Horned Toad Basket by Lorraine Black (#273)



Lorraine has fashioned a memorable basket incorporating a major player in the Navajo ceremonial stories, Horned Toad. This deity, referred to as chee-chai or grandfather by traditional people, is loved and respected as a protector and relative. It is believed Horned Toad chips arrowheads with his breath, transforming them into protective talisman. Lorraine has incorporated a finely carved Zuni Horned Toad fetish as the centerpiece of this masterful and meaningful weaving.

Lorraine Black

Lorraine Black - Navajo Basketweaver: Inspired by dreams, Lorraine Black's skills have literally elevated basket weaving to new dimensions. Famous for her Horned Toad story basket, a three dimensional piece that won first place in the Navajo Show at The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, as well as an award at the Gallup Ceremonials, Lorraine's work is distinctively original.

Lorraine Black's infectious laugh belies the serious magic her hands conjure up when weaving a basket. Unprecedented in her ideas, Lorraine's baskets are innovative and beautiful. Many of them make good use of texture through over-stitching and the addition of objects such as flint arrowheads.

The third daughter of Mary Holiday Black, Lorraine grew up in the family tradition of basket weaving. She began by harvesting young stalks of sumac in the springtime, from where it grows along water ways. She learned how to prepare it for weaving by splitting the willow shoots into three thin strips using teeth and fingers, removing the core, and then rubbing away the bark with buckskin. Her hands soon knew the cuts and sores created by handling the sumac, her cuts stained by the colors of the dyes.

After the intensive work of harvesting and processing is complete, then comes the challenge of beginning a basket. This requires holding together two layers of either three or five rods of unsplit willow, coiling them, and binding them together by interweaving the sumac strips. It is a challenge for the most skillful hands.

Learning to weave ceremonial baskets at about age thirteen, Lorraine continued in the art, quickly transcending traditional designs with new concepts in both design and color.

Now the mother of two young sons, Sebastian and Deon, Lorraine presently makes her home in a small town in Southeastern Utah. Still, her roots extend to Monument Valley, the place of her upbringing. Her art is influenced by her birthplace and her heritage from the Bitterwater and Folded Arm Clans.

Holding one of Lorraine's baskets, with its bright colors and intricate designs, you can almost hear her childlike laughter transcend the coils and spill into the room.

Horned Toad

When a point is found, the person inhales the air around it four times and asks for protection from the spirit accompanying it. Although some believe that arrowheads are made by horned toads that blow on a rock and chip it into a form with its breath, ........... Pg. 108

Sacred Land, Sacred View: Navajo Perceptions of the Four Corners Region; 1992, Robert S. McPherson.

Again the situation was such that there were none to do the reviving. "Go ahead, my granduncle, you yourself shall be used again, what else could be of use! Your pay shall be the same as before," They said to him (horned toad). "No," he said, and four times they repeated their request. After that, finally, he enumerated the things which he had seen on their persons. "Be it as you desire, but you must realize that a dark bow is my pay, and a tail feathered and zigzag lightning arrow, a flint garment, a flint hat," all of these he mentioned to them. In every possible scheming way they endeavored to push their schemes, but failed. So eventually they could do nothing but consent, they paid his hire with all of these things. In the same manner as he had done on the previous occasion he again performed the restoration (by marking away) upon four of them, and only with his herb medicine did he again spray among them, and all arose again. And when they were still partly dazed, he extended his left hand toward them and they began to place all things into his hand. "As for me, I need to do things with this! And I, this was my custom (of travel) in the past! And I, this used to move with me in the past! And I, formerly this was my song!" each in turn said as they placed them into his hand. All of this he slapped together into a small particle, which he held in his hand. Their sting alone he stuck into them. "With this only, though worthless, you may have a pastime in the future! Even so, the very effects of it will be painful," he told them. "That which you use as a sting will, form this day on, be something, at least, to be feared," he said. Then, with the rest of it, he slapped his hands four times and after inhaling its breath four times, he swallowed it. Therefore I suppose he does not fear them, he eats them. Even the zigzag lightning arrow which they had he ate, therefore he has no fear of thunder. 74 Now when he clapped his hands together four times with their former belongings which they hd lost, every knowledge of them (their property) escaped from them, they started out without knowing anything about them, they failed even to think of them. He then clothed himself in the flint garments he had obtained, he put the flint hat on his head, he held the dark bow in one hand, and with the tail feathered arrow, with the mahogany bow, the yellow tiled arrow and flint club, he changed his appearance to conform with their former appearance, he made himself so as to expose no angle of his body to a shot. Pgs. 127, 128

The Red Antway of the Navaho; 1965, Leland C. Wyman

At the end of the Night Chant myth the following explanation occurs: "And now [that which] is called Monster Chant, its blessing way had long ago been sung for [the people], they say. When the monsters had been killed, Horned Toad Boy had sung it for them, they say. 'This [blessing way] will lie on all of [the chants], as far out as the chants extend. At the tip of all of them it will lie, [on] blessing way rites also,' Horned Toad said, they say."

