Like all other Native American tribes, the Sioux have and continue to base a large amount of their culture on spirituality and symbolism. The symbols that they identify act as an integral part of both their most usual and most sacred ceremonies and rituals. It is important to note that the term Sioux actually refers to a group, rather than a specific tribe.
The Sioux can be broken down into three separate entities: the Lakota, the Dakota, and the Nakota. Thus, symbolic interpretation may vary slightly depending on which group you are studying. However, there are definitely commonalities between the three, especially when comparing them to other groups of Native Americans.
Sioux Symbol : Circle
In particular, the Sioux seem to focus on both the circle and number four. Many cultures value the circle for its obvious ties with the concept of a cyclical journey from life to death, and the Sioux were no different. However, they went a step further and used the symbol of the circle to govern their behavior and way of life. For example, the Sioux chose to interact with one another in a circular fashion, instead of allowing a select few to power-struggle. They also used the circle in their architectural style, using it as the foundation of their houses, which are commonly known as tipis.
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Sioux Symbol Meaning : Number Four
The number four is also quite prevalent across Native American cultures. In Sioux tradition, this number was highly symbolic and thus was applied to many things. There are three areas of natural life, though, that the Sioux paired with this distinctive number: the elements, the seasons, and the directions. Earth, fire, air, and water; the four seasons symbols – winter, spring, summer and fall; North, South, East, and West: it seems perfectly logical, right?
Because of the number’s obvious connection with nature, the Sioux venerated it and considered it almost holy. In order to yield a bountiful harvest, spread fertility to the family, and ensure peace among the nations, the Sioux would incorporate this number into both artistry and ceremony.
Sioux Symbols : Uname
In addition to the circle and the number four, the Sioux groups also have other symbols that are commonly used in their culture and represented in their daily lives. One such symbol is known as the Uname, which appears as a square symbol with diagonal lines projecting outward from its corners. This holy symbol stands for the Earth and the four winds that blow across its surface. These winds controlled the unity, balance, freedom, and eternity that can exist in the world under the right conditions. As with most Native American groups, the Sioux personified the wind as a spirit, taking its perceived messages quite seriously.
Sioux Symbol : Thunderbird
Another common symbol used in Sioux cultures was the thunderbird, an image of a great bird with powerful, open wings. The Sioux lived across the present-day Dakotas and believed that the legendary Thunderbird made its nest at the granite summit of Harney Peak. This peak essentially gazed out at all of the Sioux land, so believing that a massive bird was watching over them caused the people both dread and comfort.
The Sioux considered this bird, Wakinyan, to be the guardian of truth, which prompted them to both honor and fear the creature. Their legends taught that the Thunderbird would kill liars with lightening bolts from its beak and eyes. In attempt to please the Wakinyan, Sioux people would present offerings of tobacco and hope that it would prompt him to bring rain.
Sioux Symbolism : Arrows
Most Native American tribes believed in the symbolic nature of the arrow. It was more than just a tool for battle, although that was certainly an important usage of it. The Sioux used a symbol that they called the “Four Medicine Arrows”. This arrow symbol portrays the ever-present circle with four arrows diving it into quarters, tips meeting in the center. Each individual arrow possesses its own symbolic value.
The northern arrow represents wisdom, while the southern denotes inherent innocence. The eastern arrow signifies the ability to see far into the future, while the alternative western arrow reminds us of the importance of inner seeing through introspection.
The circle itself is also symbolic, housing all of the other important traits and lessons so that we each can learn more about ourselves and our surroundings. When we achieve each of the attributes represented by the arrows, we can look to the center, where the tips congregate, to see that we have attained enlightenment.
Sioux Symbolism : Medicine Wheel
The last of the most crucial Sioux symbols comes in the form of yet another wheel – you should be noticing a pattern. The “Medicine Stone Wheel” is also a circle, but it does not house arrows. Rather, this wheel contains seven stones in the middle which form a cross. These stones symbols coordinate with the types of human personalities that exist in the universe. The cross is then surrounded by larger stones, which represent all of the things that exist in nature with equal value, such as animals, plants and humans. These larger stones are accompanied by four cardinal points, as they depicted on a compass, which are representative of the four paths mentioned above that each person is born to walk: far seeing, introspection, wisdom, and innocence.
The tribes making up the Sioux had smaller symbols that were used more plentifully and casually on every day objects, including arrows, animals and their tracks, and symbolism of elements. However, the previously mentioned symbols are certainly thought-provoking and interesting to consider in our own journeys through life.