Ghosts


Ghost: Most tribal people believe in a spiritual resonance that lives after the life cycle is over. Native American myths describe this as a Spirit rather than a ghost. Spirits that reside in certain rock formations were once living, breathing beings. There are spirits in living trees which live on in the grain of the wood, or the smoke. Though in appearance a tree is "dead," it is yet "alive." Ancestor Spirits may live in inanimate objects, confined there, as it were, from previous existence. But in human terms, the Spirit of a man usually moves unless hindered in some way to one of several places. The Spirit World is often thought to be the one above this world. Yet it is also true, in some tribes, that the Spirit World exists underneath the one we live on now. In any case, Spirits do not come back to molest the living unless their pattern has been broken or disturbed, or unless they are compelled or directed to return. many Native American "ghost stories" describe an individual whose Spirit leaves his body and goes to the Spirit World to join his departed family members in a place that corresponds with the Christian view of Heaven. Pg. 194

The Gift of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman.

But just when everything on the earth was good and beautiful the people saw the first death. They remembered what the Sun had said. He had claimed the lives of all the living in payment for his light. The people wondered where the dead would go. "Is there another country ?" they asked among themselves. Now there came two beings called Alke'na ashi, Made Again, who looked like the Yei. 82 They were sent to the East to look for the dead body. They returned and said that they had not seen it. They were sent to the South and they brought back the same report. They were sent to the West and the North without success. They were asked to look into the Yellow World where they had come from. As they were about to start they felt the flesh around their knees pinched; but they went on. They had a strange feeling of sound, like a rale, in their throats. They felt rather than heard this sound, but they went on. Then there was a sensation in their noses, like an odor, but they went on to the place of emergence, and they looked down. Way below them there was someone combing his hair. He looked up and gave a little whistle, and they both experienced a strange feeling. When the Alke'na ashi returned from the lower world they said that they had seen the spirit of the one who had died. They told just what they had felt and seen. They warned the others saying that they must not try to return to the Country of the Past for it was not well to experience such sensations nor to see such things; and if in the future someone were to hear a whistle when no one was about that whistle came form an evil source, and a prayer should be said at once. If anyone should be so unfortunate as to see their double, or the form of a near relative in a vision, it would be a sign that dangerous things were about to befall them. Should this happen a chant must be held and prayers said in order to ward off the trouble. Pg. 31

82- Interpreter's note: The Alke'na ashi were originally the White Corn Girl and the Yellow Corn Girl, children of the White Shell Girl and the Wolf. They had been killed; But after twelve years the Holy Ones revived them, hence their name meaning Made Again. But they were revived as a boy and a girl. It is said that the Sun has their masks; and that their faces are never represented. This story is one of black magic; and these two are connected with death and evil.
Matthews (1897, p.76) : "To behold the dead is dangerous." Franciscan Fathers (1910, pp. 453-456) Pg. 31

The Dine':Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians, 1926; Aileen O'Bryan.

Navajo's with the exception of those who have been converted to Christianity do not come together ehen a member of the family dies. Death and everything connected with it is repulsive to the Dineh and dead humans are buried a s quickly as possible. Traditional Navajos have no belief in a glorious afterlife. The afterworld is a place similar to the earth and is said, by some Navajos, to be the world from whence the Navajos came before they entered this world. Therefore it is located in teh North, the direction of evil, and is beneath the surface of the earth. The spirit of the dead travels down a mountain trail after the shell, or body, is deserted and left behind on earth. At the bottom of the trail the deceased is met by relatives who appear as they did in life. The deceased relatives them guide the spirit to the underworld on a journey that takes four days. Pgs. 29,30

The next day, when they reached the mainland, they sought to divine their fate. To do this one of The People threw a hide-scraper into the water, saying: "If it sinks we perish, if it floats we live." It floated and all rejoiced. but Coyote said, "Let me divine your fate." He picked up a stone and said, "If it sinks we perish, if it floats we live," as he threw it into the water. The stone sank and all The People were angry with him, but he answered them, saying, "If we all live, and continue to increase as we have done, the earth will soon become too small to hold all of us, and there will be no more room for cornfields. It is better that each of us should live but a time on this earth and then leave and make room for our children." The People saw the wisdom of his words and were silent. Pg. 75

