Ashes (le'ctc i') protect man against undefined, unknown, suspected evils and confer immunity upon the person or vicinity where they are found. Consequently, they are common in the exorcistic rites and chants.
When taken out before sunrise, ashes are equivalent to pollen; that is, they scatter the evils of the night. Contrariwise, throwing out ashes in the daytime is an insult to Sun; spilling them makes a trail for Poverty, who is avoided by the Holy People.
The exorcistic function of ashes and the idea that 'evil must be driven off as far as possible' are noted in the myth of the War Ceremony: the proper site for the ceremonial hogan must have enough open space to allow ashes to be strewn on the enemy, that is, the scalp, at a safe distance.*
* The opinion "ordinary wood ashes are worthless in themselves" (Haile 1938b, p.32) is in error, since ashes have great ritualistic value.
Meadowlark sat in front of the ash pile and with her left hand took ashes to the scalps that were to be 'killed,' that is, rendered harmless. Now in the War Ceremony the ashes-strewer places the scalp in the midst of the dancers, sprinkles ashes on and around it four times. Just before the next to last song is started he deposits the scalp some distance away.
Before each rite of the Male Shooting Chant Evil, ashes are gathered from four directions around the fire and taken out of the hogan.
Stress laid upon sitting in the ashes when sulking and quarreling may seem to mean mortification of the person one is trying to impress, but there seems also to be the idea that the one who resorts to ashes is trying to drive away the evil of discord.
When the people of Awatobi would not give the Stricken Twins a place to sleep, they spent the night on a pile of ashes outside the houses. This choice of a sleeping place was a threat to the Awatobi people, later carried out.
The more directly magical properties of ashes are exemplified by methods of driving cutworms, classed with indefinite evils, from the cornfields.
Ashes were mixed with water and the mixture poured at the base of the plants.
A few cutworms were gathered from a field and put into hot ashes to drive the remaining worms from the field. If any survived, they would dry up as had those taken for the symbol.
Protective properties of ashes are demonstrated by rites or ritualistic acts.
Changing Woman stuck a poker into the ashes, then hit Big Monster with it to drive him off. Here the strength of the poker and its power as the danger line are joined with the exorcistic power of the ashes.
After The Twins had survived the tobacco-smoking test, Sun spat upon the ashes left in the pipe, and rubbed them on the boys' feet, as he molded their bodies. Here ashes power is combined with tobacco power, smoke, and rubbing. The purpose of the whole is the recognition of power. There is a similar episode in the Mountain Chant myth.
Ashes helped to overcome Eye Killers. Monster Slayer threw salt into the fire; it crackled and sputtered, flinging embers and ashes into Eye Killers' eye sockets. The salt was the dynamite, so to speak. The embers would destroy the eyes; the ashes would drive off the creatures forever (cp. Ceremonial indifference; Hill 1938, pp.19, 59; Haile 1938b, pp. 32, 105, 123, 197, 201, 219, 233, 237; Matthews 1887, p. 404; 1902, p. 248; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.).
Ashes blowing ('idilyol), common in exorcistic rites, combines the significance of ashes and blowing which transforms evil into good or moves evil to a distance.
The patient in the Shooting Chant blows ashes from a feather just before inhaling incense, an act that ends the bundle application each night.
In the Evil chants, on the other hand, blowing and ashes blowing are frequently repeated. In the Big Star Chant, the patient blows ashes from the bull-roarer; the audience, from feathers. Ashes to be blown are put first near the butt of the object held, the second and third times successively nearer the tip, the fourth time at the very tip. The rite represents approaching immunity, dispersion of evil.
Ashes may be put on the feather with the rib downward, although for one repetition in the prayer the rib should be toward the blower (cp. Kluckhohn-Wyman, p. 73).
Navajo Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950