Hogans


First Man planned to build a home. He dug a shallow pit in the earth and raised the poles. For the main poles First Man used the Black Bow, which is called Altqin dilqil. There were two parts of this Black Bow, and two other parts, one cut from the Male Reed and one From the Female Reed. The other poles were those at hand. Then the whole structure was covered with earth and grass, and the first dwelling was built. First Woman ground white corn into meal, and they powdered the poles with the meal, and they sprinkled it inside the dwelling from East to West. First Man said as he sprinkled the cornmeal: "May my home be sacred and beautiful, and may the days be beautiful and plenty." Today there is a hogan ceremony, and a song is sung as the poles are raised. Pg. 13


The Dine': Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians, 1956; Aileen O'Bryan.

The Navajo hogan is more than just a place to eat and sleep and the concept of it as a "home" bears little resemblance to a white person's attitude toward his dwelling place. The hogan is a gift of the gods and as such it occupies a place in the sacred world. The first hogans were built by the Holy People of turquoise, white shell, jet, and abalone shell. The round hogan is symbolic of the sun and its door faces east so that the first thing that a Navajo family sees in the morning is the rising sun .... Father Sun, one of the revered of the Navajo deities. The construction of a new hogan is almost always a community affair. Once completed, the new hogan is consecrated with a Blessing Way rite whereby the Holy People are asked to "let this place be happy." The positions of persons and objects within the hogan are prescribed in the legends: the south side of the hogan "belongs" to the women, the north to the men. The male head of the family, and any distinguished visitors, sits on the west side facing the doorway. The placement of all persons and seating arrangements during ceremonials or other important events are prescribed in considerable detail. If a hogan is struck by lightning it is considered chindi bewitched and is deserted. It is also deserted if a death occurs within and the body is removed through a hole broken in the north wall the direction of evil. Pg. 15

The Book of the Navajo; 1976, Raymond Friday Locke.

The Navajo house is devoid of any decoration. Still, in the description of the legendary prototypes of the various hogans, the Navajo selects all that is gorgeous, splendent and precious in nature for their construction. The poles of the conical hogan, for instance, were made of precious stones, such as white shell, turquoise, abalone, obsidian (cannel-coal), and red stone, and were five in number. The interstices were lined with four shelves of white shell, and four of turquoise, and four of abalone and obsidian, each corresponding with the pole of the respective stone, thus combining the cardinal colors of white, blue, yellow, and black into one gorgeous edifice. The floor, too, of this structure was laid with a fourfold rug of obsidian, abalone, turquoise, and white shell, each spread over the other in the order mentioned, while the door consisted of a quadruple curtain of dawn, sky blue, evening twilight and darkness. As a matter of course the divine builders might increase its size at will, and reduce it to a minimum, whenever it seemed desirable to do so. Pg. 328

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

Many Navajos live in frame houses today, but it is still common to see a hogan in association with a house or by itself. Two types of hogan exist: the nearly obsolete, conical forked-pole [male] hogan, which the Navajo brought with them into the Southwest, and its replacement, the larger and more substantial round-roofed [female] hogan, which may be circular, hexagonal, or octagonal in shape. Built to ritual specifications, the hogan faces the rising sun. Many Navajos still have a summer camp near their cornfields and a more substantial winter camp, which they occupy after the harvest.

