NEW!!!!!!!! CHOCTAW INDIAN MYTHS – https://glitternight.com/2012/06/03/the-top-twelve-deities-in-choctaw-mythology/
Estsanatlehi – “Woman who changes”. Sometimes referred to as an Earth goddess but really the Navajo seasonal deity. Year ’round her appearance would change from youth to maturity to old age as the seasons changed from spring to summer to fall and winter. Each winter she would be old and haggard but with the coming of spring her youth would be restored and so it would go year after year. She was the most respected deity of the Navajo Indians – hunters living in the semi-arrid area of Arizona. Eventually Estsanatlehi lived on the great water in the west in the square house of her husband, the Navajo sun god Tsohanoai, who would join her each night when his daily journey across the sky was done. According to Navajo myth Yebaka (First Man) and Yebaad (First Woman) once observed a black cloud descend on to a mountain. Investigating, they found a baby girl there, Estsanatlehi. She was the daughter of the Earth goddess Naestsan and the sky god Yadilyil. The couple took the baby home and she grew to adulthood in just eighteen days. In some myths contradicted by others Estsanatlehi created the rest of the Navajo people from pieces of her own skin. Alternate origin myths exist however. Estsanatlehi was associated with the Navajo female puberty ritual as her sister Yolkaiestsan is associated with the Apache female puberty ritual.
Tsohanoai – “Sun bearer.” The Navajo sun god. In some myths he is depicted as a man carrying the sun across the sky on his back. In others he is depicted as a warrior on horseback (the blue steed of the sky) carrying the sun as his gleaming shield. At nightfall, his journey completed, he joins his wife, the seasonal goddess Estsanatlehi, in his square house in the west. He is regarded as the creator of all the big game animals on which the Navajo fed. His father is the moon god Tklehonoai and his sons are the warrior-god Nayanazgeni and the fishing god Tobadzistsini. Tsohanoai is never depicted in art or impersonated in tribal dances as the other gods are.
Yolkaiestsan – “White shell woman.” According to Navajo myth Yolkaiestsan was created at the same time as her sister Estsanatlehi, the goddess of the seasons. In some myths Yolaiestsan is created by the other gods when they bring to life an artistic depiction of a woman made with white shells. She is the goddess of waterfalls and streams. In some myths she is the mother of Tobadzistsini the fisher god by Tsohanoai the Navajo sun god just as her sister is the mother of Nayanazgeni the war god by Tsohanoai. In other versions of the myth the sons are twins born exclusively of either Estsanatlehi or Yolkaiestsan. The different versions may just be translators misunderstanding Navajo kinship systems, in which the children of a woman’s sister are considered just as much hers as the sister who gave birth to them. Things can get confused in Cochiti versions because then the whole moiety concept comes into play, too. Further muddying the waters would be the way in which Apache myth features Tobadzistsini as the dominant twin who performs all the heroic deeds while Nayanazgeni is depicted as a bumbler and a coward. The Navajo myths, in which Nayanazgeni is the star of the show, aren’t as unflattering toward Tobadzistsini, though he is definitely depicted as a sidekick to his brother at best and is completely ignored at worst.
Tonenili – “Water sprinkler.” The rain god of the Navajo Indians. He controls the waters of the sky as opposed to that of lakes, rivers and seas. He is the water-carrier to the other major deities of the Navajo pantheon. A deity given to having fun and playing tricks Tonenili carries a water pot with holes on the bottom through which the rain falls. He holds the pot by a rainbow handle. In tribal dances he is represented by a masked man who enacts the part of a clown. In myths he is often the comic relief buffoon, especially when entertaining the Heroic Twins Nayanazgeni and Tobadzistsini in the house of their father, the sun god Tsohanoai.
Hastsehogan – Navajo god of the household and of farming. Regarded as a benevolent deity who aids mankind and cures diseases. He also has a malevolent aspect in which he can cast evil spells. He is believed to live in a system of caves. His priest wears a blue mask decorated with eagle and owl feathers.
Yebaad – First woman and the chief and spokesperson of the female deities. She is involved in rites of exorcism and wields considerable influence. She is the wife of Yebaka and the foster mother of Estsanatlehi and her sister Yolkaiestsan. With Yebaka she created the people of the world. In some myths she is responsible for giving birth to some of the Anaye – the alien or foreign gods that preyed upon the Navajo people until slain by the heroic twins, Nayanazgeni and Tobadzistsini.
