had shown him how to cut the stems with an ancient flint blade from the sacred
medicine bundle and to sprinkle pollen which in itself was a prayer. His gather
had told him too that flowers have power, that they belong to Mother Earth and
that they should never be broken without a purpose. He knew that "purpose"
meant "ceremonial," that the plants were as important to a chant as
were prayers, songs and sandpaintings, that their uses had been decreed when the
Navajo were created, and that the decrees were irrevocable.
Woman of the Desert; 1939, Gladys A. Reichard.
Mormon tea or Brigham tea is a mountain bush that grows on high slopes. There
are two kinds: one of yellowish green and the other of purplish green. On a
few occasions our camp had a Mormon cook who knew not only how to prepare food
well, but also a great deal about plants and animals. I had the opportunity
of drinking some of this tea prepared by him. When it is brewed from the fresh
plant, it has a n astringent taste; otherwise it tastes like sarsaparilla and
is quite pleasant. The plants should be dried in the sun and then boiled for
ten to fifteen minutes to make the tea. Our cook told us that Brigham tea grows
at higher levels to get away from sheep! All animals are very fond of it. When
suffering from distemper, horses and cattle develop a great craving for it.
The Early pioneers, while crossing the desert, found that it made a good drink,
and considered it Heaven-sent. There is even a patented concoction made from
this herb and sold today over the counter. The manufacturer claims that it possesses
blood-purifying properties. Though Brigham tea belongs to the Ephedra family
and a Chinese species has served as the source of ephedrine or ma huang for
more than four thousand years, our American plant, despite numerous tests, has
never yielded any such drug. Navajos also are fond of Brigham tea. They incorporate
the seeds of the plant in the preparation of a bitter bread and they also roast
and eat the seeds as we do peanuts. Sometimes they use it in their ceremonials.
An infusion made from the plant itself is given by the medicine men to patients
who are suffering from genito-uninary diseases. Pgs. 142-143
The rabbitbrush is generally scorned because it supplies food primarily to the
rodents. It grows most abundantly at low altitudes on deep alkaline, arid, or
semi-arid soil; and its companions are usually saltbrush, greasewood, and sage.
However, it it weren't for this homely bush, some parts of the desert which
lack water and are rich in alkali would be almost completely barren and unattractive.
Its deep and extensive roots are impediments to wind and water and erosion.
In the late summer it becomes more attractive because of its small yellow flowers,
which grow in clusters of five to thirty. The Navajos have always valued the
flowers as ingredients of a decoction for dyeing wool yellow. Pg. 144
Guayule, a species known as the rubber rabbitbrush, contains rubber. With the
stoppage of imported rubber from the South Pacific, it became on of the most
important crops in the West. The Indians have always appreciated the rubber
rabbitbrush because they have derived chewing gum from its wood and bark. Pg.
Sagebrush often brings on hayfever in susceptible individuals. Made into tea,
it is used by Navajos to treat colds and diarrhea, as an eye and hair wash,
as a general tonic, and as an antiseptic for wounds. It also provides abundant
fuel for the Navajo hogans. Pg. 145
The fungi growing on tree trunks are of different shades of yellow and are almost
as colorful as the rocks lichens. They too are disintegrating agents, hastening
the decomposition of old tree trunks. One of these fungi, known as bracket fungus,
was formerly used by the Navajos as punk for carrying fire. Pg. 146
The medicine man knows his herbs, where to get them, and how to prepare them,
even though they are of only secondary importance in the ceremony of chasing
out the evil spirit by magic and the propitiation of the gods. When collecting
his seeds, leaves, or roots for the preparation of powders or infusions, he
is careful that the plants and earth out of which all these good things come
are not offended. After locating a desired plant, he sprinkles ceremonial corn
pollen over it. He talks to it, sings to it, and gives presents to it. His presents
are turquoise, shell, or some other mineral - gifts he would offer to his gods
or his best friends - for he considers plants to be animate creatures. After
he has said prayers, he leaves the plant, going around it sunwise to gather
plants of the same species in the vicinity. By starting from the east and going
through the south to the west, he follows the sun and thus imitates its beneficences.
Of course, it is possible that some of the herbs contain valuable drugs which
some day we may be able to isolate; but if we do, these will be new drugs which
are not known to Navajos as such. The amount of any real drug which we may be
able to isolate must be present in today's Navajo medicinal infusions in only
infinitesimal doses - not enough to produce definite therapeutic benefit. However,
we must leave this problem to our research pharmacologists to ferret out. If
an infusion or tea has to be made from these herbs, a medicine man is called
in to prepare the concoction, say prayers, and sing for one to three nights
from sunset to sunrise.
of the most common herbs which he uses in his rituals are:
root - He prepares a mush from its leaves and uses it as an astringent. He
also mixes it with apoplappus and applies it with the aid of a heated stone
to an aching tooth.
