The Meaning of the Zia Sun Symbol on the New Mexico Flag (2022)

With a red Zia sun sign against a bright yellow background, New Mexico’s state flag stands out among other flags with blue backgrounds and state seals. Here’s the fascinating meaning behind the sacred Zia sun symbol on the New Mexico flag.

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The Meaning of the Zia Sun Symbol on the New Mexico Flag (2)

Vexillology is the study of flags. So when the North American Vexillological Association determines that your flag is thebest-designed of any US state, US territory, or Canadian province, you’ve definitely earned bragging rights.

Congratulations New Mexico!

Yes, that’s right. The bright yellow flag of New Mexico with its red Zia symbol is considered the best-designed flag north of the Mexican border. The evaluation is based on these five design principles:

  1. Keep it simple– a child should be able to draw the flag from memory.
  2. Meaningful symbolism – images, colors, and patterns should be chosen with intent
  3. Don’t overdo it – select no more than three, standard colors with good contrast
  4. No lettering or seals – a well-designed flag should avoid writing of any kind as well as the organization’s seal
  5. Be unique, but don’t stray too far from the pack – avoid mimicking other flags, but use similar design features to show the connection to other, related organizations

Sage Advice:Here’s where you can buy a New Mexico state flag.

But do you know the history and meaning of the Zia Symbol on the country’s best-designed flag?

Fun Fact: The New Mexico flag is one of four state flags that doesn’t include the color blue. The other three are Alabama, California, and Maryland.

(Video) The Beautiful Meaning Behind the Zia Sun Symbol on the New Mexico Flag

History of the New Mexico Flag

When New Mexico became the United States’ 47th state on January 6, 1912, it didn’t have a state flag. As a new decade dawned and New Mexico still didn’t have a flag, the Daughters of the American Revolution encouraged New Mexico to cross this last item offof their new state to do list. The quest to create a contemporary and unique flag for New Mexico was solved in a relatively modern way — by holding a contest.

Fun Fact: During the first 14 years of statehood, New Mexico did not have an official flag. When the World’s Fair was held in San Diego in 1915, an unofficial New Mexico flag was displayed in an exhibit showcasing all state flags. New Mexico’s unofficial flag featured a plain blue background with the US flag in the upper, left corner, the words “New Mexico, and the number 47 because New Mexico was the nation’s 47th state.

Enter Dr. Harry Mera, a physician and anthropologist living in Santa Fe, the new state’s capital. After serving as a doctor during World War I, Dr. Mera left the US Army and became an anthropologist and first curator of the Laboratory of Anthropology. In this role, Dr. Mera was inspired by a sun-like design on a 19th-century clay pot in the museum.

As it turns out, the ceremonial vase on display was stolen from the Zia people by another anthropologist, James Stevenson, back in 1890. Working for the Smithsonian Institution, he built a rapport with the Zia people and was allowed to attend their sacred ceremonies.

When he tried to purchase a piece of pottery with the Zia sun symbol, the Zia people wouldn’t allow it. So Stevenson stole the clay piece and documented the theft in a book he later published. The pottery has been returned to the Zia people and is no longer in the Santa Fe museum.

Fun Fact:While the New Mexico state flag features the Zia sun sign, thenewest license plate design features this other symbol of the Land of Enchantment.

Related Article:A Spiritual Quest in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Back to the flag contest…

Dr. Mera paired the Zia sun symbol with the bright red and yellow colors of the Spanish flag. His wife, Reba, sewed their contest entry into the winning flag, and the couple received a $25 prize, about $350 in today’s dollars.

Fun Fact: Today the Laboratory of Anthropology is known as the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture.

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The Meaning of the Zia Sun Symbol on the New Mexico Flag (3)

The Meaning of the Zia Sun Symbol on the New Mexico Flag (4)
(Video) The Zia Pueblo Sun - Symbol of the Day #36

The Meaning Behind the Zia Sun Symbol

A branch of the Pueblo community, the Zia are an indigenous tribe originally from the Four Corners region. In the 13th century, they migrated to a rocky ledge above the wide Jemez River Valley at the base of the Jemez and Nacimiento mountains in northern New Mexico.

Fun Fact: The movie All the Pretty Horseswas filmed on Zia lands.

