Tsilkehji - Mountain Chant

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Tsilkehji or Mountain Chant

Given by Hasteen Klah


There were twelve men and two women belonging to one family called N'Dohtet-leh and whose home was at Taylin (Horse Lake in the Apache country); they rode on sun dogs killing the cave dwellers in that region while the two women stayed at Taylin. Early one morning they came to Kintyel near Kayenta and found the cave dwellers holding the Eagle ceremony, and the N'Dohtet-leh killed all the Eagle dancers. The cave dwellers pursued and surrounded them on a big rock at nightfall, standing round the rock in four rows. Then they ate their supper and began to make ladders, and meanwhile the N'Dohtet-leh were trying to find some means of escape.

After dark the brothers cut and trimmed up two pinion trees and tied prayer plumes to them, then they prayed and sang the Blessing and the youngest brother held by the branches while the rest dropped the first tree from the rock. He escaped, for they heard him give an owl's cry as they told him to do, and then the next brother prayed and jumped off, and he escaped also for they heard him give the coyote's call. Then the cave dwellers climbed up the ladders and killed all the rest of the brothers.

The two youngest brothers went back to Taylin where their two pretty sisters lived, and they decided to call a council of the Gods including Begochiddy the greatest God, who has yellow hair and gray eyes. He advised them to go and kill the two Gods of the cave dwellers who live underground and who never come out except when their people were going to war; then they crawl out on hands and knees and stay out till the war is over. They are covered with jewelry and are twins and the brothers promised to give their sisters to any one who should kill these Gods.

Then they went to fight the cave dwellers and they fought all day, but when they looked over the scalps they had taken, the Gods' scalps were not there. They attacked again after three days but failed to kill the Gods, and after five days again they fought having called on Iknee (Lighting), and the Bear (Shush) to help them. Now two old men appeared, but no one paid any attention to them; they were Jalthtso (Frog), and Tchetaigi (Turtle), and when the people asked them where they were going, they said, "to war," and departed. That night the two old men went down to the spring where the cliff dwellers drank, and at dawn when the women came to get water, the Frog and Turtle killed them all and took their scalps and hung them on a cedar branch a yard long. (This is the wand used in the Squaw dance now.)

When the cliff dwellers found out who was killing their women they surrounded Frog and Turtle and tried to kill them with axes, but Frog who was frightened got under Turtle's shell, and the axes slid off it and wounded those standing near. Then the cliff dwellers collected wood to burn them, and now the Turtle was afraid, but the Frog was so full of water that he was able to put out the fire. The people tried to boil them in a jar, but the Turtle burst it open and saved them, and finally they threw the two old men into the river, but they swam across it, climbed out, and showed the weeping cliff dwellers the scalps. The old men went back to their people and pulled out their scalp sticks and counted that they'd killed twenty each, but had not killed the enemies' Gods. They waited nine days and then summoned more people to help them, these were Flint Clan people from Pedernal (in the Jemez Range, New Mexico), they dressed in stone clothes and loved fighting. Also, they called on the Bear from Horse Lake, and the Snake from near Durango.

They planned to fight again, and just as they were getting ready, the twins Nayenezgani and Tobachischin joined them. At nightfall came the Flint Clan and an old woman (the Mountain Goddess, or Hunger), carrying their armor in her basket, and the young men did their dance called Joshzhin, daubing each other with mud, and later in the night they played with fire and were very noisy. The people told the old woman to quiet them or the enemy would be roused, but she said that to the enemy the young men would appear as stars and the sun, and she would appear as clouds, and the old woman went out that night and got corn for food from the enemy's fields.

At dawn they went out to fight, but the Bear and Snake kept still and sat smoking until they finally decided to go; Bear traveled on the wind, and Snake on the sunlight, and they went invisibly to the house of the enemy and saw the two Gods crawling out; then the Bear killed one with the lightning of his tongue, and the Snake killed the other with his teeth. They skinned them and took the hearts out and went back on their wind and sunlight horses to the place where they started; and when the warriors came back with many scalps the Bear and Snake threw down the skins of the two Gods.