Nohoilpi – The gambling god of the Navajo. He is a renegade son of the sun god Tsohanoai. He came down to Earth and taught his gambling games to the various tribes but soon abused his power by besting them at all his games of chance and collecting his winnings by enslaving people to build a city to mark his glory. Some of the other Navajo deities saw what was happening and endowed an unnamed Navajo man with superior abilities at gambling and sent him to challenge Nohoilpi with the stakes being all the people he had enslaved as well as his two wives. The Navajo man bested Nohoilpi at the game of thirteen chips, the game of the hoop and the game of pressing on wood. After collecting all his winnings he threw the defeated Nohoilpi up into the sky to live with the moon god Tklehanoai who eventually created the Mexican people for Nohoilpi to rule over. These people proved to be the enemies of the Pueblo Indians and the Navajo people.
Tklehanoai – “Night carrier.” The father of the sun god Tsohanoai, Tklehanoai carried the moon on his back as his son bore the sun through the daytime sky. Eventually Tsohanoai invented horses so that he and his father could ride across the sky carrying the sun and the moon as their respective shields. Tklehanoai is also credited with creating the Mexican people as well as sheep, swine, goats and baize. Like his son he is never impersonated or depicted.
Naestsan and Yadilyil – “Earth Woman” and “Sky Lord”. The Navajo Earth goddess and sky god. In some myths they are older than all the deities except Yebitsai. They are the parents of Estsanatlehi, her sister Yolkaiestsan and their brother Coyote. Half of the year belongs to the sky god (roughly equivalent to our months of October – March) and half to the Earth goddess (roughly equivalent to our months of April – September) This division feels similar to the division of time in some Polynesian myths in which the war god Ku/Tu and Lono/Rongo, god of cultivated, agrarian foods, take turns ruling the world for half the year each. In Navajo ceremonial art Yadilyil is drawn with a dark body decorated with stars and Naestsan is drawn with a grayish/brownish body decorated with her body’s version of mother’s milk – maize.
Hastseoltoi – The Navajo goddess of hunting. She is the wife of the war god Nayanazgeni. She carries two arrows, one in each hand, and wears a quiver and bow case. In the myths she is depicted as being so strong she hurls her arrows with the force that others require a bow to achieve. Navajo tradition dictates that no pictures are drawn of this deity. Hunters pray to her to make them better hunters. Hastseoltoi runs so swiftly she leaves the footprints of a jackrabbit behind her.
Coyote – A trickster god common to many Native American tribes including the Apache and the Navajo. Like his younger sisters Estsanatlehi and Yolkaiestsan he was born of the union of the sky god Yadilyil and the Earth goddess Naestsan. Among many other deeds he is credited with creating the Milky Way and with teaching Yebaad (First Woman) and Yebaka (First Man)about sex. His advice and intrigues just as often bring disaster as prosperity for the Navajo.
Yebaka – First man. The chief and spokesperson of the male deities. With his wife Yebaad he created the people of the world. He is the foster father of Estsanatlehi and Yolkaiestsan.
Hastsezini – Navajo god of fire. He is always depicted with a charcoal-black body and is the inventor of fire and of the fire drill and fire board. Since the Navajo regarded stars as sparks of fire in the sky Hastsezini is also credited with placing the stars in the sky. In one myth he was plucking stars out of his pouch to fix them in the heavens when the trickster god Coyote came along wanting to help. Hastsezini refused Coyote’s offer so the rebuffed deity waited until the fire god was done then rummaged through Hastsezini’s star pouch looking for any that were left over. Finding only dust in the pouch Coyote scattered the dust in the sky and the dust became the Milky Way. In later versions of the myth when Hastsezini rejected Coyote’s offer of aid the devious deity simply stole a star from the pouch and fixed it himself in the sky. That star was Sirius the Dog Star.
Yebitsai – “Talking god”. The chief of the gods in the Navajo pantheon. In the various myths he is always depicted as dispensing orders or advice to gods or mortals and always announces himself four times before speaking further. In many myths he speaks through animals. (Which I guess explains Mr Ed and Francis the talking mule once and for all!) His priest wears a white mask with a symbol consisting of a corn stalk with two ears. The corn stalk represents Yebitsai’s role as the protector of maize.