Before interpreting the passage, I would change the translation to read 'monster lore' for 'Monster Chant,' since the suffix -e may mean 'concerning' and not necessarily 'chant.' The last sentence I would translate: "At the conclusion [summarizing point] of all the chants this one will be. It will be the significant point of them all. It is not xojo dji, that is, it is not Blessing Way, but Monster Way." With these emendations, Blessing Way may properly be understood to belong to monster lore, which should be its opposite, so that any commemoration of the dark past may conclude with blessing.

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

Then there was a day when Coyote was very hungry indeed and stole some young green corn out of the patch which belonged to Horned Toad. Horned Toad saw him doing this, and he told Coyote he liked people to ask him for his corn and not to steal it. Coyote just laughed at the little toad, and said he'd like some more corn. Horned Toad cooked some for him three times, but when Coyote asked for corn the fourth time Horned Toad was tired of his begging and refused. Coyote just swallowed Horned Toad, and then walked all around the cornfield telling the birds he met that it was his cornfield. After a while he went to the shelter of Horned Toad and went to sleep. Soon after this Horned Toad got his strength back and began to stir about in Coyote's stomach. Coyote thought the young green corn was giving him a stomach ache. But when Horned Toad mad a loud hissing noise inside Coyote he waked up and was frightened. He thought that this was the noise spirits made when someone was going to die. But Horned Toad began to laugh and laugh and to call out to Coyote. "Where am I, where am I? It is very dark in here," he said.
"Ouch, that's my stomach. Stop hurting me," Coyote called back.
"Now I know you are sorry you ate my young green corn. Where am I now?" sang out Horned Toad, giving Coyote another kick.
"Stop hurting me and come out. The place where you are now is in my bowels,"said Coyote.
"Where am I now?" yelled Horned Toad as he kept crawling along.
"Get out of there. That's my windpipe," said Coyote, feeling almost choked.
But by this time Horned Toad was in Coyote's heart, and he just cut a cross on it, and Coyote jumped four times into the air and fell back dead. Then Horned Toad crawled out of the anus of Coyote and went back to his work in the field. Pg. 48, 49.

The Pollen Path, Margaret Schevill Link, 1998


To the Navajo, flint is a sacred stone. Arrowheads are said to resemble the tips of the fiery bolt thrown by Thunder. Arrows equal lightning and some of the old warrior tales tell of mortals who wear flint armor and look like Gila Monster. In other legends, when Elder Brother sings flint songs, his voice jingles with the sound of blue flint, thunder flint, water flint, talking flint. Pg. 58


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

When a point is found, the person inhales the air around it four times and asks for protection from the spirit accompanying it. Although some believe that arrowheads are made by horned toads that blow on a rock and chip it into a form with its breath, ........... Pg. 108


Sacred Land, Sacred View: Navajo Perceptions of the Four Corners Region; 1992, Robert S. McPherson.

To the reflected light, texture, hardness, and strength of flint is added the power of the sound produced when one flint comes in contact with another [ka j]. One of the ritualistic acts of the singer, repeated at intervals, is to rub his hands through flints lying in the ceremonial basket to make them rattle.

To protect The Twins against Crow, the messenger of the monsters, First Man constructed a spiral arrangement of flints which reached the sky. With every light breeze the grind of the flints [kaj] could be heard, and approach to The Twins was impossible.

Flints, as well as persons, must know when to withhold their power - a symbol of negation.

As infants The Twins were a source of great concern. Upon the advice of Rock Crystal and Talking God, they were put on a mirage stone under which flint arrowpoints were arranged, one in each of the four directions. Because of the flints, even though they did not speak, the monsters became aware of unfavorable conditions. Had the flints produced a sound, there would have been no hope for the survival of human beings.

