CHRISTIANITY The Navaho, like the Hopi, have clung tenaciously to their native religion. It continues to permeate every part of their life, despite the efforts of physicians and missionaries to replace the old rites with modern medicine and Christian beliefs and practices. Benavides, as we mentioned before, made, about 1630, the first futile attempts to Christianize the Navaho and to make the lion and the lamb lie down peacefully together by bringing representatives of the Navaho and the eastern Pueblos to his Santa Clara mission. The near-by missions at Encinal and Cebolleta, established a century later, were not open for long, but the Navaho in their vicinity retained traces of this early Christian influence. The Navaho were too scattered and wild to receive much attention, and the bloody massacres of 1680 in the Pueblos temporarily halted the missionaries
Now there are several denominations among the Navaho conducting boarding schools, hospitals, and missions. Besides this type of work, one group, the Franciscans, has made notable and scholarly contributions to our scientific knowledge of Navaho language and ethnography: The Ethnologic Dictionary, frequently mentioned in these pages, is one of their publications. It is an encyclopedia on the Navaho, and is a valuable and readable source book for the scientist and layman on any important aspect of Navaho culture.
In many religions the world over one finds supplicants and devotees performing the same kinds of rites: Before beginning an important ceremony, they fast and purify themselves with baths and emetics. The gods are presented with sacrifices to please them and as a preliminary to prayers for rain, good health, fortune, spiritual grace, and whatever else that human beings may desire. Earthly gifts are welcome because the gods live like the people of the earth. They have human weaknesses and virtues to an exaggerated and magnificent degree, and, therefore, have potent powers for creating good and evil. Much of the profound knowledge about the gods is in the keeping of a small, select circle of men and women, variously called priests, medicine men, chanters, witch doctors, or shamans. Their knowledge is derived either through religious education or divine inspiration, and fits them for conducting the formal practices and prayers with which to hold communion with the gods and to direct the spiritual life of individuals. The, daily life of an individual involves many religious taboos and benedictions. The periods before and at birth, adolescence, marriage, death, and after death are major crises to the average person; and to the religious they require special observances.
NAVAHO AND PUEBLO The religion of the Southwest shares the basic attributes of other religions, but its characteristic elements have been organized into a formula of striking individuality and beauty, many details of which are identical among the Navaho and Pueblos, or so similar as to prove the common historical origin of their religion. Some of the tribes as far west as the coast of California and north into the Plains also have occasional similarities to the southwestern rituals and myths. As in material culture, so in religion the Navaho have been much influenced, since their arrival in the Southwest, by contact with the Pueblos. Just as the semi-nomadic life of the Apache tribes suggests to us the lineaments of what Navaho culture originally was, similarly the religion of the Apache might be analyzed to interpret more definitely the character of the early Navaho religion. Unfortunately, there has been no extensive comparative study of the religion of the two groups to enable us to present a summary here.
Stephen's "Hopi Journal" (edited by Parsons) gives numerous parallels between Hopi and Navaho chants and presents the interesting relationship between the two peoples as he observed them in the nineteenth century. Mrs. Parsons writes in the Introduction (p.xxvii): "In Stephen's day several persons on First Mesa could understand or speak Navaho, as is frequently shown in the ritual buffoonery caricaturing the Navaho. And Navaho was the means of communication for Zuni visitors to First Mesa as well as, at first, for Stephen. According to the Mustard clan migration story, when these Eastern immigrants reached First Mesa, after a sojourn among the Navaho, they had forgotten Tewa and spoke Navaho only. An old Tewa told Stephen that in his boyhood the Navaho lived all around on the mesas and came to the pueblos, lots of them, every day. They would bring wood in on their backs and carry up water from the springs. In time of famine they might sell a child or leave it in a Hopi household. In Stephen's day, too, the Navaho were not infrequent visitors to First Mesa and these visitors had ample opportunity to observe the ceremonial life."
Stephen relates how some Navaho were invited by a Hopi, who was half Navaho, to enter a kiva (a sacred underground chamber of the Pueblos) when an important ceremony was in progress. The Navaho invited medicine men from alien tribes to put on acts in the public performances which end a nine-day chant. The Navaho, in turn, visited other tribes, where their juggling tricks and legerdemain, performed in the public rituals, were much admired. They were clever at sword swallowing. They could make corn or yucca grow magically before one's eyes from a seed to a plant in full bloom, which then withered and died. Hopi clowns knew enough about Navaho rituals to burlesque them. The Zuni knew them, too, and incorporated them into their Shalako ceremony (Ethnologic Dictionary, p.393).
