Wind

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Two other concepts essential to the Navajo view of an ordered, structured universe are those of nilch'i, or the Holy Wind, and the inner forms. After the Emergence onto the earth's surface, wind and inner forms were placed within all living things as a source of life, movement, speech, and behavior. Rather than being and independent spiritual agency that resides within the individual, like the Western notion of the soul, Holy Wind is a single entity that exists everywhere and in which all living beings participate. The concept of the Holy Wind has far-reaching implications. First, it exists as an underlying element that unifies beings and phenomena that Anglos perceive as distinct and isolated entities: deer, bison, spiders, stars, clouds, and pinon pines share the unifying element of the Wind, which exists within all of them. This means that all living beings are related and that nothing exists in isolation. Inherent in this relationship is a sense of kinship with other living beings and of the reciprocal responsibilities that accompany kinship. This means that the earth and the animals and plants that live on it (as well as the sky with its entities and phenomena) are related to and will provide for humankind as long as humanity recognizes and carries out its reciprocal responsibilities toward the other beings and phenomena of earth and sky. Furthermore, breath and speech are intimately related to the concept of Holy Wind. Nilch'i also refers to air and thus involves the act of breathing. Because nilch'i has a holy quality not acknowledged in Western culture, the act of breathing is a sacred act through which the individual participates in an ongoing relationship with all other living beings. This is why it is possible for the patient in a ceremonial actually to breathe in the live-giving power of the sun outside the hogan. The intimate relationship between speech and breath - and thus, the life principle - makes the speech act sacred. Words have a sacred, creative power and the ability to summon forth that which is uttered. In Navajo Creation stories, the Holy People spoke, sang, and prayed the world into existence. Finally, because of the essentially unitary nature of the Holy Wind, it is the same force that animates the Holy People themselves with life, movement, speech, and behavior. Individual human beings therefore have "direct access to the thought and speech of the Holy Ones." The inner form, or Bii'gistiin ("one who lies within it" or "an inanimate object lies within"), is a being independent of the object it happens to occupy. As Haile explained, the entity or phenomenon itself is not animated but a humanlike personification, a soul, is placed within it. Human beings also have inner forms. Because of the inner form concept, the sun's disk (sha) is quite distinct from its carrier (johonaa'ei, who carries a round object here and there in daytime). Significantly, a solar eclipse is called johonaa'ei daaztsa (who carries a round object here and there in daytime died), which means that it is the inner form of the sun that has died rather than the (unanimated) sun disk itself. Because each person has an inner from and participates in the omnipresent Holy Wind, each has a Holy Person located within. Harry Walters explained that people contact these inner beings by breathing; therefore, the human voice box - the means of breathing and of speech - is where the Holy Person lives. Just as the inner form is independent of the entity it occupies, so too this inner Holy Person is not a part of people's physical being. This conceptualization embodies the sacredness of Holy Wind: the reason why the acts of breathing and speaking are sacred is because the diyin dine'e, the Holy People, are everywhere, within everyone. With the peace that comes of the realization of oneness with the universe comes the responsibility to live as the Holy People live, by treating one's fellow creatures on this planet with the same respect that one would have toward oneself. Pgs. 72, 73


As previously discussed, each living thing has an inner form and Holy Wind placed within it through which it has the capacity to live, think, speak, and move; Holy Wind is also the means of communication between all elements of the living world. Messenger winds from the inner forms of various natural phenomena based in the four directions inform, advise, and protect people and also report back on their behavior. When Changing Woman and the other diyin dine'e departed after completing Creation, they left gifts and instructions about the correct way to live. These Holy People are based in the cardinal directions, and thanks to the messenger winds they are all-knowing. Pg. 96

Furthermore the act of breathing connects human beings to all living things. It is important to remember that nilch'i, Holy Wind, can also be translated as "air," and is "an omnipresent entity in which (all) living beings participate." In the act of breathing, air is constantly being exchanged and boundaries being altered: "On inhaling, the powerful ones (the Holy People) enter one's lungs and are both a part of the breather as well as his being a part of and linked to all other beings." Thus, by breathing, one has direct access to the thought and speech of the Holy People. This is why the patient rises from the sandpainting and leaves the hogan to breathe in the power of the Sun. Through this ritual act the patient inhales the lifegiving, healing power of the Sun into his being. Pg. 193

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

Changing Woman was created after the Emergence into the present world. From her impregnation came the Twins whose adventures and exploits feature the killing of numerous monsters (except for the enemies known as Cold, Hunger, Poverty, Desire, Want, Old Age, and Sleep), exemplify ideal behavior for Navajo males, and augment the number of sacred places recognized by Navajos for their importance in mythological events. Before the Holy People decided to withdraw to permanent homes in the cardinal directions (located in the sacred mountains of the East, South, West, North, zenith, and nadir), Changing Woman created the Earth Surface People whom the Navajos recognize as their ancestors. After other creations, she and the other deities departed, leaving behind gifts and numerous instructions about how to live. While presently based in the cardinal directions, these supernaturals are considered to be ever-present as anthropomorphic inner forms of various natural phenomena and forces, potentially everthreatening, ever-active, ever-instructive, and because of a Messenger Wind communication network, all-knowing and -overseeing. Thus, it is no wonder that traditional religion among the Navajos is a daily effort to maintain the delicate balance between good and evil, filled with ritual observances, songs, prayers, and avoidances designed to bring forth positive actions on the part of the supernaturals.

In such a universe, it is up to the individual to know and abide by the numerous prescriptions and proscriptions established by the Holy People, thus maintaining harmony with other humans, nature and forces in the supernatural world, and helping to maintain equilibrium among the supernatural forces. Though personally responsible and accountable, however, humans are not left without models. The universe, which consists of interrelated elements and complementary components, is orderly and operates according to rules of reciprocity which even the supernaturals are compelled to recognize. Even more important, a person can draw on an indwelling Wind, acquired from both parents at conception, which governs behavior and character. This Wind within, one of the guises of Holy Wind which exist within and around all things, has been identified by McNeley as the primordial force in the cosmos. It is the primary source of moral guidance if one receives proper instructions from parents, thinks about them, heeds the advice and warnings of the Holy People when harmful Winds weaken the Wind within in evil ways, or petitions the Little Winds and prayers and offerings to strengthen the Wind within and thus counteract evil. Pgs. 2-3

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

The transformation of corn ears into human beings indicates an obvious association between wind and breath, and cross references establish whorls - through whirlwinds - as elements of the associative group; hence the explanation that breath enters the body at the places where there are whorls. Since down is easily set in motion by wind or breath, down feathers and motion are further extensions of the group.

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

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