View all products related to this legend

Color, an outstanding symbol of Navaho ceremonialism, is especially significant in combination, but first I discuss the more general aspects of each color in the order in which they most commonly occur. No color or sequence runs through a single chant consistently; none has the same meaning in every setting, nor does chance account for apparent exceptions to the rules; every detail is calculated. If there seems to be a variation, it is for cause.


WHITE [lgai, lgaihigi] apparently differentiates the naturally sacred from the profane - black or red, for instance - which, through exorcism and ritual, must be transformed to acquire favorable power.


Myths explaining the earliest beginnings of creatures that later became manlike take for granted the existence of corn; man was created from a white ear. In some versions the corn was of whiteshell, and the three - whiteness, corn, and shell - are associated, accounting for the quality whiteness; for a vegetable product and the staff of life; and for well-being, supernatural favor, and wealth.

White corn is associated with maleness, yellow with femaleness. In the Sun-Moon combination, Sun is blue, Moon is white. However, various attributes of Sun are white: he appeared to Changing Woman on a white horse; parts of his house were composed of whiteshell; a white rock stood up out of the water at the east of his house; he directed The Twins to descend from the sky to earth at a white spot on a mountain.

White garments are indicative of purification, readiness to undertake contact with divinity. Myths that have a description of the bath indicate that beautiful white clothes are supernaturally provided for the patient after he has washed in yucca suds. Such garments were furnished to Monster Slayer by Talking God; to Changing Woman at her nubility rite by First Woman. At present Changing Woman is believed to live in a home made of whiteshell in the western ocean [Pacific}. When the sisters, Whiteshell Woman and Turquoise Woman, came to the home of Monster Slayer - represented in the Eagle Chant as the owner of corn - he made them purify themselves by bathing, then gave them white buckskin clothing.

White is discussed first because it is the color of the east, and, frequently in the Shooting Chant, of dawn or daylight. Talking God, the tutelary of the east, wears white clothing, and the white eagle feathers of his headdress are spoken of as the rays of pre-dawn.

According to Mathews, Talking God's is the only white mask worn in the Night Chant, of which he is the leader. Yet in the Hail Chant we are told that the Winds borrowed the mask from Talking God and did not return it. For this reason the faces of the Wind in the Wind Chant are blue.

It is said that white clay drives away enemy ghosts, perhaps because day, in contrast with night, when ghosts dominate, brings back the possibility of self-protection.

When The Twins arrived for the first time at the home of their father, Sun, they were hidden in four curtains representing the times of day, the first being the white of dawn. Mountain-fallen-away and Rock-which-reached-through-the-sky had sky covers, one being dawn white. The homes of the Buffalo were partly made of dawn.

The white line of the Shooting Chant figure painting represents flash lightning.

I shall later consider the position of white in the color sequence; it may occupy several of the cardinal directions at some time or other. At Rumbling Mountain, white in the southern quadrant signifies the motion of the rocks. At the west of the center, from which Endless Snake emerges, white guards the mountain.

In the double sandpainting, a white line is drawn around a black mountain representing foam on water. White dots on a black bar stand for seeds or foam; similar dots on the bodies of Sky, Sun, Water, and Summer People are seeds.

Contrasting with the natural goodness of white in the preceding examples is its emphasis when applied to Winter Thunder. In the Shooting Chant paintings there is a Pink Thunder where a white one would be expected. JS explained the absence of the white one: "He is such a bad one that you don't put him in the sandpainting because he might come. You don't want him to come."

Winter Thunder, though white, is nevertheless depicted in the sandpaintings of the Hail Chant. He must be present because without him Rainboy could not be restored. The name of Winter Thunder, i ni' djilgai, is derived from the stem for 'white.' Meaning 'thunder is inherently white,' it signifies the rare winter thunder. Winter Thunder's home, all white, was decorated with snow rainbows. There was much valuable whiteshell and turquoise in the house and even his wife's attractive face was white. After Rainboy had lain with her, her husband struck him, a deed that could be requited only if Dark Thunder and his adherents overcame Winter Thunder in war. With difficulty it was learned that Winter Thunder's offering was a white prayerstick. To signify acceptance he smoked a whiteshell pipe, blowing smoke in all directions. Later, as his war party advanced toward Dark Thunder's territory, it was heralded by a white cloud.

