One of the largest surviving Native American groups in the United States is the Chippewa. The Chippewa's way of life follows a set of principles and beliefs that suggest a deep connection with Earth, nature and the spiritual realm. The incorporation of meaningful symbols and symbolic objects into their daily lives strengthens the spiritual aspects of their belief system.
Animals historically serve an important symbolic purpose to the Chippewa Indians by providing life lessons to younger generations through storytelling. Personification of sacred animals was not uncommon, as the Chippewa people believed animals to be as wise and intellectually adept as humans, according to the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians website. One of the most significant creatures to the Chippewa was the turtle. Chippewa legend states that the Earth arose from a turtle's back, providing habitable space for creatures not of sky or water. The turtle symbolizes communication, patience, steadiness and connection to the spirit world. The eagle represents courage and foresight, as well as the gifts of keen sight and omniscience. Another symbolic animal is the bear, which represents strength, courage and information obtained through dreams and visions. Dreams hold much significance to Chippewa culture, and any animal spotted four or more times in dreams becomes an individual's spirit guide. The dreamer creates a totem to represent their spirit animal, which brings luck, protection and guidance to the wearer by possessing the spirit of the animal.
Plants possess spiritual meaning and importance to the Chippewa, especially during ritual and medicinal practices. A symbol of great significance is the Mountain Ash tree, which the Chippewa use for its medicinal value. The tree is revered for its ability to withstand environments that many other trees are not capable of surviving in. It is a powerful symbol of strength of character and durability. Sage is a plant used during ritual cleansing and purification rites. They bundle leaves of the sage plant and tie them together to form a stick. The bundle of leaves is either used as an incense to purify a space or is smudged on to an individual to ward off negative entities. Sage represents purity and is believed by the Chippewas to conduce positive energy and spiritual power, according to the Faqs website.
The medicine wheel is a circle divided by a symmetrical cross, which forms four quadrants. The quadrants of the medicine wheel are representative of several spiritual and life associations with the number four. The segments have the colors white, red, black and yellow. White represents the north and signifies the spiritual aspects of human behavior, the winter season and the life stage of the elderly. Yellow represents east and signifies spring, new life and physical aspects of self. South correlates with red, adolescence, the summer and mental behaviors. Black represents the west is represented by and stands for adulthood, the fall season and emotional aspects.
- native american image by Joy Fera from Fotolia.com