Four Cardinal Light

View all products related to this legend

In addition to the sun and moon, the seasons, and the constellations, the four cardinal light phenomena constitute a fourth and final set of markers for the division of time. As noted above, the four cardinal light phenomena are results of the sun's apparent daily motion. These phenomena are the four directions and the times of day and colors that are linked to them. A Navajo does not think of the east without envisioning hayolkaal, Dawn, and the white color of the sky at this time of day. Next is nahodeetl'iizh, which is usually glossed as " horizontal blue" or "blue haze" in reference to the band of relatively darker blue that lies on the horizon at midday; this light is associated with the south. Nahootsoii follows and literally means "around the area becomes yellow," although this word is usually translated as "evening twilight"; it is linked to the west. Finally, chahalheel, darkness, is associated with the north and with the blackness of the night sky. These four phenomena are conceptualized as two pairs: Dawn and Twilight, Midday and Night. Once more, we see the pairing of complements so fundamental to the Navajo worldview.

Although the sun's apparent movement across the heavens results in the four cardinal light phenomena, in the story of Navajo Creation the prototypes of these light phenomena existed in the underworlds long before the creation of the sun and moon, which took place in the present world. Various translations describe them as "cloud columns," "pillars of light," " clouds of light," or simply "mists." The four lights are described as "mating" and as "giving birth" to various Navajo supernaturals, and are associated with all acts of creation. According to some accounts, First Man and First Woman themselves were created from the boundaries of pairs of these light phenomena.

When First Man unrolled his sacred medicine bundle, the source of creation and animation for all beings, the bundle was covered with "sheets" of the four cardinal light phenomena. After unrolling the four sacred jewels, he placed supernaturals in human form upon them. "Over these he spread [sheets of] dawn, evening twilight, sunlight [instead of horizontal blue of the south], a spread of darkness" (Slim Curley, in Wyman [1970a:111]).

In the drypainting in figure 4.10, Father Sky is held in place by these cloud columns. However, in this visual representation, instead of one color existing over each corner of the world, the colors are stacked so that each corner contains all four colors of cloud. The masked face of Father Sky also depicts these four cardinal light phenomena: the yellow of evening twilight covers his chin, the blue of the midday sky lies across his nose, the black of night lies under his eyes, and the white of dawn covers his forehead.

Although the four clouds of light could create life, they remained lifeless themselves (as did other natural phenomena) until the present world, when an inner form from First Man's sacred medicine bundle was placed within each of them as their life principle to vitalize and personalize each phenomenon (Wyman 1970a:381-82).

The most vivid depiction of the cardinal light phenomena is in a sand-painting from the Male Shootingway known by chanters as "The Dawn" and more commonly called "The Skies." It may be represented in trapezoidal or keystone form; as Chanter A explained, in the most elaborate version of this painting (the keystone form) both the Pathway to the Heavens and the Opening to the Heavens are symbolized.

The keystone version of The Skies" also depicts the inner beings of each phenomenon. In plate 3, four keystone shapes represent the four light phenomena; within each stands its inner form. Beginning with the east, the white of dawn contains its inner form, Dawn Boy. To the south, Blue Sky Man stands within the keystone form of the blue of the daytime sky. To the west is the yellow form of evening twilight with Yellow Evening Light Girl. Finally, in the north, darkness is spread with the beings of Darkness-the stars and constellations of the night sky and Darkness Girl.

The same or similar beings as those of the cardinal light phenomena were placed within the mountains created in the cardinal directions of the present world to animate them and to give them life. Plate 2 depicts the inner beings of the four light phenomena emerging from the Sacred Mountains. Father Berard Haile (in Farella [1984:104-5]) elicited (and recorded in Navajo) the following description of the intimate relationship between the cardinal light phenomena and the Sacred Mountains:

Sisnaajini mountain [Blanca Peak] already stood there, here on the east side. On the south side stood Mt. Taylor, on the west side San Francisco Peak, on the north side La Plata range it was found.14 This (thing) that rose as a white column in east time and again, is the inner form of Sisnaajini by which it breathes and this we know is the dawn. In the west (the rising column) is the inner form of San Francisco Peak by means of which this breathes. This, we see is evening twilight. When they joined the one from the east, you know, the people had made it daytime. (The column) from the south, the inner form of Mt. Taylor by which it breathes is, we know, the sky blue. The one from the north, the inner form of Perin's Peak by which it breathes, is really the darkness, they say. This, when it would meet the one from the south, they had made (it) the night. Here towards the south stood a mountain yellow in color, and right opposite, to wards the east there was a dark mountain. So you see that was the condition of their country.

Figure 4.11, adapted from Haile's notes, shows the inner forms of the cardinal directions with the four Sacred Mountains lying at their feet. The names of these inner forms differ according to sex and generation in published Navajo accounts. The chanter who worked with Haile (1943b:70-71) calls the inner form of the white dawn "Dawn Man," whom we see lying in the east with Blanca Peak, the Sacred Mountain of the east, at his feet. To the south is Horizontal Blue man with Mount Taylor; to the west is Evening Twilight Woman with San Francisco Peak; and to the north lies Darkness Woman with Hesperus Peak, the Sacred Mountain of the north, at her feet. Pg. 88-92.

Earth is my Mother, Sky is my Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting; 1992, Trudy Griffen-Pierce.

Blue-horizon-light (naxode'ctli'j) (H) refers to the earth's shadow, which, the Navaho say, is the rise of darkness from the east, a red or rose-colored line that appears just before sunset and gradually rises until it disappears in darkness before it reaches the zenith. It is a manifestation of nature and, in my material, is hardly a deity. However, since it is listed in formula, prayer, and song with the gods and as a member of the Day-Sky group, and since Dawn and Darkness People are defined, it is almost certainly personified.

Yellow-evening-light (naxatsoi, naxotsoi, naxa'atsoi) (H) is the last of the western sunset glow; it is coupled with Blue-horizon-light, the earth's shadow.

Navajo Religion, Vol II; 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 25, 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