Reflecting the ill nature of Winter Thunder are white rain and mist, which Hill remarks are omitted from prayers of the Rain Ceremony because they carry hail.

BLUE [do tlij, do tlijigi] is discussed next because in the sunwise circuit it often occupies the southern quadrant. In fact, its position there is more consistent than that of white in the east.

There has long been a psychological question about the way primitive people regard blue and green. The point has been made that colors may be distinguished, yet not named. The Navaho differentiate the colors and have names for them, but Navaho blue, green, and yellow differ from ours in value. The ideal blue is the bright color of good turquoise; green is the color of certain mature plants - corn leaves, for instance. Immature succulent plants are usually described as shades of yellow. Green [yellowish] is named from water scum [tatlidi].

When RP reproduced the sandpaintings in water colors, he substituted green for blue. I thought the reason was lack of blue paint, but even when given blue paint, he persisted in using green. Since his paintings are remarkably consistent and accurate when compared with others and with the mythical description, I assume his reason was to make a slight change to quiet doubts he may have had about the preservation of the pictures in a permanent medium - a well known restriction.

In the Day-Sky sequence - Dawn, Blue-day-sky, Yellow-evening-light, Darkness - blue signifies the bright blue sky of day and belongs to the south. I do not understand Matthews' remark that "blue is associated with zenith in myths but not in acts and sacrifices," since the Day-Sky sequence, which seems to be the god sequence as well, is common in the Night Chant.

Matthews records also that blue is the color of the south and is female. It is true that blue occurs most frequently at the south, but not always, and it is not by any means always female; in the Shooting Chant, for instance, it is male. Still another association noted by Matthews is black for the sky and blue for the earth. The bundle wands of the Night Chant represent the legendary fourth world - four black wands are placed at the north, four blue at the south of the lodge. The black doubtless designates Sky; blue, Earth. In describing the center of a Shooting Chant sandpainting, RP said the water could be either black or blue, presumably black if for a male patient, blue if for a female. These are not the usual sex colors of the Shooting Chant, both being male, but probably represent Sky and Earth.

The black Sky People have blue eyes, whereas all the others - Sun, Water, and Summer People - have black eyes. Blue may be merely a contrast, though white is the more usual contrast to black.

Blue sometimes stands for the earth shadow. Edged with pink, blue rises in the east and moves to the zenith to become darkness. This phenomenon is called naxode ctli j, 'cosmic-streak-of-blue, earth shadow.'

An element readily noted in the sandpaintings is the so-called rainbow [na tsi lid]; one not always properly differentiated is the sunray[cabitlo l]. These are really two symbols, each composed of a red and a blue line, but the first has a white outline which also separates the two colors. The sunray stands for the light rays emerging from a cloud when the sun is behind it; it is not the same as 'sunbeam' [candi n], which is white and yellow.

In the picture Mountain-of-motion, which symbolizes the motion of various parts of the earth, blue at the west represents the motion of clouds. The painting that commemorates the rejuvenation of Changing Woman for the Shooting Chant shows blue deities, Water People, at the west. Rain water may be closely akin to clouds, but the motion of water in streams is represented by yellow.

Just as white signifies the presence of, or the change to, holiness, so blue seems to represent the fructifying power of the earth, especially as demonstrated by the domesticated plants. The corn in Newcomb-Reichard, Plate III, is representative of all corn; hence it is large, having twelve ears, and blue, because it is of the earth in a painting for a female patient [for a male, it would be black].

I shall have occasion to note that birds have significance within the chant complex. The bluebird [doli] is the bird of dawn, of promise, and of happiness. Talking God told the Visionary of the Night Chant that he would appear among the Navaho in the form of a bluebird. When blue is applied to other birds, no matter what their actual color, as it often is in prayer and song, it stands for happiness. In a sandpainting, blue was sprinkled on magpie feathers to indicate their sheen.