Hatdastsisi – Navajo medicine god. He cures disease through the medium of his priest who flagellates the afflicted body parts. (I’ve tried this on myself. It’s not as effective as you might think, although it does feel awfully good when you stop!) Sacrifices to him are made up from reeds decorated with a design representing the blue yucca plant which is buried in the earth to the east of the tribal lodge.
Nattsilit – Navajo goddess of the rainbow, which is said to be part of her body, spreading protectively over the Navajo.
Hastseltsi – Navajo god of racing. When he had created various animals (including horses for humans made in the form of the mounts the sun god Tsohanoai had created for himself and his father Tklehanoai the moon god) he set them to racing each other for sport. Eventually he adopted this new sport for humans as well. The priest who impersonates him has to be a good runner and challenges others to races. If the priest wins the contender is whipped with a yucca scourge. If the contender wins there is no penalty for the priest.
Naste Estsan – “Spider Woman”. This Navajo spider goddess lives underground like the trap-door spider and in myths she is often depicted giving advice to those in need, such as the heroic twins Nayanazgeni and Tobadzistsini when they are searching for the home of their father, the sun god Tsohanoai. When she appears to humans or other gods she invites them down into her lair where she changes into her alternate form as an elderly woman. In some myths she is the mother of the chief Anaye (alien or foreign gods) Yeitso whom she bore to Tsohanoai. In others she is also the mother of Yeitso’s gigantic offspring. Naste Estsan is said to have taught weaving to an outcast Kisani woman. She in turn gained acceptance when she taught the skill to other women. To this day Navajo women leave a hole in the center of their weaving like the hole in the center of a spider web since this is the way Naste Estsan taught the art. It is also said that this prevents the Navajo women from getting “blanket sickness” of the mind from keeping the weaving patterns inside their heads. Naste Estsan is said to steal and eat children who behave badly.
Begochidi – “Grabs At Breasts”. (The unreleased sequel to “Dances With Wolves”) A trickster deity in the tradition of Coyote. He is yet another son of Tsohanoai the Navajo sun god and represents the darker side of the human spirit. He has a rapacious sexual appetite and in some myths he is said to have caused the birth of the Anaye (alien or foreign gods) with his unnatural and improper sex acts. In other myths he is credited with creating some of the animals otherwise supposed to have been created by the Navajo racing god. In the Mothway teaching Begochidi is said to have serviced both male and female butterflies. He is also said to have invented pottery. (Suddenly that scene from Ghost makes a lot more sense) It is unclear if he is a substitute for Coyote or vice versa in some tales. However, unlike Coyote, Begochidi is not connected with witchcraft.
Ashiih Estsan– “Salt Woman”. Navajo salt goddess. Salt is believed to be part of her flesh and/or her mucus. Ceremonial paths throughout the American Southwest linked various salt deposits. Zuni Salt Lake in New Mexico is said to be the largest embodiment of the goddess herself and in the past Apache and Navajo warriors would all come to obtain salt from the lake (as the Navajo war god Nayanazgeni obtains salt to use in his battle with those specific Anaye known as “the gods who kill with lightning from their eyes”) and would not harm each other in this sacred place even in time of war. (In the Apache version it is, of course, the younger twin Tobadzistsini, “child of the water”, who obtains the salt.)
Niltsi – Navajo wind-god. He was the son of the household god Hastsehogan. In some myths he helps the Heroic Twins survive the Sweat Lodge Ordeal that their father, the sun god Tsohanoai subjects them to. In others he is one of the celestial guardians of the sun god’s home.
Tienoltsodi – In many myths the water-god who flooded the previous world prompting the Navajo people to flee upwards to this present world where they were saved from Tienoltsodi by the Navajo rain god Tonenili. In other myths a semi-benevolent god of fresh water and oceans. He controls those bodies of water as distinct from the rain waters that fall from above, which are ruled over by the Navajo rain god Tonenili. His home is said to be in Ojo Gallina Hot Springs.
Neeshjah – The owl god of the Navajo people. His nocturnal hooting is said to be a warning to stop masturbating (I swear!), since that is not the way to increase the numbers of the Navajo. (Onan-obsessed owls, on the next Oprah!)
Sa – Navajo goddess of old age. She is depicted as withered, deeply wrinkled, with white hair and stooped over, using a staff to help her walk. More than just the embodiment of old age, she also presides over the positive aspects of aging, such as growing from childhood to maturity. In some traditions she is considered a goddess of time itself, and supposedly warned the war god Nayanazgeni that if he killed her the entire world and all living on it would stand still.
