Four Directions

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Reichard (1950:187-203) described the significance of several colors. White (ligai) is the color of White Dawn in the east and apparently differentiates the naturally sacred from the profane (black or red). Blue (dootlizh) signifies the bright Blue Sky of day and belongs to the south. Yellow (litso) represents fructification because of its association with yellow pollen; belonging to the west, this color represents the Yellow Evening Light of sunset. Black (lizhin) is a sinister color; however, because it confers invisibility, black also protects. This color usually represents Night in the north. Red (lichii') is the color of danger, war, and sorcery and is often paired with black. Pink (disos) represents a reddish shimmering quality of light. Gray (liba) is the color of evil, untrustworthiness, and despicability.
Directionality is significant in Navajo symbolism, and movements during a ceremonial must occur in the "sunwise circuit," or from east to south to west to north, except in Evilway ceremonials. There are two predominant directional sequences of colors for east, south, west, and north. Reichard (1950:164) noted the "Day-Sky" sequence, which consists of the subdivisions of the day associated with the directions (also known as the cardinal light phenomena, these are discussed in the next chapter): White Dawn with the east; Blue Day Sky with the south, Yellow Evening Light with the west, and Darkness of Night (black) with the north. Matthews (1897:216) notes a second sequence that consists of black-blue-yellow-white for the four directions, beginning with the east because it is used in connection with dangerous underground places, it is employed in Evilway chants, such as the Big Starway or Hand Tremblingway to protect against witches. Reichard (1950:221) termed this the "danger sequence" and says that black is placed in the quadrant from which danger is most imminent for the particular event depicted, because it confers protection. Pg. 53, 54


The east is associated with the Dawn and Talking God, who represents knowledge, wisdom, philosophy, hard goods, the pursuit of discipline, and striving. Consultant A told me, "The East says, `I am birth; I am new life; I am a new day; I am all these good things,' so you pray to that. The directions are very much alive. They are the places where sacred things happened, the places where the mountains live." Pg. 96

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

The Navaho recognize the following directions:

East, qa'a'; South, shada'a'; West, ae'ae'a'; North, nahokhos; Middle, alni, ya alnigi, the center of the sky, the zenith. ni alni, the center of the earth. Upper, dego or woda'; Lower, yago or yuyadi, bina'shi or ayai des'aigi, are probably equivalents for the nadir.
The order here mentioned is followed in most ceremonial functions, the preference being given to the east. Thus, the heads of sand paintings always point eastward, and the patient is seated upon them facing the same direction. Numerous other instances enjoin the same order of sequence, as in entering and leaving the ceremonial hogan, in preparing the wreaths for unraveling, in marking and tracing lines with pollen, or administering the latter, all of which is begun at the east end, thence to the south, to west and north, completing the circle at the point in the east. This course is called shabikego, sunwise, or with the sun, while, when reversed, or beginning at a point in the north, thence to the west, south, east and north again, the order is called shada'ji, towards or facing the sun. Frequently, too, direction is indicated by color. Thus, the dawn is assigned to, and indicates, the east, the Skyblue the south, the evening twilight the west, and darkness the north. Hence, the symbolic color of the east is white, that of the south blue, of the west yellow, of the north dark or black. In consequence sand paintings, for instance, of the sacred mountains are decorated in these colors, sisnajini (Pelado Peak), white, tsodzil (Mt. Taylor), blue dookoslid (San Francisco Mountains), yellow, debentsa (San Juan Mountains), black. Sacrificial stones, too, are assigned according to the color of the direction: white shell (yolgai), to the west, cannel coal (bashzhini), to the north, red-white stone (tselchii), to the center. The legends make early mention of directional assignment. Thus, previous to the creation of the sun and moon, the light arose in columns of white in the east and of yellow in the west, for the day, while similar columns of blue in the south and black in the north, indicated the return of night. The direction was indicated by the course of these columns of light, and the turn from right to left, and vice versa, which now indicates the course with and form the sun respectively, originally indicated the turn with or against the light (shabik'ego, shada'ji). In accordance with the general ritual preference for the east, which is also manifested in the prototype of the hogan, the exit, or doorway, of the Navaho hogan is always placed in the east, which is even observed in some modern structures. Possibly, too, this is done to facilitate the observance of the numerous rubrics with reference to direction. Similarly, the opening of the corral for public exhibitions is placed on the east side, while that of the sudatory is optional, some preferring the west to the east side, though usually the heated stones are placed on the north interior of the hut. Pgs. 57, 56

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

The number of ritualistic directions may be interpreted in several ways. They may be counted as five - east, south, west, north, and up-and-down (in a single motion); as six - the same with up and down counted separately; as seven - the same as for six with the addition of 'around.' Perhaps up and down may be considered a single direction as often as two, being indicated by a single continuous motion of the hand. Pollen sprinkling and other ritualistic acts may become so perfunctory that the motions in all directions - east, south, west, north, around, up, down - are so continuous as to seem like one.

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