Protection/Practice


Ambush, a shelter formed by two trees or shrubs whose branches intermingle, is a setting repeatedly occurring in myth, giving the explanation for various ritualistic properties-emetic frames, hoops, pokers, prayersticks, wood samples. A hero, hoping to shoot a mountain sheep or other animal he did not recognize as a god, lay behind the 'ambush trees,' but when the animal appeared, was numb until it had passed. The animal deity, revealing himself, taught the hero ceremonial lore.
In the were-coyote episodes, the intertwined trees become a shelter for the forlorn hero, bewitched into a coyote.
Hoops of the Night Chant are made of the ambush woods, which appear again in the pit-baking, associated with the 'wood samples' of the sweat-emetic (Matthews 1902, pp.96, 162, 259; Sapir-Hoijer, pp. 155, 235; Haile l943a, p.57; Reichard, Shooting Chant Evil ms.).

Armor of various kinds is mentioned, the most common being flint, protection even against lightning.
Gila Monster of the Flint Chant had flint armor of the same colors as The Twins and their duplicates-black, blue, yellow, pink. Cattail armor was made for Rainboy by the gods so that he could withstand Frog's weapons. The armor of the Thunder People was of different layers, the innermost of cattail fibers, on top of it layers of colored flint.
Navaho warriors probably wore rawhide armor. Cicada wore it as a protection from Turtle's lightning and arrows.
Turtleshell armor was offered to and refused by First Man in the lower worlds; it was accepted by Horned Toad, who had flint armor also. Turtleshell, flint, and scales are doubtless associated (Reichard 1939, PI. XVII-XIX; 1944d, pp. 23, 31, 38, 39; Haile 1938b, p. 155; 1943a, p. 133; Newcomb Reichard, PI. XV-XVII; Stephen 1930, pp. 91-3).

Ax (tse nil), which destroyed anyone who took hold of it, other than the owner, was possessed by Frog, Gambler, and Old Age. It seems that this magic ax was changed into Monster Slayer's club. The references may point to a connection between Frog (Toad), Gambler, Old Age, and The Twins' club (Reichard 1944d, p. 27; Haile 1938b, p. 153; Goddard, p.146; Sapir-Hoijer, p. 129).

Blowing is a ritualistic act that has various results. Blowing increases size or quantity. Blowing on the large reed made it grow until it reached the sky. The world was stretched by blowing to keep the sun from burning the people. An entrance too small was enlarged by blowing; as soon as those allowed had entered, it reassumed its usual small size. Similarly, rooms too small for those entering were enlarged by blowing. A small rainbow was enlarged when Talking God blew on it. When Gambler came home, he put four ears of corn into empty bins, and blew on them; all the bins filled up.
Blowing causes motion, speed, and growth, and may also make a thing steady or permanent. Perhaps the steadying effect must be achieved by blowing chewed herbs: The rainbow on which the Stricken Twins traveled moved when blown on by Talking God. Evil influences, gathered under the reversed basket (drum) by the beating, were caused to move out of the smokehole by blowing after the basket was turned upright. Spider Woman, by blowing, caused the 'invincible man' to move into and remain in The Twins' bodies. First Man chewed an herb and blew it four times on the sun in his map of the world, sending it to the sky, which then began to move. By blowing, the entrance to the lower worlds was closed.
Blowing makes skins fit persons for whom they were not designed, sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily. Blowing causes transformation, closely related to fitting and permanence: Blowing caused a monster's blood to congeal. Blowing by be'yotcidi changed water animals into rocks. Blowing caused the stars to move from the plan made on the earth to their permanent place in the sky. Pluck of game hung in a tree was shot; the arrow was pulled through it. When the arrangement was blown upon, it turned into game.
Blowing may bring or dissipate a storm: Changing Woman, by spitting hail through hoops, throwing flints, and blowing, caused all to disappear into the sky and by this means prevented a storm. When Wind blew mud balls, a great hail storm arose. When there was a bad storm with terrific lightning, the hero of the Night Chant sang his Thunder songs and blew in the four directions, whereupon the storm passed.
The following ritual was performed if a hailstorm threatened: A man put into his mouth some sacred clay, salt, and the first hailstones that hit the field. He then blew the mixture to the four directions and the hail was expected to turn to rain (Pollen ball, Con. B; Stevenson, p. 276; Matthews 1887, pp. 391, 399, 400, 403, 409; 1897, pp. 129, 175, 232, 109n; 1902, pp. 186, 206, 246, 263; Wheelwright 1942, pp. 41, 43, 54, 79, 80, 86; Sapir-Hoijer, p. 43; Goddard, pp. 130, 133, 136, 138, 161; Haile 1938b, pp. 89, 117; Stephen 1930, p. 101; Reichard 1944d, p. 135; Hill 1938, p. 61).