When The Twins made their second visit to Sun, he asked them to sit. There were three seats, one of whiteshell, one of turquoise, and one of redstone. Wind warned them not to sit on the white or blue seats, because they were seats of peace and The Twins had come as warriors. Monster Slayer, therefore, chose the red seat and Child-of-the-water was directed to stand. According to an episode of the War Ceremony legend, one of Sun's favorite horses was blue.

One set of The Twins' theme colors, black for Monster Slayer, blue for Child-of-the-water, is perhaps the Sky-Earth sequence. In a rite of the last day of the Shooting Chant, the head feather is attached to the scalplock. According to the myth, there was a discussion about whose name should be mentioned when the head-feather bundle was fastened: "Monster Slayer's head feather was red when he overcame the monsters, Child-of-the-water's was blue. Therefore these will not do. The head feather of Changing Grandchild is yellow, so let his name be mentioned hereafter.

YELLOW [ltsoi, ltsoihigi] represents fructification, closely associated with pollen. Since 'real' pollen [yellow] is gathered from cattail rush, it symbolizes more particularly, although not exclusively, the power of wild vegetation. In the sandpainting of the Night Chant the legs of the dancing figures are yellow to signify that they are knee-deep in pollen; the lower parts of the Buffalo bodies of Shooting Chant pictures are outlined in yellow to represent the power of reproduction and growth. Woman originated from a yellow corn ear; yellow corn meal is a female symbol of domesticated plants. The inexhaustible food bowl is yellow, symbolizing sustenance.

In the Day-Sky sequence, yellow is the most consistent in position and meaning. At the west, it represents the yellow of sunset or evening light. xa ctce oyan is a god of the west and sunset. Matthews and tla h describe his headdress as consisting of eagle plumes [white] and owl feathers [yellow]. In the sandpainting all are white, representing the rays of yellow evening light corresponding with Talking God's pre-dawn rays.

In the Sun-Wind sequence, consisting of Sun, Moon, Black Wind, and Yellow Wind, the position of yellow may seem confusing because Yellow Thunder and Yellow Snake are associated with Black Wind. On the other hand, Yellow Wind is associated with Pink Thunder, Pink Snake with redstone. The stripes put on the patient's face during the figure painting of the Shooting Chant refer to the Sun-Wind sequence, the name of Yellow Wind being mentioned as the yellow streak is drawn across the chin.

In the Lightning-Rainbow sequence, consisting of zigzag lightning, flash lightning, sunray, and rainbow, the last [red, blue and white] is associated with yellow, and the yellow line of the figure painting of the Shooting Chant stands for rainbow.

Yellow symbolizes the motion of streams or earth waters in the picture whose center depicts the motion of various cosmic forces.

BLACK [ljin, ljinigi], dark [dilxil], is a sinister color; it threatens and, since it confers invisibility, it also protects. It is paired with blue in the Day-Sky sequence; it is jet of the precious stones. One of the most puzzling questions of color symbolism is the position of black and white in the paintings; black is sometimes at the north - the accepted direction where evil and danger dwell - and sometimes at the east.

In connection with direction, sex, color, place, and vegetation symbolism, black is paired with yellow or blue almost as often as it is with white. Black Wind is the power of Sun; with it are associated Yellow Thunder, Yellow Snake, and abalone. Sun gave Black Wind as a mentor to Monster Slayer, Blue Wind to Child-of-the-water. Later Big Fly was substituted. The Winds when acting as mentors match the boys they guard in color.

Black Buffalo, whose name was Abalone Woman, had a house of dawn and darkness which was white and black. In this instance both types of pairing - black-yellow and black-white - are associated with the same person.

Black has already been considered in connection with blue as representing Sky in the Earth-Sky sequence. Black Sky [ya dilxil] is to be distinguished from Darkness.

