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Symbolism Represented in Antique Caucasian Rugs (Part 3)
A 5'-2" x 7'-6" High Collectible Caucasian woven in the 19th century is available at Claremont Rug Company.

By Jan David Winitz,
Claremont Rug Company

OAKLAND, CA.- Over the past several weeks, I have been writing about the fascinating background of antique Caucasian rugs woven during the Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving (ca. 1800 to ca. 1910). In the articles, I described the harsh conditions that the tribes encountered and how they expressed their view of life and the cosmos through the rugs.

In this, the third and final installment, I will be looking more closely at specific symbols that they, primarily women, wove into the rugs and the meaning of each.

Wheel of Life Appearing throughout time in numerous cultures, this ancient mandala shows life's ever-changing yet cyclical nature. The tribal people believed life’s events were not haphazard. Instead, they were gifts that, if embraced, could support one to grow. The mandala’s latch hooks encircling the wheel are associated with the dragon symbol. Small stars were often placed within the wheel, perhaps to demonstrate the potential fruit of facing life’s events with balance and dignity.

Boteh The precursor of the Indian paisley, the boteh is sometimes interpreted as a flame. Among tribal rug weavers, it was often considered analogous to a sprouting seed and symbolized the “Seed of Life.” The boteh represents the omnipresent potential for growth and regeneration. It was very inspiring to the Caucasian tribespeople that the magic of growth and abundance was possible even in the adverse conditions under which they lived. The boteh often encloses a mature plant within it, symbolizing that the whole always exists within the part.

Gazelle The tribespeople observed admirable attributes in the animals around them, which they strived to cultivate within themselves. The gazelle possessed the virtues of grace, fleetness, and dignity that could manifest in all situations and aspects of life.

Ram's Horn Sheep and rams were a vital source of warmth and comfort, as well as central to the livelihood of the tribe. Their wool was the primary material used in weaving antique Caucasian rugs, which they considered a sacred activity. Throughout history, the ram’s horn has been used to summon the group together as one. The ram’s horn symbolizes strength, power, and fertility, suggesting that life itself is not temporary but eternal.

Rosette The Rose is the most magical and awe-inspiring of cultivated flowers. The rosette indicates that as a result of being cultivated by the creative energy of man, nature becomes more refined and purified than in the primordial state. This is only possible through a harmonizing of man’s knowledge with the inner warmth of his heart and a sensitivity to the laws that govern Heaven and Earth.

"S" Motif The “S” antique carpet pattern is often thought to represent the dragon, the masculine or heavenly principle of life. It is also considered by some to stem from the Zoroastrian symbol for the sun's life-giving force. The sun embodied the attribute of eternally shining and always nourishing all things without discrimination. The sun also demonstrates a central quality of illumination that man may attain through striving for inner development. This may be why small “S” motifs are often scattered throughout the field of an antique tribal rug.

Star of Wisdom The eight-pointed star is an archetypal symbol that appears in cave drawings and likely stems from the dawn of mankind. This motif depicts man’s potential for inner wisdom and understanding; King Solomon wore an eight-pointed star on his ring as a reminder of inner striving. The antique tribal rug weavers lived an elemental lifestyle with few personal possessions. They believed that wisdom was the true wealth that could be obtained through the striving one made amidst the many challenges of daily activities.

Dragon In the Eastern world, the dragon symbolized the heavenly influence that is ever-present on the earth. It is the masculine or cosmic element, the active principle that animates life and can be seen in all things. It is often shown in relationship with the phoenix, which is the feminine or earth element. This receptive principle embodies life in form and nurtures it to grow. In the ancient Chinese court, the emperor wore a dragon on his gown, and the empress wore the phoenix. The dragon and phoenix may also be interpreted to depict the possibility of union between the mind and heart of man.

Running Water Both the nomadic shepherds and the sedentary agrarian antique rug weavers of the Caucasus considered everything that nurtured life as sacred. Water was essential to sustain and nourish life. The running water border around a rug represents the life-giving quality of water to both the tribe's peoples and their animals. It also symbolizes the possibility for inner purification.

Bird Birds are symbolic of the miracle of flight and the potential for freedom from our human boundaries, indicating the possibility to see from a greater perspective. They also symbolize man’s innate striving for freedom of consciousness and the boundless joy of the heart.

Fence of Security The innermost and outermost borders of antique Caucasian rugs often feature a reciprocal, crenelated fence motif. The motifs of the field signify what is essential, the attributes that are the birthright of man and may inspire one for a more fulfilling life. These age-old symbols were considered sacred. The Fence of Security demonstrates that the most valuable is also most vulnerable, so it must be protected and respected. The double-edged fence also suggests that man’s essential life is untouched by the external events of life.

Peacock The peacock has a lineage associated with nobility and abundance. Its colorful plumes are regal and suggest a level of beauty and splendor that is at once heavenly, and yet manifests on the earth. The tribespeople believed that this same brilliance also exists in the depths of the heart.

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