Observance


Food as a symbol of plenty indicated the success of a ceremony, strength, endurance, and transformation. Creatures in myth provide food, sometimes to give, sometimes to deprive of power. Some characters, though having many powers, suffer for want of a particular food. Ceremonies require certain foods, forbid others.
Scavenger of the Bead Chant did not eat when the birds were trying to get him to the sky because had he done so, even lightning could not have lifted him. The Eagles had plenty of their own food, but they fed him corn from the packets they carried, and gave him water from the reeds packed in their tails.
Food provided for the warrior impersonators of a War Ceremony and for the singers of the tail songs represents food given to Black God.
The fat around the base of the mountain sheep horns was valued for sausage and belonged to the man who brought down the sheep. Even a person as powerful as the oldest Brother became resentful when Coyote insisted on having the choice fat, and made it hard and corrugated (Ch. 15; Reichard 1939, p. 35; 1944d, pp. 19, 80-3, 88-91, 103, 113, 135-9; Shooting Chant ms.; Endurance Chant ms.; Haile 1938b, pp. 85, 87, 131, 191, 231, 233; 1943a, p. 229; Matthews 1887, pp. 388-9, 394, 412; 1897, pp. 72, 96, 153, 182-3, 198, 233, 119n; 1902, pp. 106, 168, 189, 203, 204, 213, 218-9, 224-5, 309, 11n; Hill 1938, p. 8; Goddard, p. 168; Newcomb 1940b, p. 72; Sapir-Hoijer, p. 79).

Mistakes are, of course, usually inadvertent and may be corrected. There is a prayer to correct unremarked errors or omissions. Careful reporting is a provision to avoid harm that might result from blundering.
When the singer of the Rain Ceremony returned from depositing the prayerstick, he gave an accurate account of all that had happened during the time he was alone: he admitted hesitancy in reciting the prayers and acknowledged his mistakes. Similarly, the war leader reported to his men the exact details, favorable and unfavorable, about his performance of the private ritual. Mythical heroes upon their return often spent an entire night narrating their doings while away from home.
Chanters doubtless resort to divers means to undo or revise slight deviations from the rule: at one sing a chanter suddenly discovered, after the patient had left the sandpainting, that he had forgotten the chant lotion, which should have been administered while the patient was on the sandpainting, whereupon he surreptitiously applied it to himself.
One time prayersticks, correctly made, had been placed in the wrong order-b-u-b-u-y-u, instead of b-u-u-b-y-u. The chanter did not notice the mistake until after the whistling, whereupon, much annoyed, he ordered them changed.
It is to be expected that chanters, under the strain of the protracted ceremonies, should at times show signs of fatigue. One singer I observed seemed to let down a bit on the sixth day of a nine-night chant. He made little errors, but immediately caught himself up and corrected them. Another chanter, on the fourth day of a five-night performance, started the wrong prayer, stopped himself, and started over again. During the day he seemed less sure than usual about the ceremonial order. The following day, in both cases, the chanters were as alert as usual.
I have emphasized the confidence and finish with which RP and tla'h practiced their profession. Although not as learned, JS is exacting and composed under the most trying circumstances. Other chanters I have seen excel at certain points and are less accurate at others. One, for instance, was very sure about songs and ritualistic order, but made many mistakes in a common sandpainting and in the figure painting that were not corrected. Another chanter told me they were errors, but he had not called them to the attention of the presiding chanter; perhaps there was so much wrong that expostulation would have meant discontinuing the performance.
Chanters do not by any means always agree and one time I saw two men actually quarrel. Arrangements had been made to have two chanters come into town to lay some sandpaintings and to record prayers and songs. They brought a singer of lesser reputation as a helper. The older men had frequently recorded for whites; he had not. When he discovered that they intended to recite the prayers without a patient, he made a great fuss. They talked and talked; finally they thought the matter had been satisfactorily explained and worked again on the paintings. Soon, however, one of the seniors said he could not continue because the younger man was spoiling the painting, purposely making mistakes. The two older men quickly decided to send him home; they could not put up with his arguments and they would not have him ruin their work.
The following are expressions of effects that might ensue from ritualistic errors: "If a chanter makes a little mistake, the patient won't get well and something might happen to the chanter too. The leaders are very careful to have the feathers of prayersticks tied and placed so they do not turn back or blow in the wrong direction." "If they make a mistake the gods will say, 'Let him come here and talk with us.' Then he will die and go to Thunder." "Mistakes will make people go crazy or become crippled," said a chanter, and the teachings of the Night Chant corroborate the belief (cp. Ch. 1; Hill 1936, p. 14; 1938, p. 95; Huckel ms.; Matthews 1902, p. 211; Sapir-Hoijer, p. 309; Haile l943a, pp. 33-4).

