Tree of Life with Animals Weaving by Helena Begay (#75)

28" x 30"


In this very fine barnyard menagerie, a classic Tree of Life tapestry, weaver Helena Begay of Sweetwater, Arizona, has added additional characters to the usual corn stalk, birds, and bees. Across the bottom of the weaving, horned toads, bunnies, and butterfly join in the composition. Helena is a part of a family of weavers who have embraced the pictorial Navajo tapestries.

Small Birds

Ayazh, or ayazh altqas'ai, various small birds, is a general name for the smaller varicolored birds which have no special name. They are said to have been produced from the feathers of the monstrous eagle, tsenahale'. Their feathers, and those of the blue and yellow bird are added to the ket'an, prayersticks, to the masks, and otherwise. Pg. 159

Birds are not endowed with the faculty of speech excepting in their mythical character. The zahalani, mocking-bird, alone is said to speak (yaltqi). Neither do they sing, properly speaking (hatqal, he sings, being used of humans). Their song, cry or call is universally expressed tsidi ani (adani) the bird says or sounds. Pg.163

The eggs of birds are not eaten. Some birds, as the turkey, the bluebird, the yellow warbler, the mourning dove, and some snow-birds, are occasionally eaten. Pg. 163

An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navajo Langauge, 1929; The Franciscan Fathers

When all the birds and amimals had started out on their way, First Man called one little, gray bird back. It was tse na'olch' oshi, the little rock wren, who had carried the cliff rock up from the Yellow World. First Man told him that, since he had been responsible for the cliffs he should make his home among the cliff rocks. And should anyone ever harm him he would have the power of getting even with him. That is why falling rocks sometimes harm people or animals. Pg. 34

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

Hummingbird: Sacred bird of the Navajo and other Southwestern tribes, Hummingbird is believed to be a medicine person, the first healer of birds. The sound of Hummingbird's wings reminds The People of little bells ringing in the wind. Pg. 196

Magpie: One of the many Native American tricksters, Magpie is a n audacious, clever, fun-loving, trick-playing bird. He has been known to hoodwink Coyote by appealing to Coyote's vanity. Some tribes consider the Magpie's white and blue-black feathers sacred and use them in ceremonials. Pg. 196

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

Don't put food in a bird's mouth. You will have a sore throat. Pg. 82

Navajo Taboos; 1991, Ernie Bulow.

The Dawn or Washing Songs contain such ideas as "Since he talks to it now, now it listens to him . . . . . . Blessedness comes out of his mouth." The Racing Songs mention other sounds: sounds of the running "fading into the distance" and the returning; sounds of "small blue male" and "female birds who call with beautiful voices as they are playing in the tip of the girls head plume"; sounds of the "breeze coming from her as she runs"; and the sounds of the Corn Beetle and all kinds of small birds, including dark-colored ones." The sounds of some of these birds are also present in the Combing Songs and the Painting Songs. In other Kinaalda songs, some of the syllables previously thought to be meaningless have now been shown to be imitations of the sounds and calls associated with particular deities. Pg. 376

Kinaalda', A Study of the Navaho Girl's Puberty Ceremony; 1993, Charlotte Johnson Frisbie.

The Human-shaped agates are closely associated with flint. After Gila Monster conducts the ceremonial for the hero, he makes representations of his own pouch in the form of two cranebill pouches for the Earth Surface People. To the outside of these pouches are tied arrowhead-shaped flints (preferably agate flint), and other flints are jingled during the songs. Today, Cranebill pouches are carefully prepared in a specific ceremony from the bodies of cranes, who themselves represent both the power of restoration and the return of life. In using the cranebill pouches ceremonially, the one-sung-over is told by the singer to tie an offering on to the appropriate (male or female) pouch. Men use flint arrowheads or jewels and women use beads or shell. These offerings are not removed; thus, in time, the pouches become heavily decorated. These pouches are held by the one-sung-over with the cranebill heads turned toward the self during the litany-type prayer. "Through their structure and composition the cranebills . . . are homologous with the pouches of Gila Monster.

Navajo Medicine Bundles or Jish: Acquisition, Transmission, and Disposition in the Past and Present; 1987, Charlotte J. Frisbie

Bluebirds (doli) (H), a symbol of peace and happiness, is generally beloved by the Navajo, being herald of the dawn and a manifestation of Talking God, who told co, hero of the Night Chant, he would appear among the Navajo as bluebird. His feathers are a requisite of many ceremonial properties (Prayersticks, Con. C; Matthews 1902, p. 205).

Big-prairie-hawk (ginitsoh, gin' tsoh) (H) helped to scratch through the sky from the fourth to this world (Matthews
1897, p.75).

