When the world was new, the Creator made all the birds. He coloured their feathers like a bouquet of flowers. The Creator then gave each a distinct song to sing. The Creator instructed the birds to greet each new day with a chorus of their songs. Of all the birds, our Creator chose the Eagle to be the leader. The Eagle flies the highest and sees the furthest of all creatures. The Eagle is a messenger to the Creator. During the Four Sacred Rituals we will wear an Eagle Feather in our hair. To wear or to hold the Eagle Feather causes our Creator to take immediate notice. With the Eagle Feather the Creator is honored in the highest. When one receives an Eagle Feather that person is being acknowledged with gratitude, with love, and with ultimate respect. That feather must have sacred tobacco burnt for it. In this way the Eagle and the Creator are notified of the name of the new Eagle Feather Holder.
Feathers-notched, clipped, dyed, or otherwise altered-were used by the Sioux as symbols of specific kinds of exploits, or coups, as shown below. from left to right: 1) wearers first coup-upright feather with horsehair tuft; 2) wearer wounded-upright feather dyed red; 3) wearer wounded but killed foes-upright feather with quill work bands, (one band per kill) 4) wearer killed foe-red spot on feather; 5) wearer cut foe’s throat and took his scalp-notch in feather; 6) wearer wounded many times-split feather; 7) wearer cut foes throat-top of feather clipped on diagonal; 8) wearer counted coup four times-serrated edge on feather; 9) wearer counted coup five times-sides of feather partially removed.
Symbolism of the Eagle Feather
A Lumbee Story
In the beginning, the Great Spirit above gave to the animals and birds wisdom and knowledge and the power to talk to men. He sent these creatures to tell man that he showed himself through them. They would teach a chosen man sacred songs and dance, as well as, much ritual and lore. The creature most loved by the Great Spirit was the eagle, for he tells the story of life. The Eagle, as you know, has only two eggs, and all living things in the world are divided into two. Here is man and woman, male and female and this is true with animals, birds, trees, flowers and so on. All things have children of two kinds so that life may continue. Man has two eyes, two hands, two feet and he has a body and soul, substance and shadow. Through his eyes, he sees pleasant and unpleasant scenes, through his nostrils he smells good and bad odors, with his ears he hears joyful news and words that make him sad. His mind is divided between good and evil. His right hand he may often use for evil, such as war or striking a person in anger. But his left hand, which is near his heart, is always full of kindness. His right foot may lead him in the wrong path, but his left foot always leads him the right way, and so it goes; he has daylight and darkness, summer and winter, peace and war, and life and death.
In order to remember this lesson of life, look to the great eagle, the favorite bird of the Great Spirit. The eagle feather is divided into two parts, part light, and part dark. This represents daylight and darkness, summer and winter, peace and war, and life and death. So that you may remember what I have told you, look well on the eagle, for his feathers, too, tell the story of life. Look at the feathers I wear upon my hand, the one on the right is large and perfect and is decorated; this represents man. The one on my left is small and plain; this represents woman. The eagle feather is divided into two parts, dark and white. This represents daylight and darkness, summer and winter. For the white tells of summer, when all is bright and the dark represents the dark days of winter. My children, remember what I tell you. For it is YOU who will choose the path in life you will follow — the good way, or the wrong way.
Sharon Locklear,publisher of Metrolina Pow Wow