12" x 3/4" deep
To read about stars and how they relate to the Navajo Culture, see link to Navajo Legends and Culture.
Elsie Stone Holiday - Basketweaver: Considered one of the best of the best Navajo basket weavers, Elsie Stone Holiday married into the famed Douglas Mesa family of weavers. Weaving baskets has become almost an addiction for her. "When I go two or three days without weaving I get anxious to get started again," she says. She weaves 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. "Sometimes I think, 'How long can this last?'", she wistfully states, but for now she is content with her art, finding immense satisfaction in creating premier quality baskets.
Learning the art of basket weaving from the family that is famous for the Navajo basket renaissance is certainly an advantage for Elsie Stone Holiday, and she has added talent and dedication to that advantage, with remarkable results.
Elsie knew how to weave rugs before she married, so weaving baskets was fairly easy for her to master. She learned from such renowned artists as Sally and Lorraine Black, Rose Esplain, and her mother-in-law, Betty White Holiday. Then she simply made the art her own by using her natural intuitive creativity.
The mother of six children, Elsie has only been weaving for about eleven years, since her children became old enough to allow her the time. Now they watch her, and sometimes help with the non-weaving tasks connected to the work, learning as they do so.
Elsie gathers the sumac strips used for her weaving along waterways in Hanksville or Moab, Utah, and Farmington, New Mexico. She says the reeds grow well along irrigation ditches, and are most pliable in the spring and fall months. She gathers about a six-month supply and then takes them home and readies them for weaving by stripping off the bark and splitting the reeds. Then Elsie does something few other weavers care to do- she takes the split reed and pulls it through a hole in a can, to strip away any excess, making the strips uniform size. It is this, and her propensity for a uniform, tight weave, that makes Elsie's baskets premium quality. If she notices any irregularities, Elsie picks out her weaving and begins again. She truly cares about making her baskets as perfect as possible.
Elsie's technique is not her only fine point, she also has a wonderful imagination for new design ideas. Elsie is modest when praised for her work and eager for any suggestions. She has an enthusiastic desire to please those who buy her baskets.
Elsie's father is a practicing medicine man, but it is her mother-in-law who has helped her with her weaving by performing ceremonies for her. A crystal gazer, Betty knows much about traditional Navajo medicine. She sprinkled corn pollen on a spider web and placed it on Elsie's head, all the while saying a prayer. The spider web represents the weaving done by spider woman, an important personage in Navajo mythology. Elsie confirms the validity of the ceremony by proclaiming how much it has helped her in her weaving.
of the year into twelve months may also have been superimposed on traditional
Navajo concepts. This may be why only some of the months have specific constellations
associated with them. Four of the months were said to have feather headdresses
composed of the following constellations: November (Nilch'its'osi, Time of Slender
Wind) had Hastiin Sik'ai'i (Old Man with Legs Ajar) as its feather; December
(Nilch'itsoh, Great Wind) had `Atse'etsoh (First Big One); January (Yas Nilt'ees,
Crusted Snow) had Yikaisdahi (Awaits-the-Dawn); and February (`Atsa Biyaazh,
Baby Eagle) had Gah heet'e'ii (Rabbit Tracks). In July (Ya'iishjaatsoh, Great
Seed Ripening), Dilyehe (which has no agreed-upon English translation) appears
in the early morning. Chamberlain's (1983) identification of these constellations
varies slightly from O'Bryan's. The following constellations rise heliacally
that is, they first appear in the morning sky before the sun comes up at the
following times: in November, Hastiin Sik'ai'i (Corvus) appears (O'Bryan identifies
this as Orion); in December, `Atse'etsoh (the front of Scorpius, or at least
Antares) is visible; in January, the brighter part of Yikaisdahi (Milky Way)
begins to appear like false dawn; in February, Gah heet'e'ii (the tail of Scorpius)
appears (O'Bryan identifies this as a star cluster under Canis Major); and by
July Dilyehe' (the Pleiades) is visible before the morning light. Pgs. 75, 77
Chanters A and B identified the eight major Navajo constellations recognized today as Na'hookos bika'ii, the Big Dipper; Na'hookos ba'aadii, Cassiopeia; Dilye'he', the Pleiades; A'tse'ets'ozi, Orion; Hastiin Sik'ai'i, Corvus; A'tse'etsoh, the front part of Scorpius; Gah heet'e'ii, the tail of Scorpius; and Yikaisdahi, the Milky Way.
The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia revolve around the almost motionless star called Polaris, forming a universal reference point that is visible at all times of the year in the northern hemisphere. The Navajo names for these constellations translate as the Male One Who Revolves and the Female One Who Revolves, a reference to their movement around Polaris, which is thought of as the source of their illumination.