Club (xal) was one of Sun's gifts to The Twins. It may be a manifestation of the 'killing ax,' and is an item of some bundles. Frequently depicted in the paintings of the flint-armored boys, it serves many purposes besides clubbing.

It was stuck between the 'closing rocks' and, along with elkhorn, now a property of the War Ceremony, it overcame them. Big Bear was rendered harmless when the club was wedged in his mouth.
By hitting with it Monster Slayer overcame the Big Gray Gods (insects) and made Traveling Rock useful to man (Haile 1938b, pp. 125, 127, 131, 137; Reichard 1939, PI. X, XVII-XIX; Newcomb-Reichard, p. 48, PI. XV-XVII).

Covers, blankets serving also as curtains, are indispensable to the Navaho.

Covers of the Skies were placed over and under Changing Woman and The Twins when they were babies. The Twins were hidden in similar covers to protect them from their father's wrath.

When heroes wandered alone they were often protected at night by a cover furnished by a deity.

Various covers-of Darkness, Dark Water, and dark, blue, yellow, and white clouds-were laid down for Rainboy's rites by their respective owners.
After the Fire Dance, Rainboy was left alone for four nights. The first night a large dark owl covered him with her wing. The next night White-nosed Duck covered him with the blanket of Old Age. The third night White Owl covered him, and the fourth night Rat Woman laid a squirrel skin over him.
Although the Stricken Twins seemed the most miserable of creatures, Talking God, their father, laid a cover of Darkness over them at night.

The curtains of the sweathouse and hogan doors, no matter how tattered or shabby they may appear, stand for deific qualities; they must be of a particular number and hung in a required order for each ceremony.
During the creation people were sent to Owl for a sweat-house curtain. He let them choose from those he had-white, blue, yellow, black, and flashing-and they chose the flashing one (Haile 1938b, p. 101; Reichard 1944d, pp. 23, 135, 137; Matthews 1902, pp. 216, 246; Wheelwright 1942, pp. 42, 57).

Danger line, line of protection ('ate' a' xo'dzoh) may prove to be one of the most important concepts in the understanding of American Indian war patterns. Dr. Parsons suggests in a brilliant deduction that the reason for Estevan's death was his daring to 'cross the line' which until then had doubtless been sacrosanct, for it is to be inferred that other Indians, who believed as the Zuni did, felt the same way and did not cross.
The idea is corroborated for the Navaho by Hill's explicit account of the war procedure and by other references. The line was composed of a zigzag and a flash lightning, a sunray and rainbow, designs that would prevent the enemy from overtaking the war party. The statement may even mean that the line would prevent the enemy from crossing into Navaho territory. An understanding of this idea makes clear the belief that evils dare not cross the pokers, since we know that the pokers stand not only for snakes but also for the supernatural conveyances.
Other elements that designate the line are meal sprinkling, flints, yucca, and mountains. On the other hand, pollen and meal sprinkling have blessing value in that they make the road safe for the traveler as long as he stays on the right side. The interpretation discloses the fundamental reasons for the elaborate preparations and procedure of hunting, war, and trading expeditions, which by their very nature cause men to cross the line.
Literary and ritualistic references confirm the interpretation: The hoops of the Big Star Chant, called so'ba's, 'star hoops,' are believed to furnish transportation, but when laid down one upon the other they are called 'atc a' xo'dzoh, 'obstructing lines or marks'; a zigzag and a flash lightning are crossed upon the hoops. In the flat position they do not lose their travel power, but rather restrict territory to a manageable space, a zone of safety, while the riders enter into otherwise dangerous country.
Evil spirits cannot cross the mountains or flints of the Hand Trembling Chant, which represent the trail of life.
Blood formed the line after the killing of Big Monster and Changing-bear-maiden.
The danger line explains the ritualistic facing in two directions, toward and away from the enemy country, in the War
Ceremony. The enemy was 'talked out 'in prayer and a line was drawn against him in the valley (*Father Berard's translation. 'for' instead of 'against' him, is due to failure to distinguish the context of the bipolar post-positions (cp. Reichard 1944d, p. ix).
The following illustrate the zone rather than the line of protection:

The singer of the Rain Ceremony drew a line in his mind around the territory where he wanted rain.
During the Rain Ceremony no one should step over the poker (actual, non-ritualistic) that lay by the fire. Holy People followed those who came into the house. If an Earth Person stepped over the poker, he blocked the passage to the Holy People. In other words, passing the poker would lead them into the fire. Furthermore, the poker should not at this time have its point toward the fire (its normal position). Hill says the reason is that there is too much chance of stepping over it.

