Navajo ceremonies rites of the Mountain Chant

Most Navaho ceremonies are conducted, at least primarily, for the purpose of healing disease; and while designated medicine ceremonies, they are, in fact, ritualistic prayers. There are[pg 078] so many of these ceremonies that no student has yet determined their number, which reaches into scores, while the component ritual prayers of some number hundreds. The principal ceremonies are those that require nine days and nine nights in their performance. Of the many now known the names of nine are here given: KléjÄ• Hatál, Night Chant;4 TzÄ­lhkí̆chÄ­ Hatál, Mountain Chant; HozhónÄ­ Hatál, Happiness Chant; Natói Hatál, Shooting Chant; Toi Hatál, Water Chant; AtsósÄ­ Hatál, Feather Chant; Yoi Hatál, Bead Chant; HochónchÄ­ Hatál, Evil-Spirit Chant; Mai Hatál, Coyote Chant. Each is based on a mythic story, and each has four dry-paintings, or so-called altars. Besides these nine days’ ceremonies there are others whose performance requires four days, and many simpler ones requiring only a single day, each with its own dry-painting.

Pĭké̆hodĭklad - Navaho

Pĭké̆hodĭklad - Navaho

Photograph 1907 by E.S. Curtis

This, the first of the dry-paintings employed in the rites of the Mountain Chant—a nine days’ healing ceremony of the Navaho—as in the Night Chant, is used on the fifth night, when the purpose of the performance is to frighten the patient, and thus banish the evil within him. The name of this painting, “Frighten Him On It,” is identical with that of the one used at the corresponding moment in the Night Chant.

The whole represents the den of a hibernating bear. Inside the ceremonial hogán is thrown up a bank of earth two or three feet high, with an opening toward the doorway. Colored earths picture bear-tracks leading in; bear-tracks and sunlight—sun dogs—are represented at the four quarters, and the bear himself, streaked with sunlight, in the centre. The twigs at the entrance of the bear den represent trees, behind which bears are wont to dig their dens in the mountain side. Everything tends to make the patient think of bears. He enters midst deep silence and takes his seat upon the pictured animal. The play of his imagination has barely begun when a man, painted and garbed as a bear, rushes in, uttering hideous snarls and growls, in which all assembled join. Women patients seldom fail to faint.