Restriction (xasti, xasti', 'atsa de'tah), if properly treated, would require a discussion far too complex for this account. Franc Newcomb started a collection of taboos, but included only some general ones and some very specific and localized. Most of those I have collected apply to ritual, a field Mrs. Newcomb hardly touched; few of her items and mine overlap.
I mention the subject here primarily to point out that such discussions as exist are either unassimilated bodies of data without reference to function or position in the ceremonial and daily life, or they are too simplistic to bring out the full significance of restriction. For instance, avoidance of the dead is mentioned in practically every article on the Navaho; few people know that members of one clan can bury the dead with impunity, even without undergoing the customary purification rites afterward.
The restriction on eating fish is general. Yet additional pressure is put upon one who has eaten the pollen ball containing fish blood; if he should eat a water animal, he would swell up, sicken, and die.
Similarly, one who eats the mixed stew that contains liver, kidneys, heart, tripe, and other internal organs of rare game (now sheep) is enjoined not to eat entrails. Since most Navaho do not, even under modern conditions, have occasion to eat fish and almost all eat the internal organs of animals, the restrictions, their ostensible reasons, and the degree to which they are observed are very uneven; they cannot be the result of the same reasoning.
The Navaho say, "Ghosts cause people to break taboos by telling them to do the opposite of what has been decreed," and their correction for breaking rules is participation in a ceremony.
Kluckhohn and Wyman summarize some ritualistic restrictions and the adverse effects that ensue if they are not observed (Newcomb 1940a; Haile 1938b, pp. 62, 187; Sapir-Hoijer, p. 309; Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. 19, 54). The following is a partial list of restrictions relating to: coyote, Hill 1936, p. 4; crops, handling and preparation of food, Matthews 1902, pp. 189, 193; Hill 1938, p. 55; deities, Goddard, p. 153; eating, Matthews 1897, pp. 187-8, 212, 5n; Hill 1938, pp. 47, 55; Sapir-Hoijer, p. 287; origins, Haile 1938b, p. 121; Matthews 1887, pp. 390-3; 1897, pp. 75, 190; Newcomb 194Ob, p. 73; rites and ceremonies, Reichard 1939, pp. 30, 35; Matthews 1897, p. 212; 1902, p. 240; Sapir-Hoijer, p. 181; Haile 1938b, pp. 40, 62, 229, 234-9; 1943a, pp. 9, 20-1, 29-30, 50, 270, 280, 284; Hill 1938, p. 89; Newcomb 1940b, p. 73; sex, menstruation, pregnancy, birth, Goddard, pp. 130, 155, 163; Stevenson, p. 235; Newcomb 1940b, p. 74; Hill 1936, pp. 8-9; Sapir-Hoijer, pp. 207, 309; Haile 1943a, p. 269; war, Hill 1936, pp. 6-14.

Restriction on looking has been set off from other restrictions because it recurs so frequently, signifying that supernatural power is about to be demonstrated. Someone is told not to look; if he obeys, he benefits; if he does not, he may be punished. Sometimes the restriction is imposed when the power is attractive; again, it may be enjoined with exorcistic intent.
The restriction on looking backward is explained for the war scout. After starting off with the leader's quiver, he informed the leader of everything, but he was not supposed to look back for fear he might see something unlucky which would mean defeat.
There is probably a close connection between the taboo when it concerns other dangerous activities-carrying the dead, for example, to the place of burial. The Stricken Twins were told not to look at the house of the gods lest they be tempted to touch the rainbows over them; touching rainbows might have given them felons.
At Rock Pinnacle the Stricken Twins were told to keep their heads down so they could not see what was going on, or they would be whipped.
An arched rainbow would move if the persons on it kept their eyes shut. When Coyote was requested not to look, he did so and the rainbow moved in jerks.
Bat Woman asked Monster Slayer not to look as she carried him down the cliff in her burden basket. When he peeped, she dropped suddenly.

Observance of the taboo sometimes led to transformation.

Talking God told the hero of the Mountain Chant to close his eyes as he took the very last and most difficult step to the summit of a little hill. He obeyed and the hill became a mountain.
Self Teacher was told by Deer Owner not to climb a hill lest the deer see him. The hero, prompted by Little Wind, broke the taboo and encountered fierce bears, which he overcame.
Monster Slayer was told to turn his back to Deer Owner and not to look. He disobeyed and saw the sorcerer step over flies and transform them to deer.

The Stricken Twins made the Awatobi people promise not to look when they called off the rat and worm so they would no longer eat the crops (Hill 1936, p. 13; Reichard 1928, p. 142; Endurance Chant ms.; Franciscan Fathers 1910, p. 454; Matthews 1887, p. 402; 1897, pp. 121, 164, 186; 1902, pp. 176, 177, 230, 231, 236, 246, 247, 249; Haile 1938b, pp. 121, 133).

