Sep 14, 2020
One of a Kind — Symbols of a Lost Language
Symbols are an important tradition within the cultures of each Artisan we partner with. You can find symbols within woven Guatemalan huipiles, Mexican and Moroccan rugs, and beadwork from Kenya. Each bag or accessory is unique and includes symbols that speak to the wearer and represent their journey in life.
Our most well-known symbol is the Womanhood Icon from our Heritage & Society Collection. Inspired by the symbols of the traditional weavings, Nena Founder Ali Hynek created this icon to symbolize our ebbs and flows, our seasons, powers of creation, our never ending journey to find balance, and our constant regeneration and rebirths.
Many unique Maya symbols can be found in our One of a Kind Collection. The fabric we use for this collection is made from upcycled vintage huipiles (traditional attire worn by women in Guatemala) that were handwoven by Artisans up to 10 years ago, and they have lived a full life before being incorporated into your leather bag!
We hope that the journey of your bag and its weaver inspires you within your own life. Understanding these symbols can help you find the One of a Kind bag that speaks to YOU!
One of a Kind Symbol Definitions
As the Maya guardian of the Underworld, the Bat embodies aspects of both good and evil, light and darkness. To the Maya people, the Bat is a powerful mark to ward off enemies. A bag with this symbol holds the promise of good luck and protection from harm.
The Maquech Beetle is a symbol of eternal love. In ancient Maya tradition, a princess’s murdered lover was transformed into a beetle so she could wear him on a pin close to her heart night and day. Wearing the symbol of the Beetle remains a constant reminder of a true and eternal love.
In Guatemalan culture, the Butterfly is a symbol of freedom and life after death or hardship. Within us, a Butterfly can represent freedom from unwanted habits, freedom from past heartache, and freedom of the spirit. The Butterfly may hold special significance to someone who has overcome great adversity.
Like the stealthy Jaguar, Cats also signify quiet power and rulership. If the Jaguar is the queen, the Cat is the princess. The Cat is a sign of intelligence: small but clever. It is the perfect design for someone who absorbs knowledge and takes a stand when needed.
The Chalice or bowl symbolizes unselfishness, charity, and gratitude. A bag with a Chalice motif can speak to someone who strives to give to others and empower those around them. It is a reminder to live every day in gratitude, sharing what you can.
This design may appear to be a Chevron-like pattern. However, the Maya people see the landscape of their homelands in this motif. The two distinct tall peaks represent the soaring mountains and the narrow valleys they live in. The wide range of diamonds and lines woven throughout the landscape are the people, rivers, and roads. This design is often special to those who have triumphed over hardships or returned to peace.
The symbol of a compass in Maya weaving can mean both direction and perseverance. A person who possesses the qualities of this symbol may be seen as a traveling soul, a jack of all trades, or someone capable of shifting their life path after failure. It stands as a strong reminder to accept the challenges faced and not to fear a change of course.
In ancient Maya culture, the Deer embodies spirituality and regeneration. The Deer’s antlers grow towards the sky as a heavenly crown. Throughout its life, the antlers fall off and grow back more beautiful than before. This symbol is a powerful message of hope to those within one of the many periods of transformation along life’s journey.
One of the most commonly seen symbols is the Diamond. The meaning of this icon is interwoven with the reason behind the Earth. The Diamond shows the arms of the weaver, with her body at the bottom and her textiles at the top— the creator of her masterpiece. Similarly, the Diamond is seen as a mark of the creation of the world. In modern day, the Diamond can represent all artists and makers.
A diamond with a circle or dot in the center indicates a door for ancestors to travel between Earth and the spirit world. This portal is the connection between us and our ancestors, the spark that keeps their memory alive. On a bag, this symbol can represent a period of transition or rebirth in the wearer’s life.
The ancient Maya people saw Doves as Queens of Paradise. They provide life and nourishment from the heavens. Likewise, the symbol of a Dove may be special to mothers and fathers as they create and nurture life, as well as all those who sustain life.
