Sacred-Texts Native American Navajo
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The myth material of the Hozhonji is from the Navajo Creation Myth, or Story of the Emergence. This is the foundation of the Navajo religion and the explanation of the world as they know it. As told by Hasteen Klah in the preceding pages, the story starts in a dark world in which are the Great God, Begochiddy; the Fire God, Hashjeshjin; Salt Woman, Asheen Assun; Coyote, Mah-ih; and First Man and First Woman, the prototypes of Man on this earth. These pass upwards to the second blue world, and there Begochiddy begins by creating twins, male and female. Hashjeshjin, the Fire God, destroys them and out of their dead substance Begochiddy creates the Ethkay-nah-ashi (literally the two-who-go-together), and then, when he wishes to bring life to the rest of creation, breathes his spirit into the Ethkay-nah-ashi, and through them the newly created stars, nature, animals and finally Man, as he exists now, come to life. I include below some information on the mysterious Ethkay-nah-ashi, portrayed in the final sandpainting (Set I), as they are evidently basically connected with the Hozhonji ceremony and once apparently had a rite or ceremony of their own. This mystery of life coming through dead substance from God to Creation I have mentioned in my general introduction.
Later, the myth tells how, after beginning creation, these first Powers passed up to the third or yellow world where the first sin occurred, and then up to this world, which is the white world. In the ceremony as given by Hasteen Klah, the path upward is shown in the sandpaintings (Set I) with the colors of the four worlds along the path. The Hozhonji is the most universally p. 166 understandable of all Navajo ceremonies, as it concerns the blessing of the path of Man, or of life itself, and all who are present at the final ceremony, whether initiate or not, are expected to walk along the path upward on the sandpainting. The first three sandpaintings illustrated are not used now, for the ceremony has become shortened so that it consists of an evening of singing and ceremonial bathing, the making of the sandpainting in the morning of the next day and singing all that night.
The ceremony used to be at least four days long because the first sandpainting in this series was made at quite a distance outside and east of the ceremonial Hogahn, and the first rite took place there. On the second day the second sandpainting was made nearer the Hogahn and east of it, and on the third day the third sandpainting was made outside the door of the Hogahn, and then the fourth sandpainting was made in the Hogahn and west of the fire as it is today.
Nowadays the ceremony is of one night and one day, and it has several unusual features. It begins in the evening with blessing the Hogahn by putting pollen up on the roof beams at the four directions, and singing. Next day the sandpainting is made not, as usual, out of rock sand, but of pollen and powdered plant substances. The person for whom the ceremony is given sits south of it and sings, holding what I believe to be the symbol of Estsan-ah-tlehay, the Changing Woman, who never appears in any sandpainting, though she is very holy. This symbolic object is an ear of corn, wreathed in strings of turquoise, white shell and other beads; and Klah, the Medicine Man, held another similar ear of corn. They also held pieces of so-called mirage stone, Hadahonigay, which look like striped stalactite, and a pair of small images made of this stone with inlaid features of turquoise. Tied together with prayer plumes, these images are probably a male and female symbol of the Ethkay-nah-ashi. After many songs had been sung, the person for whom the p. 167 ceremony was being given, instead of being placed on the sandpainting for treatment as in all other ceremonies, walked in the footsteps on the painting up the path of life, following the Medicine Man. After them, walking in the footsteps, passed all the men, women, and children in the Hogahn, the women carrying the seed corn. Then the painting was covered with a blanket, and the patient, his family and Klah sat on it, facing east, and sang. The painting was left there, covered with the blanket, so the painting permanently blessed the Hogahn, becoming part of the earth floor.
These Hozhonji sand paintings are a form of prayer showing in a set of symbols the Navajos’ aspiration towards higher things, and the last sandpainting, if understood, puts down the miracle of birth in a wonderfully spiritual way. They are nearer to the idea expressed in the Mandalas of Tibet than any of the other sandpaintings. Nearly all Medicine Men know the Hozhonji ceremony, but most of them give it without sandpaintings. Klah told me that one form of the Blessing Chant used to be held to bless the tame animals and some of the sandpaintings were made in the corral and along the path leading to it.