On the fifth night one of the twin hermaphrodites ceased to breathe. The left him alone all that night and, when morning came, Coyote proposed to lay him at rest among the rocks. This they did, but they all wondered what had become of his breath. They went in various directions to seek its trail, but could find it nowhere. While they were hunting, two men went over to the hole from which they had emerged from the lower world. It occurred to one of them to look down into the hole. He did so, and saw the dead one seated by the side of the river in the Fourth World, combing his hair. Then he returned to The People and told them what he had seen, but in four days he died. Ever since the Navajos feared to look upon the dead or to behold a ghost, lest they die themselves. Pg. 76

On the fifth day after The People entered the Fifth World, the Sun climbed to the zenith and stopped. The day grew hot and the people all longed for the night to come but the Sun did not move. Then the Coyote, who had invented death by tossing a stone in the water, said:"The Sun has stopped because he has not been paid for his work. He demands a human life for every day that he labors and he will not move again until someone dies." Soon a woman, the wife of a great chief, ceased to breathe and grew cold, and while they all drew around her in wonder, the Sun was observed to move again, and he traveled down the sky and passed behind the western mountains. That night the Moon stopped in the zenith, as the Sun had done during the day, and the Coyote told the people that the Moon also demanded payment and would not move until it was given. He had scarcely spoken when the man who had seen the departed hermaphrodite in the lower world died and the Moon, satisfied, continued his journey to the West. And thus it is that someone must die each day and each night or the Sun and the Moon would not continue to journey across the sky. And that was what First Man meant when he told the people not to mourn for the old man and his son, for all that die will join them in the heavens and become theirs in return for their labors. Pg. 79

The Book of the Navajo; 1976, Raymond Friday Locke.

And when it developed that one of their number was missing, a search was made for him. He was finally located in hajinai, the place of emergence, but refused to leave, saying that the future people of the earth would return there. Therefore, the people of this earth (nihokha dina'ee) return to hajinai after death. The person remaining there sallies forth at times to collect food and pieces of broken pottery which have been left at the habitat of the deceased, for he promised his companion to do this. Pg. 352

An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navajo Language; 1910, The Franciscan Fathers.

Respect is necessary to avoid offense, which may take either a spiritual or a physical form; to the Dine', there is often not a clear division. For instance, a painting left in a ruin was made for a reason, and the thought behind it continues to permeate its existence. Through the medium of the wind (nilchi), which encompasses the living creatures of the world and acts as a supernatural messenger, the person who made the painting will be told that another is standing there copying his act. The ghost will haunt the living, causing its thoughts to enter the offender's mind. If the thoughts are evil, they become a part of that person's life. One man described this phenomenon as "something that sticks to you like when a person has a cold and that person passes that cold on to you," while another said that when one goes to a "ghost place" his thinking will start "gnawing" him. A third person suggested that the dead spirit follows its pottery around when it is picked up by a living being, them bedevils him through nightmare during which kicking or movement is a sign that something is bothering the dreamer. Another said that what killed the Anasazi will be disturbed and return to destroy the living. Pg. 121

Sacred Land, Sacred View:Navajo Perceptions of the Four Corners Region; 1992, Robert S. McPherson.

Though darkness can be associated with dreaded forces and places of danger, night is not necessarily considered an evil time by the Navajo, unless, as Newcomb observes, it is "cloudy, windy and moonless. Then it is said to be filled with evil spirits." Pg. 26

They Sang for Horses:The Impact of the Horse on Navajo and Apache Folklore; 1966, LaVerne Harrell Clark.

