Certain world-ideas which have given rise to many of the most significant symbolic patterns must be broadly considered before taking up each ornament in turn. The recognition of natural phenomena by each dweller on earth, wherever he may have lived and whenever he may have thought, gave rise to a widespread tendency to depict individual observations.
In the " niche " in the rug-chart several of these world-ideas are suggested by their appropriate symbols, which seem to be of a class of their own and to have universal significance. Careful examination of the evolution of pattern shows that all symbols may, for our convenience, be divided into three classes,— primary, secondary, and indefinite.
The first, or primary, are those that were invented to stand for elemental phenomena, such, for example, as the earth, the sun, the rain, the stars, clouds, thunder and lightning, and the wind, which were indicated in many places by the same general signs.
The secondary symbols are those that show thought and imaginings about these natural things, and the manifestation of this thought differs in different localities. Indefinite symbols are those that illustrate human appeal from below to powers above, such an attitude of mind leading to the establishment of creeds and religious belief, totem worship, and similar evidences of co-operation with Divine energy.
By critical examination of symbols we may easily decide in our own minds to which of these divisions units of ornament originally belonged. For example, take the most simple and natural observation a human being, could make. Man, finding in himself a centre, represented the earth as bounded by its horizon in the form of a circle, in which a cross with four arms indicated the four points of direction. Other primitive thinkers made a straight line to represent the earth, and a semi-circle over it for the sky. This Hiawatha taught his people :
"For the earth he drew a straight
The sun, above all other subjects which furnished motifs for primary symbols, suggested early symbolic forms which have endured from the beginning of things. These gave rise to a vast number of secondary symbols, for man's thought has never wearied in its effort to show respectful allegiance to the king of the sky, and many human contrivances for assistance in his long race, and for rest at its end were invented and symbolized ; for example, the " sun-boat," resulting from the idea that as rain came from the clouds, a boat for the sun was necessary on occasion.
Whatever the subject selected from natural phenomena, three attitudes seem to exist toward it when it is pictorially represented, —observation, reflection, and belief or creed. Man, observing that light, heat, and rain caused the earth to bring forth shrubs and trees, at first symbolized the observations, and later, after reflection, he so modified primitive- symbols as to indicate his belief, thus producing a complication. and multiplication of thoughts and ideas.
Following closely upon the observation of light, its opposite, darkness was pictured in secondary symbols, and later the thought of co-operation with the great forces gave a number of talismanic symbols which were considered useful in appeasing the evil spirit of darkness and in worshipping the good spirit.
The desirability of establishing means of communication between earth and heaven led to all sorts of means to bring about desired results in human affairs, and every obstruction was removed that might hinder the approach of the Supreme Spirit. Trees were grown for His resting-place ; stones were erected for sacrifices to Omnipotence ; and, so that there might be ease of access and a direct passage made between heaven and earth, bells were jingled to stir the spirit spaces, flags were made to flutter in the wind, drums and clappers of various sorts were sounded on earth to awaken and call the attention of the Deity, and in the mutterings of thunder and the darts of lightning a divine response was recognized.
The patterns that have existed for many centuries have almost invariably been evolved from primary symbols, and they alone are absolute, for as soon as speculation begins there is a mingling of motifs which interrupts all natural mental processes in the effort of interpretation.
The inevitable effect of observation and reflection was to cause primitive men to adopt some sort of belief, and thus the early religions of the world were established. Some of the most important symbols seem to have had independent origin in each of the great creeds of the world ; others migrated from one to the other, and were finally adopted by European nations, who substituted Christian names for pagan and added the attributes of saints to those of heathen gods.
Instead of taking up the study of each of the symbolic forms best known to antiquarians, or of trying to establish any of our individual theories, we must confine ourselves within the limits of our avowed purpose to study pattern analytically, and to trace the origin only of such as have survived in the ornament of obtainable objects.