Prayersticks/Offering


The prayersticks are colored white, blue, yellow, black, red, speckled, spotted or striped, according to ritual prescription, to represent the divinity worshiped. The colors are a mixture of water with surface coal (lejin) for black, water and yellow clay (letsoi) for yellow, white clay (dlesh) for white, while the soft turquoise, or a similar stone (adishtl'ish), is pulverized and mixed with water for the blue color. The spots and stripes for some prayersticks vary according to prescription, and are obtained with any of these colors, one of which is the prevailing color on the body of the prayerstick. The colors are applied with brushes made of yucca strips. Pg. 68

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

Acceptance of offering is as ritualistic as the construction of the offerings. Usually the offering is laid on the foot of the one to whom it is made; until this time the god maintains ceremonial unconcern. If, however, the offering is correct in every particular he deigns to look at it, carries it up one side of his body and down the other. He then smells it, inspects it, and breathes in from it-acts indicating that he accepts.

Different deities varied this ritual slightly.

Black God sat upright, humming a tune and tapping his toe when the people came with the tobacco pouch. They put it on his left toe; he picked it up, carried it up his left side, across his forehead, and down his right side, where he rested it on his right toe. He stared at the person presenting it, then at the offering. He looked at it, smelled it, reached into the pouch, took out the prayerstick and inspected it more carefully, took out the turquoise pipe and the tobacco, and, by smoking, accepted.

The gods of the Hail Chant sought the approval of their followers. Frog called in Frog Girl, Frog Boy, and all his relatives and friends. When they approved by blowing frog medicine over the offering, Frog breathed in from it to indicate his favor.

Bat placed his offering on Winter Thunder's lap. Winter Thunder did not touch it, but merely looked at it, until his retinue had smelled and approved it; then he breathed in from it.

When Black Thunder and Winter Thunder presented prayersticks to each other, each indicated acceptance by breathing in from the offering and pressing it to his heart (Reichard 1939, p. 31; 1944d, pp. 21, 41, 45, 53; Haile 1938b, pp. 185, 227).


Bead token (yo' didjo'li') is my catchword for Father Berard's 'recognition mark' and Kluckhohn-Wyman's 'token.' I should prefer the term 'chant token' for this symbol, but Kluckhohn-Wyman have adopted that for the 'head-feather bundle,' an item of the chanter's bundle. These, I think, should be distinguished. The bundle is a piece of property corresponding with bundle prayersticks, brush, bull-roarer, etc.; the bead token is a permanent symbol in the patient's possession to signify that he has been favored by the gods of a given chant, that he is under their protection, that his power is equal to theirs. The token has recognitive significance in identifying the patient as a 'child' to the deities themselves; another major purpose is to warn off less powerful supernaturals who may be expected to fear those powers which have been persuaded.

The Shooting Chant token, which made it safe for me to deal with the Hail Chant also, is a tiny, perfect turquoise tied with a small olivella shell. At Ganado and Newcomb the token is the same for men and women, prescribed by other chanters as well as by RP.

In a sense the token becomes the patient's 'life,' since that which happens to the token happens also to its owner. Some five years after MC had first been sung over, her token broke, exposing her to danger, a threat which could be counteracted by a series of four repetitions of the chant.

After RP had sung the Shooting Chant for me, he explained the token: "You don't need to be afraid of lightning or snakes any more. They won't hurt you. Don't kill a snake, though. If you see one, just leave it alone. Go the other way-leave it alone. And if you are in a bad storm with wind, thunder, and lightning, just take the bead in your hand, shake it at the storm, and tell it to stop and it won't hurt you."

Subsequent inquiry indicated that the 'telling' could be done in Navaho or English. It was not in the form of a prayer; it need have no words.

When the bead is removed from the scalplock on the last day of ceremonial observance, it is tied to some part of the patient's person or wearing apparel-the hair or hairstring, the hat, belt, purse, or necklace; the owner feels more comfortable if he has it with him, especially when traveling or undertaking an uncertain activity.