"One loses personal identity at death and becomes an indefinite part of the universal whole.". . . . . . Existence in the hereafter appears to be only a shadowy and uninviting thing. The afterworld is a place like this earth, located to the north and below the earth's surface. It is approached by a trail down a hill or cliff, and there is a sandpile at the bottom. Deceased kinfolk, who look as they did when last seen alive, come to guide the dying to the afterworld during a journey that takes four days. At the entrance to the afterworld, old guardians apply tests to see if death has really occurred. . . . . . . Normally the Navaho staves off death as long as possible, relying upon religions formula to keep him safe. He admits that death is inevitable and is not nearly as afraid of it as he is of the dead . . . . . Indifference about the afterlife doubtless reflects the ethical system, which holds that man suffers here on earth, if at all, but need not expect punishment after death; the individual spirit may be lost in the cosmos. Man can better his life here on earth by ceremonial control; he cannot change his ultimate destiny. Pgs. 377-78

Kinaalda', A Study of the Navaho Girl's Puberty Ceremony; 1993, Charlotte Johnson Frisbie.
Death and everything connected with it are horrible to the People. Even to look upon the bodies of dead animals, except those killed for food, is a peril. Dead humans are buried as soon as possible, and with such elaborate precautions that one of the greatest favors which a white person can do for Navahos is to undertake this abhorrent responsibility. Pg. 126

The Navaho; 1946, Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton.

Whenever a good man or a good woman dies he goes to a good place the place where our Holy People goes to. That's where our good people go to. And the bad people like those witches and other bad people like those who steal and lie, they can go where we call Ghost Land. And so it is pretty near the same as what white people believe. The bad people go under the earth - they are still bad to us. They are the ones who cause our sickness here. They put sickness upon the people yet even if they are dead. Pgs. 135-136

Navajo Witchcraft; 1944, Clyde Kluckhohn. 

Where the line is drawn determines how much of a man's property is destroyed at his death. Clothes have absorbed perspiration, dirt, and skin scales; a man may become one with his favorite horse and even with his silver ornaments or saddle; a person absorbs consciously and unconsciously the power of every element of the chant symbolized by the bead token. He becomes a part of it and therefore it must be a part of him. A possession that is the extension of his personality when he is alive may include also the extension of his evil, tc'indi, after he dies. Hence, instead of being harmed, it may harm (Reichard 1963:35). Pg. 180

Navajo Medicine Bundles or Jish, Acquisition, Transmission, and Disposition in the Past and Present; 1987, Charlotte J. Frisbie

As early as 1725 the Navajo nation had established its claim to vast areas of land in northern New Mexico and Arizona and in southern Colorado and Utah. They were not so powerful or warlike as the Comanches, Apaches, or Utes, and were never known to go into battle for the sole purpose of slaying their enemies. In fact, they avoided killing as much as possible because they did not wish to incur the wrath of enemy ghosts. But their young warriors were taught to be skillful raiders, the object of their raids being to obtain food or wealth in the form of sheep and horses. Pg. 3

There is no period of mourning in a Navajo family for an aged person who has lived out his life span, for it is felt that the spirit is ready to travel to another world. Nor is there any dread of touching or handling the corpse of an old person as there is of that of a younger person. Prayers are chanted for four days as the spirit journeys along the Rainbow Trail "Bikay-hozhum," "May the way be beautiful." Pg. 198

Four times, says Navajo religion, the soul of Hosteen Klah will encircle the Earth four times for the four directions of the compass and then it will soar away to a world beyond to reside in peace and beauty. Pg. 211

Hosteen Klah, Navajo Medicine Man and Sand Painter; 1964, Franc Johnson Newcomb.

