Navajo medicine-men (singers,hatáli­)

The medicine-men, who are termed singers,  hatáli­, are a dominant factor in the Navaho life. Like all primitive people, the Navaho are intensely religious, and the medicine-men, whose function it is to become versed in the mysteries of religion, are ever prone to cultivate in the minds of the people the belief that they are powerful not only in curing disease of mind and body but of preventing it by their incantations. Anyone who possesses the requisite ability may become a medicine-man, but owing to the elaborate ceremonies connected with their practices it requires long years of application ere one can attain sufficient knowledge to give him standing among his tribesmen.

To completely master the intricacies of any one of the many nine days’ ceremonies requires close application during the major portion of a man’s lifetime. The only way a novice has of learning is by assisting the elders in the performance of the rites, and as there is little probability that opportunity will be afforded him to participate in more than two or three ceremonies in a year, his instruction is necessarily slow.

The medicine-men recognize the fact that their ritual has been decadent for some time, and they regard it as foreordained that when all the ceremonies are forgotten the world will cease to exist.

Hástin Yázhe (Navaho)

Hástin Yázhe (Navaho)

Hástin Yázhe- Navaho

Photograph 1904 by E.S. Curtis

The most pronounced dread manifested by the Navaho is that derived from their belief respecting the spirits of the dead. It is thought that the spirit leaves the body at death and travels to a place toward the north where there is a pit whence the gods and the animals emerged from an underworld before the first Navajo were created, and which the dead now enter.

Their myths tell of the disappearance of a beautiful daughter of one of the animal chiefs on the fourth day after the gods and the animals came up into this world; diligent search was unrewarded until two of the searchers looked down through the hole and espied her sitting beside a stream in the lower world combing her hair. Four days later death came to these searchers, so that now the Navaho will go to any extreme to avoid coming into contact with spirits of the dead, chinde, which they believe travel anywhere and everywhere at will, often doing evil, but never good. The body is prepared for burial previous to death, and is never touched afterward if it can be avoided.

To the end that the spirit may begin aright its journey to the afterworld, the body is taken out of the hogan through an opening specially made in the wall on the northern side, for the doorway always faces the east. The immediate relatives of the deceased avoid looking at the corpse if possible. Friends of the family or distant relations usually take charge of the burial. A couple of men dig a grave on a hillside and carry the body there wrapped in blankets. No monument is erected to mark the spot.

Before the body is taken out, the hogan is vacated and all necessary utensils are carried away. The two men who bury the remains of the former occupant carefully obliterate with a cedar bough all footprints that the relations of the deceased may havemade in the hogan, in order to conceal from the departed spirit the direction in which they went should it return to do them harm.

The premises are completely abandoned and the house often burned. Never will a Navaho occupy a hogan, and when travelling at night he will take a roundabout trail in order to avoid one. Formerly horses were killed at the grave. So recently as 1906 a horse was sacrificed within sight of a Catholic mission on the reservation, that its spirit might accompany that of a dead woman to the afterworld. This horse was the property of the woman, and her husband, fearing to retain it, yet not daring to kill it himself, called upon another to do so.


  1. Roberta Summers says

    I want to contact a Navajo Medicine Man for help with vocal dsyphonia. Traditional medicine has no cure or help. I overheard a conversation tonight that led me to believe a Medicine Man can help. I live in Farrmington, NM. If you can refer me, I’ll be grateful.

  2. Saige Sweat says

    I need a medicine man. My friend is being followed and, for lack of a better term, stalked by a skinwalker. She’s very afraid and is not sure what to do. Please contact me as soon as possible

  3. Would like to find a medicine man for a friend who is having dreams of a medicine man. I spent hours looking online but nothing…can u help me on where to start. He is from Germany but is here…the dreams have been reocurring for quite sometime.

  4. Wayne Griffith says

    I have been led to understand there may be a remedy to help me with hearing loss. I have a great deal of respect for you and your culture. I would like your help please.

  5. I have severe medical problems and I’m only 37 years old.
    Several back surgeries in one year for infection on the spine.
    Actually critical physicalcondition with open spine and neurological dammages (paresis, lost of sensitivity) in 4 limbs.
    My life is in danger…
    Can somebody indicate me an indian medicine man that can really help in this situation?
    Please, answer me as soon as possible, there’s no time to loose…

  6. JD Wohlever says

    Can you explain what one heart and two heart means to your culture? I am researching the story of the native Americans who say they lived under the earth and the two-hearted people would not let them out. Then a tree was grown that allowed the one-hearted people to escape.
    This research began when I was trying to find out what happened the information submitted to the Smithsonian about a cave system found in the Grand Canyon that had ancient Egyptian and oriental artifacts.
    This lead to the story of the one-hearted people (The native Indians) and the two-hearted people (The race the lived under the earth.)
    What does it mean by two hearted in this context and who (what race) are these people?
    I am assuming that two hearted is referring to a race of people that were both good and evil in their hearts, like the two wolves story?
    Thanks for any insight into this.

