Eagle Way


White Shell Woman and Turquoise Woman, created from epidermis rubbed from under the breast of Changing Woman, live on a mountain to avoid the monsters until their supply of wild seeds and berries is exhausted. They reconnoiter, the older sister instructing the younger to go to a mountain top to the north, she herself going to the south. Talking God and Hastse Hogan appear to them; Talking God gives each maiden an ear of corn, the "gift of life" which they are never to give away. They journey to the south, living on small game and wild fruits and naming the numerous places through which they pass and the springs at which they camp.


A stranger appears; they are too shy to speak to him but offer him food. They eat together, and he advises that berries and plants are plentiful to the south but that they must follow his instructions to avoid the monsters (sprouting water which tricks and drowns strangers; big snakes which swallow strangers; a horned monster; twelve destructive antelopes). He reappears four more times during their wanderings, telling them of large game killed by animals which they can use for food and make into carrying bags. At his fifth appearance the young man offers to take the maidens to his home on top of the mountain to the south, toward which they have been journeying.

There they find a beautiful adobe house colored at the four directions and containing a row of twelve metates and manos. The maidens' curiosity finally gets the better of their shyness and they enter. Preparations are made for bathing and dressing the maidens: The young man makes yucca root suds: he produces beautiful clothing and ornaments from a bundle which magically increases in size when the maidens step over it ritually to the accompaniment of his flute playing; he retires to another room while they bathe and dress; finally he provides them with "long hair and eyebrows, bright eyes and smiling mouths." To his inquiries whether it is corn that they have in their bags, they four times answer in the negative because of the god's instructions. He insists that it is corn, that his grandfather had told him, and asks only a kernel from each.

After some indecision, in which the younger sister defers to the older, they give him one kernel from each ear. They grind these two kernels on each of the metates in turn, while the young man plays on his flute, and the corn increases magically to fill a basket. This is repeated four times, and they continue grinding corn thus for four nights while the young man hunts by day. A distant fire is sighted at night by means of a forked stick, but the young man searches in vain on three successive days for its source.

Two maidens enter, similar in appearance to White Shell and Turquoise Woman, and ask if they can grind the corn they have brought. Monster Slayer asks the first two maidens to relinquish the metates, and the newcomers grind all night while he plays the flute. In the morning they depart. Monster Slayer is anxious to see where they go but they disappear, each leaving only one footprint on the path. They return thrice more; they apologize for using the metates but Monster Slayer welcomes them with the words, "We are alone and it is pleasant to have visitors. You are welcome whenever you want to come." Now better acquainted, on their fourth visit they talk and visit with Monster Slayer. At midnight he proposes a grinding contest to see who will marry him, the test being to toss up a ball of cornmeal and have it land without breaking.

White Shell and Turquoise Woman fail, but the visiting corn maidens have surreptitiously added egg to the cornmeal, and their balls do not break. White Shell and Turquoise Woman are sad at Monster Slayer's departure and wonder how they will be able to get food and live. He leaves his bow and arrow with them and promises to return. The hero accompanies the corn maidens to their hunting camp. The maidens go ahead to see how their new husband will be received by their family. Their maternal grandfather, Cornsmut Man, objects to having an earth person brought in as son-in-law because they "always break our rules." He is angry at the girls, admonishing them, "Something like this was to be expected considering the way you girls go out at night. Why can't you stay at home?"

But the grandmother scolds him for speaking thus to a new son-in-law who may bring needed things, including a supply of tobacco. After long argument, they decide that he may live in a new brush shelter at the east side of the camp. Cornsmut man welcomes the hero, saying that he is glad to see him, that "Earth People are polite and keep all rules and tenets strictly." Wind monitor has reported the original conversation, so that the hero is not deceived by this flattery but offers the old man a deadly mixture of tobacco, which causes him to fall unconscious. At a request from the grand-mother-in-law, transmitted through his wives, the hero restores the old man ritually and gives him a harmless smoke. The wives prepare food which increases magically to furnish enough for the whole family.

Monster Slayer hunts, and on successive days a new shelter is built for him at each of the directions. Each time that they move camp the hero and his wives are sent ahead to make ready a shelter for the old people. Inpatient for their arrival, and curious as to how the large quantities of meat will be transported, he returns over the trail and observes how the animal helpers transform themselves into game animals for this purpose.

The camping party arrives at the home of the eagle people. Here, the head man, Hair Turning White, objects to the hero's presence in the same manner as did Cornsmut man, is similarly persuaded by his wife, given the deadly tobacco and restored. There follows a series of trials and attempts to dispose of the hero, prepared by Cornsmut Man or Hair Turning White.

In the first four of these, the hero disobeys certain prohibitions, thus falling into a dangerous situation from which he emerges victorious. Hair Turning White Warns him successively not to hunt in each of the four directions; however, it is later stipulated that it is Cornsmut Man who controls the monsters and who has prepared the following tests.

