Horse

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Johano-ai starts each day from his hogan, in the east, and rides across the skies to his hogan in the west, carrying the shining golden disk, the sun. He has five horses a horse of turquoise, a horse of white shell, a horse of pearl shell, a horse of red shell, and a horse of coal. When the skies are blue and the weather is fair, Johano-ai is riding his turquoise horse or his horse of white shell or of pearl; but when the heavens are dark with storm, he has mounted the red horse, or the horse of coal. Beneath the hoofs of the horses are spread precious hides of all kinds, and beautiful woven blankets, richly decorated, called "naskan." In olden times the Navajos used to wear such blankets, and men say they were first found in the home of the sun-god. Johano-ai pastures his herds on flower-blossoms and gives them to drink of the mingled waters. These are holy waters, waters of all kinds, spring-water, snow-water, hail-water and water from the four quarters of the world. The Navajos use such waters in their rites. When the horse of the sun-god goes, he raises, not dust but "pitistchi," glittering grains of mineral such as are used in religious ceremonies; and when he rolls, and shakes himself, it is shining pitistchi that flies from him. When he runs, the sacred pollen offered to the sun-god is all about him, like dust, so that he looks like a mist; for the Navajos sometimes say that the mist on the horizon is the pollen that has been offered to the gods. The Navajo sings of the horses of Johano-ai in order that he, too, may have beautiful horses like those of the sun-god.


References: The Indians Book, Pgs. 360,361; Recorded and edited by Natalie Curtis

Horses are kept for breeding, riding, and driving purposes. They are rarely fed, being turned out at large after use. Even when at work little or no feed is provided, as the Navaho is indifferent to the needs of his horse. Yet they thrive where others of their kind might starve, and in addition give remarkable tests of endurance. Pg. 145

Horse racing with light betting is frequently indulged in. On festive occasions betting is very heavy, losses being sustained with as much indifference as gains are accepted with joy and laughter. The Navajo is as cheerful a loser as he is a winner, and often stakes his most treasured possessions on a single issue. A fleet horse is better cared for than the usual run of horses, and is often practiced and trained long before the race. Pg. 154

An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navajo Language, 1929; The Franciscan Fathers.

When the Holy People first made the horse, it was a complete thing, but it would not come to life. They tried to get it to rise up on its strong legs, but it would not rise. Caterpillar was asked to help. "How can I help?" he asked. "You know," one of the Holy People said, "where the sacred flints are kept." "Yes, this is true. But I am slow getting around." Then the Holy People prayed over Caterpillar and he became Butterfly. Swiftly he flew to the Mountain Where Flint Is Kept, and gathering four flints, he returned to the Holy People and put the flints into the hooves of the horse. The great horse stirred, quivered, came to life. Then it surged, leaped into life, struck the air with its hooves, and galloped off into the clouds. "Look," a Holy Person said,"the horse makes the marks of Butterfly when it dances on its hooves." And it has been that way ever since. Pgs. 175, 176

Five Horses: The five horses of the Sun Father are a way of telling time, Navajo style. White shell and pearl horses represent dawn, turquoise is noon, red shell is sunset, and jet or coal is night.

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

The horses' hoofs are hada huniye (agate), the banded male stone. The hair of the mane and tail is called nltsa najin, little streaks of rain. The mane is called e alinth chene. Horses' ears are the heat lightning, that which flashes in the night. The big stars that sparkle are their eyes. The different growing plants are their faces. The big bead, yo tso, is their lips. The white bead is the teeth. Tliene delne' dil hilth, a black fluid, was put inside horses to make the whinny. Pg. 13

Sandoval told Goddard that the horse's hoofs have stripes because they were made of mirage (variegated stones) and because the rainbow went into the making of its very gait. Its mane came from a small rain cloud, and its tail from black rain, while its intestines came from water of all kinds. Some of nature's most majestic forces and elements went into the composition of its head. Sandoval related that "distant lightning composed its ears. A big spreading twinkling star formed its eye and striped its face." The face itself was formed of living plants, and the growing vegetation that made up its face illuminated it at night. Large sacred beads composed its lips, and its teeth would not "wear out quickly" because they were formed of the Navajo's treasured white shell. Sandoval's mythical horse was indeed a forceful and beautiful creature when it neighed, the sound really came from a black flute inside its mouth. Moreover, Sandoval supplied Goddard with some additional information about the horse's body, which is not included in the O'Bryan recording. It seems that red stone was used to produce the horse's heart, sunrays its bridle, and that even the dawn played a role in making up its belly, thus dividing it into two parts one black and one white, which meant that it belonged to both day and night. Pg. 14

