ANIMAL SYMBOLOGYANIMAL SYMBOLOGY

The Bear

The bear has a great self awareness and is also able to deliberate about choices or actions. We look at the bear to show us how to fish the salmon and collect the berries. The bear symbolizes family and strength. The bear in Northwest West Coastal Native Culture represents strength and learned humility through motherhood and teaching and is an important family crest associated with family and children.  Sometime referred to as the protector of the animal kingdom and forests, the bear is a well respected member of the community and can sometimes be referred to as an elder or a person that has passed on to a new life. Some bears return to the same den for hibernation, for which reason they are associated to home. Bears winter with their young until they are yearlings, for which reason they are associated to family.  A Mother bear will always fight to protect it young and can be very fierce in this situation but then can be gentle and quiet as well. Because of human traits the bear shares, it is believed that the bear understands human speech and thought. Has great self awareness and is also able to deliberate about choice or action. We look at the bear to show us how to fish the salmon and collect the berries. Black bears are depicted with a short snout, short ears, small tail, and sometimes hanging tongue. Grizzly bears have bigger teeth, particularly the canine teeth, and large claws. 

 
The Eagle
 

The eagle is the ruler of the sky and has the ability to transform itself. The eagle also has a connection with our creator. It symbolizes grace, power, and has great intellectual abilities. The Eagle is a sacred, wise and noble creature representing power and prestige to the First Nations People of the NorthwestCoast.  The eagle is one of the most utilized birds embodied in their art and mythology and can be a symbol of chieftainship as many families own or inherit the right to use the Eagle crest.  The gift the eagle shares is the ability of foresight, and an indication of good times to come. Eagles mate for life and is accepted as a sign of lasting spousal dedication.  Few eagles that have lost their mate have been known to end their own life in despair. Eagle "Down" is revered as sacred and is sprinkled on the ground in ceremonies to welcome an important person in formality.  Eagle feathers are used while smudging along with praying. The feathers were also given as symbolic gift to impart respect for accomplishment and display of courage and wisdom.  In Aboriginal NorthwestCoast culture, the Eagle has long been a source of artistic inspiration for traditional and contemporary Native art.

The Eagle and can be identified by a powerful beak whose upper half ends in a strong downward curve with piercing eyes, feathers and large talons.  The Eagle is frequently depicted on totem poles, masks, prints and jewelry.

 
The Whale
 

The whale is known to help people in need whether we are helpless or wounded. The whale symbolizes kindness, intelligence and compassion. The Whale or Orca, is known as the guardian of the sea and guardian of travel and also can also be a symbol for unity and goodness.  Killer Whales often travel in family groups known as pods and also hunt in packs like the wolf so are referred to as sea wolves.  The Whale is a popular symbol for romance as they mate for life.  It is because of this nature that they are known for their strong sense of family values and unity in numbers.  The Killer Whale is the most admired of all the whales and is used as a powerful crest by many clans.  Held in great awe for its power and size, it was believed a Killer Whale could capture a canoe and take it underwater to transform the occupants into Whales. Thus a Whale near the shore was a human transformed and trying to communicate with his family. The Killer Whale's song is said to be so beautiful that all creation is said to stop and listen to it. It is also said that to be splashed by a killer whale is to ensure great luck and happiness.  In Northwest Coastal Aboriginal art Whales feature include a blowhole, a dorsal fin, a pectoral fin, and a tail with asymmetrical or symmetrical flukes. 



The Raven

The raven is a key part of many North West Coast legends and stories. In many stories the raven teaches us about life and right from wrong. The raven is often misbehaving but never boring.  He symbolizes change in life, creativity, and humor. A key figure in Northwest Coast legends, the raven is involved in many creation stories and is also recognized as the bringer of light as it is said that the raven released the sun and moon. The Raven is known as a trickster or the catalyst for change, causing many changes to transpire as Raven gets bored quickly and is continually looking for things to amuse himself. Raven is quick to take action, extremely curious and at times greedy. Raven likes to be involved and often takes part in stories that have raven working to gain. Raven is motivated by self indulgence, though there is often a price that raven will pay, in the course of which causing beneficial things to happen at his cost.   He could be taken as a symbol of the Coastal People’s view that the world has many faces, is a place full of surprises, neither good nor bad, often unpredictable.  Raven has a long straight beak that is often seen with a circle in its mouth representing the story of having brought light to the earth.

