An Introduction to Ways/Chantways

View all products related to this legend

Discussion of "Ways"


Navajo people often refer to the relationship of their many ceremonial ways as the branches of a tree which extend over every occasion, bearing and protecting the Navajo way of life. They identify Blessingway as the trunk of this tree which supports all other ceremonial branches. This tree stands deep rooted in the creation of the world. Pg. 23


Native American Religious Action: A Performance Approach to Religion; 1987, Sam Gill.


"Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism" tries to demonstrate that there is much more to the dance, song, and sandpainting than the primitiveness that meets the casual eye; that there is a religious system which has for years enabled the Navaho to retain their identity in a rapidly changing world.

The 'squaw dance' is only one of the many ceremonies performed to protect Navaho society, its means of subsistence and acquisition, its medicine, and above all, its peace of mind. Song, dance, and sandpainting are each only one of the numerous parts necessary to the ceremony. To it Dr. Washington Matthews gave the name 'chant', since long and elaborate prayers chanted or intoned are still another ritualistic requirement. Other recorders have called the ceremonies 'ways'. For instance Night Chant has become Nightway.

A Navaho ceremony, whatever it may be called, is a combination of many elements - ritualistic items such as the medicine bundle with its sacred contents; prayersticks, made of carefully selected wood and feathers, precious stones, tobacco, water collected from sacred places, a tiny piece of cotton string; song, with its lyrical and musical complexities; sandpaintings, with intricate color, directional, and impressionistic symbols; prayer, with stress on order and rhythmic unity; plants, with supernatural qualities defined and personified; body and figure painting; sweating and emetic, with purificatory functions; vigil, with emphasis on concentration and summary. But it is the selection of these and other elements and their orderly combination into a unit that makes the chant or ceremony effective.

A ceremony may last from one to nine nights - the Navaho count by nights - and the intervening days. The first night of a typical nine-night ceremony consists of an hour or two of singing, which accompanies a simple ritualistic performance. The early morning hours of the first four days are taken up with sweat-emetic rites, composed of numerous and intricate ritualistic acts whose purpose is to drive out evil and purify the patient and all other participants. Several hours of the early afternoon of each day are devoted to the preparation of prayersticks, over which a responsive prayer is intoned by chanter and patient. The prayersticks are then placed at designated points - under a rock, near an arroyo, under a tree at the south, in a branch of a pine tree at the west - where the gods must see them. The prayersticks carry a compulsive invitation to the deities to attend the ceremony. If the sticks are made properly and deposited according to deific decree, and if the prayer is repeated without a mistake, the gods cannot refuse to come. The two main emphases of the first four days are on exorcising possible evil and on invoking the deities.

At pre-dawn of the fifth day the contents of the chanter's bundle - all items sacred to the chant, though odd and nondescript to the white man - are laid out on a mound which forms an altar a few yards from the door of the dwelling in which the ceremony is held. As each piece of ritualistic property is placed, the chanter utters the appropriate sentence of prayer and the patient, as a symbol, takes hold of the property. The altar is there to announce the preparation of a sandpainting inside the house, to inform the gods that they are expected, to warn persons not concerned that they should stay away. One painting is made on each day of the second group of four days. A simple painting may be finished by one or two painters in half an hour; and elaborate one may require from three to four assistants working eight or ten hours. When the painting is finished, the patient sits on it, while the chanter applies sand from the various figures of the painting to specified parts of the patient's body, and performs other ritualistic acts. All this is to identify the patient with the deities represented in the painting. A part of the sandpainting ritual of the eighth day is the body or figure painting, which serves to identify the patient with the deific helpers. Early on this day a final rite, combining exorcism and the attraction of good powers, is the bath. The patient, with the aid of relatives, shampoos his hair and washes his body in suds made from yucca (soapweed) root and dries himself with course, ceremonially ground corn meal.