Although the contacts of commerce, war, and travel produced outwardly similar features in the southwestern rituals, the motivating forces that united these elements into a local form were psychologically distinct for the pueblo dwellers and for the shepherds. The rites of the Pueblos were performed primarily to make their fields fertile and to bring abundant rain for their crops. Navaho ceremonies, with practices and paraphernalia almost identical with those of the Pueblos, were, however, conducted to cure illness. Both groups, of course, had ceremonies for every crisis and daily event, but the main emphasis of one was on curing, the other on fertilization and rain.
The Navaho and Pueblo tribes believe that the creation of the heavens and earth, and their occupants, was accomplished by many gods and lesser spirits, some of whom were the prototypes of mankind and the animals. The gods created many worlds, one on top of the other, and the people emerged from the underworld through a lake somewhere north of the San Juan River, and thence they return at death. The Hopi sometimes give Grand Canyon as the locality. This place of emergence is associated in the religion of the Pueblos with ideas of parturition and fertilization. The deified spirits of dead Pueblo Indians, katchinas, dwell in the lake and act as intermediaries between the people and the gods in order to bring rain.
One of the most important and best-loved beings in the southwestern pantheon is called by the Hopi, "Woman of Hard Substances" (coral, turquoise, shell, and so forth). The Navaho, like the other Athapascan tribes, call her Esdzanadle, the "Woman Who Changes." She has the power of being eternally young and beautiful and lives on the western waters in a house like that of her husband, the sun, in the east. The story of how Changing Woman created the Navaho clans, told in a previous chapter, exemplifies her characteristic kindness and concern for the welfare of the people. Some say that she has a younger sister, Yolgai Esdzan, White Shell Woman; but others claim that the two are one and the same being. These two sisters, or one of them, was magically impregnated by the rays of the sun and the water of a waterfall, and bore twin sons, the war gods, Slayer of Monsters and Child of Water. They proved to the sun in a series of tests that they were worthy to claim him as father. He gave them weapons to slay monsters. The war gods did not kill all the native enemies of mankind, like Hunger, Poverty, Old Age, and Dirt, for these beings proved that they were necessary to the world.
The myth of the birth and adventures of the twin heroes is very much alike throughout the Southwest, but as might be expected, the Navaho and the Pueblos interpret it differently. Besides their incorporation into war societies, the rituals, songs, and sacred objects pertaining to the heroes are used by the Pueblos to bring fertility and rain. The gods either meet so forcefully that they make the rain fall and their weapons of lightning flash in the sky, or they intercede with the rainmakers. Among the Navaho the twin gods are concerned with war (see the section on War Dance) and with curing, especially when the patient is suffering from witchcraft. Matthews (1888) relates how his Navaho informant, A Chanter, conducted a night vigil for himself, during which he recited a long prayer based on the idea that he and the two principal war gods should go together into the underworld to recover the Chanter's lost spirit from the Queen of Witches.
The gods of the Navaho and the Pueblos are partial to gifts of pollen, cornmeal, feathers, prayersticks, and semi-precious jewels. They like cigarettes, although tobacco smoke blown into the air four times is often sufficient. Four, with its multiples, is the sacred number, and it is important to orient sacred things with reference to the four cardinal directions as well as to the nadir and zenith. Those who are to participate in a rite bathe first in yucca suds and recite prayers.
Masked dancers impersonate the gods, and if a dancer wears a mask, he is treated reverently, as if he were a god. In one ceremony among the Hopi, for instance, the dancers impersonate the katchinas who have been staying with the tribe through the winter and summer and in July leave for their western, underworld home after having brought rain and good crops to the Hopi fields. In the Night Chant of the Navaho, masked impersonators of the Holy Ones come to the sick person for whom the chant is being held, and apply ointments, pollen, and sacred objects to the patient's body so that the spell will be removed and his mind and body again "restored to beauty." Sandpaintings, beautifully designed and colored to represent the divine beings and scenes from their lives, constitute the altars of the shepherds and farmers. The Navaho patient sits in the midst of this altar painting, to receive medicinal treatments. The Navaho believe that many of their gods live in the old ruins on their reservation, in such places as Canyon de Chelly.