The thin wiry frame of Lassos-a-warrior had survived an incredible amount of abuse since the days when it had come into existence on the way to Fort Sumner. It had been pushed and harried and disciplined. Until now it had been unswerving in service and endurance, until now it had come through successfully in health and dependability. At last too much had been exacted. It could no longer sustain the indomitable spirit which bore it. When he was too weak to talk and breathing became difficult, Lassos-a-warroir signaled to his sister and nieces to take him outdoors and they had the men move him t a small unused hogan not far from his large one. Here he settled down on the sheepskins as his relatives first stood silently about, then gradually glided away, leaving only Dezba who knew of nothing to do for him but to hold his hand and wipe his forehead. Death did not come, Life went.
With its going, the being which had been quietly but no less effectively adored by its kin became to them an object of abject unreasoning fear, of dread which reduced very one to impotency. It was the Dead. Few, if any, Navajo were afraid of death; fewer, if any, could overcome the phobia which possessed them in the presence of the dead. Ordinarily the missionary or the trader was called upon to bury, and usually one or the other obliged. Today the trader was gone. There was only a clerk in the store who had never before come to the aid of a Navajo and it would be useless to send there for help. The road to the Mission was so deep with snow that no one would travel it to bury an Indian. There were several clans whose members need have no fear of the dead, nor do the dead contaminate them, but none of these lived within calling distance now that the roads were closed. There was only one thing to do Silversmith himself would have to attend to the burial of his brother-in-law. He called upon Tuli and Dezba's two sons-in-law. Loco had not been there, but had ridden over as soon as he heard of the family's sorrow. Silversmith appointed him to choose a place for the interment. He ran two miles to a canyon to the east, choosing his trail as far as possible where the snow had blown away. There he selected a crevice well protected from water and difficult of access, even to animals. Near it were many loose stones which could be used to close the opening of the grave and to hide it from prowling eyes. While he was gone the other three men stripped off their clothes as they would have done to imbibe power in a chant, but now they rubbed their bodies with ashes to ward off undefinable evils a the thought of which they cringed. They even untied their hair strings and let down their hair. Their every move was calculated to prevent as far as possible the contamination which results from contact with the dead. They bathed the fragile corpse with yucca suds and dressed it in the purple velvet shirt and white trousers their owner had worn at celebrations. They put on his necklaces and bracelets which he happened to have got out of pawn to wear to the chants he had recently attended. They laid the body on its possessor's best and gaudiest blanket and beside it they strung his belt of heavy old Conchas. They laid out also two other blankets, a silver bridle which Lassos-a-warrior had recently received in payment for a sing, and his medicine bundle. They saddled his favorite horse.
They had not quite finished these preparations when Loco returned. When all was ready, the goods were packed upon the saddle and the entrance to the death hogan which was at the east was sealed. Tuli and his brother-in-law cut a hole through the north side of the house and out of it the corpse was carried. Then they burned the hogan with all its contents including the articles which had been used to prepare the corpse. Slowly Loco led the horse along the trail to the grave. The two sons-in-law lifted the light body to their shoulders, and with it followed the horse while Tuli brought up the rear. It was his duty to warn the chance traveler that this was the procession of death and he had better go by another route. In silence the party moved, careful not to speak or spit, lest one leave a trace of himself on that undesirable trail. Tuli, instead of following directly, moved in an arc so as to avoid as far as possible the path of the dead. They moved slowly, careful not to turn even a small pebble out of its position. If they had done so, sudden death would have befallen the offender unless he replaced it. The retinue stalked the dreadful trail so as to leave no trace of having covered it even as they would have done if pursued by the most terrible enemy. Arrived beneath the crevice, the men deposited the body in it, unpacked the horse and laid the valuables neatly on top of the corpse. Then, as hastily as possible, they filled the fissure with rocks making it appear that they had always been there. Tuli led the horse directly under the grave and shot it between the eyes. There it was left with bridle, saddleblanket, saddle and cinch, just as it had been in life. The four mourners returned home, not sedately as they had come, but by hopping and skipping, careful to avoid brush and cactus and choosing a way different from that by which they had come so that by the time they arrived home they had nearly described a circle.
While the burial was taking place Dezba, surrounded by the children and grandchildren who were home even the herd-boy was among them for all activity had ceased sat in her hogan looking at the floor. No one spoke, ate or drank. Not until after the pallbearers had returned and , by bathing and shampooing their hair, had removed the most imminent danger of contamination, could the family eat. For four days they sat quietly, eating little, doing no work, moving only when it was positively necessary. By standing with his back to the traveler and motioning with his hands over his shoulders, a man guarded the trail from the hogan to the grave, indicating to the intruder ignorant of the family's loss, that he was on the trail of the dead, and should turn aside. When four nights had passed in grieving, all the mourners purified themselves by bathing and once more took up their accustomed duties. The four days of mourning were appropriate for visits of comfort, but the severity of the weather prevented many from even hearing of the chanter's death. Slowly, as the news spread and as the roads made it possible, friends and relatives came. They entered the hogan more reticently than usual. A woman went up to Dezba, hid her head on Dezba's shoulder and together they sobbed unrestrainedly. Since Dezba was the closest relative of the deceased, each woman "cried" the longest with her, some for as long as twenty minutes. Meanwhile the companions of the woman were weeping in the same fashion with Dezba's daughters. Men who were closely related grieved together in the same way. More commonly though, they expressed their sorrow by a long-continued silent handclasp as their eyes filled with tears. The first time she saw them thereafter, even if it happened to be years later, Dezba would greet close relatives and friends by sobbing. Their comfort would lack nothing of formality or sincerity because chance caused its expression to be long delayed. Lassos-a-warrior's kin had burned the hogan in which he died because the fearsome part of his spirit lingered about the place. It was not exactly his ghost for it had no form. It was called chindi and was perhaps not personal or something belonging especially to him, but rather the essence of contamination. It was harmful only if disturbed. Some people deserted the place where one had died instead of burning it. The family moved away and ever after such a hogan was given a wide berth by all Navajo. There was no fear of the memory of Dezba's brother as there was of his dead body and the place where he died. Constantly his family referred to his ways and his acts, recalling them lovingly. Several weeks after his death Dezba and Silversmith began to discuss the question of moving. Although their establishment was large and seemingly permanent, they agreed that they would be happier elsewhere, for the house, the fire, the shade, the whole range seemed full of the vibrant spirit of the departed. In vain the survivors cocked their ears for the tramp of the wiry horse and the lilt of the piercing song. At best there was only the dreary whistle of the wind; worse was the silence which strained the ear beyond endurance. It did not take Dezba's men long to build her a new hogan a quarter of a mile south of the old one. When hers was finished, they moved the logs of those belongings to her daughters and soon a new settlement had sprung up. The move eased the pain a little, for the beloved brother had no place in the new hogan, the horse had not been tethered habitually to the familiar cedar outside, the bridle had no accustomed nail.