Both the sun and the number four are sacred to the Zia. The Zia sun sign represents:

  • the four cardinal directions (north, south, east and west),
  • each season of the year (spring, summer, autumn and winter),
  • the four periods of each day (morning, noon, evening and night), and
  • the four seasons of life (childhood, youth, middle years and old age).

These four elements are tied together by a circle of life that has no beginning and no end.

Additionally, the Zia also believe that humans have four sacred obligations. They must develop:

  • a strong body,
  • a clear mind,
  • a pure spirit, and
  • a devotion to the welfare of their people.

If you’ve ever been a 4-H member, you might notice a parallel between these four sacred Zia obligations and the 4-H pledge where the four “Hs” are head, heart, hands, and health.

Like the cross to Christians, the Star of David to Jews, the Aum to Hindus, and other sacred symbols, the Zia is important to this Pueblo community.Therefore, the Zia request their sun symbol be used respectfully and with their consent.

The Meaning of the Zia Sun Symbol on the New Mexico Flag (5)

While the Zia sun symbol is featured on the flag of New Mexico, incorporated into the design of the New Mexico State Capitol, and featured on the back of the New Mexico state quarter, the Zia do not want to see the sun symbol used on a can of beer. Or a football helmet.

Fun Fact: Known as “the Roundhouse,” New Mexico’s state capitol is the only circular-shaped state capitol in the United States.

Related Article: Here Comes the Sun – The Intriguing Meanings Behind Sun Flags

Frequently Asked Questions About the Zia Symbol

What does the Zia symbol mean?

The Zia symbol represents a sun with four groups of four sunrays representing the cardinal directions, seasons of the year, periods of the day, and phases of life.

What do the lines on the Zia symbol mean?

The lines on the Zia sun symbol represent the rays of the sun. The beautiful symbol pairs two components sacred to the Zia, the sun and the number four.

(Video) Discussion to be held on New Mexico's appropriation of Zia symbol

Where did the Zia symbol come from?

The Zia sun sign is a sacred symbol of the Zia, an indigenous tribe from what is now the Four Corners region of the United States.

Is the Zia symbol trademarked?

Although the Zia sun symbol was stolen and used without the consent of the Zia people, it cannot be trademarked because it has been part of the public domain for more than 40 years.

But in 2014, the National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution that recognizes the Zia Pueblo’s cultural property right to the sun symbol. And as more people become aware of the symbol’s sacred meaning, organizations are voluntarily halting their use of the symbol, from Eastern New Mexico University to the City of Madison, Wisconsin.

When was the Zia symbol created?

How many companies use a Zia symbol in their logo?

Throughout the Land of Enchantment, you’ll find the Zia many places besides the bright yellow flag of New Mexico. It adorns t-shirts, hats, and shot glasses. And it’s a popular name and symbol for a variety of businesses.

But as more people understand the symbol’s history (and how it was stolen from the Zia), businesses are compensating the Zia people for the use of their beautiful sun symbol. For example, Southwest Airlines contributes to a scholarship fund for Zia children because New Mexico One features the sun symbol.

How do I request permission to use the Zia symbol?

The Zia Pueblo requests that anyone wishing to use the Zia ask for permission. And as long as the sun symbol isn’t being used in a disrespectful manner, they typically grant it with a request to contribute to their educational fund.

Did You Know the Fascinating Meaning of the Zia Sun Symbol?

How did you learn the Zia sun sign’s meaning? What are your thoughts about this beautiful symbol? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

The Meaning of the Zia Sun Symbol on the New Mexico Flag (6)

The Meaning of the Zia Sun Symbol on the New Mexico Flag (7)

The Meaning of the Zia Sun Symbol on the New Mexico Flag (8)

(Video) New exhibit showcases the roots of the Zia symbol

Looking for more information to plan your New Mexico vacation?Check out my additional recommendations to help youplan your trip to New Mexico including what to see and do in New Mexico, the best places to stay in New Mexico, where to eat in New Mexico, and more!

Ready to Go? Use These Helpful Links to Book Your Trip!

  • Find low fares with airfarewatchdog and Skyscanner
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  • From hotels to private homes, find the perfect accommodation with Hotels.com or Vrbo
  • Travel in style with a suitcase, carry-on, backpack, or handbag from eBags
  • Save on tickets to attractions, sightseeing tours, and more with CityPASS, Tiqets, and Viator
  • Don’t leave home without travel insurance from AXA
  • Discover the sights, history, and culture of your destination with an interactive scavenger hunt
  • Need something else to plan your perfect trip? Visit my travel resources page for more trusted partners. Happy wandering!