"Here they are, those with which in time to come (people) will live," he said .......... He opened a door toward the east, they say. The place was so large that it extended as far as one could see .......... At the entrance, white shell was prancing about, they say, white shell in the likeness of a horse .......... Gracefully doing like this, lifting its foot continually, it was prancing about, they say. All of different kinds, white shell horses extended off in great numbers .......... A great amount of mist-like rain falling on them continuously, they extended off in great numbers .......... Blue birds fluttered over their heads, they say. The myth tells us that after showing Turquoise Boy these holy white horses in the first enclosure, Mirage Man continued his tour with a visit to another wing of the place, built just like the eastern one, but facing the south this time. In this place, a great turquoise horse tied with a handsome turquoise-blue rope was prancing about at the entrance, and from him had sprung the many blue horses which stood behind as far as the culture hero could see. The youth could also see that rainbows formed an arch over the sky around the blue horses while blue swallows fluttered over them, doubtless empowering the horses with the speed and endurance they contained in their blue feathers. The birds also symbolized the happiness and the immortality surrounding Sun's herd. Again, the horses were enveloped by a mist, which only intensified their beauty. Now, there remained only two other enclosures a western one and a northern one, and as before, Mirage Man showed the youth these places too. Basically, they resembled the other two, except that the horses, roped, and birds inside each one differed entirely in coloration. The western horses and the things surrounding them were yellow, while the northern horses and the things surrounding them were spotted. Pg. 21

The Navajo and Apache also have directional color associations for certain stones and shells, which, because of the religious significance attached to them, play important roles in their mythologies, ceremonies, customs, and beliefs. These stones and shells are also commonly associated with the cardinal horses, as the above myth illustrates in its references to the horses of white shell and turquoise. A fine example of this association is supplied in some information which the Navajo named Hatali Natloi gave Matthews. Hatali Natloi said that the first white horse was made of white shell, the first iron-gray horse of turquoise, the first black horse of cannel coal (jet), the first piebald horse of haliotis shell, and the first red (sorrel) horse of red stone (carnelian). Thus, horses, according to their colors, are called after the different substances of which the Navajo believe the cardinal horses were made. For that reason, the Navajo speak of turquoise or gray horses as dolizi lin, red stone or sorrel horses as bastsili lin, cannel coal or black horses as baszini lin, and haliotis or spotted horses as yolkai lin. Pg. 21

Navajo mythology expresses this same regard for the white horse and often describes the sun and moon deities riding about on their elegant, milk-white steeds. In the foregoing myth, it will be noted that the white horse occupies the east, his most common cardinal position in Navajo mythology, for the Navajo frequently associate white with the color of dawn or early morning light, which banishes the shadows and mysteries of night. Because of this association, it is said that a Navajo who owns a white horse feels himself fortunate and believes he will have no bad luck when he rides it. Sun's dawn horse plays a prominent role in a version of the myth concerning the Twin War Gods' visit to their father's house, which Maud Oakes recorded from a famous Navajo scout and medicine man named Jeff King. King told Oakes that at the beginning of time the Navajo's first holy beings chose this white horse for the young sun deity to mount each morning as he carried his burden of light into the sky. He told too of how the Twins, at a much later time, saw this horse at the deity's home in the other world and of how they met their previously unknown sister Sun's daughter who helped their father catch his horse every day. "Each morning," she would shake "a rattle to call the white horse for Sun to ride," he explained. Implying a change of its color with a change of its cardinal position, King also said that Sun's horse "moves around as it faces the four directions." Pg. 22

