Navajo Men On the Way to a Sing Ceremony

Navajo Men On the Way to a Sing Ceremony
Description: Navajo men on Horses in Canyon going to a Navajo Sing.Creator DeHuff, Elizabeth Willis, 1886-1983

Publisher Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico
Date Original ca. 1899-1945

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Haschebaad – Female Deity, or Goddess

In Navajo mythology there are numerous references to benevolent female deities, who are personated in medicine rites by men wearing masks, as shown here. Haschebaad may be translated “female deity,” or “goddess.” The Mask is Used in Yebichai Night Chant Ceremony

Haschebaad -  female deity, or goddess

Source: The Night Chant, A Navajo Ceremony by Washington Matthews – Date = 1902


The mask differs much from the male mask. While the latter, like a bag inverted, covers the entire head and neck, and completely conceals the hair of the wearer, the former conceals only the face and throat and allows the hair to flow out freely over the shoulders.

The Yebichai actor never wears the hair bound up in a queue. While the male mask is soft and pliable, the female mask is stiff and hard, being made of untanned skin.

It is nearly square in shape; the top is always slightly rounded and ‘in some cases the base is a little broader than the top.

There is a flap or wing, called the -ear, on each side about two inches broad, as long as the margin of the mask proper, and indented or created on the outer margin. The margins are all alike in each. set of. masks but not in any two sets.

The hole for the mouth is square’ The holes for the eyes are triangular,-the apices pointing outwards. The mask is painted blue, the ears white, a square field around the mouth-hole and a triangular field around each eye-hole are black.

The kethawns and the dry-paintings represent the female mask as having a yellow horizontal the bottom, like the male masks ; but this has not been observed on any mask ; ‘instead there is sometime’s a horizontal line of bead-work, about two inches broad, not uniform in design on all masks.

From the bottom of the mask proper, i. e., the piece of raw-hide, a curtain of red flannel or red baize, or other material, usually hangs.

Sometimes this curtain ‘is covered with beads, or adorned with fragments of shell. No definite rules seem to prevail with regard to this curtain. There is always a piece of abalone (haliotis) shell secured with thongs in the center at the top, behind which feathers of turkey and eagle, or of red-shaved woodpecker, are stuck.

The mask is tied to the head by means of long buckskin strings. Sometimes there is a fringe of short hair at the upper margin.

Yei Bi Chei (Yébîchai) Night Chant-First Day

A description of the ritual and form of the Yébîchai ceremony,—Kléjê Hatál, or Night Chant,—covering its nine days of performance, will give a comprehensive idea of all Navaho nine-day ceremonies, which combine both religious and medical observances. The myth characters personified in this rite are termed Yébîchai, Grandfather or Paternal Gods. Similar personifications appear in other ceremonies, but they figure less prominently

Note: The use of the word “Navaho”, and , “Navajo” are used in the writings about the Diné,  their history, and culture. See  this article: Use and spelling Navaho or Navajo

Each morning during the first four days of the Navaho Yébîchai healing ceremony, or Night Chant, the patient is sweated—sometimes inside a small sweat-lodge, oftener by being placed upon a spot previously heated by a fire and covered with heavy blankets.

Yei Bi Chei Sweat Lodge- Navaho

The three figures are medicine-men, or singers, chanting. The patient lies under the blankets surrounded by a line of sacred meal in which turkey-feather prayer-sticks, kadán, are implanted.

First Day:

The ceremonial, or medicine, hogán is built some days in advance of the rite. The first day’s ceremony is brief, with few participants. Well after dark the singer, assisted by two men, makes nine little splint hoops entwined with slip-cords, and places them on the sacred meal in the meal basket.


