A Sacred Four-Directions Harvest Table

Many of us wish to rediscover the long-lost sacred roots of many of our feast-table traditions. Because this Thanksgiving holiday is rooted in the generosity of the Native people, we offer you these simple, beautiful ideas for decorating the table with the Four Directions, as understood by the Cherokee Plant Medicine teachings and traditions. In this way, we honor indigenous ways of balance and respect for the earth.

We’ve included some sites on Native American rights that you might want to explore, as well as some other fun decorating ideas using the gifts of nature. We hope you have a wonderful celebration!

1. Identify the four directions in your dining room. Which side of your table faces east?

2. Choose objects and colors that relate to the energies of each direction. We include some ideas and a list of plants that have traditional correspondences to each direction; choose one or two as meaningful additions to your holiday table.

Please be cautious with the plant materials around small children or animals: they are not intended to be ingested. Older children may enjoy gathering the plants and objects for each direction, and getting involved in their placement on the table.

East: Red or yellow to represent the sun; importance of family life; importance of women as Mother Earth, those who give life; importance of the heart in relationships and life.

Small pictures of female family members, a dried sunflower, a small red clay heart.

Birch bark, bittersweet, dogwood leaves, juniper berries and needles, lavender, maple leaves, oak leaves, pine branches, poke berries, rosemary, sage, sassafras leaves, thyme, tobacco.

South: White or green; exposure to nature; innocence; the child who learns; protection of the skin.

Artworks by the children in your family.

Balsam fir, bay, beet, Native American corn, ferns, goldenrod, gourds, holly, horse chestnuts, ivy, moss, pumpkin, staghorn sumac, thistle, walnuts.

West: Black to represent sacredness or the “darkening land”–the setting of the Sun and the protection of the Moon. The physical body and endurance to compete, animal medicine, water and cleansing.

A small statue or carving of a bear, a small container of water.

Apple, aster, beans, black-eyed Susan, carrot, cedar, cranberry, grapes, kelp, parsnip, willow.

North: Sky blue, dark blue, purple, or sometimes white to represent the sky and the snow of the North. The four winds, cold weather, calm. The adult who teaches.

A small statue or carving of a deer or hawk; a star.

Cotton, dandelion, mountain laurel, mint, oats, periwinkle, rhododendron, tomato, witch hazel.

For more natural decorating ideas, see:

Thanksgiving Decorating with Nature

Bringing Autumn Magic In

Baked Squash Savory Stuffing
Curried Pumpkin Soup
Pumpking Pie with Pecan Crust
Spicy Sweet Potato Patties

And for information on Native American rights, check out:

Native American Rights Fund

Social Justice Center

Alliance for Native American Indian Rights

Adapted from The Cherokee Herbal, by J.T. Garrett (Inner Traditions, 2003). Copyright (c) 2003 by J.T. Garrett. Reprinted by permission of Inner Traditions.
Adapted from The Cherokee Herbal, by J.T. Garrett (Inner Traditions, 2003).


LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Good article, thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Good article, thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Good article, thank you.