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(Video) Use of Zia sun symbol up for discussion in state legislation

FAQs

The Meaning of the Zia Sun Symbol on the New Mexico Flag? ›

New Mexico's distinctive insignia is the Zia sun symbol, which originated with the Indians of Zia Pueblo in ancient times. Its design reflects their tribal philosophy, with its wealth of pantheistic spiritualism teaching the basic harmony of all things in the universe.

What is the meaning of the Zia sun symbol? ›

The Zia sun symbol represent the four cardinal directions, the four seasons of the year, the four period of each day (morning, noon, evening, and night), and the four seasons of life (childhood, youth, middle age, and old age).

What is the meaning of the symbol on the New Mexico flag? ›

The symbol has sacred meaning to the Zia people. Four is a sacred number which symbolizes the Circle of Life: the four directions, the four times of day, the four stages of life, and the four seasons. The circle binds the four elements of four together. His winning design is the flag that the state uses today.

What does New Mexico sun mean? ›

The sun, a sacred symbol, is featured on the New Mexico flag. It shows four rays radiating from four sides of a circle. Four is a sacred number for the Zia and represents: the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn, winter) the four directions of a compass (north, south, east, west)

What are the four directions represented by the Zia symbol? ›

Inspired by a design found on a 19th century water jar from Zia Pueblo, the Zia Symbol represents the Four directions: North, South, East and West; the Four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter; the Four times of day: sunrise, noon, evening and night; and, the Four stages of life: childhood, youth, adulthood and ...

Can you use the Zia symbol? ›

Zia Pueblo officials have tried to trademark the symbol, but because it is on the New Mexico state flag, it cannot be trademarked, according to guidelines set by the Lanham Act, also known as the Trademark Act.

Is the Zia symbol sacred? ›

The Zia sun sign is a sacred symbol of the Zia, an indigenous tribe from what is now the Four Corners region of the United States.

Where does the Zia symbol come from? ›

New Mexico's distinctive insignia is the Zia sun symbol, which originated with the Indians of Zia Pueblo in ancient times. Its design reflects their tribal philosophy, with its wealth of pantheistic spiritualism teaching the basic harmony of all things in the universe.

Can I get a Zia tattoo? ›

As for new business owners or those looking to get a Zia tattoo – the Zia tribe would ask that you brush up on your history and ask permission. If you approach it with grace and respect, you may get permission to have a Zia tattoo – then the story behind your ink has become that much richer and more meaningful.

What does the sun represent in indigenous culture? ›

The Native Sun Symbol represents life-giving abundance with its warmth radiating healing and peace. The sun was freed and given back to the earth by the Raven, who released it out of its confining box. Since then it has given all humankind warmth, light, and life.

What does Zia mean in Greek? ›

Noun. zia f (plural zie) aunt.

What does the red Zia on New Mexico's flag represent Brainly? ›

The red Zia represents the four seasons - spring, summer, fall, winter.

What is the New Mexico pledge? ›

The pledge is this: "I salute the flag of the State of New Mexico and the Zia symbol of perfect friendship among united cultures." I think it's a great message, don't you? I love my state.

What is the motto of New Mexico? ›

Can I get a Zia tattoo? ›

As for new business owners or those looking to get a Zia tattoo – the Zia tribe would ask that you brush up on your history and ask permission. If you approach it with grace and respect, you may get permission to have a Zia tattoo – then the story behind your ink has become that much richer and more meaningful.

What does the sun symbolize in Native American culture? ›

The Native Sun Symbol represents life-giving abundance with its warmth radiating healing and peace. The sun was freed and given back to the earth by the Raven, who released it out of its confining box. Since then it has given all humankind warmth, light, and life.

What does Zia mean in Greek? ›

Noun. zia f (plural zie) aunt.

Videos

1. State may investigative who can use Zia symbol
(KRQE)
2. Overuse of Zia symbol sparks debate, ideas for state law
(KRQE)
3. Loving the Land of Enchantment: The Roundhouse and Zia Symbol
(KOAT)
4. Stolen symbol? Wichita uses Zia look-alike on city flag
(KRQE)
5. Flag Of New Mexico
(Wiki4All)
6. The Zia Sun Symbol
(Plain Vanilla Grandma)

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