Navajo - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Navajo gods and other supernatural powers are many and varied. Most important among them are a group of anthropomorphic deities, and especially Changing Woman or Spider Woman, the consort of the Sun God, and her twin sons, the Monster Slayers. Other supernatural powers include animal, bird, and reptile spirits, and natural phenomena or wind, weather, light and darkness, celestial bodies, and monsters. There is a special class of deities, the Yei, who can be summoned by masked dancers to be present when major ceremonies are in progress. Most of the Navajo deities can be either beneficial or harmful to the Earth Surface People, depending on their caprice or on how they are approached. Navajo mythology is enormously rich and poetically expressive. According to basic cosmological belief, all of existence is divided between the Holy People (supernaturals) and the Earth Surface People. The Holy People passed through a succession of underworlds, each of which was destroyed by a flood, until they arrived in the present world. Here they created First Man and First Woman, the ancestors of all the Earth Surface People. The Holy People gave to the Earth Surface People all the practical and ritual knowledge necessary for their survival in this world and then moved away to dwell in other realms above the earth. However, they remain keenly interested in the day-to-day doings of the Earth Surface People, and constant attention to ceremonies and taboos is required in order to keep in harmony with them. The condition of hozoji, or being in harmony with the supernatural powers, is the single most important ideal sought by the Navajo people.

Religious Practitioners. The most respected of Navajo Ritual practitioners are called "singers." These are men (or, very occasionally, women) who can perform in their entirety one or more of the major Navajo ceremonies. They are not shamans but priests who have acquired their knowledge and skills through long apprenticeship to an established singer. They are the most highly respected individuals in traditional Navajo society and frequently act as informal community leaders. Men with a lesser degree of ritual knowledge who can perform only short or incomplete ceremonies are referred to by another term, which might be translated as "curers." There is in addition a special class of diagnosticians, or diviners, who use various shamanistic techniques to discover the source of a person's illness or misfortune and who then prescribe the appropriate ceremonial treatment.

Ceremonies. In aboriginal times there were important Navajo ceremonies connected with war, hunting, agriculture, and the treatment of illness. In the reservation period, nearly all of the major public ceremonies have come to focus on curing in the broadest sense—that is, on the restoration of harmony with the supernaturals. There are, or have been, at least sixty major ceremonies, most of which involve an intricate combination of songs, prayers, magical rituals, the making of prayer-sticks and other paraphernalia, and the making of an elaborate dry-painting using colored sands. Masked dancers also play a part in some ceremonies. Ceremonies may last for two, three, five, or nine nights, depending partly on the Seriousness of the condition being treated.

Arts. The artistic creativity of the Navajo finds expression in a wide variety of media, including poetry, song, dance, and costume. The most celebrated of Navajo artistic productions are the brightly colored rugs woven by women, and the intricate dry-painting designs executed by the singers as a part of each major ceremony. Dry-paintings were traditionally destroyed at the conclusion of each ceremony, but permanent reproductions of many of the designs are now being made on boards for sale commercially. In the present century, a number of Navajo have also achieved recognition as painters and have set up commercial studios in various western cities.

Medicine. In traditional Navajo belief, all illness or misfortune arises from transgressions against the supernaturals or from witchcraft. Consequently, medical practice is essentially synonymous with ceremonial practice. There are particular kinds of ceremonies designed to treat illnesses caused by the patient's transgressions, by accidents, and by different kinds of witchcraft. Apart from ceremonial practices, there was formerly a fairly extensive materia medica of herbs, potions, ointments, and fumigante, and there were specialists who collected and applied these.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, Navajo were morbidly afraid of death and the dead and spoke about them as little as possible. The dead were buried promptly and without public ceremony, although a great many ritual taboos were observed by the close kin of the deceased and by those who handled the corpse. Ideas about the afterlife were not codified in a Systematic way, but varied from individual to individual. There was no concept of rewards and punishments for deeds done in this life; it seems that the afterworld was not thought of as a happy or desirable place for anyone.

