Ghostway Ritual


Ghostway Ritual of Male Shooting Way

Haile, 1950, pp.1-288. Legend of the Ghostway Ritual in the Male Branch of Shootingway.


The story of the Ghostway ritual of Shooting Way is principally concerned with evasion of witchcraft or restoration from its effects. In general Ghostway rituals, which exist for several other chants, are directed at removing the "ugly conditions" created by the use of witchcraft; they are concerned with native as contrasted with Enemy Way, which is also conducted according to Ghostway ritual but which is concerned with ghosts of aliens.
This story is a continuation of the Shooting Way narrative following the episode of the buffalo journey. Holy Young Man is the hero and he is aided by his brother Holy Boy. The myth is brief and contains three episodes: the hero's successful evasion of attacks by his witch father-in-law; his transformation by Coyote; and his bewitchment by Coyote. The first two episodes are familiar, but the third does not appear elsewhere in this series of myths.
The setting and trials of the witch father-in-law episode are similar to those which follow the hero's hollow log trip in Plume Way, although they are here reported in greater detail. The hero explores to the four directions in defiance of his new father-in-law's warnings; he is attacked by bear, snake, and thunder and tricked on hunting expeditions. The father-in-law is said to practice incest with his daughter, but she aids the hero by warnings and by furnishing the secret of her father's name which is used to combat his evil power. Although the popular Navaho term for witchcraft is not used, the father-in-law's activity is described as a "stealthy attempt at control of the course of events by foul means, " which is identified as witchery. Following the hero's marriage Coyote transforms him in order to steal his wife, but his actions arouse the wife's suspicions. The hero's brother searches for him and obtains the help of supernaturals to restore him by being passed ceremonially through hoops. But there is still ill will between Coyote and the hero, who is annoyed when he hears that Coyote wishes to assume a name similar to his own. Angered by the hero's threats, Coyote twice directs witchcraft against him. This is first combated with the help of birds who shoot tree arrows into Coyote's anus, but later a ceremony is required to kill the "former ghost of coyote" and restore the hero.
The following abstract is summarized from the free translation of Haile's text recording. Details of ceremonial procedure have been omitted from the abstract.


1. Father-in-law Trials

The hero (Holy Man) travels with his group (his brother and two sisters) to pinnacle-that-reaches-the-sky. Three times he sights a distant fire at night "prompted by a desire to learn whose fire it was and what people might be living there," He seeks in vain until the fourth time when he finds a snake. The "informant at his earfolds" tells him that this is a home, whose entrance is through the snake's mouth, and gives him the proper words to enter safely through the endless snake guards. Within he finds an old man, his wile, and a beautiful young woman who is working at a "designed robe." The old man admonishes that "earth surface man is not allowed here," but the hero is nevertheless greeted as son-in-law and the old man sends his wife away. "So called sex jealousy" immediately enters the old man's mind "because his daughter is also his wife."
The hero refuses the tobacco of his host, whom he now addresses as granduncle rather than father-in-law, and smokes his own. The old man asks four times for some of his tobacco and when given it falls unconscious. The young woman runs to tell her mother, who offers a snake garment in return for his restoration. This procedure is repeated three more times until he has won bow and arrows and a total of four garments, and the old man is finally able to smoke without harm. The old man tries to substitute his pouch with poisoned tobacco, but the hero is warned of the trickery by his informant.
That night the hero sleeps with the young woman, but to her father's questioning the next morning she answers that he did not bother her. She warns the hero of her father's trickery, that he uses snake, bear, thunder, and wind transformations, and tells him the secret of his name. The hero sets out to the east in violation of the father-in-law's instructions. He quiets the door guards - snakes, bat, and rabbit - by gilts of the garments and arrows won from the old man. On this expedition he climbs a mountain where he finds yucca fruit and meets a snake. His informant warns that this is the old man and instructs him to feel around in the snake's mouth and call his name to render him powerless. On his return home he finds the old man, who admonishes him for disobeying instructions. He claims that he saw only the yucca fruit which he has brought back.
A similar procedure is repeated three more times. The hero spends each night with the young woman without having intercourse. He is warned not to go to the west, south, and north but disobeys. To the west he finds choke cherries and meets the old man in the guise of a bear, whom he turns away again by calling his name and putting a hand in his mouth. On his return the hero protests that it is folly to forbid a place "where ripe things are plentiful." To the south the old man tracks deer with him. His pride is hurt when the hero kills four bucks, and he summons a thunder storm which is dissipated by the hero's offerings. To the north the old man hunts mountain sheep with him, and tries to trap him in a box canyon to be killed by a white bear. His informant warns him not to carry the venison in the hide nor to take the lead on the way home or he will become crippled. On each of these three mornings the hero has been offered poisoned food which he is warned to avoid. At home the old man now admits that the hero is more powerful. On the fifth night, at the conclusion of these trials, the hero has intercourse with the young woman and is now a son-in-law.

