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Abstract Symbols, & Beings of This & Other Worlds

Engraved beaker with abstract design, Cahokia.

Forked-eye motif on the shoulder of a jar.
Abstract designs, symbolic representations of animal parts, and mythical beings are all important in Mississippian art. Significant designs or symbols include the forked-eye motif, various curvilinear spiral designs (including Ramey-Incised), cross-in-a-circle, four logs arranged in the cardinal directions with a fire burning in the middle, and logs or beams arranged in a square. Many seem to be shorthand symbols of chiefly power.

Engraved beaker with curvilinear design, Cahokia.

Curvilinear designs are thought to have some connection to the Mississippian water-covered lower world. The meaning of the feline-headed serpent is puzzling. Its appearance on the Birger figurine, which has been linked to a earth-goddess cult, suggests that the panther-headed serpent was also part of fertility-associated rituals.

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