Also read article about Navajo from Wikipedia

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Aug 24, 2011 @ 8:20 pm
what where the navajos rituals? what type of clothing did they use?
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Sep 27, 2011 @ 1:13 pm
who are the GODS, in the NAVAJO culture? What do they believe in spiritually, mind body and soul? is it gods from the earth, or ancestors that have passed away, long time ago? what are the rituals they have in ceremonies, how does the singer get its powers?
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Oct 6, 2011 @ 8:20 pm
I would read some books on this for more info. Navajo and Hopi by Jake Page both have wonderful pictures and talk about the ways of life for these people
tamara augustus
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Dec 9, 2011 @ 12:12 pm
i am half navajo also too they are really nice people
Shawn Spencer
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Sep 26, 2012 @ 10:22 pm
I am actually full Navajo. :) I actually cannot talk much about the type of ceremonies we do but the ones that are not a big deal are stuff like praying for your healthiness and well being but can range also to things like good crops, and protection from what we call Skinwalkers (Medicine Men -the Shaman as the way you put it - who have gone bad and want only others to suffer. They wear the skin of dead animals and are just...scary :/) And we are Polytheistic, which is say that we have more then one god. The main ones are the Sun god - the father - Spider Woman - in a lot of ways our mother - and others. We wear only true navajo clothing during actual ceremonies and important events, but i like Hollister and Vans clothing just as much. :) We live in a modern setting and have adapted no most of us dont live in true hogans - traditional home, that is shaped as an octogon. I hope this was helpful guys. If you have any more questions, then ill check back on this site later.
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Sep 30, 2012 @ 10:10 am
Does the Navajo religion believe in the devil and if so where does that belief come from?
T Brady
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Dec 15, 2012 @ 3:15 pm
Well as a Navajo I can say we in a way do believe in the devil but not as a single person. Just we believe that there is are Gods like the Lightening God, Rain God, and many other (there is one in everything around us). That the Sun is our Great Father, the Great Mothers are Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Changing Woman. As I was told by my father who was a medicine man that it was Changing Woman that created us and placed us on the land that we live one and each clan group have an animal as a protector. So just as we believe their are Gods in everything, at the same time there are Evils (as christians call it as "Devil") in things that is out to do harm and make things and people suffer. Just as we have good medicineman/woman (as western society call them shamen) we have bad (evil)medicineman/woman. The evils ones have their own evil Gods that ehy pray to and look for the evil in all things. Hope this helps.
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Jan 4, 2013 @ 11:11 am
How many people are still believers of the old Navajo religion?
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Oct 1, 2013 @ 10:10 am
I am full Navajo and I still live in a hoghan. Our hoghan still faces East. We don't sleep Northward, it's like a bad direction. This is a good article and it's mostly true. Thank you. My family and I still believe in Traditional ways, though everyone around us seems to have turned Christian. I live on the Navajo Reservation and the Holy People are very important to us. I'm proud to be a Navajo and no matter what, I won't give up my culture :)
lakita bradley
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Oct 29, 2013 @ 11:23 pm
i believe my great grandmother was a navajo indian? how can i find out for certain?
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Nov 15, 2013 @ 7:19 pm
Iam 50% Navajo. Its been said by some of my relitives that if you place a picture of yourself a loved one inside the casket of the dead, that the person dead will come through that picture and live through that person. I want to know if anyone has anymore insight to this. was or is it true, and if so what all can you tell me about it.
Hendon Harris
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Dec 6, 2013 @ 5:17 pm
Shawn Spencer in my opinion shared the attitude of the Navajo tribal position about talking in detail about the Dine religious culture, its practices and ceremonies by them and the other Native Americans who share this belief system with anyone outside their culture. Religion is something to be practiced privately and not to be shared with those not already a part of it. Why would you share the deepest parts of your religion with those who don't understand and possibly don't really care. I am 0% Navajo. I am a non Native American. Having said that I have great respect for their culture. I believe that one way to learn of their beliefs is to observe and listen to what is important to them. Have you ever sued the U.S. government? How upset would you have to be before you would do that yourself? The Navajo were that upset about one of their
sacred locations, Rainbow Bridge. If you want to understand at least one of their religious beliefs or what they found was/ is so repugnant to them that tourists are doing there google: "Rainbow Bridge, Utah" or "Rainbow Bridge Hendon Harris"
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Oct 1, 2014 @ 10:22 pm
I am with with some members of the Dine clan. The older brother h is very superstitious. The little brother needs a sing. the older brother said that he had one before and the singers face turned into a something, I think he said wolf and something else. So the are afraid. Does this make any sense ?
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Nov 19, 2014 @ 8:20 pm
what is the main navajo tradition? why is it so important
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Nov 24, 2014 @ 5:17 pm
I have been told what I believe to be a Navajo saying: "There is no we. There is only I and you until there is affinity" - has anyone any knowledge of this? please.
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Jan 17, 2015 @ 8:08 am
What if a navajo marries a girl outside from his region, (a Hispanic girl) would she be accepted by the other navajo people in his navajo territories?
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Jan 29, 2015 @ 3:15 pm
I am Navajo and currently attend school outside the reservation that i grew up on. Two of my friends passed away (white) and I was told not to attend their wakes and funeral by my mother. My other friend is also Navajo and she went. Is my mom in the right or wrong concerning Navajo beliefs?
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Feb 22, 2015 @ 2:02 am
My great grandmother was grandmother was half navajo..I have tried to contact the navajo tribe to to get information. No one will help grandma was in the Santa Fe Indian there some way to get information. Please. ...
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Jul 9, 2015 @ 7:07 am
I have recently lost a close friend that is Native American. He held close to his spirituality and no one outside the family was allowed at his burial. I am grieving and want to show respect for him but am unsure of what to do. Can I visit his grave? Can I leave a gift at his grave and what should it be? His passing has crushed me, it was sudden and unexpected. I wish for him peace and safe passing. I just need to cope with his death and I don't want to disrespect his family or him due to ignorance of their culture.
Thank you for your time.
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Jul 22, 2015 @ 9:09 am
My great grandmother was full Navajo and I have multiple different Indian types Navajo, Cherokee, and so forth.. I have a question about dream-watchers and what all abilities and capabilities they have and can do? Any legends or anything including dream watchers?
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Sep 22, 2015 @ 11:23 pm
Hello, I have been reading the book "Tricked" by Kevin Hearne and am curious how accurate it is on Navajo beliefs. In the book they are fighting Skin Walkers, a form of shape shiftier that practice the Witchery Way. in a few points a few people die and there is a Chiti (sorry if I misspelled that) which is all the parts of the person that is not in harmony with the universe. I'd be interested in learning how accurate this is and learning more about the belief system. Thank you for your time :)
Nicolyn Schroeder
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Oct 18, 2015 @ 1:01 am
My grandmother was 1/2 Navajo and part Mexican and a little of something else. So I would be 1/8 Navajo? My mom wanted to register me and my brother when we were younger but my grandmother was adopted so we had no proof. and my bro are pretty white with red brown hair lol so people don't believe I'm part Navajo

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