The motif called the “Whirling Log” in Navajo culture is one appearance of one of the oldest symbols to be depicted by human beings. The symbol has been recorded in rock and cave paintings from at least 6,000 years ago and, in Navajo culture, the Whirling Log represents wellbeing, good luck, and protection.
In 1940, in response to the regime of Adolf Hitler, which appropriated the symbol to represent the Nazi regime, the Navajo, Papago, Apache, and Hopi people signed a Whirling Log proclamation. It read, “because the above ornament, which has been a symbol of friendship among our forefathers for many centuries, has been desecrated recently by another nation of peoples, therefore it is resolved that henceforth from this date on and forever more our tribes renounce the use of the emblem commonly known today as the swastika on our blankets, baskets, art objects, sand paintings and clothing.”
This is one iteration of the Whirling Log tale, adapted from work by Beth Barth of the Nizhoni Ranch Gallery in Sonoita, Arizona.
“The hero of the story sets out on a long journey. At first the gods try to persuade him against going, but seeing his determination, they help him hollow out a log in which he will travel down the river. Along the way he has many misadventures which ultimately result in his gaining important ceremonial knowledge. In one such instance he and his craft are captured by the Water People who carry him down beneath the waters to the home of Water Monster. Black God threatens to set fire to Water Monster’s home and the hero is released, but not before being taught by Frog how to cure the illnesses caused by the Water People. When he finally reaches the lake that is his destination, the gods catch his log and help him to shore. Wandering about on land the hero comes upon a whirling cross with two yeis (holy beings) seated on each end. From them he learns the knowledge of farming and is given seeds. He then returns home to share these gifts with his people.
Until the late 1800s, when J. Lorenzo Hubbell and J.B. Moore opened their trading posts in Arizona and New Mexico, Navajos portrayed the Whirling Log solely in their religious ceremonies in the form of sand paintings. But by 1896, the symbol proliferated on Navajo rugs.”
While some Navajo adhere to the 1940 resolution, other weavers, albeit less common, still incorporate the deeply traditional motif into their textiles.
The Moab Museum is dedicated to sharing stories of the natural and human history of the Moab area. To explore more of Moab’s stories and artifacts, find out about upcoming programs, and become a Member, visit www.moabmuseum.org.
This aritcle was originally published in the Moab Sun News.