[tca lxe l], the black element of the Day-Sky sequence.

The blue-black pair is found in the Mountain Chant where the home of mountain sheep consisted of two black and two blue rooms. The wood of the Dark-circle-of-branches represents the black and blue spruce, which first helped Reared-in-the-mountains. In the songs the black mountain is male; the blue, female. However, the hero of the chant was told by Wind to choose food from the black jar at one end and from the white at the other end of a row of jars in Bushrat's home.

In the Shooting Chant, the Lightning-Rainbow sequence, black paired with white represents the male zigzag lightning; white, the straight female lightning.

An interesting use of black-blue symbolism is found in the Grinding Snake picture in Navajo Medicine Man, Plate XV. The black center represents a metate; the blue rectangle on it a mano. This picture is comparable with Plate IX of Newcomb-Reichard, which has a white metate. The explanation of these pictures is not entirely clear, but suggests a black-blue, black-white, and, possibly, blue-white metate-mano pairing.

References to black are too numerous even to list, but the following are typical. Darkness was a blanket, one of the covers of each of The Twins' cradleboards; it later hid them from Sun's anger when they first came to his house in the sky. When the storm caused by Changing Woman threatened her house, her older son covered it with a black cloud staked to the ground with rainbows [black-yellow], with a black fog made fast with sunbeams [black-yellow], with a black cloud fastened with sheet lightning [black-white], and with a black fog secured by zigzag lightning [black-black].

When Frog raced with Rainboy the second time, to confuse his opponent he threw down successively a dark cloud, a male [dark] rain, a dark fog, and a female rain. Rainboy lost his way in the darkness and ran in the wrong direction.

Black God's entire costume is black, even though he is the fire god. He often got what he wanted by burning the home of recalcitrant or harmful person, but when he went with Bat to offer the prayerstick to Winter Thunder he threw down his fire drill with great force and so much smoke filled the house that it became completely dark. Probably the striking of fire and darkness from the same implement, the fire drill, symbolizes a black-red color pair. Another event suggests suck a pairing: it will be remembered that Winter Thunder indicated his willingness to meet Dark Thunder by white smoke and that a white cloud announced his war party; at the same time a dark cloud from which red light glowed indicated where Dark Thunder's warriors were.

Corresponding with Monster Slayer's blackened body is Child-of-the-water's, covered with red ocher. The bodies of Land Fringed Mouth gods are painted [longitudinally] half black, half red.

Blackening ['ante c] is one of the most reliable rites for frightening ghosts - ghosts of the Navaho dead in the one-night vigil, of foreigners in the War Ceremony. The main purpose is to disguise the patient, to conceal him from lurking evils. When so blackened, he may absorb the invincibility of Monster Slayer, who was painted black with a coal of dark sky.

Blackness and invisibility have advantages for the exercise of good as well as evil power. A vegetation symbolism is described for the creation of the world. Coyote had tried to out rival First Man in making a miniature of the earth, a model over which they quarreled bitterly. Little Wind warned First Man that, unless he guessed the proper meaning of Coyote's plan, it would supersede his own. Since coyote's was bound to be distorted, its permanence would be disastrous to men.


 Lines of




 To Represent






 green vegetation






 mature vegetation






 vegetation with black leaves or horizontal


 stripes on mountains






 snow-covered mountains


 rock crystal






Black as a vegetation color belongs to the yellow mountains of the West [San Francisco Peaks].

Like the other colors, black has an abstract meaning, even if the meaning is expressed specifically. A symbol of all forms of an existing category of concepts, it denotes origin and summary: large black corn with twelve ears, painted for a male patient [corresponding with blue for a female], represents all the corn of the universe.

The black Endless Snake symbolizes all snakes, their origin and the inevitable struggle against evil. The great Black Thunder represents all thunders as well as their origin. The Place-of-emergence is depicted in black because it represents the origin of all things.

RED [ltci , ltci', litci 'igi] is the color of danger, war, and sorcery as well as their safeguards. As such, it is paired with black.