The two brothers who had promised their sisters to those who killed the enemy Gods started to go back to Taylin, and as they went, they began to regret their bargain with the two old men who were following along behind, and they proposed a shooting contest hoping that the two old men would be beaten, but they won. There was another shooting contest later on, but again the old men won, and they arrived at Taylin where the maidens lived. They had a Squaw (N'Dah) dance there, and the maidens chose the twins Nayenezgani and Tobachischin as their partners. Meanwhile the Bear and Snake had made a circular house half white and half black on a mountain nearby, and the Bear sat on the white side smoking a white shell pipe, the Snake at the black side to the north smoking a turquoise pipe, and they were dressed beautifully and wore many jewels, and were smoking fine sweet smelling tobacco. The Bear also had a pouch decorated with sun which is his light giver, and the Snake had one decorated with the moon which is his light giver.

By this time the two maidens were growing tired of dancing and were very hot, so they went to the water to drink, and while there they smelled a very sweet tobacco smell, and they began to follow the smell up the mountain for it fascinated them, and finally saw a light and came to a Hogahn with two handsome young men sitting smoking in it. The Bear and Snake asked whence they came and the older answered, "I come from the mountain," and the younger, "I come from the plain." They were both affected by the smoke and spoke without knowing what they said. The older asked for a smoke and the Bear said if she would sit by him she should have it and she did so, and the younger sat down by the Snake and they all smoked together. The two maidens lost consciousness and knew no more till morning, and then, when they realized with whom they had slept they were much frightened. As they started to run away the Bear and Snake called them back and gave them two magic baskets which would transport them anywhere if they were in danger; all they bad to do was to put the little flat baskets down on the ground and stand in them, and the baskets would lift them up and carry them.

So the maidens came back to their camp and found the people very angry, and their brothers held their arms while the others prepared to whip them to death because they had slept with the Bear and Snake. The maidens were able to drop their baskets and step into them and were carried away from the people and landed safely on the earth again, but as they did so they saw the Bear and Snake coming towards them and they began to run. The older sister decided to go up in the mountains and the younger towards the plain, so they separated.

Older maiden went up to the LaPlata Mountains, and, passing a Bear's cave, heard the birds nearby say "There goes our sister-in-law"; she was ashamed and cried as she ran on circling the four holy mountains, and she was almost naked and nearly worn out. She met her sister once as they were eating berries to keep themselves alive, but they heard the Bear and Snake coming and separated, this time for good.

The older maiden met a chipmunk who took pity on her and brought her into a cave, and Hashje-altye (the Talking God of the Yeibichai) met her there and he led her, sprinkling corn meal, past various guards such as Bears, Lightning, until they came to a great holy room where four Nohokah dinneh ("of the First Earth" people) met them showing much sorrow at the suffering of the maiden, and two women took her into a room made of fir and bathed and dressed her and she stayed with these "First Earth" people a long time, and there her female baby was born. She had fur on all her limbs, breast and back of her ears, and a white face. The "First Earth" people took the baby to Siss-Nah-jinnhe (Holy North Mountain) and she stayed there, and her mother saw the first Mountain Chant there (Elusjin or corral dance).

Then the Gods took the older sister who married the Bear on a journey beginning at Taos, and they saw many ceremonies. The first person they met was the old woman who lives in the pointed mountain in Rio Grande Canyon, who gave them corn mush cooked in green leaves (she is the Mountain Goddess and also Hunger); they ate these ceremonially, and went on down the canyon where a Rock Man tried to stop them, but Hashje-altye and his clan came and helped them by cutting the rocks with lightning. Then they went on south to Santa Fe Mountain (Yoh-toh) and there were many ceremonies for them by the Turquoise Clan, and near La Bajada Hill they met the Bluebird people and near Sandia Mountain saw a ceremony given by people who later moved to the Hopi country. They went on and met the Deer people, and near Las Lunas, the Mountain Sheep people, and at Laguna, the Prairie Dog Clan. The Beavers were near Jemez, and north of Mt. Taylor there were Bears dancing, and there were antelope dancing nearby also the White Swan people, and the Sun people, and at Acoma the Mt. Jay people were dancing. Then they went West to see the Squirrel people dance, and then south visiting the Bears on the way to a mountain southwest of Zuni, and there saw the garden of the lightning full of squash and beans, and they climbed into it. Then they went Tsohotseh (Sierra Ancho) and met Teoltsodi (the water monster) and learned his medicine, and then to Dogoslee-ed (San Francisco Peaks) where they found the Porcupine Clan making coats, and to the place of the Chief of the Birds "Cheesh-kah-ih" (robin), and he was making a big speech at their ceremony.