Most versions of the Navajo myth concerning Sun's courtship of Changing Woman ( a goddess sometimes referred to as White Shell Woman ) say that when Sun first appeared to woo her, he was dressed in white and chose to ride his splendid white horse, which sported a bridle and a saddle of the same color. The deity's choice of the white horse for this occasion signifies something else this time. First of all, Sun and his horse are attired in white to complement the theme of whiteness surrounding White Shell Woman. But more important is the purpose of Sun's visit to the goddess, who was them but a girl out gathering seeds. He wishes to instruct her as to how she might accomplish conception. The fact that Sun insisted on white dress for both himself and his white steed at this particular time "apparently differentiates," as Reichard says, "the naturally sacred from the profane." Newcomb lends support to such an interpretation by identifying white as "the color of purity and of the spirit" qualities commonly associated with the goddess whom the Navajo picture as being almost entirely above reproach. - Moon's horse is addressed third in a prayer to the holy horses in the Navajo ceremony known as Flint Way; it is called "horse of the moon, who puffs along the surface of the earth." Pg. 23

The Navajo, on the other hand, usually place their black horses at the north rather than at the east. This northern cardinal horse represents the night sky and is called Sun's "black jewel" horse in one Navajo myth ....... If a "horse has white stockings, he also sees by (means of) them." Pg. 26, 27

Red Horse: Sometimes the Navajo use him as a substitute horse in their color circuits and pair him with black to indicate such dangerous things as dark skies. Accordingly, a Navajo tradition says that Sun mounts either his red horse or his black horse "when the heavens are dark with storm." Pg. 27

The Cardinal Horse that Navajo mythology values most is the turquoise of blue horse. Much of the association that the black cardinal horse has for the Apache, the turquoise has for the Navajo; for this is the mythical horse the Navajo think of as being Sun's favorite the one he rode all day. Undoubtedly, that is why Mirage Man, as mentioned earlier in connection with the Navajo myth, kept sun's turquoise horse behind the second door of the other world corral the door which opened to the south. In the color circuit employed in this myth, the blue to the south "signifies" to use Gladys Reichard's words "the bright blue sky of day." Thus, it seems consistent to reason that the Navajo would extend the association a step further and think of the sun as a deity riding his blue horse across the sky all day. Pg. 27, 28

Two Navajo songs for good luck with horses picture for us their idea of the mythical turquoise horse. One song says that as he moves along, he does not raise dust; only glittering grains of mineral , of the sort the Navajo use in religious ceremonies, fly behind his speedy hoofs. When he gallops, sacred pollen surrounds him as dust would an ordinary horse. Through the pollen, he seems enveloped by mist,........ The other song, which the elder of the Twins is said to have sung for good luck in the Navajo version of the horse race around the world, extols, in the youth's own words, the powers of the mighty blue stallion. Here is the way part of it goes:

The turquoise horse prances with me.
From where we start the turquoise horse is seen.
The lightning flashes from the turquoise horse.
The turquoise horse is terrifying.
He stands on the upper circle of the rainbow.
The sunbeam is in his mouth for a bridle.
He circles around all the people of the earth
With their goods.
Today he is on my side
And I shall win with him.

Many intimate glimpses of the sun with his favorite horse are given in Navajo mythology. First of all, sun was ever mindful of the needs of his powerful turquoise stallion, which was larger than an ordinary horse. 80 One of the deity's first remarks after he had been created and put in the sky concerned the care of his majestic blue horse. As he went on his initial trip across the heavens, Sun looked for a nice place to pasture his mount at the noon hour. Approaching the center of the sky, he discovered a likely spot and said: "The blue horse that I ride will eat there."............ Apparently, though, the turquoise horse was well pleased with the unusual kind of pasture Sun chose for him. The first of the Navajo songs discussed above describes him "neighing joyously" as he stands on precious hides of all kinds which are spread out across the sky to symbolize clouds. There in that cloud pasture, he feeds on the tips of lovely new flowers and drinks of four mingled waters from a stream which connects with the four regions of the world.

