The symbol of the eagle is not unique to the Native American culture. Rather it has been more of a universal symbol that is held in high esteem in many different cultures around the world. However each culture has its own history and beliefs associated with eagle symbols and similarly the Native Americans too have specific reasons for developing eagle symbols.
The significance of eagle symbols can easily be gauged by looking at the various works of Native American art along with their special eagle dances and ceremonies. The Native Americans consider the bald eagle as well as the golden eagle to be sacred.
Native American Perception of the Eagle
The Natives believe the eagle was the chosen master of the skies by the Creator. This is also because eagles generally fly at a higher altitude than most other birds. This gives them a unique perspective that is unmatched by any other bird. By virtue of their high flying they are considered to be closer to the Creator than all other creatures on earth.
The eagle, it is believed, works as a messenger for the Creator. It is tasked with the duty of carrying the prayers of human beings from the earth world to the spirit world where they believed the creator resides. Seeing an eagle during a prayer ceremony was taken as a sign of having one’s prayers accepted. If the Natives wanted the Creator to take immediate notice of them they would hold up an eagle feather in their hands.
Native American Eagle Symbolism
Each part of the eagle has different symbolic meanings. For example the wings of the eagle are taken as a symbol of the balance between males and females. It shows the interdependency of one upon the other and how both must work in cooperation to achieve the desired results.
The Natives attached great importance to eagle feathers. They were a prominent part in many religious practices and ceremonies. The feathers were held in such high esteem that in case someone dropped a feather on the ground it would be given a thorough cleaning. The feather had to be guarded until the cleaning ceremony was conducted.
The residents of the plains would make use of the wing bones of the eagles to make whistles. These whistles were blown during dance ceremonies. For the Pueblo tribe the golden eagle was regarded as being the war eagle. Hence they would keep its molted feathers. It was also a common feature to make use of eagle feathers on headdresses and weapons.
Eagle feathers could not just be worn. Rather they had to be acquired. The brave warriors that performed a spectacular feat in battles were awarded eagle feathers. It was only such individuals that were authorized to wear the eagle feathers. They would do so either directly in their hair, on a headdress or a special bonnet.