Dilye'he', the Pleiades, is a small but distinctive cluster of six easily visible stars with a fainter seventh star; seven stars are usually depicted in Navajo renderings.
Orion, whose Navajo names translates as the First Slim One, is a conspicuous winter constellation composed primarily of a quadrangle of bright stars bisected by three stars that form a belt.
Corvus (the Crow) has a Navajo name that means Man with Legs (or Feet) Ajar. This constellation forms a quadrilateral figure located in a fairly dark part of the sky; most Navajo renderings include four stars.
The large fishhook shape of Scorpius, a summer constellation in the southern sky, is easily identifiable." The Navajo (as well as the Skidi Pawnee [Chamberlain 1982]) divide Scorpius into two constellations: A'tse'etsoh, the First Big One, is the front of Scorpius, while Gah heet'e'ii, Rabbit Tracks, is the tail of Scorpius.
Yikaisdahi, the Milky Way, is a universally known "landmark" in the sky because of its continual presence and conspicuous appearance, owing to the multitude of distant stars that compose this whitish ribbon.
The underlying theme of the story of stellar creation is the interplay of order and disorder. While the Navajo recognize specific orderly groupings of stars in the heavens, which were carefully placed by the Holy People, they consider other stars to exist without patterning, in a state of disorder, as a result of the impulsive actions of the trickster and philosopher, Coyote.
As with the other temporal markers, the stars were created for a purpose: not only were they to provide light in the heavens for those times when the moon was absent or waning, but also they were to provide seasonal and nightly markers for agricultural, hunting, and ceremonial activities. Their creation, as part of all Creation, was intended to unfold nizhonigo, or "in an orderly and proper way," as discussed above. However, Coyote, "patron of disorder" (Consultant G), intervened by disrupting both process and product.
Black God is generally considered to be the creator of the constellations; he is also known as Fire God because he is responsible for all fire, including the fire in the stars that is the source of their light. When diyin dine'e' entered the hogan of Creation, "the sky and earth lay on the floor of the hogan with heads pointing eastward, the sky on the south, the earth on the north side. Both had received the 'breath of life' with various winds, though they were not 'dressed' yet" (Haile 1947c:1).
In Haile's (1947c:1-4) version taken from Upward Reachingway, Black God entered the hogan with Dilye'he' (the Pleiades) lodged at his ankle. When he stamped his foot vigorously, the constellation jumped to his knee. Another stamp of his foot brought it to his hip. He stamped again, bringing the constellation to his right shoulder. The fourth and final time he stamped his foot, the Pleiades lodged along his left temple where, he said, "it shall stay!" Thus, Dilye'he' is located on Black God's mask (see figure 4.9). In Haile's work, this constellation appears on Black God's left cheek (Haile 1947a) and on Black God's temple (Haile 1947c:3). In my experience, the Pleiades is usually not visible on Black God's mask, either in Nightway sandpaintings of Black God that I have watched being made or on the mask worn by the Black God Impersonator.12 Chanter D explained that this is because Black God's face represents the entirety of the heavens, and the Pleiades is very small in proportion to the entire sky.
Black God's feat of placing Dilye'he' where he wanted it confirmed to the supernaturals in the creator group that he had the power to beautify the "dark upper," as they called the sky, by producing and placing constellations. Moving in the sunwise circuit, Black God first positioned Corvus in the east. In the south, he placed Horned Rattler (Haile does not list Western equivalents for all the constellations he mentions), Bear, Thunder, and 'A'tse'etsoh (the front part of Scorpius). In the north he placed the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, Orion, the Pinching or Doubtful Stars (Aldebaran, lower branch of the Hyades), Gah heet'e'ii (which Haile identifies as a star cluster under Canis Major, but which today is generally identified as the tail of Scorpius); and finally the Pleiades. Because none of these constellations could shine without an igniter star to furnish their light, he added biko', an igniter. Finally, he sprinkled the heavens with the Milky Way.
Black God, weary from the process of creation, was resting when Coyote snatched Black God's fawnskin pouch, which contained the remaining unnamed and unplaced star crystals. Coyote then flung these stats into the night sky where they were scattered at random instead of forming the orderly patterns of constellations for which they had been intended. According to Haile's (1947c:4) consultant, "That explains why only the stars put there by Fire god [Black God] have a name and those scattered at random by Coyote are nameless."
Suddenly, Coyote took one remaining crystal and deliberately placed it in the south. This Coyote Star, Ma'ii bizo, was the source of confusion and disorder just as Coyote intended it to be. Accounts disagree on the identity of this "Monthless Star," so called because it is in the heavens for less than a full month, as well as on whether it is one star (Haile 1947c:8, 1981a:129; Klah 1942:58; O'Bryan 1956:21; Consultant G) or three (Matthews 1883:214).
