Navajo Sandpainting Mountain Chant Ceremony First Day


A description of the four great dry-paintings  (sandpainting) pictures drawn in these ceremonies has been deferred until all might be described together. Their relations to one another rendered this the most desirable course to pursue. The preparation of the ground and of the colors, the application of the sacred pollen, and some other matters have been already considered.

The men who do the greater part of the actual work of painting, under the guidance of the chanter, have been initiated, but need not be skilled medicine men or even aspirants to the craft of the shaman. A certain ceremony of initiation has been performed on them four times, each time during the course of a different dance, before they are admitted into the lodge during the progress of the work or allowed to assist in it. The medicine man receives a good present in horses for his work; the assistants get nothing but their food. This, however, is abundant. Three times a day the person for whose benefit the dance is performed sends in enough mush, corn cake, soup, and roasted mutton to satisfy to the utmost the appetites of all in the lodge. There are some young men who live well all winter by going around the country from dance to dance and assisting in the work of the lodge.

The picture of the first day  is said to represent the visit of Dsilyi‘ Neyáni to the home of the snakes at Qocestsò.


Navajo dry-painting (Sandpainting) Mountain Chant Ceremony First Day

In the center of the picture was a circular concavity, about six inches in diameter, intended to represent water, presumably the house of water mentioned in the myth. In all the other pictures where water was represented a small bowl was actually sunk in the ground and filled with water, which water was afterwards sprinkled with powdered charcoal to give the impression of a flat, dry surface. Why the bowl of water was omitted in this picture I do not know, but a medicine man of a different fraternity from that of the one who drew the picture informed me that with men of his school the bowl filled with water was used in the snake picture as well as in the others.

Closely surrounding this central depression are four parallelograms about four inches by ten inches in the original pictures. The half nearer the center is red; the outer half is blue; they are bordered with narrow lines of white. The same figures are repeated in other paintings. They appear in this drawing, and frequently in others, as something on which the gods seem to stand.

They are the ca‘bitlòl, or rafts of sunbeam, the favorite vessels on which the divine ones navigate the upper deep. In the Navajo myths, when a god has a particularly long and speedy journey to make, he takes two sunbeams and, placing them side by side, is borne off in a twinkling whither he wills. Red is the color proper to sunlight in their symbolism, but the red and blue together represent sunbeams in the morning and evening skies when they show an alternation of blue and red. It will be seen later that the sunbeam shafts, the halo, and the rainbow are represented by the same colors.

In form, however, the halo is circular, and the rainbow is distinguished by its curvature, and it is usually anthropomorphic, while the sunbeam and the halo are not. External to these sunbeam rafts, and represented as standing on them, are the figures of eight serpents, two white ones in 447 the east, two blue ones in the south, two yellow ones in the west, and two black ones in the north. These snakes cross one another (in pairs) so as to form four figures like the letter X.

In drawing these X’s the snake which appears to be beneath is made first complete in every respect, and then the other snake is drawn over it in conformity with their realistic laws of art before referred to. The neck, in all cases, is blue, crossed with four bands of red. The necks of the gods in all the pictures, it will be observed, are made thus, but the bars in the manlike figures run transversely, while those in the snake-like run diagonally.

Three rows of V-shaped figures, four in each row, are seen on the backs of the snakes; these are simply to represent mottling. Outside of these eight snakes are four more of much greater length; they form a frame or boundary to the picture, except in the west, where the mountain of Dsilyà-içín lies beyond them. There is a white snake in the east, lying from north to south and bounding the picture in the east; a blue snake, of similar size and shape, in the south; a yellow one in the west, and a black one in the north. They seem as if following one another around the picture in the direction of the sun’s apparent course, the head of the east snake approximating the tail of the south snake, and so on.

In the northeast is seen the yay, Niltci, who accompanied the Navajo prophet to the home of the snakes. In the extreme west is a black circular figure representing the mountain of Dsilyà-içín. In the original picture the mountain was in relief which I have not attempted to represents a little mound of about ten or twelve inches high. The description of the mountain given in the myth is duly symbolized in the picture, the halo added. The green spot in the center is designed to represent a twig of spruce which was stuck in the mound of sand to indicate the spruce tree door.]

From the summit of the mountain to the middle of the central waters is drawn a wide line in corn meal, with four footprints, depicted at intervals, in the same material. This represents the track of a bear. Immediately south of this track is the figure of an animal drawn in gray pigment. This is the grizzly himself, which here, I have reason to believe, is used as a symbol of the Navajo prophet. The bear, in the sacred language of the shamans, is appropriately called Dsilyàiçín, since he is truly reared within the mountains. His track, being represented by a streak of meal, has reference to the same thing as the name aka¡ninili and the practice of the couriers , who are dressed to represent the prophet, throwing corn meal in front of them when they travel.