The Eagle has long been the symbol of honor, bravery, love, friendship and mysticalpowers for the Indian Nations. The Eagle give visible form to WAKINYAN (He who speaks Mystery),the Being who moves between man and Wakantanka.Return to Native American Homepage
Wakinyan shows up in endless variations of eagle-likeness in Indian design from thesouthern tip of South America to the North Pole area.
Each Tribal group has its own stories and legends concerning the Eagle and Wakinyan(Thunderer, Thunderbird). It has to be more than mere coincidence that many of these stories are identicalin tribes widely separated in both Americas.
One story (from the Walla Walla) is widely spread but little known outside the IndianCommunity. It concerns the two identical wing feathers found close to the breast on each wing.
Eagle feathers, like finger prints, look alike, but under close inspection their differences canbe found. This holds true for even the feathers of a single bird, except for the two feathers which arecalled THE TWINS.
Not only are these feathers TWINS, but aerodynamically speaking, they act as the Eagle's"trim tabs". In layman's terms the two feathers are able to be twisted by the bird to give a smooth, level,effortless flight, when riding thermal currents.
Indians, in their exquisite wisdom, learned much from observation. They had discoverednot only the "likeness" of the two feathers, but they had observed, too, that with the loss of either feather,the Eagle, in spite of great skill, was capable of only erratic flight.
These two feathers were never platted into clothing, but become valued for their symbolismin marriage and in personal relationships.
As the modern wedding ring has become a symbol of joining together two people, so thesefeathers had meaning in the Indian Community.
The owner of the two feathers (whether man or woman) retained both until such time as heor she found the one person to whom he wished to be wedded. Once given, the donor is telling thereceiver,
"I need you. I am unable to fly on my own. Only when we join hands and hearts can either of us enjoy the soaring love of the Eagle. Being physically together is not a necessity. When this is impossible, our spiritual union supplies, for a time.
In this way the man is telling the woman:
"Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I will always be with you. As long as you have this feather in yourpossession, it will protect you from harm and will comfort you in loneliness. My spirit has beentransferred from my body to your feather, and your spirit from your body to my feather. As long as eitherof us lives we pledge ourselves to one another in time of need. Only burning the feather will break thebonds between us."
These are not marriage vows in any sense of modern meaning. Rather they are like theHebrew "betrothal". More often than not, husband and wife who were united in the Indian Way,exchanged the Eagle feathers.
On the other hand, very often men and women who were not "married", but who wished tobe bound to one another under the above conditions, exchanged the two feathers.
The exchanges were made without the knowledge of others.
Many a brave was seen riding out to war games or to the hunt with a single feather tied tohis horse's mane -- many a young girl had a single feather tied to her cradle board or attached to the wallof her home.
Who held the TWIN was always left to the imagination of the curious beholder.