The medicine articles of the Hozhonji are always kept by the Medicine Man’s family after he dies, for even if they are not used they bring blessing to those possessing them.
I include here all the information I have been able to gather about the Ethkay-nah-ashi and the ceremony connected with them. It is only the older priests and those really initiated who know about them. Most would call the figures in the last Hozhonji sandpainting (of set I) Nayenezgani and Tobachischin, but the ones who know the inner meaning say that the Ethkay-nah-ashi are in every ceremony, although exact knowledge of them has been lost. Even the Hopis and the people of Taos have heard of them.
Information from Hasteen Klah. The ceremony of the Ethkay-nah-ashi used to be given on the afternoon of the fourth sandpainting p. 168 of the Yehbechai. Klah knew the prayers but did not have the medicine which always descended through a woman from the last expert who lived about 300 years ago. The medicine went to the priest at that time and then to his daughter who married west of the Chuskai Mountains.
The ceremony took place outside the Hogahn. The priest held the Ethkay-nah-ashi masks, and a man and the Yeh came up to him and danced toward the Ethkay-nah-ashi from the east, south, west and north. The man held a basket full of jewelry. The priest put the mask of the Ethkay-nah-ashi on the man’s face and led him into the Hogahn. The Ethkay-nah-ashi belong to Begochiddy, the Great God, and are next in order to him in holiness. The earthly forms are small twins who ride on little deer which bear twin male deer, and these, when they have been smothered by pollen (killed without the shedding of blood) are made into Yehbechai masks.
In 1930, A. J. Newcomb and Klah went to see if they could find some masks of the Ethkay-nah-ashi which Father Berard Haile knew of, and they found them in the possession of a woman near Ganado who said they must never pass into the hands of a man when not in use. As far as Klah knew, there were two masks at Lukachukai and two near Houk.
Another form of the Ethkay-nah-ashi ceremony given many years ago near Crown Point was described by Klah as follows:
They made two paths of white cornmeal, radiating from the Hogahn in all four directions. There were two people who came from the east wearing Yehbechai masks, and the patient and the Medicine Man came out of the Hogahn wearing the masks of the Ethkay-nah-ashi, and they stood at the meeting of the paths of white meal, the Medicine Man standing at the north of the patient.
Klah thought this ceremony was given only in the Nan-tizi-hatral-nantso, which was like the ceremony of Kin-be-hatral with the screen of reeds, and the birds hanging over it, only, p. 169 instead of the snakes’ heads projecting from the screen there were Yehs (gods) in the holes of the Kin (screen). Behind the Kin there were two Yehs sitting facing each other who were grinding the medicine, while at the north a man with pumpkin shells tied all over him ground the incense.
At sundown, there was a dance of six dancers, the Kin-nakai like the Yehbechai, but painted differently. On the last day of the ceremony at noon six groups danced. From the east the Ih-ahe-tso, a woman and a man, arm in arm, the woman carrying a basket of beans, and these dancers came from the south, west, and north and then went away. The Kin-nakai dancers came next dancing at sundown. Afterward, the Willa-chee (red ant) dancers, all painted red with white hands. After these the Yah-da-del-trahe lifting their feet high. Then the Yeh-nant-eh in line, facing the Hogahn. Then Hashje-hogahn, then four Atsathle dancers like the first dance of the Yehbechai, then the Atsathle-etsosi, which are the usual dancers of the last night of the Yehbechai as it is done now.
Information from Estsan Hatrali Begay, son of the Woman Singer of Red Rock who gave the Kin-behatral and Tsilthkehji Nahtohe Ceremonies in 1937. He gives the Hozhonji - Blessing Chant, but uses no sandpaintings and no Kehtahns, and it is a prayer cerernony of only one day. The Ethkay-nah-ashi belong to the Blessing Chant and they are in all ceremonies. One of them comes from the morning light and one from the evening light. The relatives of Akdilthly, who live near Lukachukai, have two masks, one white, one blue. When these masks were investigated by Clyde Beyal and Mrs. Newcomb, the man who directed them to the woman who had the masks said no one dared to use them now because the last people who tried to use them all died. The masks were to be used to make someone who hated you friendly again, but when not used right the masks were so powerful that they killed those who used them. There was no sandpainting or ceremony used with them. The p. 170 last person who used these masks was Hatrali Nahkloi. (Hasteen Nahkloi was Klah’s teacher and gave Washington Matthews his version of the Yehbechai.)
