Storm Pattern Weaving by Anna Grey (#05)

35" x 48"


The storm pattern is one of the most recognizable of the classic Navajo rug designs. The pattern speaks of The Emergence, the Four Sacred Mountains, lightning, thunder, and water signs. Anna Grey has woven a nice example of the historic pattern believed to tell the tale of how the natural world guards and protects Navajo land. Anna Grey, from Black Mesa, Arizona, wove this sweet little gem and hopes that it has just what it takes to add a little guardianship over your world.


The Thunder people are very powerful and therefore potentially dangerous gods. Pg. 27

From Navajo Sandpainting Art, By Eugene Baatsoslanii Joe and Mark Bahti;

We explored Kiet Siel Canyon and its ruins for three days days of continual thunder and storm. We can never forget the temporary waterfalls which came down from the top of Skeleton Mesa, nor the blinding lightning which shook the earth and cracked rock walls with deafening crashes.
What did the ancient inhabitants think of all this when they lived here? What did Navajos think the Navajos who live here now, but who are ever so fearful of entering one of these ancient ruins? We were not able to answer, but we wondered just the same. Even after a limited experience of camping in these canyons, one is no longer surprised that these people should worship thunder, lightning, and rain and believe that sickness, health, and death are dependent on the mood and the will of the power behind these elements. Not being able to comprehend the enigma of the natural phenomena which often strike them with such suddenness and fury, they resort to imagination and create multiple gods, one for each of the manifold events of Nature. Despite our scientific knowledge, we ourselves developed veneration and respect for Nature as she demonstrated her colossal power and forced us to question the causes of her violent displays.

Navajos, Gods, Tom-toms; By S.H. Babington, 1950.

Thunder ('i'n'i') (U), an evil placated only with difficulty, is graphically represented as a kind of bird. When Reared-in-the-mountain visited Thunder, he found a man almost completely bald, with only a little tuft of hair above each ear.
In many Indian languages one word stands for both 'thunder' and 'lightning,' but the Navaho distinguish them: 'i' n'i' is 'thunder, that-which-moans-indefinitely,' a form emphasizing sound, whereas the words for 'lightning' stress light and form. 'atsinltlic is 'zigzag lightning,' xadjilgic 'forked lightning,' and xatso'olya'l 'flash or straight lightning.'
Lightning is prominent in the Shooting Chant, which counteracts the effects of things that move with lightning speed, often in a zigzag fashion-lightning, arrows, and snakes. The contest between Dark Thunder and Winter Thunder is one of the main themes of the Hail Chant, and Winter Thunder is an important character of the Flint Chant.
According to Stephen, Thunder was created in the first world by First Woman from a bit of her scalp skin. He was later sent naked to guard the home of Water Monster at the east, where he was given a garment and hat, both of feathers, representing forked-lightning armor.
Gray Eyes' myth describes Left-handed Thunder, Winter Thunder, Spotted Thunder, Left-handed Wind, and Spotted Wind as 'powerful' or supernatural, whereas the others are called 'Earth People.' JS says Winter Thunder is not represented in sandpainting because "he is a mean one; to draw him would bring trouble" (cp. Ch. 6).
A singer of the Rain Ceremony should not be paid with animals because, if he were, lightning might strike them. The Thunder People, who accompany rains, are boys just like the Navaho; they get careless and shoot animals and people.
Thunders have power to find things. Because Yellow Thunder knew every inch of space in the clouds, he was sent to hunt for Holy Boy, who had disappeared when he was seized by Fish.

When the brothers of the Visionary, seeking him, lost his trail at the river where he had entered the whirling log, they said, "Only the Thunder People, only those who dwell above in the clouds, know where our brother has sunk beneath the river." Thunder People then began to signal by means of lightning and, when they had located the boy, drove a rainbow stake into the river to show the gods where to look for him (Newcomb-Reichard, pp. 21, 39, 61-2, PI. XXIX, XXXIII; Reichard 1939, frontispiece, Fig. 6, 7, 8; Matthews 1887, p.405; 1902, p.175; Stephen 1930, pp.88-9; Hill 1938, p.74).

