Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This is a Navajo sand painting used in ceremony and healing. ( I didn't know that the Navajo did sand paintings until recently.) Rather than paraphrase, I will just show a description I found of the meanings:

The Whirling Logs Narrative

From the Nightway Chant

In the Whirling Logs narrative, or Tsil-ol-ne story, the hero of the story sets out on a long journey [down the San Juan River]. At first, the gods try to persuade him against going, but seeing his determination, help him hollow out a log in which he will travel down the river.

Along the way, he has many misadventures which ultimately result in his gaining important ceremonial knowledge. In one such instance, he and his craft are captured by the Water People, who carry him down beneath the waters to the home of Water Monster. Black God threatens to set fire to Water Monster's home and the hero is released, but not before being taught by Frog how to cure the illnesses caused by the Water People.

When he finally reaches the big river [the Colorado River] that is his destination, the gods take his log out of a whirlpool where the rivers meet, and help him to shore.

In the sandpainting, you will see the gods, clockwise from the top, they are Talking God (B'ganaskiddy), the teacher; and at the bottom, Calling God (Hastye-o-gahn), associated with farming and fertility. On each side, left and right, are two humpbacked guardians, dressed alike. The humps are usually regarded as back-packs. They are the seed gatherers and bearers. The two guardians usually carry tobacco pouches.

The Gods carry prayer sticks, Talking God, elder of the Gods, carries a medicine pouch in the shape of a weasel.

Where the rivers met, the hero came upon a whirling cross with two Yeis seated on each of the four ends. From them, he learned the knowledge of farming and is given seeds. He then returns to his home to share these gifts with his people. The yei pair are male and female. The male in black, with a round head mask. The female has a square head mask.

In the sandpaintings, these plants are shown, from the right of Talking God as corn, and clockwise as beans, squash, and tobacco. The plants, and/or other elements of the design are shown in the four sacred colors, white, blue, yellow and black, according to their cardinal positions.

On the right side, bottom, and left side of the sandpainting is portrayed the Rainbow Yei, a guardian god. There is sometimes a circle drawn, and painted blue, at the intersection of the cross, said to represent the whirlpool which was the destination of the episode's hero.

Figures in Navajo sandpaintings generally proceed either towards the sunrise or clockwise, depending upon the viewers orientation. For the Navajo, the cardinal directions start in the east (as opposed to our north), and the east is usually shown at the top of a sandpainting, and open (to let in the dawn's light). This is the same orientation of a hogan, whose door is always in the east.

This description is by Mary & Jay Tallant of Canyon Country Originals in Tucson, Arizona.

Their Home


Me again ----- The San Juan river flows in southern Utah into the Colorado river (now Lake Powell) from the east. South is Navajo territory in northeast Arizona where the mesas can be seen for hundreds of miles. When last going through this area, we found many Navajos' hitching rides as they always get picked up. Hitching a ride is a lost art elsewhere since everyone may be suspect! Unfortunate . . . we met some of the best people , picking up the hitchers.

Once, sitting in a hot spring south of Santa Fe, we heard a Hopi from the Jemiz Pueblo above on the rocks chanting in preparation for their spring-solstice ceremony. Story was that if the women in the Pueblo miles to the south could hear him, he was ready for the festivities. After a winter of rest it took awhile for him to build up the volume but improvement was evident after a few hours.