Some Navajos conceive of the earth's surface as being covered by an enormous transparent hogan of the older, conical, forked-pole style, with the Sacred Mountains at its cornerposts. Talking god stands at the doorway, which faces the east, while Calling God is at the west. The hogan is a living entity, with the smokehole as its breathing hole; this is where prayers emerge and rise to the heavens. The first hogan, constructed after the Emergence into the present world by the diyin dine'e near the rim of the Emergence Place, was not only the site for the creation of many elements of the present world, but also a model of the cosmos. It was in the hogan of Creation that Black God produced and placed the stars in order to beautify the "dark upper" or sky. Both the shape of the hogan and the required directional movement within it are associated with the sun. The hogan was built in the shape of the sun because "the sun being the source of heat, light, and protection from the evils abroad at night symbolizes the qualities that were desired for the home." The doorway faces east to catch the blessing of the first rays of sunlight. The Navajo word for east, ha'a'aah, reflects the order inherent in the repetitive diurnal motions of the sun, for this word mans literally "a roundish object [the sun] moves about regularly." The required directional movement after entering the hogan is the sunwise circuit, which also reflects a recognition of the motions of the heavens. The hogan has been called a master encoding, or a diagram of the Navajo cosmos. The first hogan was conceived, planned, and constructed by the diyin dine'e who decreed that the Earth Surface People should follow the plan of this first hogan with its posts at the four cardinal directions and east-facing doorway. The main poles of the hogan are to be picked up in the sunwise order, with two stones of the sacred jewel associated with each direction embedded in the ground next to each pole. Sacred jewels are condensed symbols intimately related to sacred colors, directions, places, and entities. Although the hogan is never physically subdivided, it is conceptually divided according to directional orientation: four forked upright posts are named for each of the directions while the interior space is divided into areas that include the eastern, southern, western, and northern, recesses, and possibly "sky center," and area in between the fireside and western recess. One Navajo eloquently explained the sacredness of the hogan:
The hogan is built in the manner of this harmony. The roof is in the likeness of the sky. The walls are in the likeness of the Navajo's surroundings: the upward position of the mountains, hills, and trees. And the floor is ever in touch with "the earth mother." The hogan is comprised of white shell, abalone, turquoise, and obsidian, bringing the home and sacred mountains into one sacred unit. The home is also adorned with the dawn, the blue sky, the twilight and the night the sun in the center as the fire . . . . . The hogan is a sacred dwelling. It is the shelter of the people of the earth, a protection, a home, and a refuge. Because of the harmony in which the hogan is built, the family can be together to endure hardships and grow as a part of the harmony between the Sacred Mountains, under the care of "Mother Earth" and "Father Sky." Pgs. 92-94

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

Her house, which was one of the four in the cluster, was the largest, for it was used as the ceremonial hogan when necessary. Dezba's brother, Lassos-a-warrior, was an important leader of curing ceremonies, often called "sings," and there were many occasions when one of them was held at her home. The ceremonies required a special house, preferably a large one, and Dezba lived in this one. When for five on nine days, it was needed for religious purposes, she moved out and lived in one of the other hogans for the time. She considered it no inconvenience to do so, for the fact of having a "sing" in the house brought blessings and good fortune to it. Pg. 19

Dezba: Woman of the Desert; 1939, Gladys A. Reichard.

