Now we move along to the Navajo war god Nayanazgeni’s battle with the Thunderbirds. This neglected epic myth was first examined here at Balladeer’s Blog in 2010 so it will seem new to many of you.

7. THE THUNDERBIRDS – Now Nayanazgeni journeyed into the territory where the Anaye called the Thunderbirds were preying on people. They were a male and female pair of enormous birds and the flapping of their wings sounded as thunder. 

In addition to the deafening sound of thunder to disorient prey the male Thunderbird’s beak would gleam like lightning, blinding his victims as well. For the female Thunderbird, in addition to the thunderous flapping of her wings, pouring rain would stream down from her spread wings like from clouds and this downpour would blind her victims. With their prey thus rendered helpless the Thunderbirds would sieze them with their giant claws (Yes, it’s a joking reference to the notoriously bad movie The Giant Claw) then drop them from a great height, letting them spatter on the rocks below. (In some versions the male Thunderbird would only kill men and the female Thunderbird would only kill women)

They would then fly down to collect the corpses and take them back to their nest on top of an isolated and unclimbable mesa (or in some myths a very high mountain) either as food for themselves or for their many young, lying in wait with mouths open like the young of lesser birds. Observing one of the Thunderbirds’ method of killing their prey, Nayanazgeni realized he could deceive the Thunderbirds by using  the length of blood-filled intestine he had taken as a trophy after slaying Deelgeth. Carrying the length of intestine along with his bow and lightning bolt arrows he presented himself as bait for the Thunderbirds.

Eventually there was the roar of thunder and the flash of lightning and the male Thunderbird swooped down at Nayanazgeni. The war god permitted himself to be siezed by the Anaye’s talons and carried upward. The monster released him from a great height but Nayanazgeni’s godly strength protected him from serious harm, and as he hit the ground he squeezed the length of Deelgeth’s intestines, causing blood to spurt around him, making it seem to the Thunderbird that he was just another mere human victim who had died from the fall. Falling for the ruse the Anaye carried Nayanazgeni back to its nest, placed him in the yawning beaks of its ravenous young and flew away in search of more prey.

For the war god this was the moment of maximum danger as he struggled to avoid being torn to pieces by the monstrous hatchlings of the Thunderbirds. Though young they were each already gigantic  and, since Nayanazgeni did not dare to use his lightning bolt arrows for fear of tipping off the parents that he was still alive, he engaged in a ferocious close-range battle, eventually breaking the necks of all the young Thunderbirds, killing them. Nayanazgeni now drew one of his lightning bolt arrows and awaited the return of the parent Thunderbirds.

After a time the female Thunderbird was returning to the nest clutching a dead woman. As she grew near Nayanazgeni shot her down with one of his lightning bolt arrows, killing her. Soon after that the male parent was returning with a fresh victim of his own and Nayanazgeni shot him down, too. He then transformed the young Thunderbirds and their parents into all the birds that exist today.

 A variation of this transformation tale goes that with all the Thunderbirds dead Nayanazgeni was stranded at the top of the mesa (or mountain), supposedly so high up that jumping from such a height would even do serious harm to a god. Jabunni Estsan (“Bat Woman”), the Navajo bat goddess (depicted as a human-sized bat with little batlings suckling at her breasts), flew by and offered to fly Nayanazgeni down if she could have all the feathers of the slain Thunderbirds to cloak herself and all other bats with, so they would have feathers to adorn their wings.

The war god agreed and after she had flown Nayanazgeni down to ground level he gave her all the feathers but warned her she must avoid flying over 2 dried up lakes (or rivers in some versions) 1 of which was now overgrown with weeds and the other with sunflowers. Jabunni Estsan disobeyed, flying over the sunflowers and so as punishment Nayanazgeni instead transformed the feathers into all of the world’s birds.


© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



Filed under Mythology


  1. Woman

    “monstrous hatchlings” Now that could be an interesting horror movie!!!

  2. Wonderful way you make these myths so funny but so seious at the same time!

  3. I love this one…Thunderbirds are go !!!!
    Seriously though, that God had some cool ‘outside of the box’ thinking !!!

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  5. These get better and better! It will be cool to see him face the next Anaye!

  6. Bloodier than usual but cool nonetheless!

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  10. Very informative site and a good post. Thanks!

  11. 9/5/2016 Appreciate the website– very easy to navigate and much to consider!

  12. Good post and a very enjoyable read.

  13. You have more details about this myth than anybody else on the web does.

  14. Hey there! Excellent blog about the Navajo!

  15. thomas

    Hey im only 12 but this page is fascinating I love it and im going to use it for some of my school work this year

  16. Leslie S

    I respect your work on these native American beliefs.

  17. Peter

    Blood crazed and deadly Thunderbirds.

  18. Terrence


  19. What is the best source (outside of your blog!), based on direct Navajo oral history, to consult for this story?

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