Native American Symbol – Whirling Log (Swastika)


Native American Symbol Whirling Log
Native American Symbol Whirling Log

The design of the Whirling Logs is similar in appearance to the symbol of horror associated with the Nazis.

Both are swastikas.

Swastika is Sanskrit meaning “well-being”. Throughout most of history, it has been associated with order and stability. The unfortunate association of the swastika with Hitler understandably makes some people uncomfortable when they see a similar symbol on Native American baskets, rugs and jewelry.

To distinguish Whirling Logs from Hitler’s Swastika, some try to make a distinction between which direction the figure appears to rotate, clockwise or counter-clockwise. But if you look at a whirling log on the outside of a Native American basket and it is whirling counter-clockwise, that same design will be whirling clockwise on the inside. Similarly with a woven rug – each side of the rug would show the symbol whirling a different way. So that is not distinction.

Native American Basket with Whirling Log Symbol

The distinction is in the intent, the context, the long history of the symbol. Read more about the history of the swastika.

Wikipedia has an excellent article with illustrations with more about the history and use of the symbol of the swastika with a note

after learning of the Nazi association, the Navajo discontinued use of the symbol

^ Dottie Indyke. “The History of an Ancient Human Symbol.” April 4, 2005. originally from The Wingspread Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque, Volume 15.

Whirling Logs are used in Navajo sand paintings during a healing or other type of ceremony. A sand painting is supposed to be a temporary piece of art which is destroyed after the ceremony is over. However sand painting designs are also used in prints and framed paintings, rugs and on jewelry.

The Whirling Log symbol is associated with a narrative involving a man (sometimes called the Culture Hero) who takes a journey down the San Juan River in a hollowed out log canoe. During his adventure, he encounters whirlpools and a special event where the San Juan River meets the Colorado River.  There he comes upon a whirling cross with Yei figures seated on the cross. From the yeis he learns much knowledge which he takes back to his people.

(See a future post about Yeis)

Since World War II, the use of the Whirling Logs in Native American artifacts has been confined mainly to rugs. Jewelry with the symbol is usually from before 1940.

Vintage Native American Pawn Bracelet with Whirling Log
Vintage Native American Pawn Bracelet with Whirling Log

51 thoughts on “Native American Symbol – Whirling Log (Swastika)

  1. Thank you for this explanation. Do you find that there is a hesitancy to purchase jewelry, rugs or baskets that have a whirling log image or are you able to sell these pieces? I have a basket with the whirling log image that I can not display, because seeing it upset a friend. I value it as a piece of Indian art, but I am sorry it has a terrible association.

    • We’ve never had an item in our store with that symbol. I just answered the question because I knew about the symbol from our business dealings.

      I’ve been around people when they see the symbol on Native American items and it seems to go one of two ways. If a person is not aware of the fact that the symbol was used by Native Americans (and others) for many years prior to Hitler’s use of it, then they are repulsed by it, and yes, they would be hesitant to buy or wear something with that symbol on it. And who could blame a person, even if THEY knew what the back story was, it is not as if they would explain it to every person that would happen to see it. The people who are NOT hesitant to purchase are collectors who know the significance of the symbol in relation to Native American culture and the fact that it is usually on older pieces. We have seen a few older pawn items with it and they bring a premium price.

      One final note – there are contemporary artists who still use the symbol in their new rug weaving (and perhaps basket weaving) because they live near the rivers where the story takes place and it is a very strong part of their culture. However, I have never seen a contemporary use of the symbol on Native American jewelry. Thanks for the good question and your interest !

      • I have a ring with a swastika on the top with arrows down the side. It is silver and do not the authenticity of it. Is there a place I could attach a picture of it for information about the ring. It was my father’s.
        Gerry

      • My mother-in-law has an Indian necklace made from what looks like turquoise beads and has a Swastika on it is there any way that i would be able to find out what it is she has? Her mother just passed away and it was in her jewelry box pls. email me an if you can direct me to where i can get it looked at.