Winter Thunder ('i'ni' djilgai) (U) is the jealous husband, his wife the decoy woman, in Rainboy's life and that of Holy Boy, hero of the Flint Chant.
The wife lived in a white house-presumably a description of Winter Thunder's home-at the middle of which a rainbow was strung. The do or had a rainbow border. Inside hung another rainbow, and there was forked lightning like a blanket with a pattern of fire. There were numerous turquoise and whiteshell ornaments. The woman's white face, dark eyes, and subtle smile attracted Rainboy. When he, overcome with shame at his poverty, tried to leave, she drew him back four times-with a flash lightning, a rainstreamer, a forked lightning, and a rainbow. The rainbows referred to here are the so-called 'white rainbows' reflected from snow crystals.
Winter Thunder, seeing all that was going on from the top of La Plata Mountain, where he was hidden by a white cloud, sent a fierce hailstorm and lightning; as a result Rainboy was completely destroyed. The new was taken to the other Thunders, of whom Dark Thunder was chief. Blue, Yellow, White, Spotted, and Pink Thunders belonged to the faction, as did Big Dark, Big Blue, Big Yellow, and Big White Whirlwinds, and Dark, Blue, Yellow, and White Winds. During the council meeting, when it was decided to restore Rainboy, Spotted Thunder and Pink Thunder said nothing. When they were asked to agree, they grudgingly said, "All right!"
Rainboy got into one scrape after another, and each time was restored by a group of gods at a great ceremony. Dark Thunder led a war party against Winter Thunder, and there was a long struggle before Winter Thunder consented to help Rainboy. Even after he had promised, Winter Thunder had to be watched carefully to prevent him from nullifying the chant.

Winter Thunder represents all thunder. In the Flint Chant, it is summer thunder, in the Hail Chant, the thunder which accompanies hail and destruction, hence properly belonging to winter. White Thunder, appearing in summer, represents evil. In the Shooting Chant, thunder is pictured as Dark Thunder.
According to Matthews, Winter Thunder was the owner of the northern quadrant of the first world (Ch. 2, 4; Reichard 1939, p. 58 and frontispiece; 1944d, pp. 27, 43-5; Haile 1938b, pp.83, 127; 1943a, pp.24, 52, 56, 289, 3n; Matthews 1897, p.64).

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

Dine Emergence/Creation

Emergence Story of the Five Worlds By: Rosie Yellowhair

This is a story told by the Navajo people by word of mouth to the young and old. The Navajo believe there are Five Worlds. We are presently in the fifth world. The first world was a small, dark and water filled world. It was known as the Red World where the flying insects were the first and only people. The second world was blue with the air. The spirit people here were swallows. The third world was yellow. The locust were known as the air people. The people lived along the river flowing through their land. There was noting but darkness in the north. These worlds had people who defiled themselves, their bodies and land. The Chief within each group of people forced the defiler (spoiler who ruined their land) to leave. The people asked the Water People to help to chase out the defiler. All the people took flight from their world, into each world until they reached the Fourth World. As they approached the Fourth World, they noticed other people. The four-legged people who had very nice coats ? the animals. The people greeted one another as friends, kinsmen as in previous worlds. They settled in as if they never left any other world. Days passed when at a far distant they hear the wind, a whistle. Faint at first and then grew louder as it got closer. Then very soon, the whistle was upon them. Four Yeis of spiritual guidance came to tell the people of the Fourth World that there was going to be a great "Happening." Three Yeis left to return to the Holy One. One Yei was asked to stay to prepare the people until the other Yeis returned. First Mand and First Woman, the five finger people were made. The buckskins of antelope, a feather, white corn and yellow corn was brought by the three yeis who returned from the Holy One. They sand and danced until the Holy One brought the breath of life. The five-fingered people were told to expand and multiply within the Four Sacred mountains of the Holy One. Within the Fourth World, Coyote was one person who was nosy, mischievous and always wanting to be apart of the growth of the Fourth World. One day he stole Water Creature?s baby, which caused a great flood. The Great Flood caused the people to rush into the reed to be safe from the flood. The Fourth Yei, the Black Yei , was their mentor and mediator. The reed grew and grew until they reached the clouds to enter the Fifth World. The last onto the reed was the Turkey Person who packed seeds of corn, squash, beans and melons within his feathers. The Fifth World. The Air People (locusts and beetles), the Holy Guidance Yeis, Bear and Lynx entered the Fifth World followed by First Man and First Woman. Coyote was forced to return Water Creature?s Baby back to the water. When all was well again and to this day, the Navajo have these beliefs. Water People are ancestors and for this reason most Navajos will not eat sea food. Turkey is given respect within most ceremonies for supplying food for seeds to be replanted in the new world. The Navajos wear turkey feathers on their head as a representation of appreciation and remembrance. The Navajos use the corn and zig zag on it as their travel from the Fourth World into the Fifth World. The passage of travel was blessed by the Holy One. This is known as the Blessing Way. There are many more stories linked to the Emergence of the Five Worlds and many more paintings are needed. Many more winters needed for the stories to be retold.