A convenient summary of the religion and culture of the Pueblos has been written by Beals (1955) for the National Park Service. On the Navaho, see the numerous publications of Dr. Washington Matthews, a surgeon who lived for two decades among them. His works are anthropological classics. The subject of the psychological differences between the Navaho, Pueblos, and other Indian tribes has been analyzed by Haeberlin (1916) and by Benedict (1928; 1932).
NAVAHO RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE Hill, in his manuscript on agriculture and hunting, has classified the religious knowledge of the Navaho as of two principal types: the folk knowledge shared by all members of the tribe; and the esoteric which is limited to special classes like the leaders of chants, hunters, and warriors. Even those with esoteric knowledge, which requires much education from an older specialist, cannot comprehend the totality of the religion, for it is too complex and uncodified. The religious geniuses who conduct the nine-day chants know more than other people, since they acquire considerable information about various chants, but they are not given to the analysis and organization of their knowledge. It is more important for them to know the right words and sequences of the hundreds of songs and practices in their special chant so that not a single mistake will mar its potency.
FOLK KNOWLEDGE includes knowing the songs and rites which accompany the events of daily life from sunrise to sunset--benedictions and sacrifices to the gods for meals, rising in the morning, gambling, dedicating a new house, loom or basket; taboos regarding the avoidance of a corpse or any kind of carcass, lack of moderation, whether in weaving, hunting, gathering wealth, or even in practicing religion. The ardently religious imbue these acts with emotion, while the less emotional perform them perfunctorily and in routine fashion, except on an occasion when they too feel the gods to be very near them personally, or when they wish some divine favor.
LIFE CRISES The average individual gains through practical experience acquaintance with the general character and procedure of ceremonies and songs performed at marriage, birth, adolescence, and death. When a child is born, a chanter sings a song of benediction. Children are led to believe that the masked dancers of chants are the gods, until during a rite in the Night Chant they are asked to wait and see the gods; then they are told that their tribesmen symbolize the Holy Ones. When new masks are being dedicated, little children symbolically feed the gods by placing gruel on the masks.
At an adolescence ceremony for a girl, which was first performed for Changing Woman, she is sent to race with a young man towards the east and back to the hogan. Then she is bathed and daubed with white clay. Songs of blessing are chanted during these acts and then friends and relatives gather to share the corn cake baked in the girl's honor.
At a wedding, the bridegroom enters the hogan of his bride's parents and goes around by the south side of the fire to the northwest side, where a seat has been arranged. The girl, led by her father, joins him. On a basket of gruel with the closed seam of the basket pointing east, the father draws, in ritual order, a cross and a circle of white-and-yellow cornmeal pollen. He turns the basket so that the seam is toward the young couple. After they have ritually washed each other's hands in water, the groom takes a pinch of porridge from where the pollen touches the circle on the east. Then he takes a bit from the south, west, and north sides. His bride follows him in each of these rites. After prayers to the Holy Ones, the guests eat the remaining sacrament (Ethnologic Dictionary: 447-448).
The rituals for disposing of a corpse emphasize that nothing should prevent the spirit from going as quickly as possible to the underworld. Once the four days of official mourning and fasting are over, the spirit becomes one of the dreaded supernatural beings. The Navaho have a great fear of any kind of corpse or carcass, and this fear is still strong today. When the tribe had slaves, they were given the spiritually contaminating job of preparing the corpse. Now that there are no slaves, the tribe is glad to have white people take over the duty, or they select four official mourners from the clan of the deceased or associated clans to take charge of the funeral. Before bathing the corpse and dressing it in fine garments, the mourners unfasten their hair. They strip to breech cloths, lest their clothing become contaminated or hinder the spirit's flight.
The funeral party takes the corpse out through a hole made in the north side of the hogan and then marches silently and quickly, but carefully, to the niche in the rock where the body is to be deposited with valuable possessions, which will insure the dead a welcome in the other world. His horse is killed to accompany him; and formerly if slaves carried the corpse, they too were killed. The weapons of a warrior are not buried with him, for they may frighten and enrage the spirits. The path followed by the party of mourners is known as the death line, and nobody may cross this path for the four days of mourning; nor would any Navaho knowingly do so. The unwitting passerby is warned by the chief mourner, who turns his back and signals the news over his shoulder. Making a complete circle, the party returns, hopping and skipping, to the chindi hogan, which they burn down. The vessels used for bathing the corpse are left for the Pot-Carrier, an underworld spirit, who, it is believed, collects them.