On each intervening night, that is, on nights two to eight, the singing resembles that of the first night, becoming longer as the ceremony progresses. Just as the sandpainting of each day is representative of a group made up of numerous paintings - Thunders, Snakes, Holy People, Arrow People, and the like - so on each night certain groups of songs are chosen from a vast number known to the chanter. He designates and starts the song; the chorus of laymen assisting him carries it on. If they do not know it, the chanter sings until they learn it or until it is finished. Generally each rite becomes longer and more elaborate as the chant proceeds.

The eighth day is called 'The Day'. It is often a very busy one what with the bath, sandpainting, body or figure painting, and preparation for the ninth night. On this, 'The Night', the singing lasts from late evening until dawn, the purpose being to summarize all the purification, invocation, attraction of power, and identification of the entire ceremony. Song-groups representative of all the rites are included. The night becomes a vigil, theoretically for all present in the ceremonial dwelling, practically, for those most concerned. To show he is in sympathy with the entire effort put forth in the chant, the patient concentrates on all the songs and the few ritualistic acts. Since power is to the Navaho like a wave in a pool, always effective though becoming weaker the farther it radiates from chanter and patient, each person in attendance derives benefit from what is done in proportion to his proximity to the ritual.

Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism; 1950, Gladys A. Reichard.


Readers may note a similarity between First Boy's wife's unfaithfulness and Girl Who Walks Softly. Their predicament and the subsequent outcome are the same; this is because all Navajo origin stories borrow elements from each other. Perhaps they may be best described as a river of origin with many tributaries. Anthropologists have divided, characterized, and cataloged the main river - let us say, for argument's sake, it is the Blessingway - and subheaded the lesser Ways, those that came later, those that share only a small part of the whole; the Beadway, for instance, which Jay de Groat recently told me was "borrowed" or "influenced by" the Plains tribes. The Blessingway, emphasizing as it does tribal unity, sharing, harmony of family and clan, may have its own origin in religious practices learned by the Navajos from their historical predecessors in the Southwest, the Pueblos. A Navajo storyteller, apart from a medicine man, would probably not call our Ways Ways at all, but might refer to them merely as winter stories, seasonal tales of the origin of The People. An anthropologist, however, might say there are only two basic Ways: Holyway and Blessingway, from which all the others flow as tributaries. In any event, I have heard Part One of the Featherway told as "The War Between Men and Women," with no reference to it being a way at all. In the curative sense, all Ways lead to all other Ways because it is the whole body, the whole mind that is being healed by the whole prehistory of the tribe - "one vast interlocked myth," as Frank Waters called it. Pgs. 86, 87

The storyteller of the Waterway uses a rich array of water imagery in the myth. Lakes, springs, and rivers run through the tale and , at the start of the story, a cottonwood tree is depicted as an ally of the hero. The tree, which in the Southwest thrives in and around water, is the symbolic shelter and life-preserving craft upon which the hero is carried through his adventure. By telling the tree and making a log boat of it, the hero is protected by "crooked and straight lightning." There are many characters in the drama of the Waterway but perhaps the most significant is Fire God. It is Fire God who overcomes Water Monster's smug condescension in the cave. Fire as metaphor may be seen as an extension of The People's growth from the prior worlds of darkness into the upper worlds of light. Through the use of fire, the become masters of their environment; water, in the story, is balanced by fire. Fire God, as a symbolic being, exemplifies the power of flame as a practical tool for The People to raise themselves out of a harsh environment. However, it should be noted that fire, water, earth, and air are not just elements, but godlike presences in the Waterway. Consider, if you will, that there is a scientific, as well as mythic, progression of thinking in this and other origin stories. Our earth was formed out of the crucible of heat and light, water and oxygen - so, too, does the emergence theme of the Waterway deal with the dark incubation of life as it travels through the watery womb of the Mother into the sphere of the Sun Father's light. All of the stories, but especially the Waterway, move through dark tunnels, or nightlit places, to fields of light. What Navajo storytellers are implicitly telling us in the Waterway is that to be whole, to be one with the universe, Man must return, metaphorically, to the Mother. Water and fecundity are intertwined in the Waterway which, in addition to being a curing rite, is a fertility myth: "Then Man of First Earth raised up a corn plant....... and it rained gently for four days and the corn rose out of the mud, and grew." Pgs. 102, 103