- For the relief of itching.
(Goldenweeds ) -See Alum root.
- For skin wounds, boils, and burns.
- To stop itching and cure warts.
- A tonic for stiff joints.
- For colds, flu, coughs, and tuberculosis.
- To relieve rheumatism, which he ascribes to improper contact with menstruating
women. Women develop joint trouble because of menstruation. The Navajo word
for menstruation," 'rheumatism," and "hunchback" is the
same, with only a slight difference in accent.
grass, aster, silkweed - In pulverized form to cure eye sores.
and Cordylanthus ramosus - The powder is taken with water every morning for
(Pigweed ) - Used for purging.
- Infusion drops for eye diseases.
- Aphrodisiac for aged men and women.
group (Yellow Plant) - Flowers made into tea to cure colds.
medicines - Greasewood and sagebrush he considers wonderful aids to delivery;
while watercress and silkweed he administers as a tonic for the mother after
the baby has arrived.
Jamesi - Infusion drops for earache.
(Jimson weed) - The only narcotic he has. The leaves and seed chewed up or
made into an infusion produce narcosis for minor operations and childbirth.
He also uses it for diagnostic purposes:the patient or medicine man's assistant
is given some of the root to chew to get into a dream-like state so that he
will talk and perhaps give clues to the cause of the patient's illness. When
used in excess, it produces a drunken-like state. Under its influence men
phrophesy, dance, and act in various strange ways. It is said that most Navajo
men always have a little of it in their pockets.
- See Mormon tea.
of various types - As a lotion and poultice to cure sore throat and wounds.
It is given internally for diarrhea.
of James - Drunk as a contraceptive.
primrose (Big night bloomer) - Used for snake bites. Its leaves are ground
with fuller's earth and mixed with corn pollen and water to bathe the sore.
- For indigestion.
pinnatifolia - The leaves and branchlets are crushed, added to lukewarm water,
and taken internally to cure gout.
- For headache, as a snuff. Also as a narcotic and to produce dreams.
- See Confinement Medicines.
- For coughs; also externally for sores.
- As a diuretic.
- Used as a diuretic, tonic, and astringent. It is also considered valuable
in diarrhea and parturitional hemorrhage.
Weed - See Datura.
fir of Torrey - See Mormon tea.
(the red variety) - The inner bark, when rubbed into the scalp, cures dandruff
and falling hair in both men and women. Also when mixed with another bark
and two weeds and made into a tea, it cures diarrhea.
- To stop bleeding.
- Chewed for diseases of the mouth, sore gums, canker, caries.
(Prairie flax) - Used as a hemostatic.
weed (oxytropis or Aragallus) - Grows four inches high and has small purple
flowers. Given to women to prevent conception.
Kin gii - For boils.
bark and one of the mullens - Used as nico tin.
- When crushed between the fingers along with a number of other plants and
then stirred in a bowl of water, it makes a good stomachic.
pectinata - For headaches.
tea - For general stomach and genito-urinary troubles. Its infusion has an
effect similar to Belladonna. It is sold in Utah City under different names
as a blood purifier.
- ( Mountain tobacco) - Its smoke is blown into the patient's face to help
him recover from fainting or dizziness.
- The leaves when crushed and boiled are good for bronchial troubles.
- Used for sores and burns, also for toothache. Internally it is used as a
medicine - See Spurge.
- As emetic.
pitch - Placed in wounds as a disinfectant.
common - Reputed to be a good diuretic and and useful in urinary difficulties.
- Used (or mental trouble caused by "ghost" infections or bad dreams.
leaves - Used in the incense of the Mountain Chant.
toxicodendron - Mixed with deer's blood and char-coal from a tree struck by
lightning, it is used as an antiseptic against arrow poison.
family plants - As emetics.
balls - Burned on hot embers and their fumes passed into the ear to cure deafness.
- The white variety boiled with a pinch of salt is a very good remedy for
hemoptysis. Wormwood sagebrush is made into liniment and spread over the wound.
lily - Used as a narcotic, but of doubtful value.
- See Butterweeds.
bite medicine - Milky sap of Euphorbia, Lactuca, or Sonchus asper and Fersera
(Euphorbia Montana) - Made into a pimple medicine for acne.
of the raven - Yellow just above the earth is used for sores caused by handling
or burning a raven's nest.