80. Matthews, Navaho Legends, p. 233, n. 118. Another Navajo myth mentions Sun showing the Twins a huge horse which he kept under "a trap door in the center of the floor" of his house. Though the color of this horse was not given, he was described as being "like a team horse with hoofs about a foot in diameter." See Fishler, In the Beginning, p. 71. Pgs. 29, 30

The Navajo and all the Apache groups usually place the yellow mare at the western cardinal station, since they commonly associate its coloration with the various hues of yellow seen in a sunset or in early evening light. The "abalone shell in the likeness of a horse," which the Navajo Mirage Man is said to have kept behind the third door of the sun's corral, is the sacred shell associated with this horse in myths and ceremonies by all the Southern Athapascan people. Sometimes called ear shell, abalone is spiral shaped, lined with mother-of-pearl, and perforated along its outer edges. The Navajo expression for abalone is "the-particular-one-that-is-iridescent, the-one-whose-various-colors-scintillate." Oyster shell is also a common substitute for this shell. The earthly models for this mythological horse are a yellowish brown sorrel, a coyote dun, or a Palomino. Pg. 33

The last kind of horse found among the Navajo and Apache cardinal herds is the horse of two colors the dappled, the spotted, or the pinto. Such animals frequently appear at the north in color circuits of the ..... Navajo; The haliotis shell of many-colored flecks, which resembles the abalone in texture, is often used in myths and ceremonies to signify spotted horses. So is agate. Sometimes the word "spotted" is substituted by the words "sparkling," "glittering," or "variegated" in Navajo and Apache myths and tales about this horse. In ceremonies when such a color impression is intended, either mixed jewels tiny fragments from all the sacred stones are used, or else a type of stone called "mirage stone." Mirage stones are white, gray, yellowish-striped stones, which are shiny when polished, causing a magnified reflection of a number of colors. For instance, the Navajo refer to certain types of quartz as "mirage rocks," and in one Navajo myth, some small stone horse fetishes of different colors, called "Mirage Quartz Rock Horses," are shown the Twins by a supernatural being named Frog Man. Pg. 37

The Navajo Mirage Man, who was himself a combination of colors, expressed the same sort of regard to Turquoise Boy when he was showing him around the sun's corral. Implying the climactic nature of the fourth time, the Navajo myth states that the old man showed Turquoise Boy the horses he valued most when he opened the last door of the corral the door which led to the "spotted horses" with "the white eyelashes." In a similar way, Frog Man, who in another Navajo Myth was acknowledged by Sun as knowing as much about the breeding of fine horses as anyone in the gods' world, treasured the "Mirage Quartz Rock Horses" he kept in a ceremonial basket. It was said that Frog Man "raised all kinds and colors of horses, sheep and goats," and that he, like the sun's corral-keeper in the other myth, was formed also from a mirage substance quartz rock, in this case. However, Navajo traditions say that their horse-loving sun deity prized his paints, his dappled and his spotted horses too so much, in fact, that he kept an entire cardinal herd of them. Those who saw these beautiful horses must have had a rich experience, for one glimpse at them in a Navajo myth is enough to convince us that they combined all the colors Sun most enjoyed on the may good horses he rode in each of the quadrants. According to the myth, "to the east were ones with white bodies with all kinds of blue designs and spots. To the south was a blue one with white spots and all kinds of designs. There were also horses with white finger marks with a blue background. To the west was a yellow one with black and white spots, while to the north was a black one with a yellow-reddish nose and white spots all over it." Pg. 38

