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For thousands of years, symbols have told stories and have also served as a
method to gain power over the forces and the phenomena which effect a society or
The inverted crescent pendant on squash-blossom necklaces, called the 'Naja' by
the Navajo, is found in various design forms throughout the world cultures.
As a crescent, this form goes back as far as the Paleolithic period. It is
mentioned in the book of Judges as an ornament worn around the necks of camels.
In the Phoenician culture, Astarte was the goddess of fertility and she was
represented by the inverted crescent as well. As pendants, the
inverted crescent has also been found in ancient Roman, and Crete artifacts.
During the Middle Ages, the Moors rode out of the East and conquered lands in a
westerly direction including eight centuries of occupation in Spain. They
adopted the symbol as a bridal ornament, and thought the inverted crescent would
protect both themselves and their horses from 'the evil eye'. When
the Spaniards came to South and Central America, they brought that same idea
with them for the protection of their horses and of their soldiers. Thus,
the Moors taught the Spanish, who taught the Mexicans, who taught the Navajo
their belief systems and metallurgy.
Coming from another direction in North America, the inverted crescent symbol was
on various types of trade goods brought from the East coast by other Europeans.
The crescent pendant was used from the early 1800's on, by the Shawnee,
Delaware, Cheyenne, Comanche and Navajo tribes, among others. However,
metal work of various European influences was found in the southwest as early as
the 1700's. At this time, the Navajo were fierce warriors who more often
raided but occasionally traded with their neighbors, the Plains Tribes.
By the 1820's, Southern Plains metalworkers had learned the processes of
cutting, stamping and cold hammering. Much of this work was produced in
German silver. German silver was a different alloy as compared with the
Mexican silver, which was often used by the Navajo. Through contact with
either the Spanish and/or the various Plains Tribes, the Navajo adopted the
symbol of the inverted crescent for their horses. The Naja was put on the
horse headstall, the front center band of the horse bridal, and later, the Naja
moved into the realm of necklaces.
In a 1930's interview, "At one time, every Navajo who could afford a silver
headstall had one on his horse," according to Grey Moustache, (a Navajo
silversmith who worked the art from the late 1800's into the 1900's). In
early 1900 photographs of Hopi dancers, the Naja can be seen as central
component of beaded necklaces.
The ability to work in silver, leather and other metals, allowed the Navajo to
move their culture from a warrior society to more of a merchant society.
Where prestige and wealth had come from raiding, it now came from herding, and
various art forms. Silverworking was a very important part of this change.
According to the Navajo, the symbol of the Naja is decorative, and serves no
purpose either as a spiritual symbol or as a specific symbol. Yet, the
Naja is held in very high esteem by the Navajo as well as other peoples.
One symbol of the squash blossom can be found on ancient petroglyphs at
the Saguaro National Monument in Arizona. It is believed that the flower
symbol that we commonly see in necklaces was brought to the Navajo at the turn
of the century, the 1800's to the 1900's. The blossom is represented
with long petals beginning to open and a sphere attached at the base of the
flower. The flower pendent is a representation of the Spanish-Mexican
pomegranate and a variation of this design can be found in the motif of Granada,
In the Americas, Spanish colonial gentlemen wore variations of these pomegranate
flower blossoms on their shirts, capes and trousers as silver adornments.
Some squash blossom necklaces that date from the 1880's and 1890's were made
with hand-hammered Mexican silver coins, with the Naja in the same design as the
Moor horse bridle pendants.
Najas can be found on all sorts of necklaces, however, not all squash blossom
necklaces sport Najas. And there are necklaces with both the
blossoms and the Najas, as well as other design elements such as religious
symbols. As time has progressed, both the squash blossoms and the Naja
have developed into various designs and styles. Today, these necklaces continue
to develop past the traditional silver and turquoise elements and are moving
into gold, diamonds and other materials of interest and great beauty.