Healing totem symbols: The tree of life and woman with a gathering basket

The tree of life and woman with a gathering basket

While the top of the NLM health totem depicts the Algonquin traditional story of the Medicine Woman in the Moon, the middle and lower panels are vivid descriptive myths of health, healing, and peace.

Master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James, of the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Indian Nation, in Washington State, plans to depict the Tree of Life, in the middle panel of the NLM totem, but with one significant difference from Lummi traditions.

Hand drawing by the artist with measurements of the concept for the tree portion of the totem

Courtesy Jewell James

The Tree of Life, with its branches reaching for the sky and its roots deep in the earth, symbolizes how all life on earth is related. In the Pacific Northwest, the western red cedar plays a central role in Lummi cultural identification, and normally would be the Tree of Life that Jewell James carves into a new totem. But because the NLM totem will stand in the herb garden, outside the Library in Bethesda, MD, he plans to carve a Tree of Peace to represent the sacred images and myths of the Northeastern-based Iroquois nation. The Iroquois’ sacred tree is the white pine, a giant evergreen common in the east.

Jewell’s white pine, carved into the western red cedar, will display shaded greens and deep browns. “As I carve this image,” Jewell said, “I will remember the words of Chief Oren Lyons, now Keeper of the Faith, of the Iroquois Confederacy, after he taught us about the Tree of Peace. “You are the runner now,’ he said.  And as long as you live you will carry this message.’”

James says the message is the Tree of Life symbolizes peace, not war; unity, not individuality; equality, not unfairness or gender discrimination. It is a symbol to perceive the world as a sacred part of creation, in which we are only a part. Like the tree, we grow and expand — each generation adding to its health.

Hand drawing by the artist with measurements of the concept for the woman with basket portion of the totem

Concept sketch courtesy Jewell James

At the bottom of the totem, Jewell James will carve a woman with a basket. She represents the multiple generations of traditional women gatherers of medicinal plants that date waaaaay back to the Creation of Mother Earth and Grandmother Moon.

Women gathering plants and seeds in their baskets represent the foundations of civilization within Native American myths. Women are the weavers of life; the makers of baskets that hold the foods upon which we are dependent.  Their baskets are made so well that they can carry water. And because of their great gathering skills, women gatherers are the equals of male hunters. Women gather, harvest, preserve, and teach each generation. They pass down their knowledge and by doing so, preserve the health and happiness of all.

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2 thoughts on “Healing totem symbols: The tree of life and woman with a gathering basket

  1. Pingback: Totem symbol | Blessingmagazi

  2. “Healing totem symbols: The tree of life and woman with a gathering
    basket Healing Totem Journey” was indeed a superb blog.
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    amazing one on the actual world wide web. Anyway, thanks a lot for ur precious time, Belle

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