Fire God


Fire God: Deity symbol for Man's use of fire. In the Navajo creation stories, Fire God overpowers the deities who rule water. This may be seen as Man's ability to use nature in a positive way rather than be ruled by it. Pg. 193


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

As previously noted, Chanter D explained that Black God's face represents the whole universe, the whole sky; because Dilyehe is so minute in comparison to the entire sky, this constellation is often not visible on Black God's mask. Night is associated with Black God, and Black God chose Dilyehe to represent all the constellations (at the time of Creation) on the left temple of his mask because Dilyehe is so neat and fine. It is reasonable that the Pleiades would be chosen to represent all the constellations not only because it is such a compact open cluster of stars lending itself to depiction in a small space, but also because it is the most highly ordered of all the Navajo constellations, epitomizing the Navajo emphasis of order and balance. This distinctive cluster is probably the most easily recognizable of the Navajo constellations; its form permits the instant visual recognition for Black God's mask with its microcosmic representation of the Navajo heavens. Because Haashch'eehzhini, or Black God, is the supernatural most closely associated with constellations (no other Navajo supernatural wears a constellation on his mask), it will be helpful to discuss this diyin dine'e at this point. Black God is also known as Fire God; although not all accounts credit him with stellar creation, all accounts do attribute to him the fire and the light found in stars. As recounted previously, according to Beadway Singer who worked with Haile, the creator group turned the sky over to Black God when he moved Dilyehe at will, thus demonstrating to the creator group that he had the power to beautify the "dark upper" (the sky) by placing stars in ordered patterns. In The Night Chant, A Navajo Ceremony, Washington Matthews explained that while there are several Black Gods, it is convenient to speak of this deity in the singular. Most of these supernaturals dwell in Tse'nihoailyil (Rock-with-Dark-Place-in-Middle) near Tse'gihi, north of the San Juan River. Harry Walters described Black God as moody; because he lacks a sense of humor, he does not tolerate teasing. Black God travels around, passing himself off as poor so that people will give him things; he is greedy and he is a trickster. Matthews described Black God as "reserved and exclusive," a supernatural who does not associate freely with other supernaturals. Nor do other supernaturals visit him. He is the owner of all fire because he invented the tool for producing fire (i.e., the fire drill) and was the first to produce fire.

The Black God Impersonator dresses in black shirt, breechcloth, blanket, and moccasins with a foxskin collar. Traditionally, he wore white shell necklaces, but by the turn of the century when Matthews was writing, the Impersonator was wearing coral, turquoise, and other materials as well. Black God wears no kilt. His legs are painted black; each leg is marked inback with a line of white, which extends from the top of the heel to the top of the thigh. He carries a fire drill, wood and tinder, a faggot, and a bundle of corn cakes. The Black God Impersonator is so unprepossessing that an untrainded eye may not even recognize him as a supernatural. Mary Cabot Wheelwright described Black God at a Nightway that Tl'aii was conducting:

There was a long pause and then at the end of the vista a strange little figure appeared. He had rough hair and was dressed in sackcloth, and as he approached he acted like a jester, hesitating, sitting down, scratching himself at intervals, In one hand he carried a little torch made of bound-up bark, in which form the Navajo carried fire when traveling. In the other hand he carried a string with four little doughnut-like cakes strung on it. The people laughed at him, but finally Tl'aii called to him to come and he ran up toward Tl'aii and the patient. To my amazement the patient thereupon dropped down on his face to the earth, while this strange little figure walked over him, and I realized that he was the Fire God (Black God) in strange guise.

