, and bird).
Most importantly for this project, we wanted to explore the Directions in a way that compliments the Cherokee Four Directions symbol. Beyond the cardinal directions exist also above, below, and in the center. These paths are every bit as important, emphasizing balance and a connection to the world. By bringing new life to these age old themes, we are keeping our traditions alive and thriving!
Many thanks to Cherokee National Treasure Robert Lewis, Eastern Band Cherokee Elder Michael Nephew, and Jules Thornton for their contributions to this research.
Thank you for this I am Cherokee and never knew much about this part of my culture.
I enjoyed what this symbol means to your nation. I have friends who live in Oklahoma part of the Kansa nation who told me about the great mound people. Also, a friend in Nebraska a member of the Omaha nation told me about these spiritual mounds. Other members of different nations have told me about what was said to them and what was known about legend of the Great Mounds.