Tree of Life Navajo Rug
From the beginning of recorded history man has revered trees as sacred symbols of creation, fertility, resurrection and immortality. With roots firmly planted in the earth, sturdy trunks and branches reaching to the sky, trees were believed to connect the three realms of existence: underworld, terrestrial and celestial. Since the days of Mesopotamia trees such as the palm, ash, beech, oak and pine have been viewed as ladders leading from the unconscious to enlightenment, sheltering canopies for all of creation, shamanic routes to knowledge and pillars between heaven and earth. The Tree of Life Navajo Rug, or Cosmic Tree, is associated with the sacred feminine, with springs, vegetation and life giving waters.
For the Navajo, a race which migrated in ancient days from the wooded forests of Siberia to the dry desert lands of the American southwest, a new “tree” took hold as their world axis – Corn.
The “Holy Ones told the Navajos in the beginning, Corn will be your food, your prayer. Corn, the Navajo tree of life, was given to the Diné at creation as a gift…” (Capelin:2009)
For the Navajo corn is everything. In their origin myth they were created from corn.
“White Body carried two ears of corn, one yellow, one white…” The ears were placed between sacred buckskins with their tips facing east. “The white wind blew from the East and the yellow wind blew from the West, between the skins.” When “the upper buckskin was lifted; the ears of corn had disappeared.” The ear of white corn had become First Man and the yellow ear, First Woman. (Locke:2010)
Corn is holy, divine. Corn is life giving nourishment to man and animal. Corn is utilized in every way by the Navajo and most importantly, corn holds the promise of life in its wafting grains of pollen.
The Tree of Life Navajo rug design first appeared in the late 1800s. “When the Navajo weavers started to weave pictorial rugs, they also started to manufacture rugs which depicted yei (Holy People) and cornstalks…the oldest wall hangings and rugs show a type of design that alternates yei and cornstalks, almost always with a bird on their tips or portrays Corn People as cornstalks with yei heads with birds perched on the leaves.” (Busatta:2013)
Contemporary Navajo Tree of Life rugs usually depict an upright cornstalk growing from a Navajo Wedding basket, the sacred basket whose center represents the Navajo point of emergence. The cornstalk’s green leaves shelter and support birds and creatures from the animal kingdom. The Navajo walk in balance and interconnectedness with all beings. “We learned our songs from the birds,” an elder medicine man said. “We learned our music, our voices, from the birds.” The yellow tassels at the top of the cornstalk represent sacred pollen. Corn pollen is prayer to the Navajo. “You put some in your mouth for your voice,” the elder said, “the voice you speak. Then you put some on the top of your head for the oxygen that has come into you. And then you sprinkle the corn pollen forward, where you want to go. In the old days we used to pray with corn pollen that had been dusted on the tail of a bluebird. That was high medicine.” Corn pollen is also seen as light, luminosity. “The pollen at the tassel tip is hit by the sun – ZAP! – like lightning,” the medicine man said.
The cornstalk in a Tree of Life Navajo rug can also be viewed as a metaphor for man’s birth and development. Corn is man and man is corn. The holy Corn People represent our highest selves. The ear is man’s “fruit” in life, his accomplishment and maturation. Pollen is man’s spiritual illumination. For the Navajo “the cornstalk’s process of life is a metaphor, like a ladder, and as humans develop and grow, they attain levels and grades in degree of teaching, learning and understanding.” In order to reach pollen’s radiance and purity one must follow the wisdom path.
When asked a final time about the meaning of the Tree of Life design, the medicine man said, “It’s the root, four; four stages of life, four elements, four directions. It’s harmony within the harmony. Underneath it all is First Woman, the lady from the North. It’s ‘looking back in.’ Corn is Grandmother, Grandfather. Walking under the corn leaf is the Beauty Way. We call it, iiná, Life.”