      • Your explanation was a relief. Today I found a ring among my belated mother’s things and I was shocked to see the swastika on an eagle’s breast on top of the ring. It, too, has arrows down the sides as described by someone else. And, found it interesting that the ring was made prior to 1940. Thank you.

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  3. Hi, my name IS River and my favorite River glyph is the one resembling the greek key design. – also stands for waves.

    About the ‘whirling logs’ They are one and the same
    Whirling Logs / Swastika / Svastika / Wheel of Life

    Symbol of utmost importance to foundations of Various Asian Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, pre-columbian, Judaism, and even Christianity
    It’s one of the oldest symbols and is spread throughout the world.

  4. I HAVE A CONCHOS AS A BELT,
    WITH THE SWASTIKAS IN THE MIDDLE OF IT..ON THE BACK STAMPED;;COIN SILVER INDIAN MADE,,,11 OF THEM,,CAN YOU HELP ME ON WHAT ITS WORTH AND SO ON…IM FRON THE 4 CORNERS SO I KNOW THE SWASTIKAS IS A INDIAN .SYM.

  5. I HAVE A CONCHOS AS A BELT, WITH THE SWASTIKAS IN THE MIDDLE OF IT.. ON THE BACK STAMPED,, COIN SILVER INDIAN MADE,,11 OF THEM CAN YOU HELP ME ON THEM WHAT ITS WORTH,AND SO ON

  6. Would you be interested in selling one of them and do you know anything about the vintage native American pawn bracelet with whirling log.

  7. Hello. I appreciate the discussion regarding the whirling log symbol. Thank you for that. It is an ancient symbol. I wonder if you could advise me on how to remove an old buckle from my belt to put on a new buckle. I have one shoe repair man in the neighborhood. Would he be able to help me with this or is there a better solution? Thanks for any help you may be able to give.

  8. Pingback: Whirling Logs Silver Turquoise Belt Buckle « Native American Jewelry Tips

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  10. I have a piece of jewelry I really need help with. I can send pics. I found it in my great great grandmother things after she passed. I have tried to research on it, and I believe it is a Native American whirling log, not a Nazi piece. I am of German heritage and was told my family owned bunkers that were taken over by Nazis during the war, but I am also of native American heritage and was told it could be from them too. Please I could really use some help with this. I need to know if it is worth anything, my father is in desperate need of serious help out of a poor situation. and this may be my only chance of helping him. This piece I have is hand engraved with the numbers 2460 I believe, I am scared to clean it but I think that’s what it says.

  11. Found huge Royston, mint condition stone, ss ring 4 sale today only. It has broken arrows, a lightening bolt and the Whirl. log symbol on both sides. found on edge of Nav. Res. in Arizona by a trader. It is bidding at 130.00 and will go up… What should i be paying if i want it to re-sale/ larger size and wider bezel. Stone is more green, light and carmal , wide matrix. Stunning stone. no visable hallmark on underside, but so primitive, may not be visable? THANX, TwoWorlds :)

  12. Thank you for covering the Swirling log design. I knew the facts from growing up in AZ. But I am writing an article on it, and I need citations for questionabl information.

  13. Very interesting post on the Swastika’s usage in Native American jewelry. I never realized this. I knew it was/is a commonly used symbol throughout Hinduism and Buddhism.

  14. I Have a antique silver cuff bracelet. That was my grandmothers. It has the swastika in the middle with some other design on the bracelet. I believe it was her mothers and then when i was given the larger cuff I was also given a much smaller cuff possibly for a child. It has similar arrows to the larger cuff but no swastika. I was wondering if anyone could give me more information about the pieces.

  15. I have a bracelet with the whirling log, along with other Native American symbols (bow and arrows and what looks like a two headed bird) . I’m trying to authenticate the silver cuff bracelet, but I’m having a hard time. Any help available would be appreciated! :-)

    • why replace it when the symbol been used for hundreds an thousands of years. jus because nazi germany used it to represent world domination an superiority over all. i understand being sympathetic an empathise with what happened to the jewish people in neo-nazi germany back in ww2 but…….on this continent the meaning or representation is sacred in its own. and goes beyond just art.