The Mayas have incorporated the Dragon into their huipiles since ancient times. This design often depicts Kukulkan, the creator of Earth and its inhabitants. Kukulkan was known to control the weather and natural disasters. Dragons are often seen as something to be feared, but this Dragon symbol is revered for both the fearsome and beautiful aspects of nature. Those in tune with nature will sense the majesty of the Dragon.
Because the ancient Maya people believed bodies of water lead to the Underworld, water creatures like Ducks have a special relationship to the spirit world. Because of their ties to our spirits, Ducks represent emotions and comfort. The Duck symbol can remind us to drink freely from the waters of life and be aware of our emotional needs.
The Eagle is a cultural icon, depicted on both the Mexican and Guatemalan flags. Historically, the Eagle was believed to be one of the birds present at the time of the creation of the Earth, flying above to oversee the workings of that event. Eagles bring together all of Earth’s creations and assure unity among the people, so they often hold special meaning for those striving for peace within their own lives and communities.
Weavers depict fertile Farmland with clusters of diamonds. Farmland represents the source of all life and the constant renewing cycles of life. These diamond designs may speak to someone who loves to heal and beautify the Earth around themselves.
On a Field bag, the two parallel columns of zig zags are the mountains, while the small stars in between show life in the valley. The mountains offer a refuge from danger, while the valley is a sanctuary for the community to thrive. These symbols can offer inspiration to those who wish to strengthen their families and beautify their homes.
Within the heart of the market of Chichicastenango stands an iconic white church where people have worshiped for centuries. It is believed the Firehorse lives in the earth below. Throughout time the city has endured several hardships, earthquakes, and fires, yet this building and its people have been kept safe. The Firehorse can be a powerful reminder of the miracles we've experienced.
The Flamingo embodies balance and healing. The ancient Maya people valued balance: between light and dark, good and evil, past and future, and all other aspects of life. Healing from pain or heartache comes through achieving balance, and the Flamingo can celebrate that constant journey to find harmony.
Guatemala is known for its abundance of exotic flowers both found in the wild and raised within homes. These delicate icons remind us not only to survive, but to grow and blossom even within difficult circumstances.
The Maya god Itzamna rules over the sky, both day and night. Itzamna represents the harmony of opposites and the importance of diversity. This symbol reminds us that just as both darkness and light unite in worshipping the same god, sometimes opposites attract and create the strongest of bonds.
The Granny Quilt is a reverent reminder of those who came before us and paved the way. It is a symbol of inheritance that helps us remember their legacy, and encourages us to deepen our understanding of heritage, sustain family traditions, and preserve our culture.
The strong and regal Horse reminds us of the royalty often riding atop its back. Appearing on a bag, the Horse expresses the poise and confidence of a king or queen. This design can inspire us to remember our innate value and power of spirit.
The Hummingbird tells the story of pure love and the fragility of a heart that is open for love. It can also be a symbol of grace and gentleness. Hummingbirds celebrate new relationships and commemorate the anniversaries and daily renewals that are part of forever love.
The Jaguar is one of the most important gods in ancient Maya culture. Only royalty could weave Jaguar designs into their clothing. It rules the cycle between day and night and represents fertility, regeneration, and life. The Jaguar symbol can hold special meaning to women because of their inherent power of creation.
These designs are a creative representation of the Spanish Lace that the Maya women began to weave into their huipiles. The symmetry of the design expresses harmony and equality. A Lace bag is the perfect choice for someone striving for balance within their life.
Just as the Jaguar and the Cat reflect royalty, the Lion’s Paws are a symbol of sure and steady leadership. Items with the Lion’s Paws can be a meaningful gift to a respected leader, or a symbol of what is yet to come in one’s own life.
Panels with birds facing one another remind the wearer of the importance of love, whether it is romantic love or between family and friends. Receiving a bag with this symbol as a gift is a powerful appreciation of the relationship with the giver.
It’s easy to spot a Money Bird by the diamonds within its wings and body, symbolizing Guatemalan coins. A bag with the Money Bird represents a celebration of success and good fortune for the wearer, or the hope for it to come to pass.