Birds enter into various phases of ritual, especially in the manufacture of bundle properties and prayersticks. Many birds were helpers of the Navaho, even in their early prehuman existence. Some are sufficiently characterized to be listed with deities and helpers; many others are more or less taken for granted except as they enter incidentally into ritual. They are closely associated with game and hunting, and with snakes (Matthews 1897, pp. 81, 88, 191, 193, 195; 1902,p. 151).
A systematic study of birds should be made, but until it is, the superficial identifications at my disposal will have to do. In 1942 I took YL, who knew the Shooting Chant, to the Museum of Northern Arizona, where, through the kindness of Edwin McKee, we were able to work for a short while on the bird collections.
YL identified some of the birds most common in the ceremonies. This was an exhilarating experience, for he was from the western part of the reservation, yet he said nothing that conflicted with information I had obtained in the eastern part. However, we were able to test several chanters in this way, their identifications would probably not be in complete agreement. Wyman found differences in his identification of plants and there are local differences in all fields of Navaho teaching.
I showed a copy of Taverner's Birds of Western Canada (abbreviated Tav.) to RP and tla'h, who were much interested and gave a few identifications from plates which I include when they differ from those given by YL. I usually find that Indians are unable to make trustworthy identifications from pictures. However, these two chanters were so graphic-minded and attended to the least detail in sandpaintings, even in copies on paper, so carefully that their identifications may be trusted to a degree. An interesting phase of YL's classification is his calling birds of different genera 'male' and 'female' of the same Navajo category.

In the Flint Chant the following associations are made (Haile 1943a, p. 173):




Red bird


Big hawk














Hummingbirds (dahi'tihi) (H) and Chickenhawks were great hunters who lived together in the same camp.
Hummingbird (bita' 'aya'hi', 'One-whose-wings-whir') brought beeweed sauce to Rainboy of the Hail Chant, and gave him a bead that tinkled like a little bell to wear around his neck (Matthews 1897, p.88; Reichard 1944d, p. 135).

Meadowlark (tsiya'yo'ji') (U) was a companion of Spider Woman, whom The Twins encountered on their first visit to Sun. She was commissioned by Black God to bring the plants for blackening in the War Ceremony (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Haile 1938b, p. 193).

Mourning Dove (xasbidi') (H), like roadrunner and turkey, is idealized. Mourning Dove was said to report things reliably and to have no equal in speed.

Later, when he was sent to spy on Box Turtle and Long Frog, he brought back an accurate report, since he could understand the special war language. He jerked his head back and forth to imitate the enemy and has retained this, a war habit, to this day.

A pair called Dove Man and Dove Woman aided Monster Slayer and his two wives when he performed his first Eagle Chant (Ch. 16; Haile 1938b, p. 148; Newcomb 1940b, pp. 70ff.).

Roadrunner (na'tsedlozi') (H) is said to have been without fault of any kind (Haile 1938b, p. 193).

Swallows (tactciji') (U) are often introduced into a tale and seem to have great power, but are not thoroughly described. They helped the Spiders overcome Coyote. As a reward they got pieces of his skin, which they laid as ornaments on their wings (Reichard, Endurance Chant ms.).

Turkey Buzzard (dje'co") (U) is allied with Crow, Magpie, and other carrion-eating birds. Monster Slayer succeeded in overcoming Turkey Buzzard, who offered his feathers as the soot for the War Ceremony blackening (Chi 4; Haile 1938b, pp.95-7, 193).

White Goose (tcj'clgaihi) (P) was an important and respected (feared) member of Winter Thunder's party in the Hail Chant. When the party had been brought under control and Rainboy was observing his period of restriction after the ceremony, White Goose brought him a dish of food made of parched corn and pinion nuts, and spread over him the blanket of Old Age (Reichard 1944d, p. 135).

Woodpecker (tsiyikali') (H) helped the people from the third to the fourth world by pecking through the sky.

Later he hid in a ball of mud, 'loaded 'for the contest with Gambler, and was rewarded with a whiteshell.

In the vast Navaho mythology, woodpecker is not much in evidence, though he is ubiquitous in Apache myth as the 'carpenter' bird (Goddard, pp. 131, 143; Opler 1940).