They visited the hogahns there, and then came to the Chuskai Mountain and met two Bear Clans and told stories, and then to Bennet's Peak and Beautiful Mountain, and met the holy young men and women who lived there, and then north to see the Changing Bear maiden (sickness) whose husband was Coyote, and then to the LaPlata Mountain and stayed there five days as it was the place where the chiefs of clans met. Then they visited White Thunder and White Mountain and saw ceremonies of the Blackbird and Water Clans who lived at Hahjeenay (Emergency place). They met the rats drying seeds for winter, and the Mirage Clan, and Swallow Clan, and Otter Clan, and they bathed there near Horse Lake (Apache) and came back to their home at Tsit-tsenchelly (Wide Berries), where the bears live.

It was spring now and there was a very holy ceremony going on at Rainbow Mountain near Ignacio. The maidens of the Hospidi (dove), Tuzhi (turkey), Jay, Nasjaihee (spider), and Oriole Clans were grinding corn to the music of flutes and songs of Squirrels. The Changing Bear maiden Shikinh-nah-tlehay (Sickness), and Etsan hothgani (Hunger), the Thin Old Woman, were the prettiest ones grinding. They were playing a game in which, when this meal was ground they made it into balls and each tossed her ball to the young man of her choice, and if it did not break she married him, but if it did break she could not do so. All the balls broke except those of Bear Maiden and Thin Woman. Changing Bear maiden took a man to her home with her, but after he'd lived with her he came out with boils and sores all over him. The Thin Old Woman (Etsan Hothgani) took a man and he starved to death, for these two women always hurt their lovers, and after the travelers understood this they passed on to the big ceremony nearby.

The dancing started in the big corral and the four Nahokah dinneh (First Earth people) came out to dance. They were those who helped the birth of the baby, and the medicine man Tsilth-yah-nah-ohni (born in the mountains) told the Bear woman that the Bear was present, and she was much frightened. They showed the Bear where his wife was and he went and seized her, but the chief would not let him take her as he did not know her name (and no one does). Then the travelers left the dance and the Gods took the woman back to her old home at Tsit-tsenchelly and the Gods kept her daughter, the Bear maiden, at Siss-nah-jinnhe (North Holy Mountain).

Her mother, the Bear woman married a man at Kintyel later and had a son by him. At this time came a long period of drought, and most of the people were forced to move away, but the Bear woman, her husband and son remained. One day a starving Mother Bear came to the hogahn and entered it, and they fled, leaving the baby in his cradle swinging from the ceiling. The Bear, hearing the baby cry, grabbed him meaning to eat him, but instead she gave him suck and took him to her Den north of Ignacio; she brought him up there and taught him the ways of the bears and their secrets, especially how to listen to the voice of the wind. He stayed with her until he was twelve, and then another famine struck the land, and the Mother Bear and her cubs were starving, so she was tempted to eat the boy and finally decided to do it. The boy, warned by the wind, escaped to the north, carrying a fire-brand with him, and as the sun was sinking he found a cave and kindled a fire in front of it. Before morning the Mother Bear found him and told him to come out, but he would not as he knew that if he let the fire go out the Bear would get him, and she finally left, and they boy ran on.