In Maya tradition, the Moon goddess Ixchel is the goddess of Womanhood. The Moon represents many aspects of womanhood, including the cycles of life, fertility, healing, and the textile arts. Appearing on a bag, the Moon means something different to every wearer, because no two women experience Womanhood the same way.
Mother & Baby Bird
The Mother Bird with babies beneath her wings tells the story of a Mother’s love and protection for her children. Just as the Mother protects her children from harm, this symbol speaks to the people who fiercely advocate for those who cannot protect themselves.
The Ancient Mayas watched for Owls as messengers from the divine, bringing good but also oftentimes bad news. The Owl holds the gifts of foresight and premonition and speaks to those who have what some may call a “sixth sense” to prepare for the uncertainty of the future.
The Guatemalan people see peacocks as a sign of spirituality. Their noble nature and musical colors will hold special meaning to someone who is in tune with their inner spirit or searching for peace within themselves.
The Quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala. Believed to be messengers between Heaven and Earth, Quetzals are a divine and sacred bird. They speak to people who find solace in connection with the heavens, whether it be through nature, ancestors, or the spark of divinity within each of us.
The song of the Robin rings in the dawning of a new day. With the Robin comes a new beginning, a rebirth, and the opportunity to begin anew. Robins remind us that there is always the opportunity for a second chance.
In ancient Maya marriage tradition, the groom’s family presents the bride’s family with a number of Roosters to show they are pleased with the union. Multiple Roosters on a huipil is a sign of beauty, love, and the desire for strong family bonds.
The Mayas have always been a spiritual people, and religion is still an important part of Guatemalan society today. Christianity is prevalent among the people, mixed with ancient traditions. Regardless of personal beliefs, the Saint icons found woven in the huipiles can be a symbol of faith and hope.
The perfect travel companion, the Sea Bird brings exploration and discovery. Whether at home or abroad, the Sea Bird guides adventurers as they discover the new people, places, and ideas that will change the course of their lives.
As one of the most common and most significant Maya symbols, the Serpent is highly revered for its intelligence and powers of transformation. The shedding of the skin symbolizes growth and rebirth, which leads to knowledge and wisdom. A Serpent design can be identified by its horizontal triangle pattern.
The triangular snake above diamonds, or Serpent God, represents reaching new heights and experiencing things that were previously thought impossible. The bag with this design can help give a boost of confidence and remind its holder of their limitless potential.
The Squirrel is alive, full of energy and music. Squirrels represent intelligence, especially in communication and in social situations. A bag with a Squirrel panel is perfect for someone who is the life of the party.
The colorful light passing through Stained Glass appears as guidance from the stars and heavens. These beautiful colors can inspire us to take the path that will bring the most joy, no matter how wild our aspirations may seem at first. A bag with Stained Glass weavings was made for the dreamer.
The Star shows a connection to the spirit world, as Stars are heaven looking down upon us. Stars are a remembrance of those who came before us and a reminder that their presence is near. A huipil with Stars may be especially meaningful to someone who has a loved one watching over them from the heavens.
The most common Swan design is known as the Rainbow Swan due to the falling colors on its wings. Swans are often seen facing one another, depicting soulmates. While Swans in nature are graceful, soft and organic, these birds in the huipiles are stark and geometric. This armor-like depiction expresses the protection soulmates provide one another.
Tree of Life
The Tree of Life provides renewal and balance. A tree unites the Earth and the heavens above. The branches reach towards life and strength, as the roots below provide a sturdy foundation for the journey above. This is a powerful symbol for those experiencing a period of growth.
The Turkey celebrates marriage and unity. It is a celebration of two parts coming together to form a whole, and two families joining as one. On a bag, the Turkey can also tell the story of unity in purpose and belief.
In ancient tradition, the two-headed eagle god Kablicok was leader of the sky. The double headed bird represents balance to the Maya people. One head looks forward to the future while the other remembers the traditions of the past. The Aguila prompts one to strengthen their roots while forging new paths.
A “V” shape signifies the god Gucumatz, a feathered serpent and Creator of the Universe. As the Creator, Gucumatz is highly respected within Maya tradition. This symbol can be special to someone who has deep appreciation and respect for the Earth and all of its creatures.