After the medicine woman told the people about the prayersticks she told them that there was a place in the underworld where two rivers crossed. It was called ni tqin'kae tsosi, fine fiber cotton (Indian hemp). There were two persons who brought the seed of that plant, they were spiders. They said that the people were to use the plant instead of skins for their clothing. So this seed was planted in the earth. When the seeds were planted, the plant ripe, and the cotton gathered, the people shaped a little wheel, 3 or 4 inches in diameter, and they put a slender stick through it. This was used in the spinning of cotton. When they began spinning they pushed away from the body toward the knee. Then the chief medicine woman said: "You must spin towards your person, as you wish to have the beautiful goods come to you; do not spin away from you." For it was in their minds to make cloth which they could trade for shell and turquoise beads and she knew their thoughts. She said :"You must spin towards you, or the beautiful goods will depart from you." There were two names given to the spindle, yudi yilt ya'hote, meaning, turning or shooting around with the beautiful goods. This the Spider Man suggested; but his wife said: "It shall be called by another name, ntl is yilt ya'hote, turning with the mixed chips." After they had spun the thread they rolled it into good-sized balls. They brought straight poles and laid them down; one down, one opposite. They tied two other poles at the ends, making a rectangular frame. They rolled or wound the thread on two of the poles as the sun travels, east to west, over and under the poles. The Spider Man said that the ball of thread should be called, yudi yilt nasmas agha, rolling with the beautiful goods. His wife said: "No, it shall be called ntsli yilt nasmas agha, rolling with the mixed chips." After the loom was finished the cross poles were erected and other poles placed on the ground to hold the loom frame solidly, and the loom was stretched and lifted into place. Then the Spider Man said: "It will be called yoteblitz nes thon, looping with the beautiful goods." His wife said: "From hence forth it shall be called nil tliz biltz nes thon, looping with mixed chips." Then they used a narrow stick about two and a half feet long, and they wound the yarn or thread over it, and where there is no design they ran it along. That was given the same name as the ball of thread. The Spider Man held that it should have the same name as the ball; but his wife said: "No, it shall be called nil tliz nasmas agha." Then they used the wide flat stick for tapping down the thread. The Spider Man said: "It shall be called nil tliz na'ygolte" ; but his wife said: "It shall be called nil tliz na'ygolte, twining with the mixed chips". When they got this far with the weaving, the threads of the warp mixed together and were too near or too far apart. So another kind of stick was used. It had long, narrow teeth. It was also used for the purpose of tapping down the thread. The Spider Man said: "It shall be called yote yo'golte, hoeing with the beautiful goods." His wife said: "It shall be called nil iltz yo'golte." The Spider Man said: "Now you know all that I have named for you. It is yours to work with and to use following your own wishes. But from now on when a baby girl is born to your tribe you shall go and find a spider web which is woven at the mouth of some hole; you must take it and rub it on the baby's hand and arm. Thus, when she grows up she will weave, and her fingers and arms will not tire form the weaving." To this day that is done to all baby girls. The weaving progressed, and they made all kinds of articles. They used cotton and yucca fiber and Indian hemp. These were the thread. They raised turkeys, and they used the feathers for feather blankets. They ate the turkey flesh for their meat. They killed rabbits and cut the fur into strips, and they made fur blankets. They wove different kinds of grass into mats for their floors, and also, to hang in front of the openings of their houses. There were many kinds of weaving. The people lived peacefully and were happy in working out designs in the new art. They raised great quantities of corn. All this made them grow in number; they became a very strong people and their past troubles were forgotten; but this was not to last. Pg. 37, 38

The Dine': Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians; 1956, Aileen O'Bryan.