HATALI The Navaho religious ceremonies are popularly known as "chants." Indian religious ceremonies are sometimes called "dances," but dancing is only a simple and unimportant part of any Navaho ritual compared with the chanting that may continue for several days almost without interruption. The hatali, or chanters, are the religious geniuses who lead the important nine-day ceremonies, like the Night Chant and the Mountain Chant. They know the rites, sandpaintings, songs, and myths of their chant and have the necessary religious paraphernalia for conducting that ceremony. A great hatali is a man of wealth, for he is well paid in goods and money by the patient and his relatives. Some devote all their time to their profession; others lead fewer rites and depend on their livestock for their livelihood. There was no bar against women becoming chanters, yet very few did. They act mainly in minor religious capacities. A chanter does not necessarily wield political power; his power rests on how well he directs a chant (Ethnologic Dictionary, p.382).
If a young man wishes to become a shaman-leader of hunters or warriors, he must have the right kind of knowledge and experience; otherwise he will be only a "killer." By apprenticeship, practical experience, and the teaching of a shaman-leader, he learns the proper rites and songs, or "ways," as they are called, so that he will not bring upon his followers the wrath of those gods who are sacred protectors and prototypes of the earthly animals.
If a man wants to become a hatali, a leader of a chant, he usually has shown an aptitude for religious life in his boyhood, and has a fine, retentive memory, alertness, and intelligence. A relative or clan member who is a chanter will undertake to teach him, if he is worthy, and pass on his accumulated knowledge. Although it is not proper etiquette for the chanter to ask for payment, the student is expected to pay his teacher while he studies, give him the proceeds of the first four times he conducts the chant alone, and a percentage of all future earnings. If he did not, he would be looked down upon, and his curative powers in conducting a chant would be lessened.
The young man must have keen powers of observation and memory because he has to learn hundreds of songs with their accompanying acts, and must remember the slightest of required details. If he makes a mistake, he diminishes the healing power of the ritual, which may have to be abandoned for the time being.
RELIGIOUS ELEMENTS Besides learning the songs, myths, and rites peculiar to his chant, the novice must know certain fundamental religious elements so well that they become second nature to him. The average person, also, frequently knows these details, either through having assisted a chanter or through having been well brought up in a religious family. He is on the alert, anxious to see that the chanter does not make a mistake. Some of the elements in question occur also among the Pueblo tribes.
Objects and acts are oriented to the cardinal directions, which have attendant ethical and color symbolism. With few exceptions, in performing a ritual act, one begins at the east and then goes to the south, west, and north. The color symbolism is expressed in the jewels and in the colors of the sands used in the sandpainting. The east is white, with crystal sacred to it; the south has blue turquoise; the west is symbolized by yellow and abalone shell; the north is as black as its symbolic cannel coal.
Ordinarily, black is the source of evil, disease, and vexation. When a chanter has finished the rites connected with a sweat house or a sandpainting, his assistants gather up the materials according to the prescribed order and deposit them towards the north, so that the disease transferred to them by the ceremony will be carried back to its origin. Similarly, the northern wall of a chindi hogan is wrecked to remove the corpse for burial. Beneficent influences come from the east, so the hogan door faces east, as does the opening of a ceremonial "dark circle of branches." The seam of a marriage or ceremonial basket is oriented to the east, and the chanter lays the tips of sacrificial prayer sticks and cigarettes in the basket so that they are toward the east. In the underworld and among evil witches, the symbolism for east and north is reversed.
The butts and tips of ceremonial articles are carefully noted. The chanter sprinkles sacred pollen on them from their stumps to their tips. In the Night Chant, the masked impersonators of three yei, or minor gods, have twelve prayer sticks, which they touch to the patient's body, beginning at his soles and going in ritual order to his head. Each yei then takes the sticks and deposits them in the four cardinal directions in places sacred to the gods. The sacrificial pollen comes from plant pollen, the dust where deer, antelope, and other animals have stood, and from cornmeal in which jewels, living birds, or animals have been dipped.