Flint is of ceremonial importance for several reasons: it reflects light, and when flints are struck together, they make a frightening sound. Flint armor must be thought of as consisting of free pieces that rattle as the wearer moves. Serrated flint has more facets than plain flint, from which light is reflected.

Changing Woman for a long time resisted moving to her new home in the west. At length impersonators of her sons dressed themselves in black, blue, yellow, and serrated flint. As she saw them approaching, she was terrified by the light of their armor. The leader spoke loudly to her and as he spoke his companions stamped the earth, making the flints rattle, scaring her even more. Their attack, undertaken reluctantly as a last resort, finally frightened her into compliance.

When Bat prepared to take the offering to Black God for the restoration of Rainboy, he dressed himself completely in flint. At the ends of his wings were zigzag lightenings, which, with the light of pre-dawn, deprived those beholding him of their courage.

Appearing before the lesser evils - Hunger, Craving-for-meat, Poverty, and Sleep - Monster Slayer looked at them with disgust and they, in their turn, stared at him, for his flint raiment always struck terror into people.

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

Arrow, evil (de'zla') designates the weapon that enters a person's body and harms him, leaving bad after-effects even after he has ostensibly got rid of a disease; it may be removed by sweating and emetic.
Arrows are described for the Flint Chant bundle corresponding to those of the Shooting Chant, but in the Flint they are not used with the bow; both arrows and bow should be taken out of the Shooting Chant bundle if it is to be substituted for that of the Flint Chant. The arrow is a part of the Life branch of the Female Shooting Chant.
Today small arrows are shot into the carcass of a coyote which has been shot or trapped to be traded with singers of Evil chants (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Endurance Chant ms.; 1944d, pp.51, 57; Sapir-Hoijer, p.95; Wyman l936a, p. 637; Kluckhohn-Wyman, p. 24; Haile l943a, pp.14, 58, 105).

Arrow poison includes so much that is ritualistic that it is difficult to determine which part, if any, is drug and which is ritualistic. According to Hill, arrow poison was of three kinds: (1) black paint with rattlesnake blood or the stings of insects; (2) a rattlesnake killed on a rock, the juice of a roasted yucca leaf, and soot of Yucca baccata; (3) soot of lightning-struck wood mixed with yucca-leaf juice. The bundle attached to the quiver gave the arrows (and possibly the bows) added power.
Wyman's formula is: deer blood, Phacelia cremulata, and Rhus toxicodendron (presumably reduced to soot), combined with the soot from lightning-struck wood. Presumably formulas for arrow poison differed as much as those for emetic and other mixtures (Hill 1936, p.10; Wyman-Harris, p.70).

Arrows (ka") as supernatural weapons are constantly emphasized, as is to be expected, in the Shooting Chant, which has for its theme 'things that move in a swift, squirming fashion'; it is a chant in which lightning, snakes, and arrows are closely identified. "The arrow made for The Twins is the symbol of the Shooting Chant.... This chant is the story of the contest with the Arrow People," explains the chanter. Although these are statements made about the Male Shooting Chant Holy, the arrows are chant symbols of the Evil form also, for the list of bundle items shows that the 'arrows' belong to both; they may differ slightly in appearance, but their significance is the same.
The myth and sandpaintings show the concept of the Arrow People and their power. After each night's performance the temporary arrows of the Big Star Chant are laid over the door of the ceremonial lodge, where they remain until morning.
It is believed that lightning will not strike a person who carries an arrow.
When The Twins were mere babies, their mother had a prevision of the earth as it should exist after man had gained control. Talking God gave the children an arrow to protect them as they played. They saw messengers of the monsters in every direction. After they decided to go to their father, they returned the arrow to Talking God. They went as far as Spider Woman's house with the direct protection of Talking God and from her they got two bows and arrows which were henceforth to protect them; these weapons are represented in the bundle.
In the story of the War Ceremony, First Man made The Twins a bow of cedar and arrows with owl feathers, but after the children had described the monster's messengers, he took back the toy arrows and gave them carefully made ones with lightning on the shaft.
He then set up a complicated arrangement of arrows. Arrowpoints placed at each of the cardinal directions were arranged in a spiral that reached toward the sky. Every time a slight breeze blew, a terrifying grinding sound was heard and approach was impossible. It repelled Buzzard's arrows, fletched with his own feathers, and when he was dying, the arrows were directed to restore Buzzard; arrows are now held in the hand during prayer.
An Oraibi warrior feathered an arrow with Cliff Monster's feathers and tried in vain to shoot it over a Navaho war party. Had he succeeded, the Oraibi would have won.