In early times, when pre-human creatures were struggling from the lower worlds and seeking in vain for an exit to a higher realm, they saw a red head sticking out of the sky and heard a voice telling them to fly to the west - it was Red Wind, who had twisted a passage through the sky like the tendril of a vine. Later, in the fourth world, the people came to a red water and were warned that it would hurt their feet if they tried to cross without a raft. Since rites of the Night Chant commemorate events of the fourth world, the requirement to deposit the prayerstick of Red God [xa ctce ltci'] in red ground may refer to this episode.

Before the earth had been made safe for humans, the gray monsters sent out messengers - red Crow [ga gi], red Turkey Buzzard [dje co'], red Woodhouse Bluejay [tsandilji i], and coyote - whenever they got wind of the existence of Earth People.

According to tla h's version of creation, Red Turtle, Red Thunder, Red Otter, and Red Water Monster were guardians of the third world.

In the war legend there are many references to red. First Man gave a prayerstick, colored with blue paint and sparkling earth, symbols of peace and happiness, to Child-of-the-water to watch while his brother went on one dangerous mission after another. When the warrior got into serious trouble, the prayerstick turned red as blood.

Red outlined the dark cloud that presaged the attack of Dark Thunder and his allies.

After the attack on Taos, when two desirable girls had been captured and deprived of their valuables, Sun rose red and trembling, indicating to the warriors that the girls were his children. Revenge is implied, but it was averted by giving Sun the precious stones taken from the captives.

When Gambler pitted his strength against the Pot Owners, he painted his face and the back of his head red so that the enemy could not tell which way he was facing. Monster Slayer's head feather was red when he slew; Child-of-the-water's was blue. Red and blue seem to be the rainbow, rather than the armor or danger, pair of colors.

A nice contrast illustrating reverence is shown by two groups before they set out for the west. Changing Woman's group made ceremonial mush of whiteshell in the prescribed tall black pot, stirring it with ceremonial sticks. They ate, rubbed themselves with a little of the mush, and prayed as they ate. First Woman's group made their mush of redshell, grabbed the food, ate carelessly, and drank hot water. They represent heedless people who bring sickness and refuse to co-operate with the gods.

Protection may be achieved by changing ordinary colors to red.

Red ocher is used in many ceremonies, in especially large amounts in exorcistic forms. It is mixed with ordinary sheep tallow and a token quantity of sacred tallow provided by the chanter. The red salve is applied to face, hair, or other parts of the body as the rite requires. The entire body of the impersonator of Child-of-the-water may be covered with powdered red ocher.

Other explanations of the occurrence of red are the following:

At the close of the Night Chant we see the red of the sunset because Child-of-the-water traveled on Darkness when he went to join his brother.

After the moccasin game, in which the people gambled for night and day, Bear ran off in haste, having reversed his moccasins. As he ran away, his fur looked red in the sunlight; this red is sometimes indicated in sandpaintings of Bear even today.

Big Snake, who had aided in the contest with the famous gambler, was rewarded with a piece of redstone which he was to wear on his head, as he does in some sandpaintings.

Red may signify flesh. Some skirt tassels of gods depicted in the sandpaintings are black and white with a small dot of red between them; this dot represents flesh, particularly of rare game, and is a symbol of plentiful meat.

In the seventh act of the Hail Chant Fire Dance, Cedar Waxwings and Titmice came in with pine and spruce branches. As they held them around Rainboy, he disappeared and the branches became trees. On the tips of the twigs red spots could be seen; these were bits of Rainboy's flesh. The act commemorated his destruction by Winter Thunder and his eventual restoration.

Red stands for blood as well as flesh. Talking God explained the color of the red yarns tied to the rattlestick of the War Ceremony as he instructed Monster Slayer: "This [red] represents the blood that will flow on the soil."

A gambler who visited the place where game was kept learned the hunting ritual. One of the songs contains the line, "Over there where the black bow and red-shafted arrows lie across each other, it is red with blood from the mouth of a male dear."