  7. Sabaistian Skinwalker says

    I am one the people of “ONE HEART” , we were once kin to each other, we sheltered and protected the “DINE” , lead these from the other places which I may not speak of, again is that time when we sing our songs..
    I would ask you smoke me, and know me, and that a place be made at your table that I may speak freely, look for me on the road, “SEE” me, as I walk the path, look for the signs and songs, that show what I am..
    Do not be frightened by the face I wear now, you know how to know, we have business now..
    I come for a “DOOR” that can be found on the “star-road” , I ask I be allowed unhindered passage across your lands, make way for me, Andy shadow will not touch you..
    Or it can be other as you choose, I have dread business with the people of two hearts medicine!!

  8. J. Hamilton says

    I’m a “white guy” I was born and raised in Cortez and grew up with Ute and Dine friends. I have always been jealous of native tradition as us “whites” have little or none. I’m not a religious person but feel that many ancient beliefs have basis in truth. I guess I’m asking for help. I’m an old guy 63, and can count my friends on one hand, maybe 6 or 7 years ago my wife and I met a couple that became good friends. We spent lots of time together, camping, working, talking nearly every day. About a year and half ago I got a call from my friends wife, she told me my friend had killed himself and had written a note for her to call me and I would help. When I rushed to her side I found my friend had hung himself in a big cedar tree behind his house. I cut him down, checked his pulse, and covered his distorted body up with a blanket before the paramedics came. Since that time I have not been the same. Could this be chinde or just post traumatic stress. Thanks

  9. Eddie Lincoln says

    In need of a strong traditional medicine man, in phoenix area or near surrounding Navajo or apache . I need an
    enemy way ceremony done a.s.a.p., I feel me and my mother have minimal time. I was borne and raised in gallup, n.m., half I Navajo and half-ENGLISH, I do not read nor do I speak the language, in which my full-blooded mother also does not speak nor read the known language of her people, it is getting to be a lost culture in my opinion. Now I had moved to the valley in 2008, all because i needed to get away from all the bad luck going on in my life. Preferably at little cost, I do know this may be a pricey ceremony, but I had recently lost employment due to these negative energy’s manipulating things at this moment in my life. I would need a translator, preferably someone very trustworthy, as well as the medicine man involved must be exceptionally trustworthy. Meds man needed asap, thank you for your time! Eddie L. Please send phone number request with next email!

  10. Hello, 2 years ago I had an out of body experience that has since forever changed me. I then became obsessed with knowing my life purpose and last year I found out. At the time I had never heard the term but I was accessing my Akashic records and was told my life purpose is to be a Sound healer. Now 3 days ago I meet a great intuitive/channel and she says my life purpose includes me chanting to help heal and also the flute. She says I need to go to 4 corners to learn how to do this. Can you please tell me if you know of someone that can help me with my purpose? Helping others truly resonates with me. I’m Mexican born but I’ve lived in Illinois since I was 2. Can someone who knows about this please contact me at thank you!!

  11. stray horse says

    I have a friend (white) who during deep meditation had a vision that she needed to engage with a “medicine man” to complete her journey. Is this possible for someone who’s not Dine? I can imagine that there are all kinds of people who seek out ceremonies, etc for all the wrong reasons. Her intentions are pure and she’s willing to travel from Holland to meet with somone.

  12. Betty Martin…not sure if you ever got your answer… but I hope I might be able to help a little. If you are of Apache blood.. First off, you can never ask a direct question to an Apache regarding something like this. It is offensive. To the Apache, an owl is a bad omen. To have one hoot near you is not a good sign. A bear is a highly respected animal to the Apache. He is referred to as “Grandfather” or “Uncle”. I recommend you obtain a book called “Animal Speak” and look for the messages the animals are trying to tell you. As each Nation has its own belief, you will have to do some research…

  13. I am a local author and am currently co-writing a novel where I’m creating a main character who is a medicine man with the Dine. I’m researching the culture in an attempt to create an accurate portrayal. Currently, I’m searching for a name for my medicine man. I’d love to talk with someone who understands the language, culture, and history.