These objects, called by the various but nearly synonymous names of Ye’b’tsai-tsa’pas, ye’ts-ida-V’lpas, ye’bapas and tsapasiazi-olia’l, are twelve in number. Each circle is made of a twig of ts’i’lts’ln or aromatic sumac two spans long.Navajo Kethawn

The ends are tied together by means of a yucca fiber exactly two spans long. The butt end of the fiber is applied to the. butt end of the twig, underneath it, and at first parallel to it, the fiber is’ then wound around the spliced extremities of the twig, so that its tip end shall approximate the tip end of the’ twig

Following this, three men remove their everyday clothing, take Yébîchai masks, and leave the hogán. These three masked figures are to represent the gods Haschéltî, Talking God, Haschbaád, Goddess, and Haschélapai, Gray God.

When they have gone and passed to the rear of the hogán, the patient comes in, disrobes at the left of the center, passes around the small fire burning near the entrance of the hogán, and takes his seat in the center, immediately after which the singing begins.

During the third song Hasché?lt? enters with his cross-sticks—Hasché?lt? balíl—and opens and places them over the patient’s body, forcing them down as far toward the ground as possible. The second time he places them not so far over the body; the third, not lower than the shoulders; the fourth time, over the head only, each time giving his peculiar call, Wu-hu-hu-hu-u!

Then Hasché?lt? takes up a shell with medicine and with it touches the patient’s feet, hands, chest, back, right shoulder, left shoulder, and top of head, this being the prescribed ceremonial order, uttering his cry at each placing of the medicine.

He next places the shell of medicine to the patient’s lips four times and goes out, after which Hasch?baád comes in, takes one of the circle k?dán, touches the patient’s body in the same ceremonial order, and finally the lips, at the same time giving the slip-cord a quick pull.

Next comes Hasché?lapai, who performs the same incantations with the k?dán. Again Hasché?lt? enters with the cross-sticks, repeating the former order, after which he gives the patient four swallows of medicine,—a potion different from that first given, the medicine-man himself drinking what remains in the shell. This closes the ceremony of the first day.

There will, perhaps, be considerable dancing outside the hogán, but that is merely practice for the public dance to be given on the ninth night. The singer and the patient sleep in the hogán each night until the nine days are passed, keeping the masks and medicine paraphernalia between them when they sleep.


The songs sung on this evening, called Aga’hoa’gis-in or Summit Songs, are 26 in number; but not all are sung on this occasion; more of them are heard later during the nine-days’ ceremony. The whole set is sung on the third night. When there is no dance of the naakhai’ to be held on the last night, only three songs of the set -are repeated.

God of Harvest, Fringe Mouth, and Talking God

The personated deities pictured in this plate appear together in acts of succor in the Night Chant in the order seen, the Talking God in the lead. From left to right they are, respectively, the God of Harvest, Fringe Mouth, and Talking God.

Sources of Information for the Article:

The Night Chant, A Navaho Ceremony. By Washington Matthews – May, 1902.
Legend Of The Night Chant- The North American Indian By Edward S. Curtis 1907
The Nightway:A History and a History of Documentation of a Navajo Ceremonial by: James C. Faris – 1990.
Earth is My Mother, Sky is my Father, by Trudy Griffin-Pierce, 1992


Kinaalda – Celebrating maturity of girls among the Navajo

The Navajo Puberty Ceremony  celebrating maturity of girls among the Navajo is held generally on the fourth night after the first evidence of the maiden’s entrance into womanhood. On the first morning following the moment of this change in life the girl bathes and dresses in her finest clothes.

Kinaalda - Celebrating maturity of girls among the Navajo

Kinaalda – Maturity ceremony for Navajo Girls

Later she stretches herself face downward on a blanket just outside the hogán, with her head toward the door. A sister, aunt, or other female relation, if any happen to be close at hand, or if not, a male relative other than her father, then proceeds symbolically to remould her.

Her arms and legs are straightened, her joints smoothed, and muscles pressed to make her truly shapely. After that the most industrious and energetic of the comely women in the immediate neighborhood is called in to dress the girl’s hair in a particular form of knot and wrap it with deerskin strings, called tsklólh.

Should there be any babies or little tots about the home, the girl goes to them, and, placing a hand under each ear, successively lifts them by the neck, to make them grow faster. Then she darts off toward the east, running out for about a quarter of a mile and back. This she does each morning until after the public ceremony. By so doing she is assured of continuing strong, lithe, and active throughout womanhood.