Red is a dominant color of sorcery:

A female were-coyote had marks on her face like those of a figure painting of the Shooting and Hail chants; she was painted red around her shoulders and had white and yellow spiders painted on her arms....The man who saw her saw also some sticks painted red projecting from her hide.

Some men intending to kill a Mexican by sorcery had a small red basket among their properties.

Sorcery medicine was made of dark red corn meal and the gall of various animals.

PINK [disos] indicates the glint of copper, and stands for a reddish shimmering quality of light. For sandpaintings pink is made by mixing red, white, tan, and yellow sands, sometimes with a touch of black. Pink is quite common in some chants, the Shooting Chant in particular, where it depicts Thunder, Water Monster, Water Horse, Sky People, and Changing Grandchild. The featherlike appurtenance of Thunder's tail, which symbolizes reverberation, is pink.

Pink Thunder is said to live in the Land-beyond-the-sky, and may represent the power of the celestial worlds.

Serrated flint is represented as pink. Paired with yellow, it occurs most often as armor of the duplicate Twins. Possibly pink indicates in some cases shimmering yellow, or perhaps sky shimmer as opposed to the shimmer of subterranean waters.

In discussing the paintings of the Bead Chant I remarked that pink and white --- colors of eagles [and hawks] --- were interchangeable, implying, as I at that time thought, that one could be substituted for the other and that the two perhaps stood for the same thing. I now believe that pink represents the attempt of an Earth Person to attain the power of a sky or deep-water being; that such power is perhaps more difficult to acquire than that of the white denizens of the same realms; at any rate, that pink and white are differentiated. It seems to me significant that pine Eagles attend Scavenger, hero of the Bead Chant, before he reaches the sky; afterward, the Eagles are white and he himself, having acquired the power of them all, has wings of every color, including pink and white.

It is almost certain that pink is not another way of representing redstone. Pink is the outline color of the redstone arrow and stands opposite abalone [yellow], which has red as an outline color. This and the pairing of yellow and red with Black and Yellow Winds suggests a close relation between yellow and pink, but what relation is not quite clear.

GRAY [lbai, lbahigi] is almost universally the color of evl, equivalent to our use of the word 'dirty' in its moralizing sense, 'despicable.' The monsters are referred to generally as gray but after the main ones had been destroyed, 'gray gods' were said to exist, some of which were destroyed wholesale by a hail and wind storm. Big Monster, whom Coyote overcame in contending for Changing-bear-maiden, was called Big-gray-monster.

After Monster Slayer had given some of the Cliff Monster feathers to Bat Woman as a reward, she went to a place where gray birds lived. They merely hopped about, for they had no wings; they were not to be trusted. Because Bat Woman disobeyed the hero's instructions, the feathers in her pack were changed to gray birds, then into birds of all colors which were no longer harmful.

Monster Slayer came to the home of Deer Owner, one of the gray gods, or one of the Syphilis People. He found a pretty girl and was offered food. As he had been warned not to eat it, he took out a small quantity of his own gray food, which he mixed in his own yellow bowl with water from his own water jug. This reference to gray food may be literal, for the corn meal of ceremonial gruel is gray, but in this case it may be that grayness, being evil, is also protection against evil.

Hill's informant particularly states, "These [clothes of hunters] had always to be grayish in color, never red or black.

Just as black and red protect against danger, so gray perhaps protects against primordial evils. Ashes rubbed on bodies of the War God impersonators before they shoot at the symbolic scalp ward off such evils; pallbearers are similarly disguised or protected.

BROWN [yictlij] means literally 'speckled, dim, gray.' In each chant there is a prescribed color for the faces of the deities. The symbolic color may or may not appear when the picture is complete since the faces may be covered with other colors. The designated face color the the Shooting Chant is brown, but for the Sun's House branch the colors of the Day-Sky cycle are so superimposed that the brown is not visible. Brown is considered the 'natural' color of 'persons' and of the earth.