Anthropologists have said that the Evil-Chasing Way has its origin in stories of the Slaying of Monsters. Following The People's emergence into the fourth world, Monster Slayer destroyed the mythic monsters of Navajoland, which left a residue of evil on the land. This residual darkness, so to speak, sapped the earth of its vitality. The Evil-Chasing Way was created to compensate the earth for this offense, and to protect human beings from the monster's malignity (even in death). Essentially, the Evil-Chasing Way is a ceremonial created to destroy the power of ghosts, evil-doers who use ghost power in witchcraft, or any negative association with either of these. Pgs. 125, 126

The Gift of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman.

The Navajo religion must be considered as a design in harmony, a striving for rapport between man and every phase of nature, the earth and the waters under the earth, the sky and the "land beyond the sky," and of course, the earth and everything on and in it. In order to establish and continue this rapport the beings which dwell in all these places must be controlled. All of this rules out the idea of a single god, Great Spirit, God, monotheism, or whatever one may prefer to call it. In order to understand the Navajo viewpoint we have to reconstruct our ideas of religion and allow them to embrace things we have not before included, but at the same time we may not allow ourselves the comfort of categories or catchwords such as magic, animism, nature worship and the like, for the Navajo religion is so inclusive that it touches upon all of these, and what is more, in it each on of these overlaps the others. Pg. 14

One of the fundamental premises is the belief that nothing in the universe is for naught, but that the smallest entity has its purpose in helping man. Since man is only one of the infinite number of things in nature, he is no more important than anything else, a seed of corn, for instance, or a fly. But, in order to make his life on the earth tolerable, man must have control of that seed or fly. Pg. 14

The War Gods, Holy Twins, Holy People, or whatever one may call them, are even better examples than the Sun of the principle of multiple selves which allows for complete elimination of time and space. The two boys - in come stories there are two pairs or even more, and there are girls as well - were begotten of the Sun and born of Changing Woman, and represents man's contacts between the earth and sky powers. As human representatives they are Holy Man and Holy Boy; as children of the Sun and Changing Woman, they are superlative warriors, armed with all the powers of the universe. Holy man is the Scavenger of the Bead Chant, the hero of the Male Shooting Chant; and Holy Boy, his exact counterpart, is Rainboy of the Hail Chant. It is quite understandable that an individual may take on different characteristics in varied settings like an actor in different plays, but this is not the conception of the Navajo. In the same drama Holy Man, who cannot be distinguished from Holy Boy, is protected by his warrior-self, Monster Slayer, and his brother-warrior, Child-of-the-water. In other words, two figures stand for the impersonation of three individuals, Holy Man, Holy Boy and Enemy Slayer. According to our reasoning this conception furnishes sufficient confusion, but the Navajo, not in the least confounded, identify Holy Man, again undistinguishable in two other paintings, with Rainboy who was "substituting" for Holy Man in a particular rite. Still other examples are - - - Monster Slayer and Child-of-the-water at east and south respectively. Their partners, that is, those opposite, are Reared-within-the-earth and Changing Grandchild. These two are the same as their counterparts with the same characteristics and powers. They were creatures developed from the afterbirth of the original twins and why therefore are they not "other selves?" They are other selves. If the Navajo conception that nothing exists of and for itself, or absolutely at a particular time, or at a given point, is understood, the legends upon which the ceremonial procedure is based are quite intelligible. Pg. 15

Navajo Medicine Man Sandpaintings; 1977, Gladys A. Reichard.

The Native American Church [NAC], a nativistic peyote religion, has affected the traditional ceremonial system. Although the vision aspect of peyotism is not traditional with Navajos, many other teachings of this religion are not in conflict with Navajo values. Peyotism and traditional ceremonialism share the same goal, the restoration of hozho [healing], and use similar ceremonial equipment.