All day he fled, but by afternoon the Bear was catching up with him, and by the advice of the wind he climbed into a big cactus, so the Bear missed him again, and he fled on next day taking refuge again in a cave, and on the fourth day again in the cactus, and all this time he was traveling north. On the fourth day of the Bear's pursuit she told him that she would chase him no more, and told him to go and find his family, and also told how she stole him, and gave him a prayerstick covered with feathers and a long stick wound with cotton, (Kloh-zohl, like Zunis); she also told him her four names which can be spoken only in winter.

She said, "You will find your people at Clah-chee (Fort Lewis, Colorado) where they live in tents, and your people's tent is set in the middle of seventeen others, and is colored black at the bottom, next white then blue and then yellow."

So the boy traveled long and reached the home of his people and went in, leaving his firestick outside, and sat down between his father and mother and put his arms around them, but they did not know him. However, after the council had met and heard the boy's story they recognized him, and he lived there till he was eighteen and married and had two girl babies, and his wife's younger sister lived with them also. Now all the people decided to move back to their old homes as they heard that the bears had moved away from that region.

By now the Boy was a man with his face painted red and hair in two braids, and he fell in love with his sister-in-law. As they were moving back towards their old home the Bear Boy pretended to be sick and wouldn't work, and all the people were very poor. The Boy told them to leave him behind and go on as he was probably dying, and he also said that if any man wanted to marry his wife's sister that she'd better marry him in order to get food and protection. Later he grew sicker and they thought him dead, and left him on a platform with a fire at each corner as he'd told them to do.

As soon as they'd gone he jumped down and got his bow and arrows and killed a deer and ate it, and all that year he hid himself and hunted until he thought that he had changed so much that no one would recognize him, and then he brought some deer meat to his family who by this time were nearly starving. They were ashamed to show themselves they were so poorly dressed, but when they saw the meat he carried they came to him and he asked who they were, and whence they came, and they told their story. He gave them all the meat and then left, and for four days he brought them food, and after this his former wife gave him her sister and they settled nearby. He left each morning before light until one day that he overslept, and his new wife recognized him and went to tell her sister, who was very angry with him at first, but became reconciled.

His second wife had a boy born to her out in the brush and she was ashamed and abandoned him there, and an owl hearing him cry, came and took him up in his claws and flew up to his home. When he was four years old he asked for bows and arrows and the Owl gave him some of his feathers and the boy began hunting, and when he was twelve he was a great hunter and supplied the Owl's food.

The Owl grew afraid of him and told the boy to go and find his real parents and he started off reluctantly. When he came to the place where his people had lived no one was there, and he almost decided to go back to the Owl but suddenly heard a noise Sh! Sh! and found that it came from a little stick which the family had used as a poker for the fire. The Owl Boy put it in his belt and the poker showed him where to go to find his people. He traveled four days until he came to another hogahn where his people had lived, but no one was there and he was discouraged, for the poker ceased to speak to him. Then be heard again a sound Sh! and found a pestle which said to him, "I will take you to your people," and he took up the pestle and was guided on for four more days till he came to another deserted hogahn and the pestle ceased to speak to him. Again he heard Sh! Sh! and this time it came from a fragment of a cooking pot and this guided him for four days more, to a third deserted hogahn, and then ceased to lead him farther. He hiccoughed, and word came with the hiccough telling him to go on, for his people had left there twelve years ago. He was guided on his way three times more, when he nearly had given up the search, by several other nervous feelings such as a twitching in his hand, a ringing in his ears or in his nose. and finally he found his people at their hogahn at Tsilth-entsah near Mesa Verde.

His mother was making a basket and did not know him when be put his arms around her, but finally when his father and the other children came in they recognized and welcomed him. That night his father took him to a dance and be shot an old blind man there. Next night at the dance he killed an old woman. Next night be killed a boy, and next night a girl. These killings made the clan very angry and the boy fled, warned by a spirit wind, and went south to the river. There he cut two red willow wands and peeled them and on one he made a face. \when the clan in pursuit came to this place they found three trails instead of only the boy's trail which delayed them, and the boy later cut two gooseberry wands and trimmed them and his pursuers found five trails leading on. Next be cut two elder branches and made seven trails to follow, and then he cut more red gooseberry bushes and the pursuers found so many tracks that they turned back home, and the boy went to join the Utes.