Naaskiddi – This Navajo deity is depicted as a hunchback, his deformity caused by the weight of the burden he carries on his back : a pouch containing the seeds of all plant life on Earth (in some myths including maize, in others not including maize). Naaskiddi carries these seeds throughout the world sprinkling them where he wills. (Sort of a celestial Johnny Appleseed)
Hakaz Estsan – (“Cold Woman”) The Navajo goddess of winter and of cold weather in general. Her main area of influence is the far north, which is where the war god Nayanazgeni must go when he seeks to kill the Anaye known as “The Bear Who Pursues”. In Navajo belief it is recognized that without this goddess the world would become too hot, causing all living things to die and the oceans, rivers and lakes to boil away. She is depicted naked sitting in the snow. Her tears are the sleet and snow that falls from the sky. In some myths she cries so much because she suffers from the cold, which seems like a pointlessly hellish existence for an entity who is not depicted as being punished for something.
Dichin– Navajo god of hunger. Paradoxically he is depicted as being rotund, as if he has devoured so much food that he has caused its scarcity. In some myths his diet consists exclusively of little brown cacti. He was recognized as a necessary evil by the Navajo who realized that without hunger as a spur, people might be too lazy to hunt, fish or farm.
Tgaei – An elderly man and woman who are together the joint Navajo deities of “poverty” my reference books always say, but if you read further that doesn’t really seem to be the concept they personify. Like the deities of Old Age, Cold, and Hunger, they seem to be viewed as a necessary state or force. In their case this state or force isn’t so much a lack of means or resources, like you would expect of poverty, but rather something similar to entropy, or ruination, or “wear and tear”. This is demonstrated in the reason they give the war god Nayanazgeni for why he should not kill them. They tell him that without them people’s clothing, homes, tools, weapons, etc would never wear out and force them to make new things. That is similar to how Dichin, the god of hunger, is viewed as a necessary state in order to spur people to hunt and fish and farm. I simply don’t agree that “poverty” is the correct term to describe the force this elderly joint deity represents. I feel calling them gods of entropy or wear or even erosion or decay would be more accurate.
The story of Nayanazgeni and his brother battling the Anaye, meaning “foreign or alien gods” is one of my favorite mythological tales, partly because of how it ties in with the larger subject of Native American mythology as a whole. Many Native American pantheons have monster-slayers, many of them also twins, who battle one or more of the same beings the Navajo war god Nayanazgeni destroys and/or transforms. This underscores why Navajo myths are my favorite from all the myths of the Americas. The Navajo’s migration led them from the far north where they interacted with the Athapascan Indian tribes on down through their current location in and around present-day Arizona. The Navajo myths contain elements from the pantheons of many of the other Native American tribes they interacted with on their way south. Their myths even contain elements of Aztec and Mayan myths from Mexico. After I finish my synopsis of the story of Nayanazgeni I will cover the parallel myths from other Native American belief systems, especially their version of Heroic Twins. Bear in mind that even among the Navajo story-tellers accounts of Nayanazgeni’s battle with the Anaye vary, not only in what order he destroys them in but also in how many he and his brother Tobadzistsini have to fight. The same variety applies to the exact order and number of menaces the Heroic Twins face on their way to their father Tsohanoai’s house.
1. THE BIRTH OF THE ANAYE
There are a few different versions of how the Anaye that Nayanazgeni slew came into being. One version has some of them as the offspring of Estsanatlehi, others as the offspring of Yebaad and still others as the offspring of Naste Estsan. Those versions state that Naste Estsan has the chief of the Anaye, Yeitso, after a union with the sun god Tsohanoai, and that Yeitso then coupled with his own mother the spider goddess to produce the rest of the Anaye. The most detailed description of the birth of the Anaye is as follows: There was a time when the Navajo men and Navajo women were arguing over which sex needed the other more. They decided to separate, with all of the men on one side of a river and all of the women on the other side. Whichever side gave in first and tried to swim to reach the gender group on the other side would be the loser. In some versions of the story the men lost. In others the women were the eventual losers and while they were without male sex partners they were using some odd items to pleasure themselves with and this resulted in the birth of the Anaye in this version of the story. A woman who used a stag’s horn on herself gave birth to the Anaye Deelgeth, who was an enormous antelope stag (in some versions a giant buffalo), a woman who used a clump of bird feathers on herself (a woman using a clump of bird feathers for release is a desperate woman!) gave birth to the Anaye called the Thunderbirds. Other women used bones, cacti (Don’t blame me! Its in the story!) and other objects that resulted in the birth of other Anaye. Still other versions of the story say that while the women were separated from the men the god Begochidi took advantage of the situation to practice “unnatural sex acts” with the women and supposedly that is why they spawned such monstrous creatures. Still another version says it was Coyote who had sex with the women during this period.