Weaving has been carried to a high degree of perfection by the Navaho. The art as it exists among them today is not an invention of their own, as nothing similar is found among any other tribe of the Athapascan stock. It is pretty safe to say that the Navaho learned the art of weaving from the Pueblos. Their own legends, however, account for it in their own way. The hanelnaeheke hani', or moving upward chant legend, records that the art of weaving was taught by the Spider Man and Spider Woman in the following manner. "The Spider Man drew some cotton (ndaka') from his side and instructed the Navaho to make a loom. The cotton-warp was made of spider-web (nashjei bitlol). The upper cross-pole was called yabitlol (sky or upper cord), the lower cross-pole ni'bitlol (earth or lower cord). The warp-sticks were made of shabitlol (sun rays), the upper strings, fastening the warp to the pole, of atsinltlish (lightning), the lower strings of shabitlajilchi (sun halo), the heald was a tsaghadindini isenil (rock crystal heald), the cord-heald stick was made of atsolaghal (sheet lightning), and was secured to the warp strands by means of nltsatlol billdestlo' (rain ray cords)." "The batten-stick was also made of shabitlajilchi (sun halo), while the beidzoi (comb) was of yolgai (white shell). Four spindles or distaffs were added to this, the disks of which were of cannel-coal, turquoise, abalone and white bead, respectively, and the spindle-sticks of atsinltlish (zigzag lightning), hajilgish (flash lightning), atsolaghal (sheet lightning), and nltsatlol (rain ray), respectively." "The dark, blue, yellow and white winds quickened the spindles (beedizi) according to their color, and enabled them to travel around the world."

Presumably, this legend accounts for the now vanishing tradition that weaving should be done with proper moderation. Overdone weaving (akeitlo) is ameliorated by a sacrifice offered to the spindle (beedizi). Its prayerstick (bik'et'an) consists of yucca, precious stones, bird and turkey feathers, tassels of grass (tlo'zol) and pollen, and forms part of the blessing rite (hozhoji). The hach'eyatqei, or ch'aeyatqei (prayer to the gods), is recited with the sacrifice. The custom withholding maidens from weaving before marriage, which was formerly observed, is also explained by the fear of overdoing weaving. Little or no attention, however, is paid to this tradition today. Pgs. 221, 223

For references to steps in weaving, coloring and dyeing of wool, setting up of loom, weaving, Implements, use of loom, designs and knitting refer to below Pgs. 223-256

An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navaho Language; 1910, The Franciscan Fathers.

Take, for instance, the famous art of Navajo weaving. If you ask a member of the tribe today when weaving was learned, she - for Navajo weavers are women - will tell you that they were taught by Spider Woman, "in the beginning." Yet the Navajo weaving technique, point for point, exactly duplicates that of the Pueblos, who have been weaving since A.D. 600. It is a complicated art, and Navajo girls today need years to learn it from a female relative, practicing every day. It is difficult to believe that the Navajos had worked out the loom, the spindle, and all the other equipment before this era of "learning by marriage." A blanket got in trade, a loom glimpsed on a visit to some pueblo would never have given them enough information. Then there is the problem of sex etiquette, for most Pueblo weavers today are men. Indian proprieties would surely forbid a Navajo woman to receive daily instruction from a strange man. But if she married him! It is possible to imagine the skilled weaver working in a Navajo home, trying to teach his sons who were still wedded to the life of hunting and fighting and, finally, imparting the art to his daughters. That this did not happen too early in Navajo history can be gathered from the fact that all known specimens of Navajo weaving are in wool. Therefore they were made after the Spaniards had come and after the Navajos had sheep. And sheep did not come to the Navajos in any quantity until after the Pueblo revolt. Pgs. 46-47

The Navajos; 1956, Ruth M. Underhill.