Meanwhile the family lived on happily at Tsilth-entsah until the Owl Boy's two younger brothers grew up when they became troublesome also, and the elder, while hunting, was captured by the Hopis, but the Navajos followed and brought him back. One day the clan went hunting and the elder brother was left to guard the hogahn and was captured by the Utes and though his family tried they could not get him back. The chief of the Utes adopted him and the boy was by now twelve years old. He lived with the Utes as the chief's son till he was twenty-four years old when be was made a chief and he was given a tent colored black at the bottom, then white, then blue and yellow and there was a string of eagle feathers from the top of it to the ground on the east, one of hawk feathers to the south, one of woodpecker feathers at the west and one of magpie feathers to the north.

One day the people went off on a great hunt, leaving the Boy Chief behind, who needing some feathers for arrows, took feathers from the roof of his tent. When the hunters returned they found out what he had done and were so angry that they decided at a four day council meeting, to whip him to death. They treated the Boy Chief like a slave sending him for water and some slender bundles of wood and he realized that be was to die. As he stooped to fill his jar, a little basket and prayerstick struck the water in front of him, and turning he saw Tsilthkinh Deginneh (Holy Mountain Man) standing behind him. The God said, "Do you know you're to die, and do you know where the Utes' treasure is?" The Boy took the basket and prayerstick and said that he knew where the treasure was. Then the Boy Chief went back to the council tent where the warriors were sitting around holding their spears, and in the center was a pole decorated with feathers. They seized the Boy and wrapped him up in two thick buffalo hides so that he was helpless and put the cord from his feet into the chief's hand, and one from his bands was given to the chief's wife and one round his middle was tied to two posts. Then they danced round him using four pottery drums.

Though it was summer it began to snow, and gradually one drum after another was silent as all went away to their homes to keep warm leaving only the chief and his wife. Finally they went to sleep lulled by a dove sent by the Gods, who also untied the Boy and he escaped, taking with him all the treasures of the Utes, and went to his friends the Gods, who by magic made the treasure small enough so that the Boy could carry it easily.

The Utes pursued him next day but he was saved by Hashje-altye and gave the God two buckskins and a war bonnet which he took from the treasure, and the God fed the Boy. Again the Utes pursued and this time Niltche (the wind) saved him, and the Boy gave him some paint for his face and an herb for medicine. The third time that the Utes came after him he was saved by a Pack Rat woman who tried afterwards to give him some of her stray collections of food to eat, but he refused until she offered him corn meal and yucca and he ate these, and then gave her her choice of the Ute treasures, and she took a piece of ground squirrel skin and danced about, saying that his old home was nearby. Next day when the Utes came after him a big Spider saved him and be left the Spider choose what he wanted and he took a ball of cotton yarn and said that the Boy would not be pursued any more.

So he went on, and as he went he grew very lame, and after a while met an old man porcupine, who carried him for awhile and as a reward the Boy gave him a nice thick coat. By now the Boy had come to a river near White Mountain west of the LaPlata Mountains, and to a big canyon where two ground squirrel men were watching Buffalo drinking and the Boy went down into the Canyon with them. It was so steep that the Boy fell often and the Squirrels held him on the trail saying that they were sent there to help him, and that he must not be afraid. As he went along it began to rain and he was met by "Holy Mountain Man" Tsilthkinh Deginneh and another man and two maidens, and they traveled on together passing over a big lake on a rainbow which led to Shiprock.

He went on alone to Beautiful Mountain where he lost his way, till Klehtso (the Pack Rat) helped him find it and he came to the Peak where he met a man with a pigtail who was hiding behind a rock, but told him that he was to go to a big ceremony later. As he went on he looked back to his old home where he'd been Chief and felt very sad, but kept on down the Mountain, and at dusk saw a light shining, and his prayerstick told him to go to it, but it was hard to reach it as it was dark and the path very stony. Hashje-altye met him and took him to the entrance of the Hogahn which was guarded by two Bears who let them pass in to a place where there was a fire and a bear guarding it, and also four logs of petrified wood. The Bear offered him various foods of berries but his prayerstick warned him not to eat till they offered corn meal with salt, and that be took.

