Published on May 14, 2014 by Amy
The Native American medicine shield had nothing to do with protection in battle although, aside from the eagle’s feather head dress, it is one of the most recognizable war-like paraphernalia. The shield represented the warrior’s personal vision – the owner’s sacred intentions and ‘medicine’ or inherent power. As such, it was treasured by many American Indian tribes.
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The vision quest is one of THE turning points in life. There can be many reasons for these quests, but the common thread is where the male went either to obtain his “spiritual name” as opposed to the name given him by his people, to seek out his “spiritual guides” or both. When ready, he or she will go on a personal spiritual quest alone in the wilderness, lasting for a number of days (usually 3 days). During that time, the person is tuned into the spirit world. Usually, a guardian animal/totem will come in a vision or dream, and the child’s life direction will appear at some point. When the quest ended, the person took a gift to the tribe’s Holy Man or Medicine Man who interpreted the visions. That “interpretation” was transferred to the person’s shield, as well as many times symbolized on the sides/walls of that person’s tipi.
Because of the Vision Quest, an individual’s shield was a very important item not only because of physical protection, but also because of the spiritual protection it provided. With spirituality as a fundamental force in most aspects of daily living, the medicine shield did not disappear from the cultural identity as it did in Europe when the protection proved inadequate with the advent of gunpowder.
While many of the shields were not used as actual physical protection, they were carried with them, attached in some way upon animals or were put in places/poles of Honor, to the East of the warrior’s lodge. Thus, its spiritual protection was still maintained.
Not only must the shield be perfect in shape, in fit, in make, but also in its “medicine”. The owner thinks it over, works it over, prays over it, and then commends his life to its care and protection. During its use, the individual may add a medicine bag, scalps of his enemies, his totem, is kept safe in the lodge, and hung out every fair day in front of his door.
The personal medicine shield was made of animal skin or hide stretched over a wooden hoop. Around the edges were attached feathers, fringes, and sometimes other dangling objects. It had special emblems and symbols painted on it that indicated the owner’s special qualities and quest in life. It could show a symbol of an animal or animals with which the person was particularly related and represented his principal power source and protection. The colors used also had significance.
If Native American Indian handcrafted items are art forms you’re interest in for either buying or collecting, become familiar with it. Visit museums to study the various forms, materials, tribal affiliations and designs. Go to art shows that showcase Native American artisans. Antique shows are also a good venue – go through the booths of vendors selling these items. If they are passionate about what they have, they will answer your questions. And, of course, inter-tribal powwows are excellent venues to look and ask.
You can also go to The Indian Arts and Crafts Association for a listing of registered and certified Native American Artisans. Above all, any art form marketed as genuine Native American Indian handcrafted, it must legally be just that. The spirit of the law is that any artwork or craft fashioned by a Native American, the artisan must be a member of an Indian Tribe, and their membership has been verified and certified.
These Native American artisans are practicing their art perhaps as a livelihood. Through their art, they are keeping their culture, history and spirituality alive.