Even such everyday tasks as weaving must be done only in moderation. Many women will not weave more than about two hours at a stretch; in the old days unmarried girls were not allowed to weave for fear they would overdo, and there is a folk rite for curing the results of excess in this activity. Closely related is the fear of completely finishing anything: as a "spirit outlet," the weaver leaves a small slit between the threads. Pgs. 225-226

The Navaho; 1946, Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton.

The Navajos believe in the Greek maxim "Nothing to excess " believing that overdoing a thing brings bad luck as an offense to the spirits. For the same reason nothing must be too perfect. A rug or basket design with a solid border must have a break in it or flaw to let the spirit of the maker, who has spent so much time and energy, escape. It is natural that things which bring one a livelihood should also have some restrictions. Many commercially minded weavers and other craftsmen have begun to ignore the taboos of their trades as being too restrictive. The large number of taboos relating to pottery making have been given credit for the decline of that craft, and none are listed here.


Don 't hit anyone with weaving tools - crack the tools.

They will be paralyzed in the future.


Don't spank your children with weaving tools.

They'll get sick.


Don't have a weaving comb with six points.

Your baby might have six fingers.


Don't go between the poles of the loom when a woman is weaving.

You won't grow - cause evil - won't get much for the rug.


Don't have the loom of the weaving stand too long.

It will tire and hurt you.


Don't eat or drink while you prepare the loom for the rug.

You'll get poor - won't get much for the rug.


Don't eat while you are weaving.

It will go slow - won't be any good.


Don't weave a Yei figure with one eye smaller or one leg shorter.

It will affect you that way in later life - affect your baby.


Don't leave a Yei figure in a rug unfinished.

The Yeis will get angry - bring bad luck.


This is interesting as a compromise taboo. Yeis are Holy People and as such are supposed to be represented only in the sandpaintings which are used and destroyed before sundown but never done in any permanent form. The famous hermaphroditic medicine man Hosteen Clah was one of the first to weave rug versions of the sandpaintings. In the Shiprock area Yei rugs and other pictorial tapestries became increasingly popular after WWII.


Don't be stubborn while weaving a rug.

It won't be worth much.


Don't throw weaving tools.

You 'II never finish the weaving.


Don't burn weaving tools.

The "Yeis" will get angry - bad luck.


Don't weave if you don't know a weaving song.

It won't be any good.


Don't leave tools in the loom when they are not in use.

You won't finish right away.


Don't weave when it is raining.

It will cause the loom to fall.


Don't stand by the loom when it is raining.

Lightning will strike you.


Don't pass things through the loom.

Anything you pass through will be lost -food, yarn, beads.


Don't bump into or move around a loom you are preparing for a rug.

It will be crooked - you won't be able to get it straight.


Don't leave carded wool too long.

When you start weaving it won't like it and you'll have trouble.


Don't make fun of your weaving.

It will get worse - you'll be poor.


Don't leave a loom outside.

It will collect bad things.


Don't cut off a loom once it is made.

You will have a short life.


Don't steal a rug - wool - weaving tools.

You'll never be lucky - always have bad luck.


Don't weave immoral things in a rug.

You'll be sterile.


Don't weave any taboo animal into a rug.

You will have all the bad luck associated with that animal.


Don 't hang rugs out in the sun.

The sun will take it as an insult.


Don't weave at all (boys).

It will affect the reproductive organs.


Don't weave on the north side of the hogan.

The rug won't be worth anything.


Don't drag your rugs on the ground.

Causes poverty.


Don't leave an unfinished rug outside at night.

It might be witched - you won't be able to finish it or sell it.


Don't put a rug over your horse's face.

It will go blind.


Pgs. 179-183

Navajo Taboos; 1991, Ernie Bulow.

The principal occupation of the present-day Navajo is raising sheep, goats, and a few cattle. And yet four hundred years ago he had seen no sheep or horses. Under the treaty of 1886, each Navajo was given two sheep - about twelve thousand sheep altogether, since not more than sic thousand Navajos survived Bosque Redondo. Now a million sheep graze on the Navajo land. Since the introduction of sheep to this country by Coronado's men, Navajo women have been weaving rugs on crude hand looms - an art which was not entirely new to them, since they already wove with yucca and other vegetable fibers. Pg. 167

Navajos, Gods, Tom-toms; By S.H. Babington, 1950.