The gods are distinguished as to sex, the differences being represented in ritual articles. The chanter and his selected assistants make a kethawn, or prayer stick (Matthews calls it a message to the gods), for each partner of a godly couple. The wood of a cliff rose, which symbolizes the female, is used for the prayer stick or the cigarette intended for a goddess; her husband gets articles of mountain mahogany, which symbolizes the male. Objects intended for a goddess are further distinguished by a notch. Masks representing a goddess are square; for a god they are round. This sexual distinction is applied by the Navaho not merely to the gods, but to the landscape, weather, rivers, colors, directions, and to almost anything which has an opposite. The black north is male; the blue south is female. Cold winds and heavy storms with lightning and thunder are male; soft rains and warm winds are female. The turbulent San Juan River is male; the placid Rio Grande is female.
The hatali carefully direct their assistants in making the sandpaintings, masks, costumes, sacrifices, and ceremonial hogans and sweat houses, and also sees that the raw materials are obtained in the proper way. To make a sandpainting, the workers first lay down three inches of clean sand in the middle of the hogan. The pigments of white, bluish gray, yellow, black, and red, obtained from minerals, charcoal, and so on, are ground to a smooth powder on a metate and placed on bark palettes. The men create the figures on the sand by dribbling the pigment slowly from between thumb and forefinger. Every detail is traditionally established, but the artists are allowed to invent the designs on the embroidered pouches of the gods. They work from the center of the painting, which is from four to twelve inches in diameter, towards the sides. After the figures of the mythical beings have been painted, medicinal herbs and pollen are sprinkled over the design. The patient enters and is placed sitting in the middle of the painting, ready to receive the medicine and massage of the priest and yei impersonators. To cure aches in a particular part of the body, the priest applies pinches of pollen to the patient from the corresponding part of the pictured body of the god. Finally after the guests have finished medicating themselves, the painting is reverently wiped out and the sand deposited in a ritually specified place. (Matthews, 1897:44-45).
The masked individuals wear costumes of fur, buckskin, or cloth, decorated with Navaho jewels, fur, feathers, or spruce branches, according to the legendary description of the god impersonated. The gods travel on sunbeams, rainbows, and lightning; as they approach an earthly hogan, they call in their characteristic way, which is frequently only a plaintive "hu-u-hu-u." The impersonator of a god does not speak when masked; he uses the gestures and the call peculiar to the god. To the Navaho he is the god while he is masked, and he receives their prayers and sacrifices.
REASONS FOR HOLDING A CHANT As stated earlier, the primary reason for holding a chant among the Navaho is to cure sickness. Disease, bad luck, and weakening of powers are of magical origin regardless of their physical manifestations. A stronger magic is required to offset the evil magic of a wicked god, or of an enemy practicing black magic by shooting evil into one, or of a god angered by a broken taboo or excess of any kind. The Ethnologic Dictionary (p.362 ff.) lists more than two dozen chants. It divides them into two classes: those which do not deal directly with the yei, or gods; and those which originated with and from the gods. Some of the chants are nine days long; others last five; and some have a duration of only one day or a few hours. If the patient does not recover after a chant, it is because the wrong one was given. At the present time the war dance, or chant to dispel enemy ghosts, is very popular. It was described in the section on War. In Matthews' time, the Night Chant, also called Yeibitcai dance, was a favorite, and still is.
CAUSES OF ILLNESS Morgan (1932) and Stevenson (1891) have given us two specific examples of the preliminary events which resulted in holding a nine-day chant. Morgan tells of a chanter who had specialized in the Shooting Chant, which counteracts the magic of arrows and lightning. This singer was plagued by bad dreams of gods pursuing him and trying to drive him to the mountains to kill him. His family feared that the potent power of the sacred objects he handled might bring him ill health, and wanted a ceremony as a kind of insurance to protect him. The chanter consulted a diviner, who is a specialist in diagnosing illness, finding lost articles, and in prophesy. The diviner does not investigate the patient's symptoms as thoroughly as he gazes at the stars or at the trembling of his own hands to gain insight into the origin of the patient's bad dreams. In this case he diagnosed the bad dreams as the warning of the yei (gods) that they were becoming hostile. Then he and the patient's family decided that the Night Chant would end the bad dreams and insure the practitioner's health. This "prescription" cost the Shooting Chanter more than $800 and drew from 500 to 600 families as guests.
The Night Chant which Stevenson attended was conducted for a man who had become blind from looking irreverently at sacred masks. A complication developed when it was discovered that the chosen priest's wife was pregnant. There was danger that the unborn child might be affected by the father's looking at the sacred sandpaintings. The priest, however, finally decided that his magic powers were strong enough to overcome this possibility of evil, and he conducted the ceremony.
