Embroidery, Plains Indians

  Cultural Background

Four-Fold Symmetry 2

Many animals have bodies in which the right half is the mirror image of the left half. That is called "reflection symmetry." Some things have reflection symmetry between top and bottom. Footballs and soup cans, for example, have one shape that is the same for top and bottom, and a different shape that is the same for left and right. If you have the same shape reflected in both directions, it is called "four-fold symmetry."

If we ignore some details, like the color differences in the beadwork example, then all of these designs can be described as having four-fold symmetry. Four-fold symmetry is a deep design theme in many Native American cultures. It is used as an organizing principle for religion, society, and native technology. Many native languages, for example, use base four counting. Teepees are often made with four base poles, each placed in one of the four directions. Prayers are often offered to "the four winds."

Shoshoni Beadwork

Pawnee Buffalo Hide Drum

Navajo rug


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