Thursday, 19 March 2009

Symbols




It seems as a species we have always needed our symbols. I suppose, when you think about it, a symbol - if it is a good one - can take the place of a thousand words and can be displayed everywhere for all to see irrespective of language. The obvious ones spring to mind:
The Cross. The Star of David. The Swastike. The Scallop Shell. The Crescent.
All of these examples have huge meaning without putting anything into words.
About ten years ago we visited Mesa Verde National Park in the United States. We were blown overby the wonderful cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people - 600 to 1300AD, which made us realise that like here in the UK, the US has a rich history. On the walls of the cliff dwellings there were symbols aplenty and we found one of those symbols so rivetting that we had to buy a model in the museum shop. He is featured above in the photograph.
He is called Kokopelli or "the music man" and was a prominent symbol in the art of the native Americans in the four corners region of the South West. He has been a sacred symbol dating back to around 200AD and is found a lot in rock art. He seems to have a lot of meanings:-
he was a rain priest; a fertility symbol; a roving minstrel and a hunting magician, to name but four, and was a powerful symbol in Anasazi times.Shortly after I bought the statue I saw another "symbol" - that of the Navajo buffalo also in a photograph above. Although our rule is to only bring one souvenir back when we go on holiday there was no way I could leave Mesa Verde without adding this buffalo to my collection. I bought him on my credit card - and have never regretted it. The traditional Navajo patterns scratched into his surface, his beautiful shape, his colours, which match the landscape so exactly - he is a perfect example and would, of course, have been a powerful symbol in the days when the native American people relied on his meat for their survival.
I tried to think of some modern symbols - but couldn't - I hope it is just my memory playing tricks rather than a suggestion that we no longer need them.

29 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Kocapelli brings joy and fertility.....and rain....
My sister in law ( who was just visiting here while we were away) brought a Cocapelli when she was in the west of the US last year.
She brought him home to Guildford where I'm sure he worked his magic!

There were so many swastikas in India - albeit reversed. I still find them a little disturbing so see.

Elizabeth said...

Excuse failure to spell right.....

willow said...

Love the buffalo! My great-great grandmother was full blooded Cherokee. Wish I could have a cup of tea with her today. I would have so many questions.

Derrick said...

I really like your buffalo too, Weaver. Some Canadian guests gave us a drinks coaster in stone with totem designs on, which is very attractive.

Ancient civilisations had need of symbols in a way we probably do not. But the ones you listed are the ones still universally recognised. It wil be interesting to see if any of your readers provide modern ones.

Jenn Jilks said...

You inspired me, Weaver!

Reader Wil said...

Yes I agree with you that symbols are the best souvenirs, because they are of great importance for the people who created them.
Thank you for your comment and the promise to join the action.

Sal said...

I do find the art of other cultures quite fascinating. I love the music man!;-)

Annie Wicking said...

Thank you, Weaver, I never stop learning from you. Your postings are wonderful.

Best wishes,
Annie

HelenMHunt said...

Modern symbols - a little envelope for 'you have a message' either voicemail, email or whatever seems fairly universal. Some logos (like the Olymics one) probably become symbols as well.

Heather said...

I think I would have bought those two souvenirs too, they are both so evocative and pleasing to look at. I have only visited the Pacific North West of USA and was fascinated by their history and art. The only modern symbols I could think of would be pretty meaningless by comparison with these, and largely connected to advertising or traffic signs.

jinksy said...

I'd go for the music man- send his rain part to somewhere else, though. :)

EB said...

Modern symbols: the man / woman sign you get on lavatories (trust muggins to lower the tone). Male and female gamete signs. Telephone handset symbol. Emblems of all sorts of organisations, companies, ideas - CND, recycling, National Trust, and so on.

National flags, perhaps?

Red Clover said...

Symbols are important. It's funny, being from Utah, seeing Kokopelli on your blog! You do see him around the four corners area. So, here is the question of the day. If you had to pick a symbol to represent you, Weaver, what would it be?

Phoenix said...

In fact, a study of symbols is very interesting as well.. something that means doom in one culture, might have a totally different meaning in some other culture.. I sometimes wonder how symbols come to mean what they do.. like the Swastika for instance... that signifies doom to anyone who was connected with WWII, or has grown up in the western world, but signifies prosperity and good luck in India.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for that Elizabth - I really love my Kokapelli - he sits on my antelshelf and I notice him every day. Hope he doesn't bring fertility here though!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Willow - isn't it interesting how we never think to ask our elderly relatives about their lives until it is too late.

Poet in Residence said...

Hi Weaver, This is a very interesting subject that you have raised here. I think symbols, of they type you mean (as opposed to symbols at airports and so on) have more or less fallen by the wayside. I suppose the last to go was the swaztika, an ancient Hindu symbol for the sun, which was completely discredited by the Nazis. These days symbols have been, and are still being as new countries are invented, replaced by dubious national flags, many of which like the German and Austrian flags are completely meaningless or have lost their meaning in the mists of time. Austrians for instance will tell you that in their flag which looks like a rectangular no-entry sign stands for sacrificed blood but the truth is that it does not for it stands for the fertile wine growing soil of the Wachau region and the white stripe middle should in reality be silver to represent the Danube river. And so nations grow up under a flag of propoganda which is a symbol that can be manipulated from time to time as and when required. The Welsh dragon flag that appears on teatowels and postcards is nothing more than the coat of arms of the Cadwallader family. The point is that the symbol is the national identity and we must salute it.

The Weaver of Grass said...

A few people have suggested odrn ones but really Derrick I don't think they have the same impact.
I did think of the hammer and sickle after I had posted the blog - that was also quite a potent symbol.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you Jenn and reader wil for your comments.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I agree Sal about the art of other cultures - it tells us so much about the people.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Annie - I keep trying to get to your blog, with limited success.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Helen - I agree but somehow they don't have the same impact, do they?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Heather - we bought some lovely Inuit art in Vancouver a few years ago - that has given me an idea for another blog - thank you!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Definitely, Jinksy - although I have to say that the ground has dried up tremendously here.

The Weaver of Grass said...

EB - flags is a good one - also the CND symbol is probably recognised all around the world. Thanks for those ideas.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Red clover - i think it would have to be a tree- maybe an English oak in full leaf.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes Phoenix - that business about the swastike having two different meanings bring home how different some cultures are.

Loren said...

Kocapelli is a dominant symbol in Gary Snyder's Mountains and Rivers Without End where he attempts to link it to Asia and America.

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