Navajo Core of the Universe

In the Beginning the People lived in several worlds below. Successively they emerged from them to a new world above. In the middle of this new world stood a great rock. Extending through all the previous underworlds and protruding above this one, it was the core of the universe, rooted in time and space. It was oriented to the four directions, and its sides glowed with their corresponding colors white on the east, blue on the south, yellow-red on the west, black on the north.
Emerging from the world below, the People gathered at its foot. And when they planted seeds to make the earth spread out, and when they called to the Holy People to help them plant the Holy Mountains, it was around this great natal rock. Hence they called it simply the Mountain Around Which Moving Was Done, the Mountain Surrounded by Mountains, or the Encircled Mountain.
To the east of it they planted the Holy Mountain of the East, made of sand and white shell. To the south they planted the Mountain of the South, made of sand and blue-green turquoise. To the west, the Mountain of the West, of yellow-red sand and abalone. And to the north, the Mountain of the North, of black sand and jet. In each they placed a Holy Person, a Talking God to guard the mountain and to listen to the prayers and songs offered it. Extra mountains they transplanted, and seeds of the four sacred plants. They made a fire with four kinds of wood and a hogan with four logs. Everything the stars, the winds, the seasons they put in order and named, and they became. For "when you put a thing in order, give it a name, and you are all in accord: it becomes."
Thus the pattern of the Navaho world at the Emergence. The great central Encircled Mountain. The four directional Holy Mountains. The lesser transplanted mountains, the plants, the trees, with the winds, the seasons, and the sun and moon and stars above. This today in a Navaho sandpainting is the symbol of the great axial rock, the Encircled Mountain: a four petaled flower, like a four leafed clover, like a lotus.
The four sacred mountains still bounding the ancient Navaho homeland are physical mountains: the Mountain of the East variously identified as Mount Blanca, in Colorado; Wheeler Peak, above Taos in the Sangre de Christo range; or Pelado Peak, near the pueblo of Jemez; Mount Taylor, of the San Mateo range, as the Mountain of the South; the San Francisco peaks, in Arizona, as the Mountain of the West; and a peak in the La Plata or San Juan range as the Mountain of the North.
The Encircled Mountain is something else. It has been identified as Huerfano Peak, above Chaco Canon, which bears it name. But by its very nature it cannot be so constricted. Being the core of the whole cosmos, it existed when the First People were still in the lower worlds; and spanning a time and space beyond our earth-dimensional comprehension, it is too great and too powerful to be visible. This is its metaphysical reality. El Huerfano is merely its material image, its physical counterpart. Pgs. 167-168


Masked Gods; 1950, Frank Waters.

Earth (ni') (H) is thought of as the ultimate source of everything and, now that Earth People exist and multiply, as the most important single factor in their existence. Clean sand from the cornpatch and the ritual of agriculture demonstrate the symbolism of origin and subsistence. Disposal of objects in places where they will naturally decompose until they are one with the earth is a more general evidence of the same idea. The earth is identified with Changing Woman, the Earth Mother. The sandpictures, made of earth products, are a complicated form of earth symbolism (Newcomb-Reichard, Fig. 5).

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