There is a saying that a rug is not good unless a weaver puts her "soul" in it. Like Changing Woman, the Holy Person whom the Navajo woman personifies, the weaver is an eternal creator who weaves both an individual product of her own mind and a more universal product from the mind of the tribe. Pgs. 10-11

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

Storm Rugs

Whatever their murky beginnings, Navajo storm rugs have since become one of the most popular Navajo rug designs and invite many interpretations as to their meaning.

Explaining the Navajo storm design presents a bit of a dilemma.  The pattern is created by weaving artists from all corners of the Navajo reservation and beyond, yet pinpointing its origin and meaning is a different story, or I will say, several stories. 

Although storm pattern rugs later became associated with Tuba Trading Post on the western side of the Navajo reservation, many feel it first made its appearance and was first popularized by J.B. Moore, a short-lived but  influential trader at the Crystal Trading Post in the nineteen-teens.  In his first catalogue published in 1911, he featured two weavings with the quincunx (I love this was one of Kira’s spelling bee words last year) layout and attributed the pattern to one family designated specifically to weave what became known as the storm design.

Our culture loves asking the question, “...but, what does it mean?”  The first story comes from Cameron Trading Post:  Jean Mann, a weaver from the area explained that the center of the rug, in the square part, was the weaver’s home or the weaver’s hooghan. Lightning connects the weaver to the four sacred mountains that form the border of Dinetah. These mountains are the squares in each corner of the rug. The rain is the warp of the rug. Centipedes flank the hooghan on each side. In early versions of storm weavings, above and below there were whirling logs close to the hooghan. This symbol, similar to and because of, the Nazi swastika was later changed to look like another centipede.  Outward from this element is the 6-legged water bug. The whole rug symbolizes a storm and also portrays the storm as a sacred occurrence.

My understanding is that J.B. Moore had a fondness for Oriental weavings and possibly introduced Eastern rug patterns to the local weavers.  An explanation given by the Navajo Rug Repair Company, experts in cleaning and repairing Oriental and Navajo weavings, lends credence to this theory.  They state, “One story about the design origin is that it was derived from the labels on flour sacs sold to Navajos in the early years.  This author has not been able to find any flour sac labels that show anything like this design (the same story is often written concerning the swastika design as found in some Navajo rugs).  I theorize that the Storm Pattern's origin lies within Kufic script that is found in Persian, Caucasian and other Mid-eastern rugs, particularly in the borders of those rugs.  The "Storm Pattern" design shows the favored quincunx pattern, a ubiquitous design styling in the Orient.”

I like what Ann Hedlund, a cultural anthropologist and director of the Gloria F. Ross Center for Tapestry Studies at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson has to say about J.B. Moore’s introduction of the design:

 “In 1911, trader J.B. Moore published a catalogue showing a Navajo rug with a central rectangle, four zigzag arms radiating to the corners, and bold, isolated geometric motifs along the ends and sides. Stating, ‘This pattern is one of the really legendary designs embodying a portion of the Navajo mythology,’ Moore started his own legend that has yet to be unraveled or understood. No earlier Navajo design resembles this one—in weaving, sandpainting, or any other medium.”  Professor Hedlund’s explanation supports the idea of outside influences on Navajo weaving and to me, belongs in the category I have endearingly titled “Great White Trader Stories”.

Ann Hedlund chimes in again with the following thoughts:

“Weavers today differ in their interpretation of the motifs and layout. Some deny knowledge of any symbols and say the stories came from traders. Others suggest that maybe the center symbolizes a Navajo hogan, a lake, or the center of the universe; the corner elements are spoken of variably as the four sacred mountains, the four winds, or the four cardinal directions. The radiating zigzag lines are usually called lightning lines or whirling logs. The individual motifs at both ends are called water bugs or pinon beetles.”

---Georgiana Kennedy Simpson