The bead token of the Hall Chant is agate. To judge by the mythical description of the Blackening, a corresponding symbol was a part of the War Ceremony: an agate was placed on the patient's chest, a sack of gopher dust on his back; the agate seems not to have been given to the patient (Ch. 12; Figure painting, Con. C; Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. 38-9; Haile 1938b, pp.62, 93; Reichard 1944d, p.103).


Bow symbol is a bundle item often depicted in sandpainting and elsewhere. It is drawn with chant lotion on the body painting of Monster Slayer's impersonators, and on the bull-roarer before it is twirled.

Monster Slayer explained the symbol as he raised his left foot toward the people: "This act represents the means I used to overcome the monsters. In days to come you shall remember the one whose name is Bow-whose-string-extends-on-one-side" ('alti' ya'ozti'). The bow symbolizes the death of the monsters whose ghosts have left death or weakness behind. The ghosts of any enemy may be the same as the ghosts of the monsters. The bowstring entices the enemy to his death and is therefore a decoration of the victor (Haile 1938b, pp. 37, 59, 179, 256, 123n, 315, 27n; 1943a, p. 44; Reichard 1928, p. 118; Matthews 1897, p. 24; 1902, pp. 21, 23).


Compulsion has been noted as a ritualistic method of approaching the gods-an offering correct in every respect must be accepted.

Black God had been prevailed upon to assist in the War Ceremony; he told the messengers who brought an acceptable offering, "Had I refused to perform, the monsters' ghosts would have been again devouring you, more so than they had been doing before. . . . Why should I keep it [knowledge of ceremony] to myself without letting others know what I intend to do?" (Haile 1938b, pp. 185, 187; 1943a, pp. 109, 111, 271, 309, 91n, 96n).


Cotton (na'ka') is required for many invocatory offerings and some unravelers. Pueblo-grown cotton was formerly traded to the Navaho, but now thin cotton string or strands raveled from cotton cloth, retwisted, are more common.

Cotton with feathers constitutes a conveyance; the Holy People guide the rainbow with cotton, feathers direct it. Even Spindle had an invocatory offering (Unraveling, Con. C; Sapir-Hoijer, pp. 165, 185, 508, 64n).

Cotton fabric (na'aka') is valued for offerings and payment. Unbleached muslin and yard goods of all kinds, especially cotton prints, calico, and percale, make up the 'spread.'

Cotton is associated with spiderweb and cotton cloth with weaving, taught to the Navaho by Spider Woman; cloth and weaving are therefore her manifestations.

A cotton blanket, offered by Salt Woman to First Man, was refused; offered to Spider Woman, it was accepted.

Water Monster offered a cotton fabric to Coyote for the return of his children and with it Coyote said he would make clouds, rain, and vegetation (Franciscan Fathers, p. 222; Stephen 1930, p. 93; Goddard, p. 131).


Dust token, a small quantity of soil, may be placed in the patient's moccasins during a rite or ceremony. In the Shooting Chant figure painting rite, the soil is taken from the sandpainting; it represents Gopher's aid in restoring Monster Slayer after the latter had overcome Burrowing Monster; it has the same meaning in the War Ceremony.

A little pouch containing a forked lightning, rain streamer, zigzag lightning, flash lightning, rainbow, and sunray was attached to the Hail Chant head bundle. These conveyances could be put into the sack by the Holy People, but now chanters substitute small quantities of soil from the sacred mountains for the same purpose.

When I asked MC about the bead token of the Night and Mountain chants, she said, "No, no bead, just the dirt in the moccasins"; from this remark it would appear that in these chants the dust is correlated with the bead token.

Dust from the tracks surrounding a wounded buffalo is a bundle substance of the Flint Chant, a means of identification with Buffalo. Its application seems to be a rite, possibly of restoration (Ch. 7; Haile 1938b, pp. 50, 193; 1943a, p. 18; Reichard 1928, p. 126; Shooting Chant ms.; 1944d, p. 103; Goddard, p. 130).