Fortunately, the things the goddess needed to create the first horses for mankind were already at the new residence. Inside this palatial hogan were four horses made of jewel substances, belonging to each of the directions, and in the center of these stood a stately jet horse "at the root of a perfect cornstalk . . . . . . On the cornstalk's top sat a black songbird." Like everything else in her western home, the goddess's cornstalk was modeled after the one Sun kept at his eastern home. A better idea of what it looked like and what purpose it served can be had by examining the one belonging to Sun. According to a description Goldtooth supplied Fishler, Sun's cornstalk grew in the center of a basket which he kept on a shelf in the center of his house. Inside the basket were also some pieces of turquoise, all types and colors of corn, and four horse fetishes facing the cardinal directions and surrounding the cornstalk, on which hung two ears of corn, most probably representing the male and female sexes, since this is what they ordinarily symbolize in Navajo myths. The sacred stone and shell horse fetishes "ate the corn pollen that fell from the corn tassels," Goldtooth said. They were tied to four posts which also stood inside the basket, facing the four directions. Sun and moon designs were carved on each post and attached to each were eagle feathers and rattles of precious stones and shells. "There were rattles made out of white bead on the pole to the east, turquoise rattles to the south, oyster shell rattles to the west, and jet rattles to the north." Perhaps the white rattles were the ones that Sun's daughter used each morning to summon Sun's white horse, a daily chore mentioned previously. Goldtooth said that when Sun himself shook the rattles of white bead, the horse fetishes tied to the poles of the four directions "would also begin to rattle and move just as if they were alive." In fact, this was how the fetishes got their exercise, he noted, adding that Sun also shook the rattles "to give pep and energy to all animals, plants, bushes, trees and all things upon the earth." Pg. 57

A white shell basket stood there. In it was the water of a mare's afterbirth. A turquoise basket stood there. It contained the water of the afterbirth. An abalone basket full of eggs of various birds stood there. A jet basket with eggs stood there. The baskets stand for quadrupeds, the eggs for birds. Now as Changing Woman began to sing the Animals came up to taste. The horse tasted twice; hence mares sometimes give birth to twins. One ran back without tasting. Four times, he ran up and back again. The last time he said, "Sh!" and did not taste. "She will not give birth. Long-ears (Mule) she will be called," said Changing Woman. The others tasted the eggs from the different places. Hence there are many feathered people. Because they tasted the eggs in the abalone and jet baskets many are black.
O'Bryan's text, again more detailed and much clearer, supplies the missing links of the Goddard version:
After the White Bead Woman's chanting, the four horses began to move, the white-bead horse fetish, the turquoise horse fetish, the white-shell horse fetish and the banded stone horse fetish. These four stone fetishes were made into living horses. Life came into them and they whinnied. Then the White Bead Woman took the horses from her home. She placed them on the white bead plain, on the turquoise plain, on the white bead hill, and on the turquoise hill. Returning, she laid out four baskets the white bead basket, the turquoise basket, the white shell basket, and the black jet basket. In these she placed the medicine which would make the horses drop their colts. The White Bead Woman then went outside and chanted, and down came the horses from the hill; but instead of four there came a herd. They circled the home, and they came to the baskets and licked up the medicine with one lick. Now some of the horses licked twice around the baskets; so once in a long while there are twin colts. But the horses that licked out of the black jet basket licked more than once, and they have many colts. Then out of the herd there came one with long ears. She snorted and jumped away; and the second time she approached the basket she snorted and ran away. So she was not to have young, either male or female. It was planned that the fetishes of the horses were to be laid in the center of the earth, in a place called Sis na dzil .... Pg. 61

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

A Navaho on foot was no menace to the Puebloans, but a Navajo or tribe of Navajos on horseback was a different equation. No longer were they a subservient race. They could strike, raid, and be away before the stone house dwellers could string their bows and shoot their arrows. The possession of horses brought a golden era of prosperity to the tribe. They stole sheep and goats from the Mexicans; from the Puebloans they stole corn and beans to plant in their own extensive fields, and wherever possible, they took women and children into slavery. The wealth of a clan was counted by the size of the flock of sheep, and for every man, woman, and child there was a horse to ride. Pg. xxiii

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

Since the horse was not indigenous to the western hemisphere, its arrival brought a wholly new way of life to most of the Indian tribes. It came to signify power and speed and wealth. Pg. 62

Sitting on the Blue-Eyed Bear, Navajo Myths and Legends; 1975, Gerald Hausman.

The acquisition of the horse had a profound effect upon Navajo culture. Not only did increased mobility enlarge the range and frequency of contact with non-Navajos, but also it altered the character of social relations within the tribe. It was now possible to visit more frequently and to attend ceremonial events from much greater distances. Thus, the audiences at ceremonials became larger, and this in turn may have led to the elaboration of the ceremonies themselves.

Earth is my Mother, Sky is my Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting;
1992, Trudy Griffen-Pierce

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