Grinding Corn at Kinaalda, Navajo Puberty Ceremony

Grinding Corn at Kinaalda, Navajo Puberty Ceremony

The four days preceding the night of the ceremony are days of abstinence; only such foods as mush and bread made from  may be eaten, nor may they contain any salt. To indulge in viands of a richer nature would be to invite laziness and an ugly form at a comparatively early age. The girl must also refrain from scratching her head or body, for marks made by her nails during this period would surely become ill-looking scars.

All the women folk in the hogán begin grinding corn on the first day and continue at irregular intervals until the night of the third, when the meal is mixed into batter for a large corn-cake, which the mother bakes in a sort of bean-hole outside the hogán.

Navajo Girl Molding at Kinaalda

Molding at Kinaalda

Molding – Photo courtesy of Gary Witherspoon

The ceremony proper consists of little more than songs. A medicine-man is called upon to take charge, being compensated for his services with blankets, robes, grain, or other articles of value. Friends and neighbors having been notified, they assemble at the girl’s hogán fairly early in the evening.

Navajo Girl Running at Kinaalda

Navajo Girl Running

Navajo Girl Running at Kinaalda – Photo courtesy of Gary Witherspoon

When dusk has settled, the medicine-man begins his songs, singing first the twelve “hogán songs” of the Bahózhonchi. After he has finished, anyone present who so desires may sing songs taken from the ritual of the same order. This motley singing and hilarity continue until well toward sunrise, when the mother brings in a bowl of yucca suds and washes the girl’s hair.

Her head and hair are dried with corn-meal, after which the girl takes her last run toward the east, this time followed by many young children, symbolically attesting that she will be a kind mother, whom her children will always follow.

Pouring Corn Batter for the ceremony cake (alkaan) Kinaaldá, the Navajo Puberty Ceremony

Pouring Corn Batter for the ceremony cake (alkaan) – Kinaaldá, the Navajo Puberty Ceremony

The hatál, or medicine singer, during her absence sings eight songs, generally termed the Racing songs. On her return the great corn-cake is brought in, cut, and divided among the assemblage, when all disperse, and the girl may once more loosen her hair and partake of any food she pleases.


Day Ritual Activities

First Day
Grind Corn
Put pot of wheat near outdoor cooking fire (after the molding).

Second Day
Grind Corn
Spread wheat in the sun to dry (after digging the pit).
Soak cornhusks (while working on the batter).
Third Day
Grind Corn
Dig pit; build fire
Make mush
Put batter in pit; bless it
Cover pit
Gather soapweed root and white clay for morning (during the singing).
Fourth Day
Run to east while four songs are sung.
One Twelve Word song, unless the ceremony is the first Kinaalda,
when this song is omitted.
Make offering to Mother Earth.
Prepare white-clay basket (during the Racing Songs).
Lift children (after the molding).
Girl goes back into hogan (after returning goods).
Retie girl’s hair.

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Navajo Mountain Chant Ceremony Mountain Chant Ceremony Fourth Day

The Fourth Picture represents the kátsoyisçàn, or great plumed arrows. These arrows are the especial great mystery, the potent healing charm of this dance. The picture is supposed to be a fac simile of a representation of these weapons, shown to the prophet when he visited the abode of the Tsilkè¢igini, or young men gods, where he first saw the arrows.

There are eight arrows. Four are in the center, lying parallel to one another—two pointing east and two others, alternate, pointing west. The picture is bordered by the other four, which have the same relative positions and directions as the bounding serpents in the first picture.

The shafts are all of the same white tint, no attention being paid to the colors of the cardinal points; yet in drawing and erasing the picture the cardinal points are duly honored.

Among the central arrows, the second from the top, or north margin of the design, is that of the east; it is drawn and erased first. The next below it is the arrow of the south; the third is that of the west. The one on top belongs to the north; it is drawn and erased last.