  16. Hello Paula, My name is Tonya and I have a beaded Necklace that belonged to my grandmother’s sister. It is red with white swastika’s and arrows on it. My Question is are the southwest Indians the only ones that used this symbol in their art. I have Narragansett, Blackfeet and Cherokee ancestry. I don’t know if it was handed down to her or if she bought it as a souvenir.

    • The swastika has been found in cultures around the world, including in North America. In has been seen in particular, but not exclusively, in the Southwest region of the US, mainly on Navajo, Apache and Pueblo ceremonial and decorative objects. If you would like to send a photo of the necklace, contact me through the website http://www.horsekeepng.com and I’ll look at and post the photo.

      • My Grandmother was born in 1906 in St. Albans Vermont, almost to the border Quebec. As a baby she was given a seed bead ring with the whirling log design by a Native American (and according to my Father’s memory of the story) Chief.
        Her Mother or Grandmother was NA so perhaps that is why the gift.

        Have you heard of Tribes in the northeast using this symbol?

        Many thanks!

  17. I am so glad that I read this. I was wearing my bracelet today that was handed down to me and it has the whirling log symbol on it. A customer thought to comment, rather ignorantly, and call me a jew hater. yes that actually happened. I’m printing this out and carrying it with me to hand out every time I wear that bracelet LOL! Great post thank you ;-)

  18. Thursday, August 8, 2013 9:57 AM
    Message starred
    Re: Jewelery Question
    Hide Details

    From

    Orders

    To

    Michael Healer

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    Show ImagesOptions
    Hello!

    Thank you for your question about your Native American jewelry. Because we have a high volume of questions, I’ve put together a general response. Please ignore the portions that don’t apply to your situation.

    We answer questions about Native American items on our blog – photos are required to illustrate the post. Please send two or three medium sized photos of your item.

    We don’t do appraisals via email and photos. If you are selling your piece, refer to these articles:

    “Paula – What is my Squash Blossom Necklace worth?”

    http://nativeamericanjewelrytips.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/paula-what-is-my-squash-blossom-necklace-worth/

    “Do We Buy Native American Jewelry?”

    http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htm

    Paula
    Manager
    Horsekeeping http://www.horsekeeping.com
    Native American Jewelry Blog http://nativeamericanjewelrytips.wordpress.com/
    Vintage Dooney & Bourke Blog http://vintagedooneybourke.wordpress.com/
    Facebook http://www.facebook.com/people/Paula-At-Horsekeeping/100001860922953

    From: Michael Healer
    Sent: Thursday, August 08, 2013 8:51 AM
    To: orders@horsekeeping.com
    Subject: Jewelery Question

    Hi, Paula,

    I have a silver and turquoise bracelet that I was told is from the 1920s or 1930s. Clearly a tourist piece (think Fred Harvey era). It has a whirling log in the center with single arrowheads on either side. The whirling log and arrowheads have small cabochon turquoise in their centers and are separate pieces that are cut and soldered onto the bracelet. The inside of the bracelet is stamped with the word “sterling,” and the initials “WW” above that. Also has arrows stamped in the bracelet itself. I’m certain it was originally designed as a ladies bracelet, but I have very small wrists for a man, so it fits me well.

    Any ideas how I might narrow down the age and maybe even find out who the maker was? I can send photos.

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  21. Hello,
    I have a silver turquoise swastika penant that would have gone on a necklace. Can I send a photo to you to see if it as old or collectable? It seems old…….
    Thanks,
    Erik

  22. I bought a rug from a traveler. He said it was from the 4 corners region. Its old. It has a larger mystic symbol of well being resembling the swastika. Its about 3×5.

  23. I just bought a brooch with several symbols on it,arrows,swastika,half moon sun bursts,and round sunburst.It is an inch and a half long,by 1 inch high,silver with a pin clasp on back.The center has a rather large pale green stone.I will send a photo and note to horsekeeping.com/e-mail.htm and I would love to know if this is rare and/or valuable. Thank You

  24. Pingback: Bracelet from the sale basket at the Heard Museum | Native American Jewelry Tips

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