The Significance of the Feathers Headdress

The history of the ceremonial feathers headdress worn by Native American Indians can be dated towards the end of the 19th century. The feathers of Native American Indians are an essential symbol of their way of life.  The feather was given as a sign of respect, strength and honor. Native Americans who possessed certain personal skills or who achieved something of great significance to the tribe were rewarded with head feathers from the bosses or the elders.

Looking at the headdress, it was possible to know how many acts of bravery the warrior had committed. The Native American who wore the headdress with the greatest number of feathers was usually the chief.  The more feathers he possessed, the more he was admired by his tribe.  You should note that only those who had proved their courage had the right to put an eagle feather in the hair, and this is done until a complete cap is formed. A warrior could become the chief of the tribe only if he had a large number of feathers.

In some communities, feathers are presented to children on the completion of their rites of passage into adulthood. Warbonnets are especially reserved for the figures of power. The most common headdress was between 28 -32 feathers of golden eagle mounted in a radius around a bonnet (the tail of a golden eagle has only 13 feathers). The oldest Blackfoot and Cheyenne headdresses were formerly tube-shaped. Each part of the feather headdress had a meaning that could be understood by all members of the tribe.

The shape of the hat with its feathers radiating around the head of the warrior was the symbol of the divine grace of God that radiated like the sun. The feathers of these headdresses all came from male royal eagles, because this bird represented a very strong symbol. Indeed, in the animist religion of the Indians, each animal possess a certain number of qualities which it transmits to the warrior when this one had found his “protective spirit” (totem), that is to say the animal who would guide him during the hunt, help him during the war and bring him health.

Of all the animals created by “the Great Spirit” (the creative entity), the eagle was the closest to him, since he was flying the highest. His feathers thus had a very special status because they represented not only the sacred essence of birds in general, but could also guide thoughts and prayers to the Great Spirit.

They were also important in healing rituals, being used to disperse harmful energies and attract beneficial energies into the patient’s body. But besides the eagle, every other bird found on American territory had its own qualities and symbols, and the feathers of the owl, blue jay, crow, magpie or hawk could be used either for their medicinal virtues, or for rituals of shamans (esoteric rites, fertility, purification), or for funeral ceremonies and weddings.

The ceremonial feathers symbolized the intermediary between life on earth and celestial beings because, during the smoking of the ceremonial pipes, the sacred smoke rose to the sky. The Indians lived in total harmony with nature and deeply venerated everything that it produced. They said in particular:

“You have to see things with the eyes of the heart and not with the eyes of the head”.

An ancient Indian proverb also says, “He who wears a feather does not lie. The feather was therefore central to their culture.