Gradually I learned that there are no villages or towns on the reservation. The only time you find Navajos together in large groups is during one of their ceremonies. Families travel many days to participate in these. In addition to his aversion for community dwelling, the Navajo settles in one spot for no more than six months, if that long. He moves his family, his cattle, and his other belongings up and down the mesa land. This is especially true of the Indians in the western section of the reservation. The Navajo spends the summer season on the lowlands, living in the chahao, a temporary shelter loosely built of shrubbery. In winter he lives on the highlands in a permanent hogan solidly built of juniper logs and covered with sand-mud. Since the entrances always face east, Navajo dwellings serve as compasses, and one need never worry about getting lost when a hogan is in sight. These one-room windowless houses, with a smoke hole through which the family hopes the smoke will escape, give protection against snow and cold, not uncommon in this desert country at altitudes of six to nine thousand feet.
In the evening the family gathers around the open fire in the center of the hogan. The fire produces little light and much smoke, and since there is no other illumination, the Navajo cannot occupy himself with anything that requires good lighting. It is impossible to read by the firelight, and , of course, unless he has been educated in the American schools, the Navajo cannot read. So he entertains himself and his family with stories, legends, and myths. They are told quietly, with naive gestures and picture-words; and the narratives are colored with his belief in gods, spirits and chindi (ghosts). The Navajos have no Shakespeare, Virgil, or Homer, but much of their poetry is truly beautiful. They have no Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart, but they chant single verses with fiery zeal and poetic expression. They have no Crusaders, Knights of the Round Table, or Daniel Boone, but they have god heroes who have slain fantastic monsters and giants and who even today protect the Navajo against evil spirits and the evil eye, and help him when he is in difficulty.
If anyone is about to die, the family moves out of the hogan, leaving the patient to the medicine men. The Navajo believes that the hogan becomes haunted when a human being dies in it. Therefore the family or the medicine men try to get the dying patient out of the building before it is too late to save the home for future use. I have seen a number of abandoned hogans, their doorways blocked with stones and special holes knocked out in the north sides through which the corpses were carried out by medicine men for burial. Sometimes instead of just abandoning the hogan, they burn and level it. This indirectly serves as a prophylactic measure. Other traditional practices are even more effective barriers to epidemics. For instance, they break all the earthenware and cut up the household blankets so they may never be used again. Near the grave of the dead man they kill his best riding animal, after decorating him with his saddle and all of his trappings. Practically everything that may have come in contact with the sick person is destroyed to keep his chindi, or in our language the infecting bacteria, from harming others.
When a Navajo gets sick, his family and friends literally run away, leaving him to the ministrations of the medicine men. In the event that the sick person has a contagious disease, this custom provides a pretty thorough quarantine. the medicine men, by the way, are supposed to possess the power of keeping chindi away from themselves while they are freeing the patient from them.... The Navajos have no undertakers and no coffins.
Always situated near a spring or waterhole, the hogan is hectagonal in shape almost circular, in fact. Juniper logs, graduated in length and diameter, are placed parallel on top of each other, so that, as the walls rise, the room grows smaller near the top. There is no furniture only a sheepskin to sit on and, perhaps, a few plain cooking utensils, including the highly prized coffee pot. The hogan is the center of family life, and the Navajo spends most of is time there, even though it is such a simple structure and contains little. He is anxious that his hogan and his family be unmolested by men or evil spirits. He hopes that his wife and all of his children will have enough to eat. He prays that his hogan will not be visited by sickness or "enemy ancestors." To make sure that all his desires and hopes will be realized in his hogan, he prays and performs ceremonies before he moves into it. Unfortunately, the ceremony of hogan dedication is no longer faithfully practiced by every Navajo. The manner of building and the dedication ceremony demonstrate how friendly, deeply religious, poetic, and playfully humorous the Navajo is. All neighbors and friends voluntarily participate in the building, so that it is finished in one day and is ready for the dedication before sunset. The wife sweeps out the new hogan while her husband builds the first fire in the middle of the floor directly under the smoke hole. She goes out of the building, pours white cornmeal into a basket, and hands it to her husband, who then enters the hogan and, in a certain prescribed order, silently rubs a handful of the dry meal on the five principle timbers which form the frame. Then, with a sweeping motion from left to right, he sprinkles the meal around the outer circumference of the floor, saying in low measured tones:

"May it be delightful, my house,
From my head my it be delightful,
To my feet may it be delightful,
Where I lie may it be delightful.
All above me may it be delightful,
All around me may it be delightful."

He next flings a little of the cornmeal into the burning fire, saying: "May it be delightful and well, my fire." Then he tosses a few handfuls up through the smoke hole, saying:

"May it be delightful, Sun, my Mother's ancestor,
May it be delightful as I walk around my house."

He sprinkles a few more handfuls on the fire, saying in a subdued voice:

"May it be delightful, my fire,
May it be delightful for my children,
may all be well,
May it be delightful with my food and theirs,
may all be well,
All my possessions, may they increase,
All my flocks, may they increase."

By this time it is dark. The womenfolk, who during the day have been cooking, and the men, who have been attending to other details, begin entering the hogan. They help to bring in the family possessions. Sheepskins are spread over the floor; a blanket is suspended over the doorway; more logs are added to the fire. The men squat around the fire; the women sit in a group a little farther away. Food is served. Everyone is tired. They say little and in very low voices. But all of them are happy. The man and wife are happy because now they are the possessors of a building where they will be raising their family. The relatives and friends are joyous because they have done a good deed.
A few days later they hold a housewarming party. The occasion has a more solemn meaning, too, since if it is not observed soon after the hogan has been competed, bad dreams will plague the dweller, toothache will torture them, evil influences from the north will descent upon them, diseases will visit them, and the hogan will be haunted. So the shaman is invited to sing ceremonial house songs when all their friends from the neighboring canyons and mesas will be present. There will be feasting, smoking, gossip, and talk by the hour. The shaman will sing in a drawling voice and the men will join in. They will sing songs to Estsanatlehi, Goddess of the West, and Yolkai Estsan, Goddess of the East, to the Sun, Dawn, and Twilight, to the Light and to the Darkness, to the six sacred mountains, and to many other deities. They will sing other songs to keep evil spirits coughs, sorcerers, and ghosts away. When the songs are finished at dawn, the visitors will round up their horses and go home, happy that all's well that ends well.
Pgs. 181-185

Navajos, Gods, Tom-toms; By S.H. Babington, 1950.