Feathers are a ubiquitous requirement. Live feathers (xina bitsos), usually of down, are from a live bird, caught and smothered with pollen. The longer the bird struggles, the more potent are its parts in ceremony. The feathers represent strength, speed and motion, deliverance; the pollen exposed to them stands for light and life, that is, the sheen of the feathers.

The power of feathers, especially of eagle down, originated in the conquest of Cliff Monster and the subsequent origin of birds.

Feathers that are not live are not necessarily dead; they are not from a bird ritualistically strangled, but may have dropped from a bird in flight.

Spider Woman gave life feathers to The Twins on their first trip to Sun; they are represented by the unravelers of the Shooting and Big Star chants, and combine Spider and Bird powers. The first feather, kept distinct among the unraveling strings, has more power than the others. It is tied to the first hoop or ring of the Big Star set as a charm against enemies.

Whenever a transformation was about to take place, feathers were laid between buckskins.


In an early world First Man took cuticle from his scalp, laid it on the ground, and it became Thunder with wings. At one time First Man sent Thunder, naked, to the home of Water Monster, who gave him a feather cloak, the 'same as forked lightning.'


Eagle feathers were sewed around the edge of the warrior's shield to aid his cause.

Eagles preparing for battle donned their feathers; others painted themselves. The feathers were inadequate against an attack of stinging insects that flew between the feathers and stung the skin.

Birds are closely associated with the Skies; the Dawn rays are Talking God's headdress feathers. Curiously, too, Dawn,

Day Sky, Evening Light, and Darkness are thought of as feathers, but they have birds to represent them as well.

The small brightly colored birds and their feather tokens stand for beauty and happiness.

Turkey feathers are commonly a part of traveling and bundle talking prayersticks and of other properties of Evil as well as Holy chants (Huckel ms.; Stephen 1930, pp. 88-9; Matthews 1897, pp. 109, 202; Haile 1938b, pp. 96, 101, 103, 193, 255, 108n; 1943a, p. 187; Hill 1936, p. 11; Reichard, 1939, p. 43; Newcomb-Reichard, p. 58, Pl. XVIII; Oakes-Campbell, p. 38, Pl. III).

Navajo Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950

Acceptance of offering is as ritualistic as the construction of the offerings. Usually the offering is laid on the foot of the one to whom it is made; until this time the god maintains ceremonial unconcern. If, however, the offering is correct in every particular he deigns to look at it, carries it up one side of his body and down the other. He then smells it, inspects it, and breathes in from it-acts indicating that he accepts.
Different deities varied this ritual slightly.
Black God sat upright, humming a tune and tapping his toe when the people came with the tobacco pouch. They put it on his left toe; he picked it up, carried it up his left side, across his forehead, and down his right side, where he rested it on his right toe. He stared at the person presenting it, then at the offering. He looked at it, smelled it, reached into the pouch, took out the prayerstick and inspected it more carefully, took out the turquoise pipe and the tobacco, and, by smoking, accepted.
The gods of the Hail Chant sought the approval of their followers. Frog called in Frog Girl, Frog Boy, and all his relatives and friends. When they approved by blowing frog medicine over the offering, Frog breathed in from it to indicate his favor.
Bat placed his offering on Winter Thunder's lap. Winter Thunder did not touch it, but merely looked at it, until his retinue had smelled and approved it; then he breathed in from it.
When Black Thunder and Winter Thunder presented prayersticks to each other, each indicated acceptance by breathing in from the offering and pressing it to his heart (Reichard 1939, p. 31; 1944d, pp. 21, 41, 45, 53; Haile 1938b, pp. 185, 227).