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

Butterfly in Navajo Traditional Stories

Butterfly: Due to the natural beauty of its wings, Butterfly is often considered vain. Yet, in Navajo mythology, Butterfly brings the sacred flint to the hooves of the horse. In the legend of the diety, Butterfly Boy was cured of his vanity by being lightning struck with the axe of Rain Boy. After that, his head opened up and out of it came the butterflies of the world. The perishable dust of Butterfly's wings is sometimes thought to prove that such beauty is usually not durable. Pg. 191

Caterpillar: In Navajo belief, Caterpillar is sacred because of his ability to transform into Butterfly, the gatherer of the sacred flint. However, while Butterfly may not always be trusted because of his vanity, Caterpillar is a simple, many-footed walker through life. Like Worm, he may give advice to his "betters." Pg. 191



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

Rain Boy and Butterfly Boy: There is a great arch of colored stone in Navajo Country, and it is called Rainbow Bridge. In order to reach it you must ride horseback for days through desert and bare rock land and through great red rock canyons. Not many people go there. In ancient times it was the home of Rain Boy, a powerful god, whose weapon was lightning and who traveled as fast as the wind on his rainbow.
One day long ago he had to go on a journey. He left his wife and daughter at home at Rainbow Bridge and told them that no matter what happened they were not to go out into the sunlight.
"We will obey you, Rain Boy," said the two women, and when he had gone they sat by the open door and took up their weaving. They were both fine weavers. When they needed a new design they would look out of the door until they saw something beautiful. One day, it was the design of a leaf; another day, a bird feather suited their needs. But today they could not see anything that pleased them.
As it happened, White Butterfly Boy had flown into their part of the country from his home in Chaco Canyon, where the ruins of the dead people lie. Butterfly Boy looked just like a Navajo except that he had wings. He possessed one other great power. He could change himself at will into a white butterfly. Today when he came to Rainbow Bridge he saw the beautiful wife and daughter of Rain Boy looking out of the door of their hogan.
"They are beautiful. I should like to talk to them," he said to himself, but he had heard that Rain Boy wouldn't let them talk to strangers and forbade them to leave the hogan when he was away. So Butterfly Boy planned a trick; he changed himself into a white butterfly and flew down onto the door sill.
"Oh, what a beautiful creature," cried the mother. "What a splendid design he will make for our weaving."
"Let us catch him," said the daughter.
But when they reached out with their hands, White Butterfly Boy spread his wings and flew to a milkweed blossom some distance from the hogan. The women forgot their promise to Rain Boy and ran out of the house into the sunlight where they chased the sparkling white butterfly; each time they got near enough to catch him, away he flew, farther from the hogan. Four times he flew, and the fourth time he lit on a tassel of corn silk in Rain Boy's garden. Great yellow pumpkins coiled their arms between the corn stalks, and when the women ran into the garden the pumpkins caught them, so they could not take another step. Then Butterfly Boy turned himself into a man with wings.
"There," he said. "I have you. Now you will come live with me in Chaco Canyon."
He took them far off over the desert and canyon until they came to the land of deserted hogans. Here, long ago, people had lived, but now nothing but the dead remained, and they were buried deep under the blown sands.
Now, Rain Boy returned from his journey, and finding the hogan empty, he searched outside for tracks. In the sands by the hogan he saw footprints of his wife and daughter, which led into the garden and among the pumpkin vines where they disappeared. It was here that White Butterfly Boy had turned into a man with wings, and with Rain Boy's wife on one arm and the daughter on the other, he had flown back to his home in Chaco Canyon. After looking carefully among the corn stalks, Rain Boy sent out a streak of lightning to point the direction they had taken. The lightning struck near Chaco Canyon. Rain Boy mounted his rainbow and rode over the sky to the home of White Butterfly Boy. There he found his wife and daughter, who were prisoners in the hogans of the ancient people. Rain Boy was very angry with them for disobeying him, but he was even more
angry with White Butterfly Boy for his treachery.
When White Butterfly Boy came flying home at night, Rain Boy said, "I challenge you to a race. If you win, you may keep my wife and daughter. If you lose, you die."
"I agree," said White Butterfly Boy.
"We shall race to Mount Taylor," said Rain Boy. "Get ready. When I send out my lightning we shall start."
Now Butterfly Boy had nothing in the world to race upon but his own wings, so he spread them out proudly and waited with his only weapon which was a magic axe
that could kill whoever held it, at a puff of breath.
Rain Boy took off on his bolt of lightning and was gone instantly. Butterfly Boy beat his wings as fast as he could, but it was going to take him a long time to reach Mount Taylor. On the way, he saw Humming Bird poised in the air before a flower.
There is nothing in the world that Butterfly Boy liked more than to have fun. About his throat hung a tiny silver bell. He wanted to hear how the bell would sound on the throat of Humming Bird as he darted from blossom to blossom, so he took the bell from his own throat and threw it into the air. It dropped with a tinkle onto Humming Bird's neck; this is the noise you hear today when Humming Bird rushes in upon a flower.
Soon after his delay with Humming Bird, Butterfly Boy reached Mount Taylor. There sat Rain Boy on the end of a streak of lightning.
"I win," cried Rain Boy. "Now we will race back again."
"All right," said Butterfly Boy tiredly. By now he was already exhausted, but he was cheerful and did not give up. Again he spread his beautiful wings.
"Ready?" shouted Rain Boy, and this time he rode up over the sky on a great rainbow. Butterfly Boy strained himself to fly, but it was a long time before he reached his home in Chaco Canyon. There sat Rain Boy on the end of the rainbow, and his wife and daughter were waiting beside him.
"I win again," Rain Boy said, and raising his head he proclaimed: "now you will die!"
"Wait," said Butterfly Boy. "Won't you please kill me with my own axe? It would make me happy to die by the blade I have carried on my journeys."
But Rain Boy knew that Butterfly Boy's axe was a magic axe. At a puff of breath from its master it would fly back and kill the man who held it.
"No," he said, "I will kill you with my own axe." And again he raised it above his head. But Butterfly Boy begged four times, and the fourth time Rain Boy stuck his own axe in his belt and took the magic axe in his hand. But he was not to be tricked. He had a scheme in mind.
"Now," said clever Rain Boy, "close your eyes."
As soon as Butterfly Boy had shut his lids Rain Boy changed axes, and grasping his own trusty weapon he hit Butterfly Boy a deadly blow on the head. The skull cracked, Butterfly Boy was killed at one stroke, and out of the crack in the skull came a net of butterflies, all bright-winged and lovely. Away they flew to scatter over the sky; and that is how the beautiful butterflies of this world came to be born. Pgs. 65-69

