The Whirling Log Symbol: Rediscovering its Roots in Native American Art and Handcrafted Jewelry

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The Whirling Log symbol, often misunderstood due to its visual similarity to the Swastika, predates World War II and has a rich history among various Indigenous groups, including the Hopi, Navajo, and Tlingit. We will explore the fascinating origins of the Whirling Log symbol and its significance in Navajo art and jewelry, highlighting the unique beauty of these timeless pieces.

This motif has been used by numerous Indigenous tribes throughout history. Archeological evidence reveals its presence on pottery from the Mississippi valley and copper objects found in the Hopewell Mounds in Ross County, Ohio. Among the Navajo people, the symbol represents good luck and is known to them as the "whirling log." The Whirling Log name and design comes from a Navajo folktale about a hero's journey to learn important skills that he brought back to his people. You can read a brief summary of the folktale below:

"A time long ago, a courageous hero embarked on an extraordinary journey. The gods recognized his unwavering resolve and assisted him in hollowing out a log to navigate down the river.

On his journey, the hero encountered numerous challenges, each contributing to his acquisition of vital ceremonial knowledge. During one such event, the Water People captured him and his vessel, dragging him beneath the waters to the dwelling of the Water Monster. As Black God threatened to set ablaze the Water Monster's abode, the hero was set free. Before departing, Frog imparted wisdom on how to heal the ailments.

Upon reaching his destination—a vast lake—the gods intervened once more, seizing his log and guiding him safely ashore. As the hero explored the land, he encountered a spinning cross adorned with yeis at each end. From these mystical beings, he gained invaluable knowledge of farming. The hero journeyed back to his people to share the wisdom he had received during his remarkable odyssey."

The Whirling Log symbol itself represents two crossed logs with Yeis (Navajo Healing Spirits) standing on the four ends of the logs. (Photo on Left: a 1930s Navajo Sandpainting Rug with the Whirling Log Design, showing the crossed logs and Yeis). The design suggests movement, with the logs spinning in a circle. This symbol is often the central design for Navajo Sandpaintings that are created during healing ceremonies by Navajo medicine men. The patient sits in the center of the hogan (the traditional Navajo eight-sided home). The whirling log design would be created, with sand made from crushed rocks and minerals, on the floor of the hogan, with the patient seated at the center. The design is meant to "whirl" the sickness out of the patient. Versions of these sacred sandpainting designs eventually appeared in early Navajo art, including weavings and baskets.

In the early 20th century, traders encouraged Native American artists to incorporate the symbol into their crafts. The US Army 45th Infantry Division, an all-Native American division, also used the symbol. However, the symbol lost popularity in the 1930s due to its associations with Nazi Germany. In 1940, community leaders from several Native American tribes, with some government encouragement, pledged to discontinue using the symbol.

Despite the external objections to its use, some Native American groups have continued to employ the symbol, both in reference to its original meaning and as a memorial to the 45th Division. The symbol was even used on state road signs in Arizona from the 1920s until the 1940s.

The swastika motif can be found in traditional Native American art and iconography, such as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (S.E.C.C.) and in artifacts from southwestern tribes like the Navajo and Dakota. The symbol holds different meanings among various tribes; for the Hopi, it represents the wandering Hopi clan, while for the Navajo, it is a symbol for the whirling log, a sacred image used in Sandpainting healing rituals as well as their jewelry and art.

Before the 1930s, the 45th Infantry Division of the United States Army used a red diamond with a yellow swastika as their symbol, paying tribute to the large Native American population in the southwestern United States. The symbol was later replaced with a thunderbird emblem. (Photo on Left: Courtesy of the U.S. Militaria Forum)

At Garland's, we offer a curated selection of handmade Native American art and jewelry featuring the Whirling Log symbol. By appreciating and preserving these vintage pieces, we honor the rich heritage and spiritual significance of this ancient emblem. We invite you to explore our collection and discover the unique beauty of Native American art, deeply rooted in tradition and history.

The Whirling Log symbol is an essential historical piece of Native American culture and artistic expressions. Although it has been overshadowed by unfortunate historical associations, its true meaning of healing, protection, and well-being remains an important aspect of handmade Native American art and jewelry. As you browse our inventory at Garland's, keep an eye out for these vintage treasures that celebrate the resilience and beauty of Native American culture.

Shop Art with Whirling Logs

 Below: A drawing of what a traditional healing sandpainting may look like.

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