Among Native American people symbolic imagery is extremely important to the continuation of traditional beliefs. Archaeologists have demonstrated that the marks made on pottery are very much like ancient wall paintings that have long outlasted their creators. The Native American view that all things, living or inanimate, posses a spirit is what drives this language of symbols. The symbols of nature represent the importance the elements hold for human life and existence. Certain qualities and characteristics are represented by animal symbols. Hatching and geometric lines that may appear to be solely decoration often represent abstract ideas. Among the common themes of Pueblo imagery are symbols of nature and spiritual beliefs. The vast majority of symbols and designs in common use among pueblo potters are copies (or stylized interpretations) of symbols that have been found on pottery shards that are, in some cases, hundreds of years old.
Arrows: Arrows usually imply force, movement, direction and power. When displayed within a landscape they imply direction. When displayed with animals they represent the "heart line" which shows the pathway of breath or the life-force of the animal spirit. When an animal is shown with an arrow going inward, it represents a prayer for better hunting.
Lines: Hatched lines usually indicate movement or rain. Rain translates to fertile land and represents a necessary vital life source. There are many motifs that imply prayers for rain and water. Other parallel lines may represent crop rows. Horizontal lines can be decorative or might depict the horizon. Diagonal lines might indicate the journey of a spirit between worlds. Lines that encircle the rim of a pot sometimes have a gap, or "spirit break," which metaphorically releases the spirit of the potter or any other spirits that may be associated with the materials that make up the pot (some potters use ground up pot shards for temper and everything about it implies the presence of the spirits of those former potters, too).
Circles: Circles might represent the earth, the sun or the moon. Symbols in which circles are juxtaposed with diagonal lines signify the movement of the sun and specific times of day or year. Pueblo Indians tell time by the position of the sun and have carefully mapped its motion. Certain positions of the sun mean the beginning and ending of duties like planting and harvesting as well as when to perform ceremonies. Concentric circles might represent levels to the Upper World.
Kiva Steps: The Kiva is an underground ceremonial and religious structure. They usually have a hole in the center to symbolize the sipapu where the ancestors originally emerged on the surface of this world. The steps symbolize man's journey from the three levels of the underworld to the upper world, as described in the Emergence Myth. Steps are sometimes cut into the rim of a pot, too.
Spirals: Spirals represent renewal and continuation. They might also represent a spiritual journey to other worlds or the broadening of one's consciousness.
AnimalsBear: represents strength and medicine
Other SymbolsAvanyu: Avanyu is a mythical water serpent who is believed to bring storms and sudden change. He is valued for bringing water to the land especially in seasons of drought. Avanyu is depicted on many Santa Clara and San Ildefonso pots.