The old woman who holds the masks now belongs to the Kih-ahni Clan. She had them in a roll of white cloth about fourteen inches long by eight inches in thickness. There were three inside wrappings; the first inside one must be white buckskin tied with buckskin thongs. When this was opened there were two other buckskin wrapped bundles. She sprinkled the whole thing with pollen, and then opened the two. Inside were two very beautiful Yeh masks made of the whitest buckskin, with blue faces. One was square and one round, each one surrounded with red hair which lobked like lamb or mountain sheep wool dyed red. The design on the faces was not visible because across each face lay four prayer-plume bundles. Mrs. Newcomb thought it was a very old Yehbechai medicine. This old woman said the bundles will go to her son if he ever learns to sing Yehbechai. There is another pair of masks owned by the family of a man called Denay-Nez-Begay who lived at Na-ah-tee.
Evidently a man can use the masks and medicine, but they must be kept in the hands of a woman when not in use.
The following description is of the Hozhonji ceremony as given by Bitahni-bedugai, an old Medicine Man who lived near Tohatchi. He died in 1939. Bitahni said that he was the third member of his family who had given this Blessing Chant. It came from Hasteen Tseh-nah-jinni, who was the uncle of Bitahni-bedugai, and lived at Andilth Chilthly. The sandpaintings mentioned are reproduced in Set II.
Early in the morning of the first day, the patient takes the medicine bundle in his hands and prays to Hashje-altye. Then a ceremonial bath is given him and he is wiped off with white p. 171 meal, and puts on new clothes. His hair is untied. Then the first sandpainting of Hahjeenah, the Emergence, is made, and the patient holds pollen in his hands. The patient goes outside and ties up his hair, then comes in and sits at west of painting facing east, holding the medicine bundle, and prays. Afterwards he goes out of the Hogahn for the rest of the day.
In the evening the sandpainting of four mountains is made, with path and footsteps on it leading into the sandpainting. The patient enters, walking on the footsteps, and after him everyone in the Hogahn, with the Medicine Man coming last and rubbing out the path behind him. The patient sits on white circle in center and the Medicine Man on yellow circle and they pray. Then the Medicine Man puts both circles together and his patient sits on both and they sing and pray all night. The person sitting next to the door at the south takes pollen and touches his mouth and head with it, and all those in the Hogahn in turn do the same. Twelve very holy Hogahn songs are sung, as well as many others. Just before dawn twelve more very holy early morning songs are sung. The sandpainting is piled together and the patient sleeps on it for four nights, then he carries it out and puts it in the desert. After the Medicine Man gets home he sings twelve finishing songs to guard himself from trouble from Coyote.
Hasteen Yazzi, a Medicine Man who lives on the eastern side of the reservation gave the following mythic origin of the sandpaintings used in his ceremony of the Blessing Chant (Set III):
“The story begins with the White Shell Woman. The earth people had the chants and prayers belonging to the Hozhonji, but because they had no paintings to guide them they constantly made mistakes. The White Shell Woman told them that she p. 172 would help them and have a ‘sing’ over herself and teach them the paintings.
“First she took them to a field of white corn. She made her foot prints in yellow pollen and then seated herself beneath a cornstalk. This stalk of corn she had planted in the center of the cornfield. Here she said all the chants and prayers and when she had finished, a bluebird came and perched upon the flower tassel of the corn and sang. In this way she knew that she had done everything perfectly.
“Throughout the night the White Shell Woman prayed and the next day she made the second painting of her house of the clouds. Again she made the house of the clouds and the seat and place for the medicine basket. This done, she took the seat and placed a medicine basket full of suds in front of her and taking off her clothes, washed and bathed her body and hair. She finished by chanting and prayers and then told the earth people that she had now taught them the paintings and to use them hereafter for blessings, crops, more children, or anything of that kind.”