While some accounts agree that Black God was in charge of the creation of the stars (Haile 1947a:29-30, 60-61, 1947c:1-2, 1981a:128-29), others say that First Man and First Woman or other Holy People were responsible (Klah 1942:39,66; Matthews 1883:213-14, 1897:223-24; O'Bryan 1956:20-21;Yazzie 1971:21; Newcomb 1967:78-88; Chanter A).
Although accounts differ concerning the identity of the supernaturals responsible for the creation of the stars, all versions do share the underlying theme of the universe as an orderly system. The order inherent in the cosmos was meant to serve as a pattern for proper behavior in both general and specific ways. "laws," or rules for proper conduct, were symbolized in such constellations as Gah heet'e'ii (the tail of Scorpius), whose seasonal movements determined the periods when hunting would be allowed (Newcomb 1980:197). Similarly, the two Na'hookos, the Male and Female Ones Who Revolve (the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia), represented a married couple that encircled Polaris, the fire in the center of their hogan; these two constellations, along with Polaris, represented laws against two couples living in the same hogan or doing their cooking over the same fire, as well as the mother-in-law avoidance law to be followed by her son-in-law. Pgs. 78-88
The first man and the first woman made the sun and hung it in the heavens with a spider web. Then they made the stars and hung them in the heavens; then they made the rainbows and put them in the corners of the heavers. Then they said to each other, "If we do not build a prop for the heavens they will fall down; what shall we build it of?" So they thought and thought, and then the man said. "We will make four men of mirage stone and put them at the corners of the heavens on the rainbows, and they can hold the heavens up." So they made them, and they hold the heavens up, and they never die. Then after they had made the sun, moon, and stars, and all the things in the heavens and the earth, with the aid of their son in the heavens, the man went to the house of the sun in the east and the woman went to the house of the sun's wife in the west. We cannot see them now but we can see their shadows and their fires at night. The great bear is the shadow of the man, and Cassiopeia is the shadow of the woman, and the north star is their fire. Scorpio is the shadow of the chief of the good natured people, who died of old age; the walking stick is his walking stick; the basket is what he eats form; the rabbit tracks are what he eats. Corvus is the blue bottle fly that carried the news over the heavens; the Pleiades are their ants, the yellow ants, the black ants, the little black ants, the cicada, the badger, and the blue coyote, that came from beneath the earth; after they died they went up there to live. The blush of dawn (the Milky Way) is some bread that the first girl was making when the first boy stole it and ran with it to the east, so it is there now. The war gods of the stars are four guards that the first man and the first woman made to guard them while they slept while they were on the earth, and when they stretched the earth they set them up at the four corners to guard the earth. Their names are the big black star, the big blue star, the big yellow star, and the big white star. Pgs. 133,134
In the Big Starway, stars are the etiological factors; that is, stars cause the patient to suffer form a host of symptoms, such as the mental distress, insomnia, and bad dreams that characterize "ghost sickness" or bewitchment. This is the only Chantway in which stars are the direct cause of illness; thus, stars are most dangerous in this context. Although the sandpaintings of several chants contain stars, the Big Starway and the Hand Tremblingway are the only Chantways whose sandpaintings feature stars. The sandpaintings of the Big Starway depict particular stars, such as the Big Blue Star, which is described as "a . . . star which wanders about and shoots people with magic arrows to cause fevers and mental aberration." Pg. 151
At the beginning of my research, I asked chanters about Reichard's (1950:470) characterization of stars as "feared." When I asked if this was true of all stars, every chanter and consultant answered with a resounding no. The "feared" nature of the Blue Star comes from its association with witchcraft. Pg. 152
References to Nahookos Bika'ii and Nahookos Ba'aadii or Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. Relationships in myths of the Navajos and interpretations. Pgs. 153-156
References to Dilyehe (no translation) refer to Pages 156-163. Symbolism of constellation.