When I myself saw a Black God Impersonator in December 1987, I was amazed by his disheveled look, which is so different form the well-dressed appearance of other Navajo Holy People. He wore a baglike mask with a shock of red yarn hair; his facial features were delineated only with eide white circles and curving lines. Surprisingly, Dilyehe did not appear on his mask. He wore a fox-fur collar and his body was covered by a ragged dark gray blanket pinned together at the front. His shirt-sleeved arms protruded through holes cut into the blanket. He wore pants under his blanket an on his feet were old army boots. In his hands he carried the requisite torch and corn cakes. Haile described the features of this mask as follows: to indicate that Black God is is charge of the months and seasons, the mouth on the mask is a full moon, while the forehead bears a crescent moon. Dilyehe is on the left temple. The Black God Impersonator does not appear at every performance of the Nightway. Matthews called the variety of the ceremonial in which hea appears to'nastsihego hatal. When the Impersonator is to appear, a sandpainting of Black God is produced on the ninth day. This large painting has a figure of Monster Slayer in the center and the figure of a Black God with his torch and bundle of corn-cakes on each of the four stars. This painting remains on the floor of the hogan until the Black God Impersonator arrives in the evening. The Black God Impersonator comes to the hogan early in the morning of the ninth day of the ceremonial, which takes place in its full form only in winter. He then proceeds to a point some distance east of the hogan. At sunrise he begins his slow day-long journey back to the hogan; this journey takes so long because he walks a few paces, lights his faggot with his fire drill, then lies down with his back to the fire - a favorite position of his, according to the sacred stories - and pretends to sleep and make camp. He rises a moment later to extinguish his fire and husband his faggot, which must last until he can deposit it as a sacrifice in the hogan in the evening. The Black God Impersonator is not seen very often in Nightway performances. Harry Walters has seen this branch once in fourteen years.

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

Black God, feared even by Coyote but sometimes paired with him, is still another manifestation of Sun as Darkness or Sky. Outstanding in the drawing of Night is the Milky Way; the same symbol is painted on Black God's breast and arms. The offering acceptable to Black God in the War Ceremony was a tobacco pouch closely resembling Sun's. A prayerstick offering was presented to Black God, but after he had accepted it, he taught the people not to duplicate it but to make the rattlestick substitute-an exact duplication of the circumstances in which Sun gave his arrow to Earth People. If Night or Sky is a phase of Sun, if Black God's picture is a representation of Night Sky and Black God behaves like Sun, then Black God is a manifestation of Sun representing control of fire, flame, and heat.

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

Black God (xa'ctce'cjini') (P) is the Navaho fire god. He represents the being in control of fire and fire making rather than fire itself. He is black in impersonation and sandpainting. Black Body was his counterpart in the fourth world. When the gods came, and tried by gestures to indicate that the people were to be changed into a semblance of the gods, the creatures did not understand. On the fourth day Black Body explained in their own language the plan the gods had in mind. According to the War Ceremony legend, Black God came into being with the earth. The Wheelwright story has him in the first world as the offspring of Fire (male) and Comet (female)

Black Body of the fourth world, who apparently did not differ much, if at all, from Black God, was of great help during the emergence to this world

As the reed containing the creatures of the fourth world and all their possessions grew, it swayed, and there was fear lest it topple into the water. Black Body blew through the hole at the top and caused a heavy dark cloud to form around the top of the reed to keep it steady. He repeated the maneuver until finally he, as top man, was able to pin it fast to the sky by means of the head feathers he wore (Matthews 1897, pp.68-9, 75, 246; 1902, pp. 26, 29; Wheelwright 1942, p. 39, Set II, 3; Haile 1938b, p. 185).

In contrast to Sun, Monster Slayer, and Talking God, Black God is phlegmatic. He is sometimes represented as very old; he is quite modest and cannot be tempted with goods, for he uses practically nothing, but he is very exacting about the modest demands he makes. If his advanced age is not mentioned, it is agreed that he is slow-moving and, when he is summoned, considerable time is allowed for him to come from his home, which is far from those of the other gods. Stephen says that Black God lives at the east and brings evil to man; near him Big God and Big Snake live together. Black God rarely accepts invitations, and other gods do not visit him often.

When the Stricken Twins had returned from their raid on Awatobi, the gods arranged a grand assembly and were careful to send their fastest couriers to the Black Gods to tell them to hurry, for they live far away and travel slowly. They stop often to make a fire and lie down before it to rest, then advance a short distance, where they repeat the same thing.

On this occasion they did not arrive until sundown of the fourth day after they had been invited, time enough for all the other Holy Ones to have prepared themselves and to have waited. This delayed approach is symbolized by a whole day's performance in one form of the Night Chant.

The same behavior is recorded in the myth of the War Ceremony, where Black God is depicted as old and helpless. His casual habit of resting as if a war party were not excited and hurried is depicted with great literary skill, for in this case the Navaho themselves manifested the emotions white people feel about delay in a crisis, an attitude quite unusual for them (cp. Child-of-the-water). The pent-up emotions were expressed by the concern of the warriors over Black God's physical comfort; they thought he was lost, that he might freeze, that he could not see well, that he was hungry. The reason for all his delays were ritualistic, as the warriors eventually learned.

