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Sure, Native Americans make these necklaces for the tourist trade. But I've been leery about symbols on jewelry ever since I was a kid. The summer I was on vacation with my parents in South Dakota, I spotted a beaded necklace with an "Indian" motif in a gift shop. I think there was a tipi on the medallion, and it had beaded fringe hanging from it -- very '60s. For all I know, it was probably made in China. But I thought it was groovy (keep in mind the era here), and I pestered my mother into buying it for me. She also bought me two ice cream cones that day. What the heck, right? We were on vacation. Yeah, well, I was wearing that brand-new necklace when the toothache hit me that night. Call me superstitious, or just young and silly, but I associated that necklace with bad luck ever afterward. I finally threw it out.
So I want to know what stuff means before I decide to wear it. And as I said, I never knew the symbolism behind the squash blossom necklace. So before I plunked down my money for the Navajo piece that had caught my eye, I dove down the Google rabbit hole to find out what I was getting into.
I had always thought "squash blossom" referred to the pendant part of a squash blossom necklace, but it doesn't. The squash blossoms are the vaguely trumpet-shaped beads on the chain. The pendant is called a naja -- pronounced NAH-hah, with a Spanish "j". And it doesn't mean anything. The design came to the New World with the conquistadores. Those guys may have gotten it from the Moors, who used to put an inverted crescent on their horse's bridles to ward against the ol' evil eye. (I guess it didn't work too well; Ferdinand and Isabella kicked them out of Spain in 1492.)
And going back even further, the inverted crescent was a symbol of the Phoenician fertility goddess Astarte.
In any case, by the time the Southwestern tribes got hold of it, it was just an appealing motif. So I felt safe on that score. But what do the etched designs on my naja mean? As near as I can tell, the spirals represent lightning, and the sawtoothed design on the arms symbolizes mountains. Rain is always welcome in the dry Southwest, so I'm viewing it as a good omen. And I've already worn the necklace several times without disaster striking.
Knock on wood.
These moments of historically superstitious blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.