2. First Kill
In those ancient times Nayanazgeni (“Alien God Killer”)and his brother Tobadzistsini (“Child of the Water”)were living with their mother, the goddess Estsanatlehi, in a village with the Navajo people of the time. They were aware of the alien gods called the Anaye who were preying on the world at large. One such Anaye was a club-wielding giant who rode an equally huge cougar. The giant had a double-face, one in front and one in the rear so it could not be snuck up on. This Anaye had begun to prey on the inhabitants of the village the three deities called home. He would ride forth each day astride his giant cougar and catch a villager to devour. (Some versions say it would be two villagers – one for him to eat and one as a meal for his giant cougar. Still others say it was just a giant cougar with no one riding it.) Nayanazgeni tracked the Anaye to his cavern lair in the hills and attacked him, eventually beating him to death with his own enormous club. He then transformed the slain Anaye and his mount into all the world’s cougars. He and his brother decided to rid the world of all of the Anaye to free humans from their reign of terror. Estsanatlehi (in some versions both she and her sister Yolkaiestsan) advised the Heroic Twins that in order to defeat the Anaye and their chief, Yeitso, they would need special weapons such as only their father, the sun god Tsohanoai, could provide. Nayanazgeni and Tobadzistsini then set out on a danger-filled journey to the far west House Of The Sun God, where their father retired at the end of each day’s journey across the sky.
3. Visions Of The Spider Goddess
On their way west toward their father Tsohanoai’s house, Nayanazgeni and Tobadzistsini passed the Grand Canyon, which in Navajo mythology was the Place Of Emergence through which the Navajo people entered this world after escaping the previous one. (Navajo emergence myths and their stories of the previous worlds are too lengthy to get into right now) Reaching a stretch of desert, they soon noticed puffs of smoke emerging from the ground. On closer inspection they realized they had come across the underground lair of Naste Estsan, the spider goddess, who lived underground in similar fashion to a trap-door spider. She welcomed the Heroic Twins in and assumed her form as an elderly woman. In addition to feeding them she informed them she knew all about their plans to rid the world of the menace of the Anaye. She revealed to them that she herself was the mother of the chief Anaye, Yeitso, with their own father Tsohanoai as the father. (In some versions she goes on to tell them that Yeitso then joined with her over and over to spawn the rest of the Anaye.) She also related to them her visions of the perils they would face on their quest to reach their father’s house. (Since those perils are covered in my next section I won’t bother detailing them here) As a final gift to the two young gods she gave them each two eagle feathers to wear in their head-bands: one to make them virtually invulnerable and another that would lull opponents into meek submission. Nayanazgeni and Tobadzistsini then resumed their journey.
4. Perils Of The Journey
As the Heroic Twins continued their westward journey they did indeed encounter every menace the spider goddess’ visions had warned them about. First they had to travel across a miles-long desert of boiling quicksand. Since Nayanazgeni and Tobadzistsini were wearing the protective feathers from Naste Estsan in their headbands they were able to endure the pain of this quicksand as they slowly and laboriously made their way through this desert. Even when they had sunk down so far into the quicksand that it rose several feet over their heads they still persevered, plodding onward to the west. Next they had to fight their way through a densely packed forest of living cacti. These cacti, though rooted to the ground, were able to claw and grab at the Heroic Twins as they forced their way through mile after mile of this deadly forest. Again, the feathers worn in their headbands helped the two young gods endure their ordeal. After at last leaving the forest of living cacti behind them Nayanazgeni and Tobadzistsini had to make their way through a rock canyon that would contract and crush travelers once they were deep within it. Their own strength and fortitude plus the charmed feathers from the spider goddess enabled the Heroic Twins to avoid being crushed by the closing sides of the canyon and as they eventually groped their way free, the canyon walls slammed shut behind them before slowly beginning to reopen, in hopes of crushing the next wayfarer who tried to traverse the canyon.
