How God's Eyes Became A Summer Camp Craft

Photo: Mario Humberto Morales Rubí/Alamy Stock Photo.
If you went to camp, there's a decent chance you've either made or at least seen a god's eye, a craft made from two sticks glued into a cross formation with yarn wound around them to create a diamond-like pattern. But a god's eye isn't just some activity your counselor thought up for rainy days — it's actually hundreds of years old.
God's eyes were originally made by the Huichol, the indigenous people of what's now western Mexico, and they appeared on everything from altars to large ceremonial shields. And it was only when Spanish colonists arrived in the region in the 1500s that these woven yarn charms got the name that's still used today. Upon observing their ritual significance to the Huichol, the Roman Catholic Spanish dubbed them "ojos de dios," or eyes of God.
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Other indigenous communities in northern Mexico and the American southwest were known to make their own version of god's eyes, and what this craft symbolized was relatively consistent across variations. The four points of the "eye" were believed to represent the four elements (fire, earth, air, and water), while the center of it was said to serve as a portal between the spirt world and the mortal world. So, not only could the gods gaze through the eye and watch over their worshippers, but worshippers could use the eye to ask for help or protection from the gods, as well.
Since then, the custom of making god's eyes has spread across the U.S. and, in so doing, lost its original regional and spiritual meaning amongst the general population. During the late 1960s, it was co-opted as a rallying symbol during the Summer of Love by the counter-culture movement with no explicit nod to its original meaning. Nowadays, the god's eye is sometimes claimed to be a distinctly Christian craft, with many Sunday school teachers using it as a visual aid for the role of Jesus and God in people's lives.
It's hard to say what god's eyes are supposed to represent today, considering so few people are aware of their cultural history. But at the very least, understanding the historical significance of them might make you more likely to keep the ones you might still have in your parents' basement.
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