When we think of Native American feathers, we usually imagine bright and beautiful Indian headdresses featuring an array of stunning and pristine feathers.
While Native American feathers are graced and celebrated in the Western world of fashion, pop culture, and arts, how much do we know about the symbolism and significance behind these sacred feathers? After all, feathers are very important to Native Americans tribes for a reason.
Fancy a history lesson? Read on to learn all about the special meaning behind the beautiful feathers we see on our screens.
The Symbolism of Native American Feathers
The Native American feather holds special meaning for various tribes through the Americas. And today, they’re still used in almost every aspect of Native American values.
Used in clothing items and as important cultural symbols, the feather is everywhere.
The reason why feathers are so important to Native Americans is that they serve as the symbol of the Indian way of life. A feather can be a symbol of many things in different tribes – trust, honour, strength, wisdom, power, and freedom, for example.
In Native American culture, to be gifted a feather by a higher official is a true honour and a huge deal.
Native American culture believes in animalism. This means everything in the universe possesses souls or spirits. As well as humans, this applies to plants, animals, and other natural phenomena.
So, to Native Americans, birds are very special. When a feather falls from a bird, for many tribes it’s seen as a vessel of all the energy carried by that bird in its life.
This energy is then gifted to the appropriate recipient that is deserving of such an honour. As a feather falls at any given time, it’s distinguished as a gift from the sky bearing spiritual purpose for the recipient.
Once an Indian is given a feather, he must cherish and take care of it. In many tribes, it will be hung up proudly in homes or put it on display. For some, it’s disrespectful and rude to hide it away in a closet, and it must never, ever drop onto the ground.
Bird Species and Their Meanings
Native Americans believe that each bird species holds special character traits to be gifted to humans through their feathers. So, the meaning behind the gift of a fallen feather very much depends on species of bird it fell from. These feather meanings differ depending on the tribe, but usually, they represent the following.
Crow tail feathers are often gifted to young boys that wish to become warriors and is a symbol of balance, skill, and foresight.
Like with many cultures, a dove feather usually represents peace for the recipient. Turkey feathers, on the other hand, can hold significance as pride, abundance, and fertility.
The hummingbird is associated with love, beauty, and intelligence while the raven often symbolizes creativity and knowledge. And the blue rock thrush usually associates with joy and satisfaction.
For an Indian suffering from illness, they may be gifted a falcon feather, which is a symbol of healing, speed, and motion.
While every feather is an honour to receive, for most tribes there’s no better privilege than accepting Native American eagle feathers from a higher official.
Native Americans believe eagles connect to the heavens, as they soar the highest across the skies. Thus, they’re believed to be the superior of the species of birds, and a feather sent to the earth is a gift from the gods themselves.
The presence of a Golden or Bald Eagle feather means the recipient has shown an impressive act of courage and bravery. This could be saving a life or commanding a victorious war, for example. It’s the ultimate honour among the community and culture.
As a reminder of their victory, the recipient is to treat their eagle feather with the utmost care and dignity. They should proudly display it for the whole tribe to admire.
During Native American healing rituals and ceremonies, those given an eagle feather are to wear it so it can recharge with sacred energy.
Feather Colours and Signs
As well as which species of the bird the feather comes from, the colour of it also gives great meaning. Just how colours contribute how we think, feel, and act, Native Americans view different colours as signs from the spirit.
Orange, for many tribes, associates with the sacral chakra, conveying physical love, energy, creativity, optimism, and success. Pink often represents romance, friendship, compassion, empathy, kindness, and inspiration.
Red usually connects to the root chakra relating to life, force, passion, courage, good fortune, and emotion. Blue can relate to the throat chakra. This means communication, peace, knowledge, and spiritual connection.
Purple often connects to the universal consciousness, higher thought, and heightened spirituality.
While black is often associated with death, this isn’t always the case. It can also represent growth, protection, and closing a chapter. And if a black feather is shimmering, it means ‘high mystical insight’.
Similarly perceived as it is in most cultures around the globe, a pristine white feather represents peace, purification, faith, and the heavens among many tribes.
Remember the Meaning Behind the Native American Feathers
Now you understand the meaning and significance of Native American feathers among tribes, next time you see beautiful feathers in a headdress, think about how they were earned.
Likewise, when you next spot a bird flying high above you, consider how special each bird and their feathers are to the Native American community and their various tribes.
And if you’re lucky enough to find a feather fall at your feet, or you’re gifted one, think about the colour and the species of the bird it comes from. See where your present will lead you on your spiritual journey!