The Bear said, "All our children are gone to a ceremony but me, I will show you to your bed," and he showed the Boy the East room made like a Bear Den, but the prayerstick warned him against taking this. Then they showed him the South room covered with cedar bark but he would not stay there. Then the West room finished with pine branches, but this did not suit him. Then the Bear woman suggested the North room hung with black pelts on the East wall, red pelts on the South wall, white on West wall and on North wall all colors and a bed in the middle made of Buffalo hides, with the Sun hanging on the West wall reflected on a sheet of mica which lighted the room. The Bear said that if the boy wanted darkness to motion to the Sun and mica, and it would be dark; so the boy slept there.

In the morning an earthquake woke the Bears as usual, and the boy bathed in a basket with fir branches all round it, and was dried with corn meal. He ate corn meal mush and then unpacked the Ute treasures and gave gifts to the Bears who were very happy with tobacco, buckskin dresses, flutes and whistles. Then they sent him on his way warning him of various dangers, but Hashje-altye guarded him and he went on. His prayerstick warned him to give a buckskin to a maiden that he would meet in a little rain, and when he met her she took the gift and said they would meet again, and vanished in a cloud.

He climbed a lovely bill covered with yellow grass where the wind struck him four times, and Hashje-altye appeared again and took him to the place where the Chief and Council were expecting him. He gave them all the treasures be had left, and a lot of frogs followed him until the Chief told them to leave. Then he took off his clothes and sat down on the small sandpainting while the frogs came in and sat around and began croaking, and the Boy was frightened and shivered. The frogs left, and the medicine man walked over him back and forth till he felt all right again. (This is the Oody-klahd rite.) From this they went to the Medicine Hogahn where a sandpainting on a buckskin was ready for him, and it was the second one which shows the gifts made, and the story. After being treated with this (which was made at Toh-ensihe on Chuskai Mountain), three ceremonies were held over the Boy and they set out messengers (Akananilly) to each of the main mountains.

Then the Boy came to the last sandpainting of the great arrows in the ceremony which is the most powerful, and by now the boy bad learned it all and was the first Indian to do so. The first dancers were the Nakai (whitened ones) as now, and the other dances which were by animals and birds, are now done by Indians.

They took him to a ceremonial dance at Beautiful Mountain and to Tsilth-Lachee, Red Mountain, where Kleestso (big snake) and Flying Ant live, and be was painted red all over with a black stripe on his chin but there was no fire corral. After the ceremony he was painted with spots like a snake, and the Boy learned this ceremony. Each time he rehearsed a ceremony for five days to know it. They went also to Cabezon near Mt. Taylor and be learned another ceremony where he was painted all red.

Now the Boy was absolutely cured of all evil and his old evil dreams; he had new thoughts in a new body. Then the Gods and the Boy traveled all over the same ground learning all the medicine lore, and a trip to learn the songs and another for prayers. Then a voice from Heaven said that the ceremonies must not be forgotten, that sand should be used for paintings, and all accurately remembered. The Boy now came back to JohI-eh and told the story of his adventure, and taught his younger brother during five years until he learned the ceremonies completely, and the older brother initiated the younger and made him a medicine man at a big ceremony given among the Navajos. When this was over the Boy made four bull-roarers, and the basket was made by his grandmother who lived with the Bears and all the medicine bags came from the Utes.

The new medicine man gave a ceremony over an Indian and the Gods were well pleased, and the highest God said that it should always be given after the first frost. Then the great God disappeared in the Heavens and the Boy dissolved in air, being taken by the Gods to Black Mountain or the water near Gallegos.

Myth of Mountain Chant, told by Hasteen Klah/Beauty Chant, told by Hasteen Gahni

Bulletin #5 Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1951

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