The heads are painted red to represent the red stone points used; the fringed margins show the irregularities of their edges. The plumes at the butt are indicated, as are also the strings by which the plumes are tied on and the notches to receive the bowstring.

Navajo Sandpainting Mountain Chant Ceremony Fourth Day

Navajo Sandpainting Mountain Chant Ceremony Fourth Day

The ground of this picture is crossed with nebulous black streaks. These were originally present in all the pictures. I have omitted them in all but this, lest they might obscure the details of the reduced copies. It has been explained to me (although in the myth it is expressly stated only in one case,) that all these pictures were drawn by the gods upon the clouds and thus were shown to the Navajo prophet.

Men cannot paint on the clouds, but according to the divine mandate they do the best they can on sand, and then sprinkle the sand with charcoal, in the manner indicated, to represent the cloudy scrolls whereon the primal designs of the celestial artists were painted.

Navajo Sandpainting Mountain Chant Ceremony Third Day

The Third Picture commemorates the visit of Dsilyi‘ Neyáni to Çaçò‘-behogan, or “Lodge of Dew”. To indicate the great height of the Bitsès-ninéz the figures are twice the length of any in the other pictures, except the rainbows, and each is clothed in four garments, one above the other, for no one garment, they say, can be made long enough to cover such giant forms. Their heads all point to the east, instead of pointing in different directions, as in the other pictures.

The Navajo relate, as already told, that this is in obedience to a divine mandate; but probably there is a more practical reason, which is this: if they had the cruciform arrangement there would not be room on, the floor of the lodge for the figures and at the same time for the shaman, assistants, and spectators. Economy of space is essential; but, although drawn nearly parallel to one another, the proper order of the cardinal points is not lost sight of.

The form immediately north of the center of the picture is done first, in white, and represents the east. That immediately next to it on the south comes second in order, is painted in blue, and represents the south. The one next below that is in yellow, and depicts the goddess who stood in the west of the House of Dew-Drops. The figure in the extreme north is drawn last of all, in black, and belongs to the north. As I have stated before, these bodies are first made naked and afterwards clothed.

Navajo Sandpainting Mountain Chant Ceremony Third Day

Navajo Sandpainting Mountain Chant Ceremony Third Day

The exposed chests, arms, and thighs display the colors of which the entire bodies were originally composed. The glòï (weasel, Putorius) is sacred to these goddesses. Two of these creatures are shown in the east, guarding the entrance to the lodge. The appendages at the sides of the heads of the goddesses represent the glòï-bitcà, or headdresses of glòï skins of different colors which these mythic personages are said to wear.

Each one bears attached to her right hand a rattle and a charm, or plume stick, such as the gods in the second picture carry; but, instead of the basket shown before, we see a conventionalized representation of a branch of choke cherry in blossom; this consists of five diverging stems in blue, five roots, and five cruciform blossoms in white.

The choke cherry is a sacred tree, a mountain plant; its wood is used in making certain sacrificial plume sticks and certain implements of the dance; it is often mentioned in the songs of this particular rite. Some other adjuncts of this picture—the red robes embroidered with sunbeams, the arms and legs clothed with clouds and lightning, the pendants from the arms, the blue and red armlets, bracelets, and garters—have already been described when speaking of the second picture. The object in the left hand is a wand of spruce.

173. The rainbow which incloses the picture on three sides is not the anthropomorphic rainbow. It has no head, neck, arms, or lower extremities. Five white eagle plumes adorn its southeastern extremity. Five tail plumes of some blue bird decorate the bend in the southwest. 451 The plumes of the red shafted flicker (Colaptes auratus var. mexicanus) are near the bend in the northwest and the tail of the magpie terminates the northeastern extremity. Throughout the myth, it will be remembered, not only is the House of Dew-Drops spoken of as adorned with hangings and festoons of rainbows, but many of the holy dwellings are thus embellished.and blue the female.

