Gila Monster

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When a storyteller tells the Flintway, his mind returns to the forgotten days when Gila Monster was the first medicine man. If the storyteller happens to be a medicine man, he may, at the outset of the tale, open up his pouch, full of sacred pollen, and sprinkle some around the four directions. When he does this, he is especially mindful of Gila Monster. For not only is this a medicine story particularly suited to Gila Monster's divining power, but it is also a "myth of armor," of covering the body with a protective shield, of which Gila Monster with his hard scales is considered the best and most exemplary veteran. He is the well-armored warrior of the Navajo. When abroad in the desert, crawling around his domain, Gila Monster's forefoot trembles as he walks. Navajos say that he is the original hand-trembler, which means that he can foretell the nature of mortal illness and protect against it. To the Navajo, flint is a sacred stone. Arrowheads are said to resemble the tips of the fiery bolt thrown by Thunder. Arrows equal lightning and some of the old warrior tales tell of mortals who wear flint armor and look like Gila Monster. In other legends, when Elder Brother sings flint songs, his voice jingles with the sound of blue flint, thunder flint, water flint, talking flint. The Flintway, then is a restorative story that celebrates the power of Gila Monster, the healer, and Flint, the protector. By wrapping the listener in protective bands of legendary strength, the storyteller of the Flintway heals injuries that are the result of torn flesh and broken bone. Other virtues of the story are that it shows the mystic parameters of territory - what land is off-limits to mortals, and which gods command honor there. The Flintway further delineates Navajo obeisance to the life cycles of weather, plant, animal, and reptile. If man is to "walk in beauty," as the Navajos say, then it is necessary to know what realms are sacred and how to protect mortal flesh and bone when entering an undiscovered country. Pgs 57-58


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

Jish as portrayed in Navajo mythology have great powers. One of the most striking is that of restoration, vividly portrayed in Flintway mythology. Herein, Gila Monster demonstrates his powers by dismembering himself; restoration occurs when his pouch steps across his far-flung body parts, imparting life to them and their reassembled form. The pouch consists of two human-shaped agates which Gila Monster, after demonstrating his powers, used to restore life to the hunter hero, Holy Young Man, who has been mutilated and scattered by White Thunder. In the myth, this pouch is also associated with medicine administered to the hunter, stirring the medicine, water, and weather. Gill Says, "The medicine pouch is a power capable of restoring life, and it is activated by its association with and utilization of water and weather-related phenomena. It is a means for a person to regain his inner life form, as indicated by his identification with the earth and sky, long life and happiness." The human-shaped agates are closely associated with flint. After Gila Monster conducts the ceremonial for the hero, he makes representations of his won pouch in the form of two cranebill pouches for the Earth Surface People. To the outside of these pouches are tied arrowhead-shaped flints (preferably agate flint), and other flints are jingled during the songs. Today, cranebill pouches are carefully prepared in a specific ceremony from the bodies of cranes, who themselves represent both the power of restoration and the return of life. In using the cranebill pouches ceremonially, the one-sung-over is told by the singer to tie an offering on to the appropriate (male or female) pouch. Men use flint arrowheads or jewels and women use beads or shell. These offerings are not removed; thus, in time, the pouches become heavily decorated. These pouches are held by the one-sung-over with the cranebill heads turned toward the self during the litany type prayer. "Through their structure and composition the cranebills . . . . are homologouswith the pouches of Gila Monster. Pg. 18

Navajo Medicine Bundles or Jish, Acquisition, Transmission, and Disposition in the Past and Present; 1987, Charlotte J. Frisbie

The lizard, specifically the Gila monster, is the god or medium of divination by sensation in some rites, as in the wind chant. Pg. 156

An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navajo Language; 1910, The Franciscan Fathers.

diagnosis is done by "listening," "stargazing," or "hand trembling." Listeners and stargazers are rare, are always men, and have learned the procedures. By far the most common method of diagnosis is hand trembling, which is practiced by both men and women although, in our experience, women outnumber men as hand tremblers. Hand trembling is said to be an unsought gift signaled by the shaking of the right arm. The person so chosen is thought to be possessed by the spirit of the supernatural Gila Monster. A ceremony must then be performed to control the involuntary shaking so that it does not become a disease and, at the same time, to introduce the individual to the status of diagnostician. The hand trembler is a shaman because he is thought to be possessed while in a trance, although this method of diagnosis and the Hand-Tremblingway ceremony were borrowed after 1860 from the Apaches. All diagnosticians, however, are said to be in a trance state while practicing their art, and the origin of the stargazing rite mentions that it was caused by Coyote possession. Pgs. 30 31

Ndishniih, to tremble or move the hand about (for the purpose of diagnosing), does not connote a state of wildness or excess despite the fact that the trembling is always thought to be involuntary, may vary from a fine tremor of the hand to rather violent motions of the arm, and can become uncontrollable. It is only used to refer to the behavior displayed by diagnosticians and caused by possession by Gila Monster. Pg. 41

Hand Trembling, Frenzy Witchcraft, and Moth Madness, A Study of Navajo Seizure Disorders; 1987, Jerrold E. Levy, Raymond Neutra, Dennis Parker.

Gila Monster (tin' lai, xin'lai) (P) may be called the god of divination by trembling. He is, therefore, one of the deities invoked to cure harm derived from dealing with hand-trembling.

Gila Monster is prominent in the myth of the Flint Chant

His offering, attitude, and behavior are so similar to those of Black God that there seems to be a close association between the two and there is some reason to believe that both are associated with Black Star. Gila Monster's protective covering is associated with Flint (Wyman 1936a, pp. 236-46; Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. 169ff., Fig. 25, 26; Newcomb 1940a, p. 64; Haile 1943a, pp. 62, 66).

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

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