Once the diagnostician has determined the cause of the disease and the chant to cure it, a messenger, bearing a gift, requests the hatali who conducts the chosen chant to lead the ceremonies. "He placed a gift before the singer, who in turn passed it from his left foot upward over his forehead, replacing the gift on his right foot. He then held it to his mouth, inhaling its breath, after which he appointed a special day as that of his arrival." The time is usually four days later. (Ethnologic Dictionary, p.381). The chanter confirms the agreement by sending the messenger home with his valuable medicinal pouch, a long buckskin bag full of magical pollen, fetishes from animals, plants, and rocks, and articles symbolic of the owner's specialty.
THE MOUNTAIN CHANT The Mountain Chant is selected as an example of a Navaho nine-day ceremony because it is simpler than the Night Chant in that a single legend, which tells of the chant's origin and first performance, is re-enacted during the nine days.
The story is that long ago an old couple with their two sons and two daughters wandered far north of the San Juan River, the river of Old Age, whose white foam is like the beard of an old man. The men hunted for game while the women gathered wild vegetables and seeds. The men were unsuccessful in hunting, so the father, who knew some hunting rites, taught the boys to build sweat houses of four different kinds of wood at the four cardinal directions. They sweated four times in silence; then the daughters washed the men's hair in yucca suds. After this purification they were ready to make the deer head disguises with which to trap deer and to learn the chants for successful hunting.
One day while the hero of the story was out hunting, he wandered from his course and disobeyed his father's taboo. "Instead of looking south in the direction in which he was going, he looked to the north, the country in which dwelt his people. Before him were the beautiful peaks of Cepentsa, with their forested slopes. The clouds hung over the mountain, the showers of rain fell down its sides, and the country looked beautiful. And he said to the land, 'Aqalani!' (Greeting!), and a feeling of loneliness and homesickness came over him, and he wept and sang this song:
"The gods heard his song and they were about to gratify his wishes. He was destined to return to Cepentsa, but not in the manner he most desired. Had he gazed to the south, when he ascended the hill, instead of to the north, it might have been otherwise." (Matthews, 1887:393).
Some Utes on horseback captured him. (This anachronism--that the Indians had horses in ancient times--does not worry the narrator.) The Utes wrung his hunting secrets from him, and kept him as a slave. Twelve days later, while they were away, the young man began to get advice from the gods. An old woman called, "My grandchild, do something for yourself." That night, while the Utes held a council to determine his fate the hero heard the voice of a Talking God, a Yeibitcai, calling in the distance, "Hu, hu, hu." The god entered the lodge on a streak of white lightning (in the manner of the gods), and he too asked the hero why he did not do something for himself.
The Utes fell into a magic sleep. The hero escaped with the Yeibitcai as a guide. They used lightning for travel and as a lasso. When time Utes woke up and pursued them, the Yeibitcai made a bridge of rainbows. The hero was only a mortal with a heavy tread, and the bridge was too soft. (This incident is very humorous to the Navaho, and as the Utes are gaining on the hero all the while the gods play their jokes, the suspense is great.) Finally they made a rainbow as hard as ice.
The hero took refuge in the splendid mountain homes of the gods and the animals, where he was beautified, massaged, dressed in fine clothes, and taught many secret things. He was given the name of "Reared-Within-the-Mountains." His adventures express the zoölatry of the Navaho. He learned the chants, sandpaintings, costumes, taboos, and sacrifices which today honor each of his protectors. He visited Old Man Bushrat, Bear, Weasel, Great Serpent, The Maiden-Who-Became-a-Bear, the Wind Gods, the Holy Young Men and Women, and many others. He always refused food, for had he eaten the food of the gods he would never have returned home.
At last he came back to his people. First, a medicine man purified him to remove the contact of the Holy Ones and restore him to earthly life. The shadow of his experiences still hung over him, however, so it was decided to give a chant with the ceremonies he had learned in the mountains. After four days of rites, messengers invited other tribes to attend. There was much merrymaking, gambling, racing, and feasting--essential parts of the public events of a ceremony. Like the great chants, gambling can go on only in winter, when the snakes are hibernating and the thunder is silent. Later the Holy Ones took "Reared-Within-the-Mountains" to dwell with them.