Navajo Sandpainting Mountain Chant Ceremony Second Day

The Second Picture is said to be a representation of the painting, which the prophet saw in the home of the bears in the Carrizo Mountains . In the center of this figure is the bowl of water covered with black powder, to which I referred before. The edge of the bowl is adorned with sunbeams, and external to it are the four caacbitlol, or sunbeam rafts, on which seem to stand four Gods, or Yays.

The divine forms are shaped alike but colored differently. They lie with heads extended outward, one to each of the four cardinal points of the compass, the faces looking forward, the arms half extended on either side, with the hands raised to a level with the shoulders. They wear around their loins skirts of red sunlight, adorned with sunbeams. They have ear pendants, bracelets, and armlets, blue and red (of turquoise and coral), the prehistoric and emblematic jewels of the Navajo.

Their forearms and legs are black, showing in each a zigzag mark to represent lightning on the surface of the black rain clouds. In the north god these colors are, for artistic reasons, reversed. Each bears, attached to his right hand with a string, a rattle, a charm, and a basket. The rattle is of the shape of those used by the medicine men in this particular dance, made of raw hide and painted to symbolize the rain cloud and lightning. The left hand is empty; but beside each one is a highly conventionalized picture of a plant. The left hand remains empty, as it were, to grasp this plant, to indicate that the plant at the left hand belongs to the god whose corresponding hand is unoccupied and extended towards it.

The proprietorship of each god in his own particular plant is further indicated by making the plant the same color as the god. The body of the eastern god is white; so is the stalk of corn at his left, in the southeast. The body of the southern god is blue; so is the beanstalk beside him, in the southwest. The body of the western god is yellow; so is his pumpkin vine, in the northwest. The body of the north god is black; so is the tobacco plant, which is under his special protection, in the northeast.

Each of the four sacred plants is represented as growing from five white roots in the central waters and spreading outwards to the periphery of the picture. The gods form one cross whose limbs are directed to the four cardinal points; the plants form another cross having a common center with the first named cross, but whose limbs extend to the intermediate points of the compass.

Navajo Sandpainting Mountain Chant Ceremony Second Day

Navajo Sandpainting Mountain Chant Ceremony Second Day

On the head of each yay is an eagle plume lying horizontally and pointing to the right. A similar arrangement of four plumes, all pointing in one direction (contrary to the sunâcs apparent course), may be observed on the baskets carried by the gods.

The gods are represented with beautiful embroidered pouches, each of a different pattern. In old days the most beautiful things in art the Navajo knew of were the porcupine quill embroideries of the northern races. The art of garnishing with quills, and later with beads, seems never to have been practiced to any extent by the Navajo women. They obtained embroideries of the Ute and other northern tribes, and their ancient legends abound in allusions to the great esteem in which they held them.

Surrounding the picture on about three-fourths of its circumference is the anthropomorphic rainbow or rainbow deity. It consists of two long stripes, each about two inches wide in the original picture, one of blue, one of red, bordered and separated by narrow lines of white. At the southeastern end of the bow is a representation of the body below the waist, such as the other gods have, consisting of pouch, skirt, legs, and feet. At the northeastern end we have head, neck, and arms. The head of the rainbow is rectangular, while the heads of the other forms in this picture are round. In the pictures of the Yiabichy dance we frequently observe the same difference in the heads. Some are rectangular, some are round; the former are females, the latter males; and whenever any of these gods are represented, by characters, in a dance, those who enact the females wear square stiff masks, like our dominoes, while those who enact the males wear roundish, baglike masks, of soft skin, that completely envelop the head. The rainbow god in all these pictures wears the rectangular mask. Iris, therefore, is with the Navajo as well as with the Greeks a goddess.

All the other gods bear something in their hands, while the hands of the rainbow are empty. This is not without intention. When the person for whose benefit the rites are performed is brought in to be prayed and sung over, the sacred potion is brewed in a bowl, which is placed on the outstretched hands of the rainbow while the ceremony is in progress and only taken from these hands when the draught is to be administered. Therefore the hands are disengaged, that they may hold the gourd and its contents when the time comes.

