Symbols - What does heaven look like
The symbol of the Heyoka in Native American culture – thus the symbol of the jester. Wakan Tanka is himself/herself a Thunderbird, because ‘God’ has the power of creation, maintenance and destruction as well as all the other functions.
Furthermore, the Thunderbird has an egg from which its young continually issue and it devours its young - like SATURN and the ouroboros, symbolically describing the cycle of destruction and creation – from that which is destroyed can arise that which is created. The Thunderbird is thus related to the Phoenix. The Thunderbird symbolism acts at numerous levels. It could represent the evolution that took place in the universe itself, but it could also be a symbol of rebirth at a personal level.
Thunderbirds are said to reside on the top of a mountain, and be servants of the Great Spirit.
The capabilities of any holy man within Native American culture included the ability to prophesy, have out of body experiences, heal, shape shift, control the weather plus other gifts – again they were extremely powerful people.
All these gifts are represented symbolically by the Thunderbird. The Thunderbird could 'fly about to carry messages from one spirit to another' [out of body]. It could also control rainfall [this has a double meaning, not just the weather]. The Kwakwaka'wakw and Cowichan tribes also incorporated the shape shifting abilities of the holy men into the myth – a Thunderbird could shapeshift by tilting back its beak like a mask, and by removing its feathers as if it were a feather-covered blanket.
Since shamanic capability is often inherited [though it may skip generations], some tribes traced their lineage to thunderbirds in human form marrying into their human family.
During the sundance ceremony a thunderbird nest is put near the top of the tree of life. The dancers often face the nest while dancing, and their hands and arms reach up towards the nest at times. A thunderbird pipe is used during the ceremony as well.