Bead token (yo' didjo'li') is my catchword for Father Berard's 'recognition mark' and Kluckhohn-Wyman's 'token.' I should prefer the term 'chant token' for this symbol, but Kluckhohn-Wyman have adopted that for the 'head-feather bundle,' an item of the chanter's bundle. These, I think, should be distinguished. The bundle is a piece of property corresponding with bundle prayersticks, brush, bull-roarer, etc.; the bead token is a permanent symbol in the patient's possession to signify that he has been favored by the gods of a given chant, that he is under their protection, that his power is equal to theirs. The token has recognitive significance in identifying the patient as a 'child' to the deities themselves; another major purpose is to warn off less powerful supernaturals who may be expected to fear those powers which have been persuaded.
The Shooting Chant token, which made it safe for me to deal with the Hail Chant also, is a tiny, perfect turquoise tied with a small olivella shell. At Ganado and Newcomb the token is the same for men and women, prescribed by other chanters as well as by RP.
In a sense the token becomes the patient's 'life,' since that which happens to the token happens also to its owner. Some five years after MC had first been sung over, her token broke, exposing her to danger, a threat which could be counteracted by a series of four repetitions of the chant.
After RP had sung the Shooting Chant for me, he explained the token: "You don't need to be afraid of lightning or snakes any more. They won't hurt you. Don't kill a snake, though. If you see one, just leave it alone. Go the other way-leave it alone. And if you are in a bad storm with wind, thunder, and lightning, just take the bead in your hand, shake it at the storm, and tell it to stop and it won't hurt you."
Subsequent inquiry indicated that the 'telling' could be done in Navaho or English. It was not in the form of a prayer; it need have no words.
When the bead is removed from the scalplock on the last day of ceremonial observance, it is tied to some part of the patient's person or wearing apparel-the hair or hairstring, the hat, belt, purse, or necklace; the owner feels more comfortable if he has it with him, especially when traveling or undertaking an uncertain activity.
The bead token of the Hall Chant is agate. To judge by the mythical description of the Blackening, a corresponding symbol was a part of the War Ceremony: an agate was placed on the patient's chest, a sack of gopher dust on his back; the agate seems not to have been given to the patient (Ch. 12; Figure painting, Con. C; Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. 38-9; Haile 1938b, pp.62, 93; Reichard 1944d, p.103).

Bow symbol is a bundle item often depicted in sandpainting and elsewhere. It is drawn with chant lotion on the body painting of Monster Slayer's impersonators, and on the bull-roarer before it is twirled.
Monster Slayer explained the symbol as he raised his left foot toward the people: "This act represents the means I used to overcome the monsters. In days to come you shall remember the one whose name is Bow-whose-string-extends-on-one-side" ('alti' ya'ozti'). The bow symbolizes the death of the monsters whose ghosts have left death or weakness behind. The ghosts of any enemy may be the same as the ghosts of the monsters. The bowstring entices the enemy to his death and is therefore a decoration of the victor (Haile 1938b, pp. 37, 59, 179, 256, 123n, 315, 27n; 1943a, p. 44; Reichard 1928, p. 118; Matthews 1897, p. 24; 1902, pp. 21, 23).

Compulsion has been noted as a ritualistic method of approaching the gods-an offering correct in every respect must be accepted.

Black God had been prevailed upon to assist in the War Ceremony; he told the messengers who brought an acceptable offering, "Had I refused to perform, the monsters' ghosts would have been again devouring you, more so than they had been doing before. . . . Why should I keep it [knowledge of ceremony] to myself without letting others know what I intend to do?" (Haile 1938b, pp. 185, 187; 1943a, pp. 109, 111, 271, 309, 91n, 96n).

Cotton (na'ka') is required for many invocatory offerings and some unravelers. Pueblo-grown cotton was formerly traded to the Navaho, but now thin cotton string or strands raveled from cotton cloth, retwisted, are more common.
Cotton with feathers constitutes a conveyance; the Holy People guide the rainbow with cotton, feathers direct it. Even Spindle had an invocatory offering (Unraveling, Con. C; Sapir-Hoijer, pp. 165, 185, 508, 64n).