2. Coyote Transformation

The hero visits his brother and sisters and promises to return to them after hunting. He does not tell them of his marriage. Meanwhile Coyote wants to steal the hero's wife. When he returns to his wife, he is told that Coyote has inquired after him. His angry response, "What a fool of a coyote is talking anyway," provokes Coyote, who overtakes him while hunting and transforms him by blowing his hide onto him. He is unsuccessful at hunting with the hero's equipment, and this arouses the wife's suspicions, together with his careless treatment of the stalking outfit, his ravenous eating, and disregard of etiquette. He inquires what is being made in the other room and asks the women to bring him some of it. She cannot spend the night with him because of the strong odor of coyote urine and returns to her mother.
The hero's younger brother, Holy Boy, is worried when he does not return in four nights. He tracks him to the new wife's home and, mistaking him for the hero because of his similarity in appearance, the mother-in-law runs into the rear room. The brother finds evidences of the coyote transformation. With the help of supernaturals - wind, big fly, Sun, moon, winds, ye-killer, "who draws a (flint) knife," Monster Slayer, and Born for Water - the hero is passed through hoops and the coyote skin thus stripped off. Thunders, winds, and cornbeetle restore his speech, mind, and motion. In his anger the hero wants to kill Coyote but is dissuaded for fear of his witchery. Instead he blows the skin back onto Coyote, whereupon his own garments drop off. Both the hero and his garments have to be cleansed of the coyote odor by bathing.

3. Bewitched by Coyote

The hero is still preoccupied with the harm Coyote has done him. Talking God reports that Coyote wants to be called "holy young man" because he is ashamed of his own name, "roamer." The hero protests, "Does this roamer consider himself fit to have the same name as I have? Does he threaten to rob me of my name?" The hero threatens to "shoot him up" on sight but is warned by Talking God not to make trouble because Coyote is directed by First Man and First Woman and is powerful. On returning home he complains that Coyote has "protecting interference." Calling God similarly advises against bothering Coyote, but the hero is still "somewhat sorry about it." Talking God gives him two songs to pacify him.
Coyote, exasperated at the hero's threats, directs witchery at him. Informed by big fly of this witchery, the hero applies to kingbird and chickadee people for help. They make arrows by pulling up spruce and pine trees, which Coyote ridicules. Angered by this, they shoot these arrows at him ritually. The arrows pursue Coyote, turning to follow him in his flight, and enter his anus. Because the people are afraid that Coyote will bear ill will and witch them, he is restored and promises not to ridicule arrows again.
Nevertheless, Coyote again bewitches the hero, prompted by First Man and First Woman, presumably for the sake of having his songs and sacrifices included in the ceremony. The hero's "former thinking power was much weakened, everything seemed to be beyond him." The former ghost of Coyote has gone into his interior; he cannot sleep, everything smells of coyote urine to him, and he vomits continually. Again with the help of numerous supernaturals the cause of the trouble is finally diagnosed, and the ritual performed over him is described in detail. The hero's father-in-law participates in this ritual, but big fly warns that he still holds a grudge against the hero because he has not been able to practice incest with his daughter since the marriage. Two of the officiating supernaturals argue about the order of songs, and it is explained, "Accordingly too people at present engage in arguments." Monster Slayer and Born for Water have been forgotten in the invitations, but their anger is pacified when they are invited and assigned their part in the ritual. In the course of the ceremony the former ghost of Coyote which has become the hero's own ghost is killed and the patient recovers.