Matthews (1887) describes a Mountain Chant held to cure a sick woman. During the first four days, there was much preparation, and purification with emetics, and sweating in a medicine lodge around a fire made of four different kinds of wood. This purification and "fumigation" with smoke from a coal and the fragrance of pollen took place every day during the period of the chant. Then the patient was touched in a ritual manner with the sacrifices, which consisted of pollen and other sacred objects. On the fifth day, after the assistants had cleaned the lodge and ground the pigments, they made the first sandpainting. First, signs were set outside the lodge to inform the gods that the paintings were being created. These signs were wands with collars of beaver and symbols for the wings to be worn by the messengers on the next day. When the painting was ready, the wands were removed.
At nightfall, the patient sat in the south of the lodge, the shaman in the north. An important character in the evening's events was a dancer, dressed in evergreens, who hid in a niche in the north part of the lodge and appeared four times. (In other chants, the ceremonial niche is in the western end). The chanter began to erase the painting at the western end. The patient lay down on it, facing the east, and was touched with the sacred articles. For two more days, similar rites were performed, and more elaborate paintings were created to depict the visits of "Reared-Within-the-Mountains" to the homes of the gods. On the eighth day, after making a simple painting, the workers stacked wood twelve feet high; and the women baked a special corn cake for the assistants.
The ninth day of a great chant may be private and inside the lodge. However, if the patient wishes, spectacular dances are held on the last night and the public, from miles around and from other tribes, attends. Matthews stated that the day was spent in practicing the tricks and making the equipment according to ritual laws. At sunset, the workers constructed, around the stack of wood, the "dark circle of branches," a corral forty paces in diameter, eight feet high, with an eastern opening ten feet wide. No one may cross the sacred ground before this opening, even if they pass as far as two miles away. (Matthews, 1887: 430 ff.).
The dances continued all night. Fire dancers thrust wands near the fire to burn off the eagle down attached to the tips; others bathed themselves and their fellow dancers in the flames. Sword swallowing was practiced in the sacred, great plumed arrow dance, and later, participants burlesqued these dances by pretending to swallow long pinyon poles. There was much burlesque and comic relief. Porcupine quills were made to dance, and yucca grew in a few minutes from a seed to a full grown plant. Dancers, gorgeously clad in red silk, coral, feathers, and silver-studded belts, represented the sun and the moon.
RITE OF BLESSING AND SONGS Whenever a ceremony is held to cure illness, the chanter always holds a special vigil for the gods, a renewal, or benediction called hozhoji (rite of blessing). This vigil may last one night during a nine-day ceremony, or only an hour in the ceremonies for life crises and in everyday events which need a religious rite. The idea seems to be that so long as one is in contact with the gods to request the cure of an individual, one should hold a special honorary vigil for them and ask them for good health, blessings, and an abundance of "hard" and "soft" goods for the whole tribe. In the midst of turbulent and anxious chanting to remove evil, the people and the gods think of a happier future. (Matthews, 1888.)
Of Navaho songs, Matthews (1897) wrote: "It is probable that all rhetorical figures of speech known to our poets may be found in these simple compositions of the Navahoes." The imagery with which they describe the ways and homes of the yei is very beautiful. The People-on-the-Earth, as the Navaho call themselves, apply the imagery to their daily life. For instance, the first iron-gray horse made by the gods was of turquoise, the first sorrel horse of carnelian, the first black horse of cannel coal, the first white horse of white shell, and the first pie bald horse of haliotis shell. The People-on-the-Earth today name their horses after the colored jewels of which the first horses were created.
The Mountain Chant has many songs. Matthews lists thirteen major sets, each composed of many individual songs. One must know the associated myth to appreciate the meaning of some poems. There are others with archaic expressions and meaningless syllables, which, nevertheless, must be repeated exactly if the chant is to have any curative value.
A famous poem or chant, from this great nine-day ceremony, illustrates the use of repetition and the contrast of the mighty thunder and the little grasshopper, to achieve poetic beauty: (Matthews, 1897:27):
The Night Chant, too, has many prayers which illustrate the way in which the Navaho sing the praises of their gods and ask for blessing and renewal. The gods are called from their homes to receive the offerings, to remove the spell on the sick person, and to restore everything to happiness and beauty. They are told that all the people now regard them with happiness, as they prepare to go home.
The concluding lines of most Navaho prayers are similar to the following, a kind of Amen:
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