The Whirling Logs
Artist: Apache Tribe Date: 1920
Eleven-pointed star in center is supporting eleven hour-glass elements and eleven whirling logs with a feather motif at the rim. Willow, devil’s claw over three-rod foundation.
When the first Navajo man and woman emerged from the underworld called The Third World, a water world, they bore a son. A few years later, the son was so intrigued about the stories he had heard about the underworld that he went back to the place of emergence and while looking down fell in. His father then went after him to rescue his son among the endless rivers of the underworld. After uniting there, they were thrown into the classic ancient legend, similar to the Illiad and Odyssey, where on their long and perilous journey they experienced and learned the heritage and lessons of Navajo medicine, which all had originated there. At the completion of their journey, harboring all of this valuable knowledge, they were attempting to exit the underworld when they were attacked by The Water Monsters. Just as the father and son were about to perish, two logs formed a cross in the water and four Yeis (holy messengers) appeared at the tips of the logs, forming a swastika-like shape. The Yeis promised to save them if the father and son would get on to the logs and believe in them, giving the Yeis their full confidence and faith. The father and son agreed and the Yeis whirled them back to the present world and safety. Thus, the Whirling Logs became the symbol that to this day is cherished as a reminder of the link that preserves their sacred medicine and traditions. The Navajo were forbidden to incorporate this symbol on their art during the 1930’s because of Nazi Germany, but it is still seen in the traditional sand paintings that are used to cure their people during the Yei-Be-Chai healing ceremonies.
Whirling logs are seen in Apache, Yavapai, Hopi, Havasupai, Chemehuevi, Pima and Tohono O’odham baskets as well as in various Great Basin and California basketry. Here they take on the concept of the four cardinal directions, as well as a depiction of one complete lifespan, or generation: The four points of the symbol representing birth, youth, old age and death. As seen in examples here in the gallery, some Pima weavers artistically linked several of the whirling logs together in continuous circular patterns, thus binding one generation to another both in the past and future. This motif was sacred to many Native Americans throughout the Americas.
Hopefully this information will answer the question about the use of the symbol and release the stigma associated with it. Not only have Native Americans utilized it in their culture, but so have the Hindus, Buddhists, Chinese, early Egyptians, Phoenicians, Etruscans, Greeks and Romans, long before it was stigmatized by its use in such a negative fashion.