Pollen

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Pollen is one of the most important ritual symbols that serve as a bridge between belief and action in the sandpainting ceremony. As previously described, the strewing of pollen is the final ritual act that blesses the sandpainting; the expansiveness of this gesture as well as the pollen itself animate the sandpainting with life. Reichard (1950:250) equated pollen with light by saying, "Light is an essential of life and protection, whose most outstanding symbol is pollen." Matthews (1902:42) explained the meaning of pollen: "Pollen is the emblem of peace, of happiness, of prosperity, and it is supposed to bring these blessings. When, in the Origin Legend, on of the war gods bids his enemy to put his feet down in pollen he constrains him to peace. When in prayer the devotee says, `May the trail be in pollen,' he pleads for a happy and peaceful life." Harry Walters explained that corn is a metaphor for human life because both of through the same stages of life. Both corn and humans reach a stage of fruition when they blossom: the corn bursts forth with pollen while humans also achieve a peak of development associated with sa'a naghai bik'e hozho. Harry Walters (personal communication, 1990) described this state of being: "Everytime he talks, thinks, or acts, he does so in radiance, in a state of wisdom and perfect harmony." Just as the corn disseminates its pollen for the continuation of corn plants, so too humans have been entrusted with sacred responsibility to disseminate their knowledge for the benefit and continuation of future generations. Because both corn and humans need nurturance from the four directions (four cardinal light phenomena) in order to reach old age, both possess knowledge from the four directions; it is this knowledge that they take into their beings and then have a responsibility to return to those that come after them. Wyman explained the significance of pollen as follows:

The pure, immaculate product of the corn tassel is food eaten by gods and man. Pollen, the beautiful, is a fit gift for the gods, (whose) paths should be strewn with it. When put in the mouth it really is a gift of the person (inner form) within the petitioner who should accompany his action with a prayer to that person. It enables the use to go on in life, to say kind and pleasant things. Pollen guards against abuse! "If I say so with it . . . . that will be my guide in life" (Wyman 1970a:30).

Bii'gistiin, the inner form, is related to the concept of nilch'i, the Holy Wind, the powerful life force that animates and connects all living things in the universe. The act of putting pollen in one's mouth, while saying a prayer, is an offering to one's inner form and serves to identify the petitioner with the Holy People and with their wisdom and guidance. Whether the patient sits on the sandpainting or walks on pollen footprints, she absorbs the powers and guidance of the Holy People so that order and balance are restored in the patient's life. "The Liberation Prayer Song" from the Nightway ceremonial affirms this process:

Now pollen of sitting place print exactly on top of this with you now he reseated himself
Now pollen of foot place print exactly on top of this with you now he reseated himself
Now pollen of hand place print exactly on top of this with you now he reseated himself.
(Haile, n.d.:Box 16, Nightway)

Again, the patient/petitioner identifies herself with the powers of the Holy Person in this case, Talking God so that the inner, spiritual strength of Talking God is transferred to the patient. The patient leaves the ceremonial having incorporated Talking God's powers of guidance into her own being; in the future, she will be guided along the harmonious Pollen Path, which is traveled by Talking God and other Holy People. The Pollen Path, Tadidiin bee Kek'ehashchiin, thus stands as a metaphor for "traveling" for moving along one's life trail, and for living on a daily basis, in a way that is guided by ideals of harmony and balance. When I asked Consultant A what lasting philosophy remained with her after the sandpainting's destruction and the ceremony's completion, she explained that it was guidance:

When the prayer say "your feet (referring to those of the the depicted Holy Person) will become my feet" the words don't refer to physical strength but rather to spiritual strength. None of the prayers refer to dooh, physical strength. They never say, "your muscles become my muscles." Instead, the prayers use words like `ani mind and tsiis spiritual strength. The prayers say, "your spirit becomes my spirit." When they say, "Your feet become my feet," they mean that I (the patient) will walk in the right way from now on, on the path that the Holy People walk. Pgs. 190-192