  14. Hello I hope all is well my question is I recently traveled to the west coast and in traveling threw the mountains in Utah and Arizona I took many pictures as anybody will but what’s intriguing me is that in every picture I took I can’t help but see images of people, gods, or even kings so clear to me but no one else I show the pictures too I wonder if this means anything I’ve been searching for my purpose in the world for a while now and driving threw here I can’t help to feel like I was being spoken too but yet can’t understand… I hope you can help hope to talk to you soon.. Krizia…

  15. Harold Carey Jr says

    Thank you for you comment
    I have had many inquiries about word “Navaho” as used in article on this website.

    I have a article i wrote about this here:
    Use and spelling Navaho or Navajo
    Here is part of it:
    The Navahos call themselves: “Dine” which means men or people and in conversing with them they will tell you that “Dine” simply means “The People”.

    The list below is from a search of works published by various authors interested in Southwestern archaeology and ethnology by writers using “ho” or “jo”.

    Hosteen Klah: Navaho Medicine Man and Sand Painter by Franc Johnson Newcomb (May 28, 2012)
    The Enduring Navaho [Paperback]Laura Gilpin (Author) Publication Date: 1987
    The Navaho by Clyde & lLighton, Dorothea Kluckhohn (1974)
    Navaho Witchcraft by Clyde Kluckhohn (1995)
    Navaho Indian Myths (Native American) by Aileen O’Bryan (Jun 14, 1993)
    The Dine: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians (Forgotten Books) by Aileen Warner O’Bryan (May 7, 2008)
    Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians by Aileen O’Bryan; BAEB 163 [1956]
    Navaho Myths, Prayers, and Songs by Washington Matthews; UCPAAE 5:2 [1906]

    Navajo Texts. by Pliny Earle Goddard (Jan 1, 1933)
    Navajo Indians by Dane Coolidge and R. Mary (Jun 1930)
    Navajo gambling songs – Matthews, Washington, 1843-1905
    A study of Navajo symbolism (Volume v. 32 no. 3) – Newcomb, Franc Johnson
    The Navajo and his blanket – Hollister, Uriah S., 1838-1929
    The Navajo Indians; a statement of facts – Weber, Anselm, Father, 1862-1921
    The making of a Navajo blanket – Pepper, George H. (George Hubbard), 1873-1924
    The gentile system of the Navajo Indians – Matthews, Washington, 1843-1905

  16. Betty Tucker says

    I find it very offensive that you “exhaustively” researched the Navajo tribe and can’t even spell the name of the tribe correctly, I appricate you took the time to learn about the culture; but I don’t understand is why you couldn’t spell everything correctly when editing your research. Please fix this, it’s important to me when people read this information that is correct, It’s my culture and I am part of this tribe if anyone wants to know about the culture of the Navajo people visit the four corners and see the people for yourself. It’s worth it to have a better understandng of there culture.

  17. Do singers ever do a blessing for a non Navaho? I have end stage kidney failure and the white medicine is just prolonging life, not helping it get better. If a blessing would help me get a new kidney from a doner or even help my attitude I would love to have one done for me. Please let me know if you do blessings for white people,


  18. “Like all primitive people, the Navaho are intensely religious”.
    What do you mean with “primitive”? 🙂 It’s a word tied to a very old prejudice of Ethnography, it’s doesn’t express the psychological, historical and interior richness of a culture.
    Nice article, thank you.

  19. Betty Martin says

    I need your help with understanding dreams…dreams of a bear that is talking to me, an eagles and a great white owl. I have been told my father is Apache, I seem to get messages from him in dreams.
    A few months ago I was in the northwest, about 19am as I was walking I heard the ‘roar’ of wings, and a great white owlflew low over me , it dirceled over my head, low then frlw into a tree facing me. About two hours later I was out again, the same owl againdd flew low over me, circled me and then flew off to farther trees. for two months I heard and/ or saw the owl, it would hoot, but then it would just ‘talk’. I tried to get information on the Apache rez, I have never felt so much hostility as I did from them. I haave never meet my father I was told he was dead, yet he and his brother live in my heart, mind and soul and have all my life, as though they are here. I wrote to them until I was 16, then I was told they were dead. I knew them as John Ansarka and Joe Ansarka, they were both in the army supposably killed in Viet Nam. I do not think they were, the dreams and the feelings are too strong, and the ‘ bear’ is old, weak and dying in my dreams.
    Can you please help me? I am trying to stay in a motel in Mesa, so I do not have a computer,only at the library. My cell phone is 541-974-5168. I will be staying in AZ.
    I do not fit in with the white, yet the Apache on the San Carlos were so hostile when I tried to tell them this outline of dreams and feelings that I do not fit in there either