(soap weed) - Emulsion, prepared by pounding, is a cure for dandruff; also
makes hair long, soft, and lustrous.
grass - Made into a beverage and mixed with hummingbird food, it brings on
diuresis in dropsy.
man uses most of the plants mentioned above in combinations. Such compounds
really are "shot-gun medicines," since they intend to cure many ills
or symptoms all at one time. If one of the ingredients does not, it is hoped
that another will. An example of this is "Life Medicine," a universal
tonic, especially good for indisposition and impaired vitality, sore muscles,
sprains, bruises, fractures, pains, lameness. It is prepared from a large group
of herbs: compositea, milfoil, plumed thistle, saw thistle, cudweed, rayless
goldeurod, goose grass evening primrose, geranium, willow herb, meadow rue,
yarrow, aster, cat-tail flag, sagebrush, and so forth.
Since some chants for the same patient last several days, the medicine man brings
into use a large number of herbs for the same disease. He administers them singly
or in combination. The following herbs are used in some of the better known
chants: rattleweed, rockcress, and others in the Night Chant; Virginia creeper
and others in the Mountain Chant; in the War Dance red cedar, yarrow, pinon
leaves, and meadow rue are taken internally, while pennyroyal and another grass
are chewed and spattered upon the patient; in the Lightning Chant lupine, rattleweed,
and eriogona; in the Ant Witchcraft Chant Eriogonum and others; in the Coyote
Chant peppermint, greasewood, wild cherry, and others.
Thus we see that the Navajo medicine man has drugs for the cure of practically
every kind of illness: toothache, wounds and sores, boils, mouth sores, stiff
joints, rheumatism, eyesores, syphilis, pruritus, snake bites, gout, headache,
dandruff, stomach trouble, diarrhea, fainting, dizziness, bronchial troubles,
pimples, ear troubles, deafness, hemoptysis, baldness, and dropsy; besides medicines
used as cathartics, tonics, diuretics, emetics, contraceptives, aids to anesthesia
The medicine man also has other uses besides the medicinal for his plants and
flowers. Spruce twigs he makes into ceremonial collars, dresses, and hoops.
Pine he uses for making ceremonial arrows; while its needles he pulverizes with
other plants to make black paint with which he blackens the bodies of his singers.
Oak twigs he uses at the cardinal points as signs of the dedication of a medicine
Gods, Tom-toms; By S.H. Babington, 1950
(yadidinil), called 'fumigant' by Kluckhohn and Wyman, is prepared from a specific
formula and kept in the chanter's bundle. A synthetic symbol, it purifies the
patient, drives away disease, and immunizes him from dangers that might arise
from the very powers he has invoked. Incensing is a conclusive act of various
rites-in a sense, a benediction, but it is also a prophylactic. "It is
what the Holy People fear," says the helper who communicates the formula
to the hero.
In myth, after the Holy People have sung over the hero and retired, a helper-Beaver
for the Hail Chant, Owl for the Night Chant, Gopher for the War Ceremony-instructs
the patient and offers the unique part of the formula for the hero's future
Since incense is common in Holy rites, rare in Evil, it seems to be a force
for attracting good. In the Flint Chant, it is the conclusive act of a little
rite to correct evil ensuing from sexual excess; it symbolizes renewed strength.
Apparently in the Eagle Chant, incense-burning is incorporated in the firemaking
rite that specifies burning yucca and bluebird and canary feathers, often a
part of the incense formula.
The incense formula of the Shooting Chant is 'willow as a foundation,' white,
blue, and gray corn, head feathers of bluebird, canary, and robin, all ground
together. That of the Hail Chant includes down feathers of bluebird, western
bluebird, red-winged blackbird, canary, Bullock oriole, Arizona jay, cedar waxwing,
gray titmouse, long-tailed chat, hummingbird, and an unidentified bird (dzilya'
nakehe). White corn meal is also mentioned, but I do not know whether it alone
formed the incense or was combined with the feathers (Coals, Con. B; Kluckhohn-Wyman,
pp. 49-5O; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; 1944d, pp. 59, 65, 73, 95, 139; Matthews
1887, p. 42; 1897, p. 177; 1902, pp. 44, 169; Sapir-Hoijer, p. 229; Haile 1938b,
p. 115; 1943a, pp. 18, 280; Newcomb 1940b, pp. 71-2).
Red ocher is Child-of-the-water's impersonation symbol. It is rubbed on the
hair, as well as on the body. Ghosts are afraid of red ocher (Haile 1938b, pp.
177, 197, 318, 71n; 1943a, pp. 39, 40, 53, 96, 97).
Rockpiles (wayside altars) may sometimes be seen in isolated parts of the Navaho
country. It is customary for passing travelers to add a rock to a rock heap
and utter a prayer.
In the War Ceremony story, man-eating quadrupeds contested with man-eating flying
creatures by piling up river boulders as they passed through a gap. The rocks
left over from these piles became the prayer rockpiles of today; each rock represented
a ghost overcome. Although these rocks were said to be river boulders, there
is reason to believe that they are associated with flint (Reichard 1944b, p.
17; Haile 1938b, pp. 72-3, 97, 188-9; 1943a, p. 53; Matthews 1887, p. 415; Curtis
folio, Pl. 30).
