The Whirling Logs

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     The Whirling Logs, or Tsil'ol-ni, story occurs in both the Night Way and Feather Way, as well as another version that occurs in the Chiricahua Wind Way. The hero of the story, named Self Teacher, decides to leave home because his family is angry at him for his gambling losses. So he sets out on a long journey.    
     At first the gods try to persuade him not to go. But seeing his determination, they help him hollow out a log in which he travels down the river with his pet turkey (which followed him to the river bank, as do the gods). He and his craft are captured by Water Monster, who carries him down beneath the waters of the river to the home of the Water People. The gods have difficulty rescuing him until Black God threatens to set fire to Water Monster's home, forcing him to release the hero. Before the hero is released, Frog teaches Self Teacher how to cure the illnesses caused by the Water People. When Self Teacher's whirling log finally arrives at the lake (or in some versions, a whirlpool) that was his destination, Talking God, Hastye Hogan, and two Biighaa'ask'idii rescue him.
     The final surprise comes when the hero is reunited with his pet turkey, which shakes its wings, releasing the seeds put there by the gods. Self Teacher then plants a field of crops that quickly ripen for harvest. He returns home to share the knowledge of farming that he has gained and the cures that he has learned.
     The icon of the whirling logs has no connection to the old European design of a Greek cross with bent arms, the well-known symbol used by the German Nazis, or the ancient Buddhist symbol (often used to denote a sacred site). Some Navajos have said that nineteenth-century traders introduced it for use in rug and jewelry designs. Its use by tribes of the American Southwest, from the Tohono O'odham and Hopi to the Navajo and Apache, largely ended with the advent of World War II.
     In the image at left created by Fred Stevens in 1964, the logs are outlined in white to represent the foam of the water, with yellow for pollen on the water. Figures in sandpaintings generally proceed clockwise, hence the positioning of hte ye'ii figures. The second image is more unusual. Since about 1990, Navajo "folk art" tradition has begun to draw on more traditional roots. Here the Whirling Logs story has inspired Thomas Begay Jr. to interpret the legend in wood.

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This site was last updated on September 28, 2020.

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