The name Yikaisdahi (the Milky Way) means "Awaits-the-Dawn," a reference to the manner in which this Navajo constellation is said to appear to glow more brightly just before the break of day. Dawn is one of the four cardinal light phenomena, a vital life-giving source. Consultant P explained that there is a also a cane in the sky for Yikaisdahi and its associated star (planet), So'tsoh (Venus), because they are associated with the dawn. "Yikaisdahi tells you that the new day, the dawn, is coming, and the cane belongs to an old man who leans on the cane while he waits for the sun to come up so that he can say prayers and make a pollen blessing." Chanter A recounted a story about this constellation. Coyote stole a piece of ash bread (made of corn and baked in an outdoor oven or in the ashes) from First Man and First Woman. The ashes were then strewn across the sky to form the Milky Way. Pg. 169
of the stars is attributed to Hashchezhini, the Fire God, who also distributed
the various constellations, giving each its peculiar name. As in other instances,
so also on this occasion the Coyote contrived to participate in the work of
creation by robbing the Fire God of his pouch in which he carried the material
for the stars. And after he had placed his own star conspicuously in the southern
skies he scattered the remnants of the pouch over the entire heavens, which
accounts for a multitude of stars bearing no special name. In consequence, too,
the entire creation of the stars is attributed by some to the Coyote. Though
there are comparatively few constellations the names of which are generally
known, it is none the less well established that astrology is extensively practiced
among the Navaho. The fact that the class of singers pursuing dest'i, "looking,"
or astrology, are much in demand previous to the conducting of any important
ceremony, would seem to indicate as much. Hence it is reasonable to assume that
a much wider knowledge of the various constellations exists than is here indicated.
This knowledge, however, is in possession of some few individuals who are loath
to disclose it, owing to the circumstances that astrological pursuits, which
require the secret and solitude of night, are opprobriously classified with
The older shamans were wont to initiate their pupils gradually into the intricacies of astronomy by pointing out the new constellations to them as they appeared on the horizon. And as an apprenticeship usually required several years, sufficient time was had to make the initiation a thorough one. This extended also to stellar influence on climatic changes, or the destinies of man, with the corresponding remedies, and the like information. Certain portions, however, of this knowledge were enveloped in some mystery, which was lifted only after the most rigid test of fidelity. Thus, for instance, words like sa'a naghai, "in old age walking," and bik'e hozho, "on the trail of beauty," are said to signify some important, though well known constellation, a change in which would prove disastrous to the existence of the universe. Hence this invocation, which is attached to a large number of prayers and songs, would seem to be a petition for the preservation and prolongation of age and life, while "the trail of beauty" (in the skies) indicates the proper key to their interpretation. What may be considered an instance of stellar influence upon climatic changes is told of i'ni, thunder, a constellation appearing in the southern skies, and a companion of the constellation shash, the bear. When i'ni beets'os, the feather or tip of thunder approaches and touches the snout (bichi') of the bear, it is a reliable indication of the return of thunder in spring, with the renewal of life in vegetation and the animal kingdom. As a rule each larger constellation is equipped with satellites, large stars, which form an integral part of a given group. Thus, atseets'osi beets'os, the feather or tip of Orion; shash beets'os, the feather of the bear. They are also provided with bokho, fire or flint of the star, which ignites it, and in other instances with bizhi, body, bichi, nose, bija, ears, or bitse', tail, to distinguish and trace the figure. . . . . . . atseets'osi, tailfeather, or the slender first one; the belt and sword of Orion. ets'osi, the feather, was the name given by Hashchezhini, the Fire God, which Coyote changed to atseets'osi (atsedi ets'osi, of the First feather), with reference to himself; hence, the Coyote's feather. Pgs. 42, 44
When First Woman placed the stars in the night sky, she used them to spell out all the laws that would be needed by the first people. These could not be written in the sand or on the water, since few people could not see them there, but when they were written in the sky, everyone could look up and study them. In Navajo star lore there are constellations named for all the animals mentioned in their mythology. There is the bear, the wolf, the porcupine, the badger, the chipmunk, the elk, the mountain sheep, the Gila monster, the lizard, the horned toad, the bumblebee, and may others. The five stars that form the "rabbit tracks" are called the "hunter's guide." When this constellation is in one position, the hunters lay aside their bows and arrows and remain at home. But when it tips to the east, the young of the deer and the antelope are no longer dependent on their mothers, and the hunting season begins. The coyote star in the south is the same as our "dog star," and the polar star is called the campfire of the heavens." Pgs. 196-197
Stars (so') (U) are feared by the Navaho. Big Stars figure in the Big Star and Hand Trembling chants, both Evil. Perhaps, being closely associated with First Man and Coyote, stars were never brought under dependable control. When First Man was planning the sky, he intended to arrange the stars deliberately and carefully. He had placed a few constellations nicely when Coyote passed by, pulled out some hairs, and blew them up to the sky, where they became red stars. Coyote then gathered up the rest of the stars and, by blowing, sent them up to the sky, where they now shine in the indeterminate clusters of the Milky Way (Darkness; Reichard, Big Star Chant ms.; Goddard, pp. 137-8; cp. Tozzer 1908, pp. 28-32; Haile 1938b, pp. 67-8).