The Bird Man symbol featured strongly in the Mississippian culture. The bird man was believed to be a supernatural deity who resided in the Upperworld with the spirits of the Sun, Moon and Stars. A Bird Man therefore represented the Upperworld, order, and light and bird man dancers would perform in ceremonies supplicating the spirits of the Upperworld. The link between the Upperworld (heaven) and the earth was the sky and the bird man was able to move between the two realms as messengers to the gods. The bird man was portrayed in the guise of an eagle, hawk or falcon. These birds were all strong, high flying predators. As creatures of the sky they were in constant warfare with the spirits of the underworld. The Mississippians used dances, gestures and sounds as symbolic powers and wore ceremonial clothes and carried sacred objects and weapons to symbolize their power. The Bird men also used masks as they were believed to hold spiritual powers that never left them and that the masks would identify them with the spirits and activate their power. The bird man created a powerful, intimidating figure and was associated with warfare. The Bird Man symbol pictured above shows a headdress bearing a horn. Antlers and horns signified spiritual power, especially when applied to animals that did not ordinarily have them such as Birds, Panthers, Avanyu and Snakes (Serpents). Performing rituals and bird man dances were the Mississippians way of aligning themselves to the spirits of the Upperworld and gaining favor for victory during battles or victory in important competitions such as Chunkey during which fortunes could be won or lost.
The most ancient Native American Indian symbols, like the Bird Man symbol, came from the Mississippian culture which was established in 1000AD and continued to 1550AD onward. The Mississippian Native Americans were the last of the mound-building cultures of North America in the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States. The Mississippian culture was based on warfare, which was represented by an array of emblems, motifs and symbols. The Mississippian culture warrior icons like the Bird Man symbol provides interesting history and ideas for tattoos that include cosmic imagery depicting animals, humans and mythical beasts. The Mississippian Native Americans practiced body painting, tattooing and piercing.
Bird man symbol
Native American Indians of the Mississippian culture were sun worshipers and had a highly complex warfare culture. Their symbols, such as the Bird Man symbol, reflect the warfare culture and the religious beliefs and cosmologies of the different historic tribes who existed at the time of the first European contact.
The Mississippians believed that the universe consisted of three parts with good and bad spiritual forces. These three worlds were linked together and their connection was usually portrayed as a cedar tree or a striped pole. The Underworld was inhabited by spirit snakes, the Upper world was inhabited by spirit birds and the people of the earth who were ruled by these powerful spirits like the Bird Man.
Items displaying symbols, like the Bird Man symbol, from the Mississippian culture have been found in burial sites that contained war axes, knives and other weapons. This type of symbol was embossed in valuable materials such as rare shells, copper and lead and depicted on pottery and stone tools and weapons.