Each member of a family has a stipulated place within the hogan - the unmarried men at the south, the single women at the north; the bed of the senior married couple joins the male and female sides of the house at the west. In the ceremonial hogan [or shade] the men usually sit at the south, the women at the north; patient and chanter sit at the rear - that is, at the west side behind the fire. If there are variations on this plan, they are due to ritualistic requirements. For example, the patient of the Shooting Chant, male or female, sits alone at the south side of the hogan during the 'short singing' of the first three nights.


Frequently, though not invariably, certain dieties have characteristic stations with respect to others. Talking God, as a leader, had the front position when he traveled with a group on one of the supernatural conveyances. He stood on a rainbow at the front while xa ctce'oyan stood at the back, and the accompanying group of Holy People, or the hero they conducted, stood between them. In the Night Chant, Talking God at the front was aided by Water Sprinkler at the rear, while visionary, whom they were escorting, was between. When the gods took Self Teacher to the underwater world, Water Sprinkler guarded the front and Black God the back; thus protected, Self Teacher was led safely out from the home of Water Monster.


Even the body position of deities may be distinctive. People in myth are told, for instance, that Black God, though so old he can scarcely walk, may be recognized by his upright sitting posture. They find him sitting with one leg hanging limply over his knee, a posture signifying aloofness, which must be overcome by the proper approach of those asking a favor. The same pose is assumed in life by a Navaho whose feelings have been hurt; usually he takes up a position half sitting, half reclining in front of the fire, 'among the ashes,' a place ordinarily avoided. His position and attitude indicate that some member of the family must guess at the offense under which he feels himself suffering and make restitution to bring him to a normal frame of mind and, incidentally, to his proper place in the family circle.


In the House Blessing song of the Shooting Chant the following sequence is mentioned: east post, west post, south post, north post, outside layer of earth on the roof, the layer of bark that holds the layer of earth, the back of the interior, the center [symbol of the fireplace], and the place of the metate just north of the door. The places indicated in prayer include those just named, but extend the locality somewhat. The singer asks blessings for the patient: from the hogan roof, through the inside of the house sunwise around the fire, and out the door to the immediate vicinity of the dwelling, where the gods protectingly encircle it, and farther to the plants, trees, and rocks. The space indicated is safe for the patient because it is circumscribed, but it is universally extended when the prayer includes Mountain Woman, Water Woman, various birds, and many distant sacred localities.

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

Homes (xo'yan) have been mentioned as characterizing deity. Several good descriptions of the Navaho home are available. The following notes concern concepts centering about the home (and house) and the house blessing.
The houseposts, according to the Shooting Chant myth, were originally of agate arranged in the flint-armor colors, black at the east, blue at the west, yellow at the south, pink at the north, and white at the top or central portion. It was decreed that in the future the posts should be of oak instead of agate. Today the oak sprigs of the house blessing represent the posts.
In the Eagle Chant myth, the description of the first house prescribes cleansing and song. The construction of the house was simultaneous with the making of the eagle trap; both were done with ritualistic care (Mindeleff, pp. 475-517; Reichard 1944d, pp. 3, 5, 17, 51; Shooting Chant ms.; Matthews 1887, pp. 399, 400, 407, 408; 1897, pp. 161, 164, 168, 185, 204; 1902, pp. 47, 168, 192, 206, 210, 230; Newcomb 1940b, pp. 54, 57, 58-60).

House blessing (xo'yan yilzi'h, xo'yan da'atlic) is an initial rite of all ceremonies. It consists of laying new oak sprigs in the hogan (or shade) walls at the cardinal directions, sprinkling the places with corn meal, and singing. The blessing of a new home is more elaborate, being a rite or ceremony in itself, a part of the general Blessing complex. The songs and prayers, addressed to Sky, Earth, and Rain, are necessary to happiness in the new home. Four songs are required, twelve may be sung; two prayers are the minimum, six may be chanted.
The mountains, inhabited by Talking God and xactc'e'oyan, were the first homes; after the Blessing rites, they became hogans-the foregoing are JS's notes of summary, given me when he presided at the dedication of the new stadium at Gallup (Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. 76-7; Goddard, p. 151; Reichard 1944d, p. 51; Haile 1937).

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