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.
The Indians Book, Pgs. 360,361; Recorded and edited by Natalie Curtis
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
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
Dictionary of the Navajo Language, 1929; The Franciscan Fathers.
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.
of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman.
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.
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.
"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."
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:
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.
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
for Horses: The Impact of the Horse on Navajo and Apache Folklore; 1966, La
Verne Harrell Clark.
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
Klah, Navajo Medicine Man and Sand Painter; 1964, Franc Johnson Newcomb.
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
on the Blue-Eyed Bear, Navajo Myths and Legends; 1975, Gerald Hausman.
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.
is my Mother, Sky is my Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting;
1992, Trudy Griffen-Pierce
all products related to this legend