Part of the church's appeal comes from its shorter ceremonies and lower costs. The increase of wage work has made it difficult to meet the demands of time and money required by traditional ceremonials. A nine-night ceremonial means that the patient's family must make a considerable outlay of resources to feed the chanter, his helpers, and others who attend. Furthermore, apprentices must invest a substantial amount of time and energy to study with an older chanter in order to master the many songs, prayers, sandpaintings, and procedures of the long nine-night ceremonials. The NAC is not an exclusive religion, and many of its members are active in traditional ceremonialism. Gary Witherspoon points out that by the 1970s the NAC was seen by the Navajos as "simply another chantway, azee'ji or Medicine Way." Although many Navajo chanters have become NAC road men, others remain strongly opposed to the Native American Church.

The Navajo system of ceremonials is highly complex. Haile distinguished rites (ceremonials in which a rattle is not used) from chants (ceremonials in which a rattle accompanies the singing). Two major rites, Blessingway and Enemyway, stand apart from the chantways. Unlike the chantways, which focus on curing, Blessingway is preventive in nature and invokes positive blessings. Thus, it protects from misfortune by ensuring prosperity, good luck, order, health, and all manner of positive blessings for the Earth Surface People and all that concerns them. The paintings of Blessingway rites (and the War Prophylactic rite) are more properly called drypaintings rather than sandpaintings; instead of sand, ocher, and charcoal, the pigments are mostly, often entirely, of vegetable origin. These include corn and other plant pollens, cornmeal, powdered flower petals (especially the petals of blue flowers, called "blue pollen"), and charcoal.

The Enemyway, in contrast to Blessingway, is used to exorcise the ghosts of aliens, violence, and ugliness. It belonged to a group of ancient war ceremonials used to protect warriors from the ghosts of slain enemies. The chantways can be performed according to one of three rituals, or patterns of behavior governing procedure: Holyway, Evilway, or Lifeway. Holyway ceremonials are concerned with restoring the patient to health by attracting good, Evilway ceremonials exorcise evil, and chants conducted according to Lifeway ritual treat injuries resulting from accidents. Chants may be conducted according to more than one ritual mode. Sandpainting ceremonies are a component of all, or nearly all, Holyway ceremonials and most, if not all, Evilway ceremonials. Ceremonials conducted according to Lifeway ritual do not use sandpaintings.

Navajos name ceremonials according to the governing ritual (Holyway, Evilway, Lifeway), according to male or female branches (which deal with illnesses caused by different factors rather than the sex of the person for whom the ceremonial is sung), and sometimes for other reasons. Thus, Navajo informants may give forty or fifty names for song ceremonials. Wyman estimates that there were once twenty-four chantway complexes, of which only eleven are well known today, and only seven of these are frequently performed (Shootingway, Flintway, Mountainway, Nightway, Navajo and Chiricahua Windways, and Hand Tremblingway). Chants are grouped on the basis of association in the connected origin legends, symbolism, procedural similarities, ritual paraphernalia, and common etiological factors. Pgs. 40-41

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

The content of the origin myth or emergence story has already been indicated in the section entitled "Beings and Powers." This myth is The People's nearest analogue to the Christian Bible. Just as the Bible is traditionally the book, so also for The People this is the story. Mythology is the response of man's imagination to the uncharted areas of human experience. Since the Navahos have not rationalized their mythology into theology, there are some inconsistencies among various versions of the origin myth and between the origin myth and other myths. Whatever the discrepancies, the origin myth still gives definite form to many Navaho notion of things. It is also the final warrant of authority for carrying out many acts, ritual and secular, in prescribed ways. Pgs. 133-134

The Navaho; 1946, Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton.

But life among the Navajo clans was not all given to labor, strife, and raiding; there were also many social and religious activities. although these people lived in isolated clan groups and had no villages or community centers, they still maintained intimate contact through harvest festivals, war dances, and healing ceremonies. As all such gatherings of any kind or purpose were religious in character, the medicine man was the arbiter and master of ceremonies for each occasion and was given complete authority in the arrangement of the elaborate ritual and ceremony. During the early days of Navajo life in the Southwest, these people has been in contact with the people of the great pueblos which now lie in ruins along the rivers and streams.