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

Butterfly (ka'logi') (U) and various moths are symbols of temptation and foolishness, so despicable that their behavior, acting like a 'moth,' has come to stand for insanity, the punishment for breaking taboos.
The hero of the Mountain Chant acquired the power of the meal sprinklers from the Butterfly People.
Butterfly was a decoy for two girls of the Excess Chant (cp. Ch. 1; Restriction, Con. B; Matthews 1887, p. 406; Kluckhohn 1944, p.104).

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

Rabbit & Coyote

And so, it seems, he started out again. Suddenly, a Cottontail jumped up at his feet. In no time he overtook and caught it. "Wait, wait, wait, My Cousin, first let us tell each other something!" that Rabbit said. "No, you will run away from me!" Coyote said. "I will sit at your feet while we are telling each other," he said. "All right, then!" Coyote said. "What is it you are going to tell me?" Coyote asked.

"The arrow of a human being, from where does it move out, My Cousin?" Rabbit said.

But Coyote said: "It moves out of his mouth!"

The Rabbit said: "No, it moves from over his shoulder."

"No, it does not. It moves out of his mouth!" he replied.

"No, My Cousin, I ought to know it very well, as he (the human hunter) carries it around me (where I hide). Therefore it moves out over his shoulder," he said.

At the same moment he jumped up across his shoulder. You should have seen how he grabbed any old way-but in vain! Then he took after him. Just when he was about to overtake him he kicked a rotten stump of yucca against him. The Rabbit did this, just when there was no place to escape. You should have seen Coyote roll over with that rotten yucca stump! Meanwhile, it seems, he was running on over there, and ran with all his speed towards a hole. When at the edge of a bluff he had very nearly overtaken him, he ran into the hole.
In this way, it seems, by running too far, he (Coyote) plunged down over the bluff and landed right at the base of it. "Hm!" he said, "that surely was very unfortunate!" Then, it seems, he returned up above where the Rabbit had run into the hole. He was looking into the hole when he could see the white spot of his rear end close-up. "I must smoke you out!" he said But the Rabbit asked:

"What with?"

"Oh, with dodgeweed," Coyote said.

"That I usually eat!"

"Then with cedar!"

"That I usually eat!"

"Then with pinon boughs!"

"That I usually eat!" the Rabbit said

"Then positively, with sagebrush!"

"That I usually eat," Rabbit said

"Pinon pitch it will be! I will smoke you out with that! That is settled," Coyote said.

"Ouch! This time I will surely die!" Rabbit said.