Association of arrows with the magic conveyances-zigzag and flash lightning, sunray, and rainbow-is well established both in myth and ritual.

Monster Slayer killed Big Monster and Tracking Bear with the zigzag lightning.
The People, preparing for war against the Taos people, were instructed to mark their arrows with lightning symbols.
When The Twins had conquered all the man-eating monsters, they wrapped the lightning, sunray, and rainbow arrows, the flint clubs, and armor in a rainbow and returned them to Sun, keeping one sunray as a means of travel. Sun gave them substitutes of mountain mahogany on which the lightning symbols were drawn-the substitutes have the same power as the original supernatural weapons (see also Flint; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; 1939, PI. XI-XIII; Newcomb-Reichard, PI. XXXV; Haile 1938b, pp. 95-7, 111, 127, 139, 151; 1943a, p.273; Hill 1936, p. 5).

Arrow-crossing is a mythical episode. I am not sure that any ritualistic act represents it, although it is likely that the crossed quill feathers in the headbands of The Twin impersonators of the Overshooting rite may stand for it.
When two powers meet, each shows his strength by sticking arrows into his body, one from each side of the chest, and pulling them out at the opposite side. The opponent counter-demonstrates by pushing one arrow through his mouth and extracting it from his anus, and by repeating the act from anus to mouth.
Cicada and a water bird had such a contest to get possession of one of the worlds, usually this one.
Holy Man was nearly bested in an arrow-crossing encounter with White Weasel.
In the Mountain Chant myth, the father directed his son to shoot into a deer pluck hung on a mountain mahogany tree and draw the arrow clear through the pluck. He then told the boy that hereafter he need only shoot into such a tree without the pluck and he would be successful in the hunt.
The sorcerer called White Hair of the Eagle Chant myth demonstrated his evil power to Monster Slayer by crossing arrows in his body.
The Winds crossed inside the body of Holy Man of the Flint Chant to aid in his restoration (Goddard, p. 131; Matthews 1887, p.391; 1897, p.76; Stephen 1930, pp. 92, 102; Wheelwright 1942, p.51; Newcomb 1940b, p.64; Haile 1943a, p.68; ep. Reichard 1944d, pp.117, 121, 132).

Arrow-swallowing is a rite representative of some mythological episode enacted in the fire Dance. Possibly it is related to arrow-crossing, but it is not explained as a part of the Shooting Chant in any form or myth I have encountered (Matthews 1887, p.409; Reichard 1944d, pp.117, 119, 127; Shooting Chant ms.).

Flint (be'c) armor was impervious to lightning arrows unless they were accompanied by other supernatural weapons. When Sun gave his children the arrows, clubs, and other weapons, he clothed them in flint.
Flint has power because of its hardness, the sound of the pieces rattling against one another, and the flashes of light from its facets, flashes that represent lightning and predawn in the Hail Chant myth. In the Flint Chant, Flint stands for the restoration of bones and strength.
Flint originated when the monsters' hides disintegrated. From Big Monster, for example, flints 'leaked away' after he was attacked.
Flint exploded when heated; Sun tried to kill The Twins by heating agate stones for the sweathouse fire. Flint was a threat when, in the Flint Chant, it was said, "Winter Thunder may make you walk on flints."
Sun's piston was of flint; sound, light, color, and hardness exerted squeezing power.
Flint was Horned Toad's protection against lightning; turtle shell could be substituted for flint-thick scales of any kind are doubtless associated with it (Reichard 1939, Pl. XVII-XIX; 1944d, pp. 38-9; Shooting Chant ms.; Newcomb-Reichard, Pl. XV-XVII; Haile 1938b, pp. 31-2, 111; 1943a, pp. 2, 14, 25, 29, 40, 116, 305, 27n; Stephen 1930, p. 91).

Flint arrow points (be'sis togi), numerous in the exorcistic ceremonies, seem to be considered separately from their function as part of an arrow; that is, they are knives rather than penetrating weapons. The discussion of sound, light, and color has brought out three ways in which their symbolism is worded and they, like arrows and armor, frighten.
Flint arrowpoints are required to cut vegetation and may be an offering to the plant cut; their role in cutting knots in the plant garment rite is release (Cutting; Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. 34-5; Hill 1938, pp. 96-7).

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