The Native Thunderbird Symbol represents power, protection, and strength. He is often seen as the most powerful of all spirits and can also transform into human form by opening his head up like a mask and taking his feathers off as if they were a mere blanket. Under his wings are lightning snakes, which he can use as a tool or weapon.
Thunderbird Symbol and First Nations
The Thunderbird is a mythical creature that is said to be the dominating force of all-natural activity. Located in the Pacific North Western Mountains, the Thunderbird creates booms of thunder by flapping his wings and shoots bolts of lightning from his eyes, when hunters got too close to his home.
By creating rainstorms he waters the earth, making it possible for vegetation to grow. He is said to be so large that his wingspan is as large as two canoes, and that he could easily carry a killer whale out of the water with his talons. Only the most powerful and successful chiefs and families use the Thunderbird in their crest. He resembles the Eagle but is distinguished by the two curved horns or Plumage on his head. Long ago Northwest Coast people pleaded to the Thunderbird for help in times of food shortage, and he helped, but in return requested that from then on he only be depicted at the top of a totem pole with his wings stretched out. That is the reason the Thunderbird appears at the top of so many Northwest Coast totem poles.
The story of the Thunderbird: The Great Chief (Namoquayalis-"the only one") lived on the highest mountain, called Klaskis, near Cape Cook on the west coast of Vancouver Island. At one time a great flood threatened to engulf the world. Then lightning flashed four times, and a Thunderbird appeared before the Great Chief, transformed himself into a human being, and came to the rescue of the Great Chief. The Great Chief then asked the Thunderbird to go look around the land for any survivors of the flood. After completing his search, the Thunderbird returned and told the Great Chief that he had found some human survivors. So the Great Chief then told the Thunderbird to go and invite these people to come and witness a Thunderbird dance. This dance and the Thunderbird privileges have been passed down from generation to generation of the Great Chief's family. (RRN: Museum of Anthropology, item 863/1)
Ko'lus/Kolus/Kulus is a young Thunderbird, sometimes referred to as the younger brother or sister of Thunderbird. The Ko'lus has a coat of white down so thick it makes him hot and prone to sweating. Like the Thunderbird, the Ko'lus has the ability to transform into a human. When overheated, the Ko'lus removes his down to become temporarily human. A highly respected symbol, Ko'lus is known as a protector spirit. In many origin stories, a Ko'lus flew down from heaven and shed his coat, transforming into a human and becoming the founding ancestor of the tribe or clan.
Native Art - Thunderbird Symbol
Spirits of the West Coast Native Art Gallery sells Thunderbird Symbol prints, Native American Jewelry, Thunderbird native carvings, thunderbird ceremonial masks, gold and silver bracelets, and bentwood boxes, all inspired by the Thunderbird Symbol.
If you have any further information or stories with or about this Native American Symbol or totem and you would like to share them with our readers, please feel free to email them to us. If they are appropriate we will add them to this page. Thank you!