From these "Anat-sazi" (Old Ones) the Navajos learned rites, prayers, and chants which they adopted and to which they added ceremonial procedure, thus forming a complex of ceremonialism that grew through the passing years. When prosperity was finally achieved, Navajo religious ceremonials reached the zenith of intricacy and continued at this magnitude until the time of United States military domination, when insecurity and loss of wealth brought a drastic change. Although religious festivals were still held, the number of days was shortened, and they were hidden in rough mountain terrain where strangers would not find them. Another curtailment was in the number of guests invited. Pgs. 20-21

Hosteen Klah, Navajo Medicine Man and Sand Painter; 1964, Franc Johnson Newcomb.

The Mountain Chant was one of the most elaborate of the Navajo curing chants. It was not performed very often because of the great expense which attended it, expenditure necessary not only to pay those who helped carry on the chant, but also to feed the vast number of visitors. During the first eight days the chanters, for the benefit of a man who had been ill, had "sung over him." That is, they had carried out the rigorous ritual of the chant, every act succeeding every other in an order which had been specified in ancient times and which was handed down in myth. They had sung many groups of songs, all in prescribed order. They had purified themselves, the patient, and all who wished to participate, by sweating four times near a huge fire and by taking an emetic. The patient had been further purified by a bath and shampoo in yucca suds. Since the Navajo believed that the gods could bring healing if they were properly importuned, the chanters had made "prayersticks" of various kinds of wood upon which they painted designs peculiar to the deities being invited. When these objects had been properly made, prayed over, and deposited in places the gods could not miss, the gods could not fail to come. They came in the form of sandpaintings, one made during each of the four last days of the chant, and each representing some occasion upon which the gods had helped a sacred hero who in mythological times had had the same troubles the present patient now had. When the patient sat on the painting he absorbed the power of the god or of the sacred hero. The ancient hero had been restored, the patient would be restored. There were many details of the performance, each as important as every other for the patient's welfare, and every one was carried out conscientiously by the chanters. Most of the rites were done in the presence of only a few people. Anyone who so desired could enter the ceremonial hogan for the time during which the sand from the sandpainting was applied to the patient's body, symbolically making him a god. On the last night an elaborate summary of all the songs, acts, and rites included in the nine-day chant, as well as in the myth which explained it, took place. - Within a huge circle made by laying green branches in place there was room for many small fires. Near these fires family groups made themselves as comfortable as possible on sheepskins and blankets. In the center of the circle a great pile of wood sent flames twenty or thirty feet into the sky. A wide track between center fire and audience was kept open to serve as the stage and in this open space the dancers and tricksters performed. There were many chants in the Navajo repertoire, each differing from the others, not so much in general pattern as in details and symbolical significance. Each chant had a symbol of costume and dance by which it was represented during the night. The entire night's performance was named for the setting in which it was held "Dark-circle-of --branches."

When the fresh fire sent flames high into the sky and heat far out at the sides which formed the stage, nine or ten men, their nude bodies painted thickly in white paint or clay, advanced stealthily toward the fire, emitting queer arresting sounds. They carried sticks tipped with eagle down, and as they stole up to the fire and retreated quickly, they at first tried in vain to ignite the feathers. For some minutes they failed, making much business of their attempts and the failure of their efforts. At last one and then another succeeded in lighting the eagle down which of course burned off instantly. Then with more pretense and clowning the actors miraculously replaced the down and repeated the performance. The feathertip burning act was followed by arrow-swallowing. Six men took part in this. Their bodies were naked and painted and they carried long feathered arrows. As they danced about in the firelight making great pretensions for their powers, they swallowed the arrows including the stone point up to half their length, i.e., about twelve inches. When the actors pulled the arrows out, neither arrows nor actors' throats showed adverse effects. Another act was dainty as well as clever. Eight men, once more with the body paintings characteristic of the chant they represented, danced out, holding large flexible arclike properties strung gracefully with eagle plumes. After dancing in a line, they paired off, and the first of a pair set his arc on the head and shoulders of his partner. The second, balancing the arc on his own head, placed the arc with which he danced on the head of his partner. So each dancer performed until all heads were fitted with the swaying feathery headdresses. All danced again keeping the arcs in place balanced by head and shoulders, no longer touching them with the hands.

