Their patterns are not in any sense matters of chance but evolve from a climate of feelings and beliefs which are often thousands of years old. These patterns carry traces of magical powers: the lozenge and the octagon with curlicues or small triangles jutting from its sides may well stand for the scorpions and tarantulas against which they were designed to be guardians.
Motifs which are also both magical and symbolic include the following. camels are the wealth of the Bedouin and hence their image is a pledge of happiness and riches for the weaver and the owner of the carpet, dogs drive all undesirables, sorcerers and such personified diseases as smallpox from the house in which the carpet is spread, while peacocks are sacred birds in both Persia and China and the dove symbolizes love and peace. The tree of Life and the cypress are symbols of eternity, the pomegranate in flower symbolizes the Sun and its mass of seeds are symbols of wealth and plenty. The violet is a symbol of good luck.
In so far as the colours of carpets are concerned, yellow and gold are symbols of rank and power, appropriate to palaces and mosques; white -the colour of purity, light and peace - was until the times of the Umayyads the colour of the standard of the Arabs; red - the banner of the Seljuk and Ottoman dynasties - is for good fortune and happiness; black - the colour adopted by the Abbasids when they rose in revolt agains the Umayyads -is for destruction and rebellion; green for rebirth and resurrection, the colour worn by those who dwell in Paradise, the colour of the followers of Ali (Shi'ites) and, from the fourteenth century onwards, of all the descendants of the Prophet and of pilgrims to Mecca; sky-BLUE, adopted by the Byzantine emperors and, although the colour of mourning throughout the East, the national colour of Iran; purple (or deep or light violet) the distinctive colour of monarchs, chosen by Constantine for the labarum, and influential throughout the East; the heraldic colour, vert, the green associated with the Prophet and frequently used for prayer mats which, consequently, must never be crumpled, but always rolled after use.
On carpets, weavers’ marks may be turned into decorative motifs and also possess magical powers. Thus the mark of a comb, but one with five teeth, symbolizes the Hand of Fatima, a preservative against the evil eye.
In some parts of Morocco, when a stranger comes into a house in which there is a fine new carpet (zarbiya) the woman who has woven it burns a tuft of wool from its border as a charm against the evil eye, while the Ait Warain do the same when they take a new carpet to sell in the market.
The lower classes observe certain rituals with carpets when a person dies. Thus, in Fez, the carpets from the floor of the dead person’s house must be taken out and replaced by mats from the mosque. They are left in the house for three days including the day of death.
A prayer mat exactly defines a templum, a place made holy and set apart from the profane world. Muslim saints, such as Sidi Ouali Dada at Algiers, are sometimes depicted sailing upon prayer mats drawn by fishes.
In its patterns may be seen real or mythical flowers, trees, beasts and birds.
The medium does not allow of too realistic a copy... so that the formal and universal characteristics displayed by these carpets are those of a garden of the mind, no one particular garden, but the abiding pleasure which gardens confer. Thus in the Islamic age, a carpet-weaver wrote in a poem that his cool garden always displayed the blossoms of Spring, never to be battered by autumnal gales or Winter storms.
This is a form of mental sleight-of-hand by means of the carpet, to enjoy the delights of Spring in the depths of Winter.
The carpet sums up the symbolism of the house, in its sacred nature and the yearning for the joys of Paradise which it contains.