World ideas

Certain world-ideas which have given rise to many
of the most significant symbolic patterns must be broadly considered before
taking up each ornament in turn. The recognition of natural phenomena
by each dweller on earth, wherever he may have lived and whenever he may
have thought, gave rise to a widespread tendency to depict individual

In the ” niche ” in the rug-chart
several of these world-ideas are suggested by their appropriate symbols,
which seem to be of a class of their own and to have universal significance.
Careful examination of the evolution of pattern shows that all symbols
may, for our convenience, be divided into three classes,— primary,
secondary, and indefinite.

The first, or primary, are those that were
invented to stand for elemental phenomena, such, for example, as the earth,
the sun, the rain, the stars, clouds, thunder and lightning, and the wind,
which were indicated in many places by the same general signs.

The secondary symbols are those that show thought
and imaginings about these natural things, and the manifestation of this
thought differs in different localities. Indefinite symbols are those
that illustrate human appeal from below to powers above, such an attitude
of mind leading to the establishment of creeds and religious belief, totem
worship, and similar evidences of co-operation with Divine energy.

By critical examination of symbols we may easily decide
in our own minds to which of these divisions units of ornament originally
belonged. For example, take the most simple and natural observation a
human being, could make. Man, finding in himself a centre, represented
the earth as bounded by its horizon in the form of a circle, in which
a cross with four arms indicated the four points of direction. Other primitive
thinkers made a straight line to represent the earth, and a semi-circle
over it for the sky. This Hiawatha taught his people :

“For the earth he drew a straight
For the sky a bow above it
White the space between for day-time,
Filled with little stars for night-time,
On the left a point for sunrise,
On the top a point for noontide—
And for rain and cloudy weather
Wavy lines descending from it.”

The sun, above all other subjects which furnished
motifs for primary symbols, suggested early symbolic forms which have
endured from the beginning of things. These gave rise to a vast number
of secondary symbols, for man’s thought has never wearied in its effort
to show respectful allegiance to the king of the sky, and many human contrivances
for assistance in his long race, and for rest at its end were invented
and symbolized ; for example, the ” sun-boat,” resulting from
the idea that as rain came from the clouds, a boat for the sun was necessary
on occasion.

Whatever the subject selected from natural
phenomena, three attitudes seem to exist toward it when it is pictorially
represented, —observation, reflection, and belief or creed. Man,
observing that light, heat, and rain caused the earth to bring forth shrubs
and trees, at first symbolized the observations, and later, after reflection,
he so modified primitive- symbols as to indicate his belief, thus producing
a complication. and multiplication of thoughts and ideas.

Following closely upon the observation of
light, its opposite, darkness was pictured in secondary symbols, and later
the thought of co-operation with the great forces gave a number of talismanic
symbols which were considered useful in appeasing the evil spirit of darkness
and in worshipping the good spirit.

The desirability of establishing means of communication
between earth and heaven led to all sorts of means to bring about desired
results in human affairs, and every obstruction was removed that might
hinder the approach of the Supreme Spirit. Trees were grown for His resting-place
; stones were erected for sacrifices to Omnipotence ; and, so that there
might be ease of access and a direct passage made between heaven and earth,
bells were jingled to stir the spirit spaces, flags were made to flutter
in the wind, drums and clappers of various sorts were sounded on earth
to awaken and call the attention of the Deity, and in the mutterings of
thunder and the darts of lightning a divine response was recognized.

The patterns that have existed for many centuries
have almost invariably been evolved from primary symbols, and they alone
are absolute, for as soon as speculation begins there is a mingling of
motifs which interrupts all natural mental processes in the effort of

The inevitable effect of observation and
reflection was to cause primitive men to adopt some sort of belief, and
thus the early religions of the world were established. Some of the most
important symbols seem to have had independent origin in each of the great
creeds of the world ; others migrated from one to the other, and were
finally adopted by European nations, who substituted Christian names for
pagan and added the attributes of saints to those of heathen gods.

Instead of taking up the study of each of the symbolic
forms best known to antiquarians, or of trying to establish any of our
individual theories, we must confine ourselves within the limits of our
avowed purpose to study pattern analytically, and to trace the origin
only of such as have survived in the ornament of obtainable objects.

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