Cotton fabric (na'aka') is valued for offerings and payment. Unbleached muslin and yard goods of all kinds, especially cotton prints, calico, and percale, make up the 'spread.'
Cotton is associated with spiderweb and cotton cloth with weaving, taught to the Navaho by Spider Woman; cloth and weaving are therefore her manifestations.

A cotton blanket, offered by Salt Woman to First Man, was refused; offered to Spider Woman, it was accepted.
Water Monster offered a cotton fabric to Coyote for the return of his children and with it Coyote said he would make clouds, rain, and vegetation (Franciscan Fathers, p. 222; Stephen 1930, p. 93; Goddard, p. 131).

Dust token, a small quantity of soil, may be placed in the patient's moccasins during a rite or ceremony. In the Shooting Chant figure painting rite, the soil is taken from the sandpainting; it represents Gopher's aid in restoring Monster Slayer after the latter had overcome Burrowing Monster; it has the same meaning in the War Ceremony.
A little pouch containing a forked lightning, rain streamer, zigzag lightning, flash lightning, rainbow, and sunray was attached to the Hail Chant head bundle. These conveyances could be put into the sack by the Holy People, but now chanters substitute small quantities of soil from the sacred mountains for the same purpose.
When I asked MC about the bead token of the Night and Mountain chants, she said, "No, no bead, just the dirt in the moccasins"; from this remark it would appear that in these chants the dust is correlated with the bead token.
Dust from the tracks surrounding a wounded buffalo is a bundle substance of the Flint Chant, a means of identification with Buffalo. Its application seems to be a rite, possibly of restoration (Ch. 7; Haile 1938b, pp. 50, 193; 1943a, p. 18; Reichard 1928, p. 126; Shooting Chant ms.; 1944d, p. 103; Goddard, p. 130).

Feathers are a ubiquitous requirement. Live feathers (xina bitsos), usually of down, are from a live bird, caught and smothered with pollen. The longer the bird struggles, the more potent are its parts in ceremony. The feathers represent strength, speed and motion, deliverance; the pollen exposed to them stands for light and life, that is, the sheen of the feathers.
The power of feathers, especially of eagle down, originated in the conquest of Cliff Monster and the subsequent origin of birds.
Feathers that are not live are not necessarily dead; they are not from a bird ritualistically strangled, but may have dropped from a bird in flight.
Spider Woman gave life feathers to The Twins on their first trip to Sun; they are represented by the unravelers of the Shooting and Big Star chants, and combine Spider and Bird powers. The first feather, kept distinct among the unraveling strings, has more power than the others. It is tied to the first hoop or ring of the Big Star set as a charm against enemies.
Whenever a transformation was about to take place, feathers were laid between buckskins.

In an early world First Man took cuticle from his scalp, laid it on the ground, and it became Thunder with wings. At one time First Man sent Thunder, naked, to the home of Water Monster, who gave him a feather cloak, the 'same as forked lightning.'

Eagle feathers were sewed around the edge of the warrior's shield to aid his cause.
Eagles preparing for battle donned their feathers; others painted themselves. The feathers were inadequate against an attack of stinging insects that flew between the feathers and stung the skin.
Birds are closely associated with the Skies; the Dawn rays are Talking God's headdress feathers. Curiously, too, Dawn,
Day Sky, Evening Light, and Darkness are thought of as feathers, but they have birds to represent them as well.
The small brightly colored birds and their feather tokens stand for beauty and happiness.
Turkey feathers are commonly a part of traveling and bundle talking prayersticks and of other properties of Evil as well as Holy chants (Huckel ms.; Stephen 1930, pp. 88-9; Matthews 1897, pp. 109, 202; Haile 1938b, pp. 96, 101, 103, 193, 255, 108n; 1943a, p. 187; Hill 1936, p. 11; Reichard, 1939, p. 43; Newcomb-Reichard, p. 58, Pl. XVIII; Oakes-Campbell, p. 38, Pl. III).

Navajo Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950