Disobeying these instructions and taking a roundabout course to the east, the hero finds eaglets which he brings home intending to raise them for arrow feathers; he is warned that the cannibal mother eagle will follow with retribution; but in returning them to the nest he sings songs that successfully pacify her. Hair Turning White cannot believe that the hero has survived this trial until he sees him still alive. To the south he finds bird monsters, and the same procedure is repeated. To the west he finds a ripe yucca plant but is frightened away by the hiss of a huge rattle snake coiled in its center; wind advises him that this is "the old man himself," who will be rendered powerless if he thrusts his doubled fist down the snakes's throat; the snake crawls away and the hero brings back the yucca fruit. Hunting for berries to the north, he meets tracking bear; again warned by wind, he kills the bear with a lightning shaft and cuts off his left paw; when he presents the berries to his wives, they go in fear to their grandfather, wanting to move camp to escape the bear who will now find their camp; but they are pacified when the hero shows the bear's paw as trophy. After these four trials Hair Turning White tests him with poisoned food, but each morning wind whispers where the poison is and the hero avoids that part of the food. Cornsmut Man expresses his surprise, asking what manner of earth person this is who can successfully pass these tests.

He accepts the hero into the family, but first he must learn all the songs and prayers of the Eagle Chant. He is shown the ritual catching of eagles, in a pit with live rabbit as bait, and the distribution of feathers to the appropriate gods. Hair Turning White, who is a witch, belittles Cornsmut Man's powers and offers to teach the hero his version of the ceremony and eagle trapping. His method is to stand at the top of a high bluff, place a flat rock on his head on which the birds will light, and pass spruce or different grasses through a hole in his nose.

Cornsmut Man warns that this way is witchcraft and that earth people will get diseases and get into bad habits if they use it. The hero elects to continue with Cornsmut Man as his teacher, despite Hair Turning White's demonstration of his power by showing the bones of men he has killed in this way. The eagles have been unsuccessful in driving out a swarm of bees from a nearby field. The hero sprinkles medicine to blind them and then kills them with willow whips. On the promise of an old bee woman to be friendly, he leaves some for honey and for their wax, which will take away pain and heal wounds made by eagles' claws. Now restless without anything to do, the hero goes hunting with the animal helpers of his wives' people (white and yellow weasels, rattlesnake, mountain lion, spotted lion, lynx, and wolf).

At their camp he is fed their usual fare, raw meat. Not wishing to offend them, he eats it but is made sick during the night and vomits, hiding the vomit by burying it in a pile of earth which serves as lynx's pillow. He if left to guard camp while the animals go hunting unsuccessfully on the four following days. Each night they discuss their failure, finally deciding that the hero must be the cause. They call on hornet, fly and ant people to find out how he has broken the rules, and one persistent ant, after four attempts, discovers the vomit. The hero denies that he is at fault, maintaining that this was lynx's sleeping place. Nevertheless he is banished from the hunting party.

Returning to the eagles' village, he finds no one there and becomes ill. An old man returns and advises him to seek a cure to be paid for with his eagle feathers. The hero makes a series of unsuccessful petitions for cure ­ to water ox, duck, otter, wolf, yellow weasel., white weasel, mountain lion, lynx, bobcat, hawks, eagles, thunders, all of whom do not want to help even though they have medicine. Swallow agrees to do it. Angered at these refusals, his three brothers ­ Child of the Water, Reared Within the Earth, and Changing Grandchild ­ come to his aid. They all travel down to earth together, on the way being given medicine and a feather by owl, and bring the hero to the place from which he started. They advise him to return to his first two wives, White Shell and Turquoise Woman.

The last portion of the myth is devoted to performances of the ceremony. Monster Slayer's first wives are glad to see him on his return. They journey to the sacred mountains together. At one camp he plans an eagle trapping ceremony, which the nearby dove people will attend. They build a hogan, and dove man sings while it is being enlarged. The holy ones come and praise it. Talking God expresses approval when he learns that the wives still have the corn he had given them, "It is your symbol of fertility and new life." The hero hunts for meat for the guests. In the ceremony he uses a squirrel as a decoy in the eagle trap but is advised that a rabbit should be used instead. The holy ones are paid with the appropriate feathers. They travel again, and at a second ceremony a great storm arises when he enters his newmade eagle trapping pit, which is taken as a sign that it has been made in a forbidden place. At the next attempt the ceremony is successful. The two original ears of corn are decorated to represent an eagle and turned loose. They journey to many other places trying to catch eagles, but none of these attempts is successful as were the first ones. Finally the two women depart for the sacred mountains, and Monster Slayer to Shining Water.

References: Mythology and Values, An analysis of Navajo Chantway Myths; by Katherine Spencer, Pgs 189,194

Quite a number of birds are sacred and anthropomorphic, and consequently have a prayerstick and sacred name assigned to them. Chief among these are the atsa dine, eagle people, who inhabit the yaghahoka, or heavens above, depositing their plummage and walking about there in the form of beautiful youths (dzilkhae). The Navaho do not kill eagles and hawks allied to them. These are caught at times but released after the desired feathers have been plucked. No hesitancy is felt in using the feathers of a dead hawk of eagle for the arrow shaft and other than ceremonial purposes. An offense against the eagle, or any illness which is felt to be due to their influence, must be remedied through the bead chant (yoae hatqal), known also as the eagle chant. The eagle people are said to have taught this chant to one duinikihi, who is therefor its author here. The sand painting commemorating his assumption by eagles into the celestial regions is one of the distictive features of the bead chant. Pgs. 157,158

An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navajo Langauge, 1929; Franciscan Fathers.