To Alaba and Little Policeman the most wonderful dance of them all was the Fire Dance by which name the entire night's performance was usually designated by Whites. Both children hoped they could keep awake long enough to see it. Sometimes it was early on the program, sometimes it closed the night's performance. They had had an exciting day. The fresh air, the smoke and the flickering of the fire made them very sleepy, but they were lucky, for the Fire Dance followed the Dance-of-the-standing-arcs. The many Fire Dancers were heralded by a loud noise. Painted or daubed with white clay they ran into the arena bearing long bundles of shredded cedar bark. Before their entry the fire had been renewed with huge branches of dry cedar. These dancers, like those of the first dance of the evening, made many fruitless attempts to light the cedar bark from the central fire. Finally their leader succeeded, then each one lighted his torch, either at the fire or from the bundle of a fellow-dancer. When all were burning the dancers ran around the fire with them. Their purpose was to bathe the bodies of the dancers in flame, but if a runner got too far behind the one in front, he ran the flame of his torch over his own back and down his legs. They continued until the torches were burned out when they dropped the short remains on the ground and ran out of the light. After the performers had left the stage, those of the audience who wished to do so, among them Dezba, rushed to pick up a few of the cedarbark ashes. These they took home to serve as a cure for injuries due to burning.

Soon after the Fire Dance was over, the children were sound asleep, and the audience became gradually smaller as the Whites left for their homes or the Navajo for their blankets near their wagon camps. There were, however, curious Whites who wanted to see everything, and numerous Navajo who, like Dezba and Lassos-a-warrior, believed they would derive benefit from seeing the chant through until dawn, as was the custom on the last night of every chant. These remained interestedly awake until the final play. The acts continued with varied details the night through, and since a large number of troupes had responded to the invitation to perform, the intermission between dances was not long. Many of the dances carried out exactly the same steps, the variation being in costume and the symbols carried in the hands. In one the headdresses were feathered and spruce boughs were carried in the hands. In another the dancers carried tall elaborately constructed frames from which dangled ribbon streamers. Instead of dancing in figures, some of the actors performed tricks. Two eagle feathers danced in a basket surrounded at a distance of four feet or more by a chorus of men who sang to the rhythm of rattles. The sun was made to rise and set without apparent help. One group of men bathed their hands, just as they would if washing them, in burning pinon gum. The final act of the night's show, performed just before dawn, was the trick of the yucca fruit. A group of actors entered the circle, amongst them two who behaved like clowns. After giving their cries and circling the fire several times, all but the clowns formed a semi-circle at the west. The clowns performed a great deal of funny business, then all closed the circle for a moment. When it opened a yucca root had been planted in the sand. They repeated the act, and the second time the circle opened a yucca plant was growing there. The third time the plant had its high stalk of creamy bell-like flowers. And when the circle of men closed and drew apart for the fourth time, the plant stood large and complete with small green fruit hanging in a cluster like bananas from the stalk. As the cold white light of morning preceded the yellow sun, the dark circle was emptied. The ashes of the small fires lay blue along the edges of the corral and around them adults as well as children slept soundly. Most of the families retired to their wagons where they snatched a few hours of sleep until the hot rays of the sun, the flies, and the dust and noise of packing aroused them. Then sleepily the woman lighted the fires, warmed some coffee and reached for cold tortillas. Within three hours the wagons, automobiles, and horses had disappeared, leaving as the only evidence of a three-day vacation the litter of watermelon rinds and a few bones too well polished for even the dogs' interest. Pgs. 88-92

Dezba: Woman of the Desert; 1939, Gladys A. Reichard.