Restrictions on patient of Shooting Chant continue for the duration of the chant and four nights after. Sex continence is required, the patient being under constant surveillance. He, as well as the chanter and an assistant, should sleep in the ceremonial hogan. When I was the one-sung-over, instruction and ritualistic prescription were inextricably combined. I had a house within calling distance of the Navaho family and I customarily slept outside where I could be seen. I was, therefore, allowed to sleep there during the first nights of of the chant; either I was trusted or the Navaho were watched-I suspect that an unobtrusive guard was put on all of us.
For four days after the end of the singing the patient should refrain from certain activities. Fire and water are to be avoided after the Shooting Chant. One should not wash oneself, or start or tend a fire. Persons in the dangerously holy state are fed by others who have had the chant or a related one sung over them, for contact with eating utensils should be avoided. Feeding and tending a person during the period of restriction is a labor of love somewhat comparable to the care of a convalescent who has had a contagious but immunizing disease.
I was not informed about the restrictions directly or all at once; rather they were suggested from time to time. At the very beginning of the sing I was told not to go to the north and not to comb my hair. The fifth day after the Prayerstick branch had started, RP said I could travel in the car, to Ganado, for instance (he was planning to go to Ganado!). I said I would not go anywhere with figure painting which was to remain undisturbed for four days and he agreed: "It is a good thing because after all Ganado is toward the north and there is a cemetery there. It is like old times to observe the restrictions in full." He then hunted up his horse and rode to Ganado. I was told not to eat fish because I had eaten the pollen ball containing fish blood. I was not to kill a snake because of the snakes painted on my feet, nor was I to kick. I was told not to throw water out of the door, but to go outside to pour it.
It rained during the two-night repetition of the Prayer-stick branch of the Shooting Chant; until then I had not known about the restrictions against fire. I was cold and started to make a fire. Immediately a brother-in-law who had been the chanter's assistant came to my house and asked if I was cooking. I said no, I was cold. Then he told me that I should not handle fire or water and he made a fire for me. I was also told that eating hot foods or drinking hot liquids was dangerous.
Irked by the restrictions, particularly those against washing and hair combing, I argued with RP that H, a young visitor, had told me that her mother had observed only two nights of restriction. At once he advanced arguments to show how ill-advised the woman had been: Wasn't H's mother bitten by a snake soon after the chant? Her family had had to have the chant repeated for her. They had considered asking RP to sing it, but finally decided on the chanter who had sung the first time-and shortly after even he had been bitten by a snake! An additional reason for the failure of the chant was that the people where H lived did not make sandpaintings correctly. RP considered vital the differences between some of the paintings in Newcomb-Reichard and those in Navajo Medicine Man.
After RP had sung over T's wife, she had started to cook the very day her chant was over; this is the reason she never got well [Note that at another time RP had said that the woman was ill because of mistakes made by the chanter (p. 96)].
For the Sun's House branch Red Inside phase, restrictions were more stringent than for the Prayerstick branch. The patients were not allowed to sleep in the sun's presence; consequently their vigil lasted for nearly twenty-four hours beginning with the ninth night; they were not to sleep until sunset of the ninth day. Every morning they were wakened at dawn. I was allowed to go to sleep as early as three P.M. of the sixth day and whenever I wanted to thereafter; MC and AD had been ill, I had not.
At dawn of the fifth day after the last night of the chant, the chanter takes the patient to a young pinion, upon which the necklace (bandoleer) and wristlets are hung. When the patient returns he bathes and shampoos his hair in yucca suds, dresses in clean clothes, ties his bead to his hairstring, and resumes his normal life (cp. Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. 18-20).

Spiral shape or motion stands for escape from the circle of frustration or prevention from entering it; it is a form of the danger line. Crow and Turkey Buzzard could not get near The Twins because of flints arranged in a spiral; Coiled Snakes are one of its forms.
The systematic method of covering ground in a search is in a spiral. Sun, looking for The Twins, hidden by his sky wife, moved in an enlarging spiral from the center of the room. Changing-bear-maiden, hunting her Youngest Brother, concealed under the fireplace, started at the outer edge of the hogan and moved in a diminishing spiral toward the center (Haile 1938b, pp. 95, 101; Reichard, Endurance Chant ms.; Newcomb-Reichard, Pl. XII, XIII).

Stretching signified promise of aid and success after prayersticks had been accepted by Winter Thunder and Dark Thunder in the Hail Chant. All the people in attendance stretched themselves as they said, "Everything will be all right!" (Reichard 1944d, p. 53.)

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