If a poker lay in a vertical position east of the fire, the chances of stepping over it were as great no matter which way it was pointed. Another explanation is that the poker ordinarily should point toward the fire so that evils entering the door be attracted toward the fire, but at the time of the Rain Ceremony only good should enter and nothing should be done to cause it to detour (Parsons 1939, p. 363; Hill 1936, p. 16; 1938, pp. 75, 88; Kluckhohn-Wyman, p. 177; Matthews 1897, pp. 103, 116; Reichard, Endurance Chant ms.; Haile 1938b, pp. 45-6, 111, 157, 254, 87n).

Decoy fire, a plot motivation of various mythical episodes, seems to set up a relationship between sex, incest, and sorcery. Someone sees a beckoning fire at a great distance. He sets up a forked stick as an indicator so he can find the place in the daytime; his device leads to the discovery of new people, sometimes the household group of a sorcerer who has taken his daughter as a wife. The hero frees the daughter from her incestuous union and overcomes the sorcerer, sometimes obtaining the gift of rare game.
A fire decoy led Monster Slayer to the homes of the people who were neither good nor bad but in between (Ch. 5; Matthews 1897, pp. 138, 174; Newcomb 1940b, p. 55; Goddard, p. 127; Sapir-Hoijer, pp. 29ff.; Wheelwright 1942, p. 98).

Decoy woman entices a man to new acquaintance and often to mating. She is attractive; she has magic power from which only the gods can save the hero. Such women were Changing-bear-maiden, Winter Thunder's wife, the daughter and wife of Deer Owner, the pueblo Corn Maiden seducers of Monster Slayer (Reichard, Endurance Chant ms.; 1944d, pp. 5ff.; Haile 1943a, p. 56; Matthews 1897, pp. 174ff.; Newcomb 1940b, pp. 55ff.).

Decoys are stereotyped in Navaho myth and ritual. Gods entice heroes from their normal surroundings to teach them holy things. The conflict of a hero with Deer Owner, the arch-sorcerer, includes several decoys.
Game caught by a decoy, whether set by an evil or a helpful being, eventually redounds to the profit of future Navaho, since the episode results in ritual control: The eagle decoy set the myths of the Bead and Big Star chants in action. Changing-bear-maiden exploited an older sister's love for her little brother-the privilege of combing his hair-to his undoing, but he, with the supernatural decoy of a shadow, thwarted her effort.

Sound is a common decoy (Ch. 15; Goddard, p. 162; Matthews 1897, pp. 174ff., 195; Haile 1938b, p. 171; Newcomb 1940b, pp. 57ff., 65; Wheelwright 1942, p.98; Reichard 1939, pp. 26ff.; 1944d, pp. 5-7; Big Star Chant ms.; Endurance Chant ms.).

Horns are an evidence of power. Sun may be depicted as a disk with a face, feathers, lightning, and rain, but he is considered more powerful if he has horns; the same is true of Moon, Dark Wind and Yellow Wind, Water Monster, Water Horse, Sky, and Earth. Snakes of the Wind chants are horned; those of the Shooting Chant are not. Possibly horns represent shine, glint, or control of lightning (Newcomb-Reichard, pp. 57-8, Fig. 5, Pl. XXVIII, XXIX, XXXII, XXXIII; Reichard 1939, pp. 43, 48, 63; Wheelwright 1942, pp. 63, 65, 66).

Names are full of power, ritualistic items of tremendous value. A few examples are cited. The different names for the same person should be noted--all names belong to the specialized ceremonial language (Ch. 16; Reichard 1928, pp. 96-107; Haile 1938b, pp. 55-6; 1943a, p. 34-5).

Overdoing is to be avoided in all activities. The happy medium is to be sought, so that even in ritual there are curbs. One often gets the impression that it is impossible for the Navaho to have enough rain, yet moderation is required even in the performance of the Rain Ceremony. The prayerstick should be deposited on a pile of drift rubbish at least four fingerwidths but never more than eighteen inches high. The size of the drift pile regulates the amount of rain to be expected; too much would be courting bad luck.
In the Night Chant, Water Sprinkler throws rain up so that it will help the people, but rainmaking is done outside the chant-that is, in the Rain Ceremony-because the chanters do not want it to rain all the time during the Night Chant performance (Restriction, Withholding; Haile 1938b, pp. 78-81; 1943a, pp. 44, 223, 247; Reichard 1934, pp. 79-93; 1944d, p. 27; Hill 1938, p. 88; Matthews 1902, pp. 180, 312, 41n; Franciscan Fathers 1910, p. 294).