In the east, where the picture is not inclosed by the rainbow, we see the forms of two birds standing with wings outstretched, facing one another, their beaks close together. These represent certain birds of blue plumage called by the Navajo çòli (Sialia arctica). This bluebird is of the color of the south and of the upper regions. He is the herald of the morning. His call of “çòli çòli” is the first that is heard when the gray dawn approaches. Therefore is he sacred, and his feathers form a component part of nearly all the plume sticks used in the worship of this people. Two bluebirds, it is said, stand guard at the door of the house wherein these gods dwell; hence they are represented in the east of the picture.

Here is an appropriate occasion to speak of a part of Navajo symbolism in color to which reference has already several times been made. In the majority of cases the east is represented by white, the south by blue, the west by yellow, the north by black; the upper world by blue and the lower by a mixture of white and black in spots. The colors of the south and west seem to be permanent: the south is always blue and the west is always yellow, as far as I can learn; but the colors of the east and north are interchangeable. The cases are rare where white is assigned to the north and black to the east; but such cases 450 occur, and perhaps in each instance merit special s

Navajo Religion – The Sweat House Song

The Sweat House Song

(Tah’tsay Bee-yeen)

Navajo Men near sweat house 1909-1914

Navajo Men near sweat house 1909-1914
View is east across Hamblin Valley to the Echo Cliffs, opposite Hidden Springs, about eight miles north of the Tuba City junction off today’s U.S. Highway 89.


THIS celebrates the building of the first house when the people emerged from the Underworld. It was built for a purification ceremony, and the different animals of this world were asked for the wood, the water-washed rocks, the fire, the water, and the cover for the door. This last was given by the Owls, who are thought of as wearing a thick robe of feathers which they put over little children, lost at night.



Nah-yeh-nez-gha’ni will spread the earth
With beautiful flowers.
An everlasting world and a peaceful world.

Tso-ah-naht’le-he spreads the heavens
Spreads the different-colored stars.
An everlasting heaven and a peaceful heaven.

Kley-yah-nay-ya’ni made the she-mountains
Made the horned animals of different colors.
Everlasting mountains and peaceful mountains.

Brought the water. Brought the water.
Toh-ba’ad-zi-zi’ni brought down the she-rain
From heaven to make water.
And the iron-flakes make the edge of the stream glitter.
Everlasting water and peaceful water.

He put it down. He put it down.
First Man put down the sweat-house.
On the edge of the hole where they came up.
He built the son of the She-dark.
He built it of valuable soft materials.
Everlasting and peaceful, he put it there.
He put it there.

She put it down. She put it down.
First Woman, she put it down.
She built it with the early dawn.
She built it with valuable hard materials.
Everlasting and peaceful, she put it down.
She put it down.

No wood, no wood, no wood, no wood.
No wood — I went to Beaver Man.
We talked together about the wood,
And I got some wood from him.
I got the wood, I got the wood,
And made the house complete.
I got the wood. I got the wood.

No rock, no rock, no rock, no rock.
No rock — I went to Otter Man.
We talked together about the rock,
And I got some rock from him.
I got the rock, I got the rock,
And made the house complete.
I got the rock. I got the rock.

No fire, no fire, no fire, no fire.
No fire — I went to the Fire Fly.
We talked together about the fire,
And I got some fire from him.
I got the fire, I got the fire,
And made the house complete.
I got the fire. I got the fire.

No water, no water, no water, no water.
No water — I went to Beaver Girl.
We talked together about the water,
And I got some water from her.
I got the water, I got the water.
And made the house complete.
I got the water. I got the water.

The cover, the cover, the cover, the cover.
The Black Owl Man gave me his robe
To cover the dark door.
He gave me his robe, he gave me his robe,
He gave me his robe. The Black Owl gave me his robe.
To cover the dark — and I saw it done.
He gave me his robe, he gave me his robe, he gave me his robe.
The White Owl gave me his robe, to cover me.

Source: : Book Title: The Navajo Indians. Contributors: Dane Coolidge – author, Mary Roberts Coolidge – author. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company. Place of Publication: Boston. Publication Year: 1930. Page Number: 32.