Rocks, all that remains of the monsters, have commemorative value, sometimes
in the form of flint. Stones that have been struck by lightning, that bears
have turned over, and upon which snake-shaped lichen grows are prescribed for
the sweathouse fire of the War Ceremony.
Tiny smooth stones carried to the ground surface by ants are witch weapons of
the Shooting Chant Evil.
Four small stones, gathered from the vicinity of Wren's nest, were a part of
the Hail Chant unraveling (Haile 1938b, p. 203; 1943a, p. 235; Reichard 1944d,
Salt ('a ci') in food is supposed to furnish strength, perhaps against dangers,
since it is not added to ceremonial mush whose purpose is identification. The
Twins were fed on salty food by Salt Woman; she gave them salt as a weapon against
Eye Killers. Apparently it had not attained its power in the first world, for
when Water Sprinkler threw the salt given him by Salt Woman, it did no harm.
The mush of the War Ceremony was salted to give power to the performers.
Salt Woman contributed salt from the lake near Zuni to the Hail Chant lotion,
and later offered salt as a food gift (Stephen 1930, p. 92; Haile 1938b, pp.
63, 191; Reichard 1944b, pp. 73, 83; Hill 1940a).
Smoke is associated with creation, clouds, war, power, and purification. According
to JS, Earth Woman and Sky Man smoked to bring about creation: "The de'nalye
prayers were called 'way on top' because they gave off smoke for creation and
When Rainboy first raced with Frog, the latter threw down a dark cloud so that
Rainboy could not see where he was going; when it cleared, he found himself
running in the wrong direction. Heat laid a smokescreen of Darkness to help
a war party. The origin of the smoke is not explained in any of the cases cited
(Darkness, Frogs, Winter Thunder, Con. A; Incense, Con. B; Reichard 1944d, pp.23-S;
though called 'charcoal ' by others, seems a better name, since it is the fine
powdered residue of burning. The following are explanations of soot: Spots made
of ritualistically burned soot protect against dangers. The temples are blackened
because they are the seat of ghosts. Black spots are put on the palms of Child-of-the-water's
impersonators because he held the dangerous monsters' scalps. Collected soot
(te'cigi' and 'altade'dli'c) represents, in the War Ceremony, vegetation and
dark mist for the women and dark cloud for the men.
Soot is applied to the jaw in the War Ceremony (Blackening, Con. C; Kluckhohn-Wyman,
pp. 55, 169, 239; Haile 1938b, pp. 169, 177, 237; 1943a, p. 52).
White clay (dle'c) was identified as montmorillonite in the Ganado region; other
clays are used for whitening in other parts of the reservation, depending on
the available deposits. Kluckhohn and Wyman found argillaceous sandstone (na'saladle'c)
as the whitening medium in the regions where they worked.
Whitening or painting with white clay ('adle'c) is a part of many ceremonies-figure
painting, prayersticks, sandpaintings (Kluckhohn-Wyman, p. 72; Haile 1938b,
pp. 177, 197, 201, 213; Matthews 1897, Pl. IV, VII).
Wood samples (tsintsosi) are symbols of the sweat-emetic rite, representing
all fire wood. The wood is sometimes the same as that of emetic frames, pokers,
hoops, and other properties.
Wood samples of the Shooting Chant sweat-emetic represent the trees against
which Bear rubbed himself when Holy Man was seized by Thunder-aspen at the east,
spruce at the south, red willow at the west, and chokecherry at the north (these
were the materials and directional sequences of the emetic frames also).
The wood samples of the first day's fire of the Hail Chant were oak for Dark
Thunder's side and hard scruboak for Winter Thunder's. On the second day, Douglas
fir represented both sides; on the third day, Dark Thunder's people brought
juniper, Winter Thunder's pinion; and on the last day, Dark Thunder brought
pinion and juniper, and Winter Thunder, spruce, Juniperus sibirica, gray willow,
and blue willow.
On successive days Visionary of the Night Chant, burning down a tree from which
to make his whirling log, made his fire of cottonwood, pinion, juniper, and
spruce; according to Matthews, the woods for the fire to heat stones for the
sweatbath were pinion and juniper only.
All warriors participated in the fire making of the War Ceremony, each being
instructed to fetch wood wherever he could find it. They stacked it on a pile
of rocks in preparation for Black God's performance to drive off ghosts.
The fire-making ceremony that takes the place of the sweat-emetic rite in the
Flint chant has as wood samples cedar, pinion, oak, scruboak, and various other
woods (Kluckhohn-Wyman, p. 83; Matthews 1902, pp. 52, 172; Reichard 1944d, pp.
51, 57, 63, 71, 115; Haile 1938b, pp. 151, 169, 191; 1943a, p. 236).
Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950