Participation has been stressed as an indispensable part of ritual. In some acts or rites power is concentrated in the behavior of the chanter, assistants, and patient; in others, everyone present must participate-in the sweat-emetic, ashes blowing, prayer with pollen, holding sacred objects during prayer, and application of yucca suds in the Rain Ceremony (if there is no patient). Proper audience participation helps the patient and the entire tribe; even attendance at a ceremony is a part of the sustaining effort (Introduction; Hill 1938, p. 81).
Passes, feints, are a large part of the chanter's stock-in-trade; some are made with the hands only, some with properties-for instance, arm-waving, arm-spreading, and hand-pointing to the cardinal directions. Brushing and the ceremonial lighting of prayersticks with a crystal are examples of passes made with sacred objects. The marking of the bull-roarer with the chant lotion is a pass. Some thrusts attract good, others are exorcistic; usually they may be understood in connection with the ritualistic context, but perhaps even then only if mythical details are known (Haile 1943a, p. 223; Goddard, p. 177).

Peace meant merely absence or end of war, not an ideal for which other values should be yielded. Navaho culture is built on the premise that war is necessary, that nothing esteemed can be achieved without it. "Before this [the union of separate groups] the Navaho had been a weak and peaceable tribe," relates the myth. The saga of The Twins is a succession of warlike deeds; Changing Woman's opposition to their going to war in the Hail Chant is an unusual and notable incident; it doubtless furnishes contrast and completeness.
Peace overtures show Navaho understanding of neighboring cultures worked out according to the enemies' values. After a fight the Navaho smoked the peace pipe with the Utes, embraced, and exchanged gifts-all symbols that trust had been established.
The Navaho delegate for peace entered a Hopi village singing. If he was received, a date was set for a conference; smoke signals announced his safe arrival and the possibility of a get-together. The delegates of each party, who were peace, not war chiefs, made cigarettes 'in their own way. The Navaho filled a cornhusk wrapping with mountain tobacco to which harmless insects were added to 'make the Hopi friendly.' The insects doubtless symbolize the siege of Awatobi by the Stricken Twins with their destructive worm and grasshopper (Ch. 6; cp. Smoke, Tobacco smoking; Matthews 1897, pp. 113, 127, 145; Reichard 1944d, p. 31; Hill 1936, p. 19).

Vital parts of a person depend on his powers. If speed is protection-as it was for Rainboy, Frog, and Big Monster-the soles of the feet, the hip joint, the shoulder blades, and the occipital point are vital.
Coyote and, in imitation, Changing-bear-maiden hid their vital parts-pluck, breath, blood, and entrails-in the ground; their persons could not be harmed unless these parts were destroyed. Coyote kept his vital principle at the end of his nose and tail; his uncanny sound, preserved in the same places, is a part of his power (Reichard 1944d, pp. 14-7; Shooting Chant ms.; Endurance Chant ms.; Matthews 1897, p. 91; Haile 1943a, p. 22).

Navaho religion, dogma, ritual, and practice must be looked at as an aggregate of diverse ideas, including every possible phase of nature, deity, and supernatural power, of human perception, behavior, emotion, culture, and imagination formulated in myth.

From this congeries, which actually takes all time, space, existence, and sentience for its province, certain elements have been chosen for co-ordinating a single system or order. The selected items may be in one case material, perceptual, and emotional; in another, perceptual or natural only; but whatever they are, they comprise an integrated whole.

All things in the universe, materialistic and abstract, are viewed in terms of their effect on man. If he knows about them and can control them, they are good; if not, they are evil. Some things under only partial control are good when susceptible to that control; otherwise they are bad. Therefore, the fundamental subdivisions - good and evil - which are not; absolute, overlap.

The good in all things must be attracted; hence ceremonial control invokes good in Blessing rites or 'chants-according-to-holiness.'

The evil remaining outside ritualistic control must be driven off; hence the 'evil- chasing ceremonies' with emphasis on exorcism, but from which attraction of good is by no means absent.

Each ceremony is a complex, made up of many kinds of symbols, and is inclusive rather than exclusive, since there is no predictable limit to the items that may be selected.

Each subdivision of a ceremony, which I term 'branch' or 'phase,' is characterized by features that from out viewpoint are fortuitous and therefore not susceptible to scientific systematization.

Rites, which are further subdivisions of ceremony, may refer to a series of mythological events or dramatize a single episode.

Ritualistic acts are the ultimate elements of which the larger divisions are composed. Their significance may sometimes be ascertained, but should not be expected to be the same whenever the act is performed. Each symbol has numerous interpretations, but the more we learn about it, the clearer it becomes that differences are not so much conflicting as associational and therefore, in the Navaho view, harmonious.

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