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
Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians, 1956; Aileen O'Bryan.
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
of the Navajo; 1976, Raymond Friday Locke.
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
Dictionary of the Navajo Language; 1910, The Franciscan Fathers.
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.
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
is my Mother, Sky is my Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting;
1992, Trudy Griffen-Pierce.
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
Woman of the Desert; 1939, Gladys A. Reichard.
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
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
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."
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:
it be delightful, Sun, my Mother's ancestor,
May it be delightful as I walk around my house."
a few more handfuls on the fire, saying in a subdued voice:
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."
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.
Gods, Tom-toms; By S.H. Babington, 1950.
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.
Religion, Vol I; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950
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).
Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950