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

The corn pollen that is offered throughout the ceremony constitutes a prayer. The hogan is marked in the ritual manner with pollen at the beginning of the final night's activities. This makes it a safe, holy, and sacred place, appropriate for a religious ceremonial at which gods will be present. The goods are also marked, and the people bless themselves. "Each takes some pollen and puts it on his tongue and head and then swings it outward and upward to the sky, the earth, or the gods. You say a prayer in your own words during this." Pg. 371

The pollen applied in order to attain blessing represents control. It is an outstanding "symbol of life and protection, fructification, verification, and the continuity of life and safety." "Matthews summarizes the meaning of pollen: `Pollen is the emblem of peace, of happiness, of prosperity, and it is supposed to bring these blessings.'" Pg. 376

Kinaalda', A Study of the Navaho Girl's Puberty Ceremony; 1993, Charlotte Johnson Frisbie.

Pollen he uses in practically every rite. This he secures from a variety of plants, but chiefly from Indian corn. He keeps it in a leather bag with some small sacred stones and other fetishes. In treating the afflicted, he puts a pinch of it on top of the head, in the ears, or on other parts of his patient as the need may be. In some ceremonies plain pollen will not do. It must have an additional magic which pollen can gain by having been first deposited on a live lizard, bird, or insect.

Navajos, Gods, Tom-toms; By S.H. Babington, 1950.

Light is an essential of life and protection, whose most outstanding symbol is pollen, tadidi n [xadidi n], 'it emits light in all directions, it shines in amongst.' Since light [sunbeams, warmth] is a necessary element of generation, it is not surprising that pollen should be the symbol of fructification, vivification, and the continuity of life and safety. The associations are extended to include glint or sheen as an essential part of an animal, object, or person, a quality represented by pollen. Sheen is distinct from color - Bear had it from a red glow; magpie feathers, through black, have it; water and snakes, whatever their color, may have it. The legs and lower bodies of Buffalo are outlined in yellow to represent their warmth and moisture, which make plants grow and produce pollen.

'Real pollen' is the pollen of the cattail rush and seems to supersede even 'corn pollen,' which is of great ceremonial value. 'Snake pollen' was explained to me by a Shooting Chanter: "They used to collect the scales of Snake's skin, but now they put pollen on, they brush it off, and that is the same as the shine on the snake."

Matthews explains 'water pollen': "During the summer rains, in the Navaho land, a fine yellow powder collects on the surface of pools; it is probably the pollen of pine; but the Navahos seem to think it is a product of water and call it water pollen." Pollen is the symbol of the water's light, its power of motion and life.

With these interpretations in mind it is less difficult to understand 'blue pollen,' the ground petals of larkspur or other blue flowers, which is pollen only in a functional sense; it represents light.

Animals are killed for ceremonial purposes by smothering in pollen, care being taken not to wound them. The pollen is believed to absorb their 'life.' If they struggle a long time resisting death, it is a sign of strength, which will be communicated to the person for whom the pollen is subsequently sprinkled.

Matthews summarizes the meaning of pollen: "Pollen is the emblem of peace, of happiness, of prosperity, and it is supposed to bring them blessings. When, in the Origin Legend, one of the war gods bids his enemy to put his feet down in pollen he constrains him to peace. When in prayer the devotee says, 'May the trail be in pollen,' he pleads for a happy peaceful life."

In connection with pollen as the representation of light, distinguished from that associated with color, the relation between pink shimmer, and white in the atmosphere and yellow in the water should be noted. An unpublished painting in the Huckel Collection, Buffalo People at the Mountain-of-motion, represents not the mountains, rocks, clouds, and waters but their motion, their life, expressed by color association with light.


Matthews refers to the haze in the air which the Navaho call the pollen of morning and evening sky, an idea probably closely related to the ritualistic acts of The Twins.

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

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