The soul of Lassos-a-warrior, "that which stood within him," was regarded as his life principle. He has not gone to some other world where he retains his individuality and conceits. He came from we know not where, from the earth which is the source of all things. His life and his ideals were of the earth earthy. He lived them all in order that he might, while breathing, follow the beautiful trail to the harmony which is above all things. He cannot now be in another world for he has gone back to the earth from which he originated. Now he needs no song for, having lost his identity, he is a part of it all, an indefinable part, he is not only of it, he is it, the ultimate essence toward which man and all things earthly strive. Pgs. 123-128

Dezba:Woman of the Desert; 1939, Gladys A. Reichard.

Every person (at least from childhood until old age, v.i.) releases a ghost at death, no matter how good he has been throughout life, for some evil must have become attached to him through thoughts or unintentional or unknown breach of restriction, if not through deeds. Navajos, therefore, abhor the grave of a benevolent and beloved relative as much as that of an admitted scoundrel. Aged people, however, who have been respected throughout life and who die a natural death may not be feared when deceased. Four informants suggested that the ghost of a good person might be less dangerous than that of a bad one, and DS said that a good man's ghost might not return to earth. "Good people's thoughts turn into whirlwinds (na' oldisi) and have a separate place to live up north, northeast of the bad people's place." Numerous denials of this, however, are in our field notes and DS admitted the the Navajos are "all mixed up" about it. Pgs. 12-13

"When good person dies, he goes to a good place, the place where our Holy People go to. The bad people go where we call ghost land, under the earth. Pg. 14

It is the breath or "wind" which leaves the body and goes to the afterworld. Breath is a manifestation of life. Pg. 14

Ghost repellant- I came to the hogan and the men there brought me some cedar leaves to chew. Pg. 29

After seeing a ghost you should wash your face and hands and chew cedar leaves. Pg. 32

"In the old days `owls' used to be hung in the four directions of the hogan to scare ghosts away."

The University of New Mexico Bulletin, Navajo Eschatology: 1942; Leland C. Wyman, W.W. Hill and Iva Osnai