Beaver, Otter, Bat, and some other animals are represented in brown. The deities of some chants have strings hanging from their arms, the strings of the Shooting Chant being brown and yellow to represent otterskin. The chanter's collar of beaver or otterskin, depicted on the gods of the paintings, is brown.

VARIEGATED ['alta s'ai] is a summary of all the colors. Literally it means 'projecting-in-every-direction.' In a sense it signifies purity, as white does when indicating a change from human to divine. When Talking God first prepared The Twins for their great deeds, he dressed Firstborn in white and Secondborn in clothes of all colors. White may here represent the power of Talking God; variegated, that of xa ctce'oyan, who is sometimes said to be clothed in all colors, although in the Night Chant he wears black. Since some parts of the description of xa ctce'oyan---his association with yellow evening light and his yellow headdress, for example---connect him with yellow, there is some reason to believe that variegated and yellow are closely associated. The relation between abalone and yellow also contributes to this conclusion, which, however, does not mean that yellow and variegated are not distinguished.

Offerings, paint, feathers, corn 'of all kinds' are often mentioned in the tales and are ceremonially very common. The clothes of Holy Woman and Holy Girl and the encircling guardian of the painting are varicolored in sandpaintings; several versions of Holy Woman and Holy Girl have been published; they are duplicated by others in private collections. Some were even made by the same chanter at different times---never is the variegation twice the same; the chanters say it need not be. The shape and relation of the different colored spaces differs in the Shooting and Hail chants.

The term 'variegated' occurs in prayers as a summary of all colors. In the Shooting Chant, Black Thunder is the chief of all thunders, but a guardian of Changing Woman's western home was a Varicolored Thunder, larger than the others; he was paired with Black Thunder at the north door. The representative of a group is probably variegated when peaceful, black when counteracting evil. The hogan blessing prayer refers to hogan covers of varicolored soft goods and to a floor of varicolored precious stones.

Spotting has at least two functions, one to summarize, the other to terrify. One phase of the Sun's House branch of the Male Shooting Chant is called bitsi s'oltlij, 'dotted body,' distinguished by the encircling sandpainting guardian, sometimes called Mirage. In the shape of a rainbow, the central part is composed of varicolored dots; the whole is then outlined. RP said that the guardian so described represented all the precious stones. When Talking God came for The Twins, he strung out a rainbow and motioned for them to step on it. On it he put white, black, blue, sparkling, and yellow medicine [herbs]. If this rainbow were depicted, the variegation would doubtless be a superimposition on the original colors, red-blue-white.

Water Sprinkler is said to be represented with a body sprinkled with powders of many colors.

Badger, the fifth of the hunting animals in the Bead Chant, is depicted with a body spotted in all colors.

An invocatory prayer for a prayerstick includes petitions to many deities, such as Corn, Mirage, Heat, Precious Stones [often varicolored in dots]; the prayer concluded by mentioning varicolored horses from Sun's house in the east, and varicolored hard goods from Whiteshell Woman's house.

Spotted Wind is mentioned as having aided in restoring strength to the heroes of the Shooting Chant. In the Hail Chant myth it was difficult to propitiate Spotted Thunder, but eventually he consented to sprinkle his medicine, cattail pollen, on the suds of Rainboy's bath and even to wash his hair. Spotted Thunder lived with Pink Thunder in the Land-beyond-the-sky where Shooting and Hail chant lore were taught to novices. Spotted Thunder's house was striped and guarded by a spotted, swastikalike arrangement of sticks. Spotted Thunder was said to be the 'head' of the chants---Shooting, Hail, Water---and the chanter explains that Rainboy's "visit to him was just like a visit to the President at Washington.

In an assembly of the Hail Chant, Wind People sitting on the south side had gord rattles---dark, blue, yellow, pink, and spotted. Those on the north side had similar rattles, but the striped ones corresponded with the pink; dotted in all colors [do ye d], with the spotted [dactlij].

Stephen enumerates the Winds that dried up the third world as the people emerged---Left-handed Wind, Striped Wind, Spotted Wind, and Shiny Wind.