And so he looked for pitch and brought a great amount of it. Then, it seems, he built a fire at his entrance with slim twigs. You should have seen that smoke twist into the hole where he was and watch Coyote blow it. "It is getting unbearable, My Cousin! Get closer and blow it (get it over with) I am in a dying condition (and shorten my suffering)," said Rabbit. And thus when the pitch which he had brought had caught fire, he (Rabbit) kicked it against him. You should have seen it splash into his face! "There ought to be a splash when (something soft) hits my face!" said Coyote. From his face (so treated) he wiped all the hair (adhering to the pitch) "What do you think of that!" Coyote said. Pgs. 38-39

Navajo Coyote Tales;1993, Father Berard Haile, O.F.M

Rabbits are hunted or trapped for their meat. Originally the fur was braided with yucca, and served as a rude covering or wrap. The fibula of the rabbit is still used in preparing a ceremonial whistle. Pg. 141

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

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is one of the most unique and interesting of Navajo myths and legends. It is an interpretation of where the people came from, their beliefs in the progression and movement of life, connections with their surroundings and the involvement of their deities. It is a metaphor for who they are and the life they lead. At the base of the corn plant there is a symbol for the emergence or center of all things. This represents the birth of the Earth Surface people and their appearance into this, the fifth world. The rainbow is a guardian figure, guarding both the lower worlds and the upper or present world. It also shows the presence and blessings of the super naturals. The eagle feathers at the ends of the rainbow are considered symbols of communication with the spirit world. Emergence from the lower worlds came about when it was flooded by Water Creature, due to Coyote's theft of his children and withdrew only when his youngsters were returned. The corn plant itself is symbolic in that it represents the upward moving way of the Navajo. The roots of the plant reflect a connection to the lower worlds, the knowledge gained from the experience and the respect for the forefathers. The stalk is reaching upward, looking to the future, strong and supple due to the care and nourishment given by her people through Changing Woman. The fruit of the plant is the people, Navajo people believe they were created of corn, (White; male and yellow; female), with the aid of Wind and the four directional Yei-be-chei they were given life. Proof of the creation of humans resides in the spirals of ones fingertips and the swirl of hair at the top - back of the head. The tassel at the top of the plant and silk on the corn, along with pollen represents prayer and the sacredness of life. When Talking God and Calling God left the people, they said; This is the last time you have seen the diyin, (Holy beings) and you shall not see them again....But when you hear the twitter and chatter of small birds, you will know that we are nearby. Large birds, like hawks and eagles are powerful fliers and have the ability to carry messages to the sky worlds, they act as intermediaries between the real and spirit worlds. Often the four sacred mountains of the Dine are portrayed, they are territory markers, dwelling places of sacred beings, holy ground and sanctuaries for plants and animals. Mountains were given to the Navajo to provide protection, the outside world is believed to be held at bay and as long as the people reside within this sacred universe, they will grow as people both physically and emotionally. The promise of prosperity will also be granted as long as respect, proper treatment and honor are given the land. Above all things are the sky worlds, showing room for further growth and upward movement. The Sun provides essential light and energy while the Moon softly nourishes and the stars reflect the past. In its entirety the story told by The Tree of Life is rich with Navajo culture and tradition and gives a rare insight into its nuances.

The Tree-of-Life is a metaphorical interpretation of where the Navajo people came from, their evolution, movement of life, connections with natural surroundings and involvement of the deities.  It stands for who the Navajo believe they are and the life they intend to lead.  At the base of the tree there are roots, which symbolize the emergence or center of all things.  These roots reflect a connection to the lower worlds, the knowledge gained from the experience and the respect for the forefathers.  The roots also represent the birth of the Earth Surface People and their appearance into this, the fifth world.  Emergence from the lower world came about when Water Creature flooded it, due to Coyote's theft of his children.  The water withdrew only when his youngsters were returned.  Those same waters, along with the creation tales, feed and nourish the Tree-of-Life.   


The trunk of the tree is symbolic in that it represents the Upward Moving Way of the Navajo.  It is strong and supple due to ceremonial practice and the intervention of Changing Woman, the deity who cares for all green and growing plant life.  The upper branches of the tree spread out in a protective manner.  The limbs and leaves represent the chant ways and life ways the people have come to know, respect and live by.  As a whole, the tree suggests a progressive, adaptive nature; one willing to learn, assimilate and even divests itself of cultural implications no longer viable.  Navajo land is sacred ground to her people.  It provides sanctuary to The People, providing protection from the outside world.  Through an abiding honor and respect of the ancient culture and the accompanying deities, The People are promised health and prosperity.  Above all things, Elsie explained, are the sky worlds, showing room for further growth and upward movement.  The Sun provides essential light and energy, while the Moon softly nourishes.  The stars reflect the past.  In its entirety, the story told by the Tree-of-Life is rich with Navajo culture and tradition and gives rare insight into its nuances.


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.