The Origin Myth of the Navajos tells not only where the Navajos came from, but also offers them their justification for being. In the Origin Myth, the Holy People say what must be done to have a good life; tales of the adventures of the Holy People show what will happen to a man or woman if the rules are broken; and sacred rituals are explained. The Origin Myth plays the same part in Navajo lives as did the Bible for early Christians, the Popul Vuh for the Mayans, or the Gilgamesh Epic for the Babylonians. It both forms them as a tribe and guides them as individuals, and it is itself formed by them. According to Jungian ideas, this myth is the joint product of the dreams of individuals, molded together through group action and experience. These unified dreams take on a reality of their own, which in turn infuses the reality of the people. The Navajos have an oral tradition of legends and tales passed on through speech and retained in memory. Many versions of the same story can be told, and none is more authentic than any other. Dynamic as the tribe has always been, now modern and somewhat alienated from the old life, the stories in the Origin Myth continue to supply energy for renewal and growth. Simply, the Origin Myth tells of the emergence through four different worlds until this, the Fifth world, is reached. Each world through which the beginning creatures traveled was increasingly complex, and each one had a new dimension of structure. Pgs. 25-26

Sitting on the Blue-Eyed Bear, Navajo Myths and Legends; 1975, Gerald Hausman.

The body of Navaho mythology is to Navaho chanters what the Bible is to our theologians. The singer discussing his belief, as well as the layman asked a direct question, resorts for his answer to myth, which he considers final. It is therefore almost impossible to separate mythology or mythical concept completely from reality or practice. Because nearly every Navaho has some faith in his ceremonies, whether he knows the significance or not, and because he cites myth for his reasons, I consider the myth material a major contribution to the analysis and interpretation of the religion. Though in some of its concepts it may seem childlike, it is never childish, and its very childlikeness is sometimes merely evidence of a deep realization of spiritual things. Consequently, Navaho chant mythology should no more be relegated solely to the realm of children than our Bible.

The mythology has two aspects, the secular and the sacred. In certain ways, especially in the plots, both aspects have material common to many American Indian tribes. Among the secular myths, some of the Navaho coyote tales, for example, can hardly be distinguished from those of a number of other tribes; and when they can be, it is because the narrative style is characteristically Navaho. The sacred myths, which account for particular ceremonies, are distinctive in the way the plot assists the development of ceremonial detail, and in the intentional though implicit explanations of the parts and the whole. As in the determination of the chant, so in the myth, differentiation depends upon selection.


'Shooting Chant' is a short form of na'atoe', 'concerning-the-shooting-of-objects-that-move-in-zigzags.' Lightning, snake, arrow, or indeed any one of many other names might have been chosen; all indicate what the chant stresses. Hail stands for things injured by cold storms. Most storms are accompanied by lightning and wind, but summer storms with hail are less usual, as are winter storms accompanied by lightning. Consequently, a chant is differentiated from the Shooting and the Wind chants, but its distinctive symbols related to hail; at the same time these symbols are associated with the main symbols of the other chants. Unlike the Shooting, Hail, Wind, and Water chants, the Bead Chant gets its name from the major conflict of the explanatory myth, whose purpose was to obtain valuable ornaments symbolized by the word 'bead'; the Endurance Chant from its chief episode, a race between the powers of evil, represented by Changing-bear-maiden, and the power of good, symbolized by Youngest Brother.

What for many years has been called the Mountain Chant is named for the dwelling place of the many spirits the chant invokes, summarized by Bear, Snake, and Porcupine. The Night Chant, which supersedes all others, is named for the time during which a major performance, the dance of the masked gods, is held. Another common name for the Night Chant, Grandfather-of-the-gods (yei'bi'chei), refers to Talking God, leader of the dance.


The Bead Chant is said to be sung for skin irritations, yet RP sang it for a young man who had some serious abdominal trouble and no itching. According to Kluckhohn and Wyman, the Bead, Eagle, Feather, Wind, and Awl chants were sung for head affections. The Night Chant is supposed to be especially effective as a cure for insanity, deafness, and paralysis; the Mountain and Hand Trembling chants purport to cure mental uneasiness and nervousness - ailments not further defined. The Shooting Chant is armor against diseases caused by snakes, lightning, and arrows, but the Wind Chant features snakes as extensively; it protects against their power and the harm of storms.

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 October 22, 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