An incident of the Shooting Chant represented in sandpainting is the kidnaping of Holy Boy by the Thunders, who had 'real power' ---Left-handed Thunder, Winter Thunder, Spotted Thunder, Left-handed Wind, and Spotted Wind.

Stripes have a terrifying effect.

When The Twins attacked Big Monster, he raised his face and they saw it was striped. The numerous 'gray gods,' indefinite evils, are described as 'looking terrible with striped faces.' When subdued, they bacame yellow jackets.

Arrowsnakes and Rainbow People lived at Striped Mountain, the Stripes being represented by rainbows.

The stripes of the figure painting of the Hail and Shooting chants are terrifying to the onlooker but pretective to the person on whom they are painted. In the Shooting Chant they represent Day Skies.

In the powerful performances of the Flint Chant for the most serious diseases, the war colors, black and red, are applied in horizontal stripes.

I suggest that the theme of stripes be examined with the symbolism in mind to explain Striped Wind Chant and the associated symbols, which have exorcistic emphasis.

The discussion of colors has shown that each color has an abstract meaning. White is the color of day, of hope, of newness, of change and commencement. The symbol of divinity, white expresses perfect ceremonial control.

Blue is the color of celestial and earthly attainment, of peace, happiness, and success, of vegetable sustenance. Yellow is the symbol of blessing, of generation, of safety, of promise. Black, sinister but protective, is the color of darkness, night, confusion, smoke, omnipresence, of threat, doubt, indefiniteness, wonder, and origin, of finality. Red is the color of danger, warning, and threat, and of protection from those very things; it also represents flesh food and blood. Pink is the color of 'deep sky' or deep-water motion, Gray is the color of the unpersuadable deities, those known to be against man, of the indefinite and fearsome, and pretection against them as well.

In addition to its abstract value, each color has specific connotations, subdivisions of the generalization and related to it. The particular, as well as the general, meanings of color are indicated, often only indirectly for each chant, being determined by other elements with which color functions.

Materials for coloring sand are ground or natural colors. White, red, and yellow are found free in nature on the Navaho reservation in the form of clay and ochers. Black is from soot made by ritualistic burning. All, after being ground, are mixed with ordinary sand to give them enough body to fall evenly through the fingers. Blue, pink, and brown are mixtures.

Chant myths explain the color origins.

Rainboy in the Land-beyond-the-sky was instructed for the Hail Chant; "You will not make the paintings in this form in the future. Instead you will use powdered rock---dark, blue, yellow, white, pink, brown, and red. If we give you the paintings on the stuff we use, they will wear out, so it is better ot make them of sand each time anew."

Monster Slayer got the sandpainting colors for the Shooting Chant when he overcame Traveling Rock. When hit with the owerful flint club, the monster fell into four parts, all of which were white. Monster Slayer picked them up and scattered them, saying, "In the future Earth People will use colored rocks." The bone of the monster became white ground rock, its flesh blue, its hair black; its mouth and blood, red; its intestines became the yellow that is now a sandpainting material

Coloring matter for painting prayersticks and figure painting is of somewhat different character from that mixed with sand and is often more difficult to obtain. For instance, blue paint is some form of copper salt, whereas white and black sands are ixed for the gray-blue of the sandpaintings. Sparkling rock may be applied to the body, prayersticks, or bundle properties. Kluckhohn and Wyman point out that sparkling rock is sometimes specular hematite, sometimes galena, or even serpentine, a variation of chrysotile.

Black for body paint, like that for sandpainting, is usually composed of soot from specific herbs and roots. In the Shooting Chant, corn smut is applied as paint.

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

View all products related to this legend

Printable View

Free Shipping on all orders $250 or more (USA only).

Shopping Cart
Your Shopping Cart is Empty

Friendly people waiting to answer your questions.


This site was last updated on September 28, 2020.

Subscribe to e-Mailer

Twin Rocks on Facebook @TwinRocks_Bluff on Twitter Twin Rocks on Google+ Twin Rocks on Linkedin

credit card acceptance marks