The Frog

The frog is a sign to our people to put away the winter activities and prepare or a new season. The frog symbolizes cleansing, peace and rebirth.  In Northwest Aboriginal Culture, a Frog is a great communicator and often represents the common ground or voice of the people.  A Frog embodies magic and good fortune connected with shaman or medicine man and with spiritual and therapeutic cleansing.  Frog's songs are believed to contain divine power and magic.   Frog is a messenger and communicator between species being valued for his adaptability because he freely travels between and survives in two worlds land and water, inhabiting both natural and supernatural realms. Frog holds knowledge and power and is known as a positive spirit driver. The Frog closely linked with femininity and womanhood often depicted to be woman in or springtime and new life.  The Frog designs are often utilized as decorative elements and imagery are carved on practically everything the people utilize, including house posts, bowls, and totem poles where the frog is often seen peeking out with his tongue out and from under another creature's ears, mouth or hands.  The Haida carved frogs on all of their house posts, believing that this would keep the poles from falling over.  His shape and green body can identify the Frog and he is also most often depicted with a wide mouth, or grin, with an extended tongue. 

 

The Wolf

The wolf is known for his intellegence. leadership and strong sense of familly values as well as being a great team player. He is also known to have strength in relationships. The wolf symbolizes perseverance, intuition and success.

 

 

The Salmon

The salmon symbolizes instinct, determination and persistence. The salmon is also a provider of life. Salmon in pairs is good luck.  Salmon is also a symbol of abundance, wealth and prosperity because the salmon is the primary food source for the people of the Northwest Coast. It is also symbolic of dependability and renewal is it is a provider.  All five types of salmon run through our waters and is a main staple in the Northwest Coast diets. The salmon is both a saltwater and freshwater fish. Salmon travel great distances in schools, down the west coast to warmer waters during the winter months, and during warmer weather swim northwards again.  At the end of their life cycle, the salmon will return to their spawning grounds, the fresh water rivers where they themselves were born; to spawn, lay and fertilize the eggs of the next generation.  The salmon fight to return upstream, many dying before accomplishing their goal.  After spawning, the salmon dies, creating a plentiful food source for bears and other wildlife.  Out of respect, ceremonies are often held by the Northwest Coast people to celebrate the return of the salmon to their traditional spawning grounds.  
 

The Hummingbird

The hummingbird sends messages to the people of things to come.  Messages can be a spirit message or a message of healing. The hummingbird symbolizes beauty, intelligence, and love.

 

 

The Butterlfly

The butterfly has the ability to accept change, is also a messenger to our people. The butterfly symbolizes metamorphosis, balance and grace.

 

 

 

The Beaver

The beaver has a great understanding of nature and working in harmony with his surroundings. He is very flexible working towards goals and gaining a sense of achievement. The beaver symbolizes good work ethics, a strong will and protector, with a strong sense of family.

 
 
 

The Dragonfly

 

To NorthwestCoast Aboriginal peoples, Dragonfly is a symbol of change, transformation and swiftness. First Nations people of the Northwest coast observe the Dragonfly to be a creature of the wind and also of the water.  He represents a symbol of change in the view of self understanding and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the insight of the deeper meaning of life. The dragonfly’s swift flight and its ability to move in all six directions radiate a sense of power and poise something that comes only with age and experience.  The Dragonfly can be seen represented with its stout and brightly colored body with large compound eyes and chewing mouth parts.  He has two pairs of elongate, membranous, many-veined wings that always remain outstretched.

 

 

The Owl

 

First Nations people perceived the owl to be linked with wisdom, foresight and the keeper of sacred knowledge.  The Owl is a great foreteller of weather conditions and can be observed to identify changes in environment.  He is the ruler of the night and the seer of souls, the symbolic meaning of owl revolved around guardianship of the underworlds and it is this relationship that gave the owl some negative associations with death.  The strength of the owl would be invoked during ceremonies when prophesy of secret knowledge or a message of the unknown is involved.  The owl has a family connection to sorcerers, as well as companions to seers, supernatural and medicine people.  We are all visionaries and what we see is our soul in things.  Owls can be identified in NorthwestCoast Aboriginal art by their large forward-facing eyes and ear-holes, a hawk-like beak, a flat face with a conspicuous circle of feathers around each eye.

 

 

The Thunderbird
 
The story of the Thunderbird in Native American Mythology is popular among various Native American and First Nations peoples. Thunderbird is a giant supernatural bird who causes thunder and lightning. His weapons are lightning snakes which are carried beneath his wings. Lightning flashes when he throws the lightning snakes or when he blinks his eyes. He is powerful enough to hunt Killer Whale and is often depicted with one in his talons, he is also known to help the weak and poor by in some cases picking up large animals (killer Whale) and dropping them in a village of need. In many Coast Salish legends, Thunderbird is a mountain dweller and is a highly intelligent creature. From his home, he keeps a close eye over his dominion. Humans should beware not to try and outwit Thunderbird for they are most certain to have it backfire.  In some Coast Salish myths, the peak Black Tusk in southern British Columbia, Canada is said to be his favorite perch. According to the Quileute people of Washington State, it is the Blue Glacier of Mount Olympus.  Art designs vary by artist but some common features found in Northwest Coast are a hooked beak, often but not always larger than that of Eagle. Thunderbird is often shown with a crown or a curly top, showing supernatural powers. The Thunderbird represents the carrying out of law and protocol.

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