Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Sacred Hoop as the Cross of Christ

This is the Aboriginal logo created for the Sudbury Catholic Schools by Hauk Toulouse, a 15 year old Anishinabek Canadian from Sagamok Anishnawbek and former student.  He aspires to be a professional artist, specializing in Graphic Art.  The Sudbury Catholic District Board, located in Ontario, strives to improve achievement among First Nation, Métis and Inuit students, and to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.

So, what does the logo symbolize, and is it representative of First Nation, Métis and Inuit students in Ontario, as well as of the school itself?  Unfortunately, no explanation of the logo is given.  I was, however, able to find some information about the circle and colors behind the cross.

The circle represents the medicine wheel or sacred hoop, which is a symbol of indigenous North American culture and religion.  Medicine wheels are stone monuments laid out in a circular pattern with "spokes" or lines of rocks emanating from the center to an outer circular ring.  These spokes (four or more) are usually aligned to the four cardinal directions.  They were and are still constructed for astronomical, ritual, healing, and teaching purposes.  The majority of ancient examples (70-150) are found throughout northern United States and southern Canada, most of which are located within Alberta, Canada.  Below is the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming with star alignments that coincide to around AD 1200.  Its solstice alignments remain accurate today.

The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is a medicine wheel located in the Bighorn
Mountains of the U.S. state of Wyoming; age is 500 to 1,500 years B.P.

The Stanford SOLAR Center reports that

The Bighorn wheel is part of a much larger complex of interrelated archeological sites that represent 7000 years of Native American adaptation to and use of the alpine landscape that surrounds Medicine Mountain. Numerous contemporary American Indian traditional-use ceremonial staging areas, medicinal and ceremonial plant gathering areas, sweat lodge sites, altars offering locales and fasting (vision quest) enclosures, can be found nearby. Ethnohistoric, ethnographic, and archeological evidence demonstrates that the Medicine Wheel and the surrounding landscape constitute one of the most important and well preserved ancient Native American sacred site complexes in North America.

The circle of the related sacred hoop symbolizes the "circle of life."  It represents the earth and all life that lives upon it: human, animal and plants.  The sacred hoop is typically divided into four quadrants, each filled or outlined by one of four colors: yellow, red, black and white.  The direction associated with each of these colors apparently can vary with each Native American tribe.  Here are some examples, the first of which is very reminiscent of Sudbury's:

Mending the Sacred Hoop (see second logo above), a Native owned and operated non-profit organization that exists to address violence against Native women and works to end it, writes:
Over a hundred years ago Black Elk had a vision of the time when Indian people would heal from the devastating effects of European migration. In his vision the Sacred Hoop which had been broken, would be mended in seven generations. The children born into this decade will be the seventh generation.
So, the current generation of Native Americans represents the seventh generation who will heal the spiritual wounds of the their people.  One of Black Elk's many visions astonishes me and makes me think of the cross of Christ as the tree of life:
And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.
One website asserts that the center of the circle, where the two lines cross, "represents the center of the earth where one stands when praying."  Another source relates that "The center of the wheel is where the Creator is located. The center is also a place where you can stand or sit with the Creator inside the Sacred Wheel."

Lastly, in reference to the Sudbury Catholic Schools Aboriginal logo, the feathers seem to represent the Great Spirit's power over the universe.

Here are a few other Christian cross logos that utilize the sacred hoop:

I think the use of the sacred hoop for the cross of Christ, with modifications, is a great example of the contextualization of a sacred cultural symbol that already represents so much that is biblical.  

It will be interesting to do some research on similar contextualization of pre-existing cross symbols for the cross of Christ, specifically the Celtic Cross and the Armenian Cross, or Khachkar.  Other "Indigenous Crosses" include an Indian (St. Thomas) Cross and the Nestorian cross of China.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great article. I've always wondered the significance of the Sacred Hoop. I have seen something similar on petroglyphs here in Panama. I wonder if it is related.

    Here are some examples. These are not my photos.