His casualness was a demonstration of fearlessness. No-where does Black God display spiritual weakness; his physical weakness was a blind to mislead the impulsive. When Big God appeared, everyone fled except The Twins, Talking God, and Black God. Black God alone was unafraid because he controlled fire, a power greater than lightning.

And even as he is fearless, so is he feared, for though he is slow to help, he is quick to anger. When Coyote showed the picture of the sun he had made, Black God said in anger, "gwa'," and tore it up, whereupon Coyote ran off. In certain exploits, however, the two collaborated; Black God aided Coyote in stealing Water Monster's children. Coyote kept entering the assembly of gods for co, although he was told by Monster Slayer to stay out; at length Black God was sent to expel him (Haile 1938b, pp. 184-95 ; Stephen ms.; Goddard, p. 136; Matthews 1897, pp. 169, 219; 1902, pp. 26-8, 201, 260-1; Reichard 1944d, p. 41; Shooting Chant Evil ms.; Newcomb-Reichard, p.27).

Various incidents explain the fire rites. The fire drill, a treasured item of the medicine bundle, is Black God's symbol, although the explanations differ. Since he overcame an evil or enemy, its power removes evil.

When the gods began to relent about the Stricken Twins, the Hunchback gods slew a mountain sheep for them; Monster Slayer skinned and butchered it and, with his burning brand, Black God lighted a fire so they could roast it.

The fire made by Changing-bear-maiden, by means of which she sweated out the arrows which the Spider and Swallow People had shot into her, was called Black God's fire and represents his power and her restoration in the Endurance Chant; the meaning is the same for the fire made when Dwarf Boy was sung over.

As Talking God and Wind conducted co on a tour of the gods' homes, Black God laid his firebrand down when they stopped for a rest at Spotted Earth. He did not remember it until arriving at a place some distance away called Where-the-god-sits-up-high. He then asked his companions what to do about it, and Talking God advised, "We may as well leave it. We can use it in the future. Perhaps in the days to come great misfortunes, like war and pestilence, may come to men. Then you can go back to your brand, light four fires from it, one in each cardinal direction, and burn up the world." Black God's fire still exists as a burning coalbank. Thus casually the Navaho gods contemplate world cataclysm.

Black God appears in the chants quite frequently in one form or another. As the head chanter of the Night Chant According-to-collected-waters, his services are of major importance and a large offering is made to him because the largest share of booty taken from Awatobi by the Stricken Twins was given him. He holds a prominent position in the War Ceremony, where his prayerstick is described in detail; he is the leader of the elaborate rites of 'killing the ghost,' 'the blackening,' and the painting of Child-of-the-water and his impersonator. Goddard refers to Black God as originating the body paint of The Twins in Sun's house, a description that agrees with the one given in the War Ceremony, where he is also in charge of the pot drum (Matthews 1902, pp.27, 209, 242, 260; Reichard, Endurance Chant ms.; Haile 1938b, pp. 185-95, 215, 237; Goddard, p. 156).

In the first world Black God worked with First Man against the four owners of the world, beginning by angrily throwing his fire about, but without much effect. When, however, First Man suggested trying ritual instead of force, he accepted an offering of a tobacco pouch and things improved.

In the second world Black God opposed be'yotcidi, who made some twins over into 'alke'na'a'ci'. He closed up the hole from the second world by blowing. In the fourth world Coyote stole fire from Black God. Black God provided the stars, sun, moon, and all the light for the fourth world. He claimed that the Seven Stars were at his feet, knees, hips, back, shoulders, and on his face. Those on his face show in the sandpainting.

Although Black God is depicted as a bachelor, his son is mentioned as a helper in the Night Chant.

Black God, although mentioned less frequently than gods such as xa'ctce'oyan, stands out clearly as an individualist, fearless and feared, one whose chief duty is to control fire, One who has important ceremonial duties.

Black God is associated with Gila Monster by behavior, offering, and even by the way he accepts his offering (Stephen, pp. 91-3; Wheelwright 1942, pp.41-3, 54-6, 62, Set II, 3; Matthews 1902, p. 196 ; Haile 1943a, pp. 66, 172).

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