5. In The House Of The Sun God – When Nayanazgeni and Tobadzistsini reached the ocean, the feathers which they wore in their headbands (and which were gifts from the spider goddess) enabled them to walk across the water as if it was still land, and they continued their journey for days. At last the Heroic Twins had reached the four-sided turquoise home of their father Tsohanoai, located in the abstract place where the oceanic horizon meets the sky. A giant serpent (or serpents) and a giant bear (or bears) were guarding the entrance to the sun god’s house, but Nayanazgeni and his brother overcame them thanks to the feathers that cause enemies to submit. (I like to think they used the feathers to tickle them into submission but I’m kind of weird) Entering their father’s house the Heroic Twins beheld the sun god’s court – Nandzgai, the god of daybreak; Chahalgel, the god of nightfall (plus these 2 were considered the inventors of song); as well as two spirit-wives of Tsohanoai (I can’t find their names) and in some versions, their half-sister, Doklizstsi. The new arrivals are welcomed and then the two wives (or their half-sister, depending which version you read) wrap the Heroic Twins in a bundle and hide them. At the end of the day, Tsohanoai arrives home, riding his sky-blue horse, hangs his shield (the sun), up on a peg on the wall and, being a god, he senses foreign presences in his house and demands to know who they are. The twins come out and declare their identities, but this being mythology, their father insists on subjecting them to tests to prove they are his sons. First he impales them both on stalagmites, or, since the bodily size of gods im mythology seems to change from moment to moment, impales them on jagged mountain peaks. The boys endure this for hours without crying out in pain. Next, Tsohanoai subjects his sons to the hottest sweat lodge his wives can muster, but the twins survive that ordeal as well (in some versions with help from the wind god Niltsi). Next, Tsohanoai tried to poison them with deadly tobacco from his turquise pipes, but Yebitsai, the talking god, spoke to them through a caterpillar who warned them how to survive this trap in a bit similar to part of the Mayan epic myth Popol Vuh. At last satisfied that the Heroic Twins are indeed his sons, Tsohanoai calls for a general celebration in his household, including comical entertainment provided by Tonenili, the rain god (sort of a Celestial Court Jester). Eventually, with daybreak approaching, the sun god opened the door on the eastern wall of his house and the twins beheld a limitless herd of horses. They refused them. Tsohanoai then opened the door on the southern wall and they beheld mountains of fine clothing. They refused them. (What is this? The Last Temptation of Nayanazgeni?) Next he opened the door on the western wall and his sons beheld miles of jewels and turquoise and brightly-colored shells but they refused them. Finally he opened the door on the northern wall and they beheld all the animals desired by hunters and after they refused them as well Tsohanoai asked them what gifts he could provide them with. The Heroic Twins indicated they wanted weapons to help them wage war on the Anaye, so Tsohanoai gave Nayanazgeni an unbreakable bow and a quiver full of an inexhaustible supply of lightning-bolt arrows. He then gave Tobadzistsini a knife made out of petrified sunlight. (In some versions they both get arrows and a knife and in others they also get a wind charm that comes in handy at story’s end.) To test his lightning-bolt shaped arrows Nayanazgeni fired one at far-off Tsoodzil Mountain (Mount Taylor) and the lightning bolt arrow struck with such force that it formed the large cleft that remains in the mountain to this day. Armed at last with the weapons they would both become equated with, the Heroic Twins were ready to take on the Anaye.
6. The Traveling Stone Serpent – As daybreak arrived, Tsohanoai grabbed his shield which was the sun, mounted his sky-blue horse and, with Nayanazgeni and Tobadzistsini climbing up behind him, rode out one of the directional doors of his home. Mystically, he and his passengers emerged from the doorway and were instantly flying over top of the eastern part of the world to begin the sun’s journey westward. Now, in many versions of the story the Heroic Twins battle Yeitso at this point. I’m taking poetic license, though, and saving their confrontation with Yeitso til the end since he is the Chief of the Anaye. It lacks dramatic impact to take on the main threat first and then the underlings. I’m also having to syncretize two varying types of Anaye into one for this portion of the story. Some versions depict it as “the stone that travels” (which some interpret as a meteor while others interpret it as volcanic rock, like obsidian, since volcanic rock in its flowing lava form is indeed “stone that travels”) and others as a giant amphibious water-serpent (as in its body is made of semi-solidified water) and still others depict it as a fiery underwater stone that emerges from the water to kill its victims. Hence my hybrid description of it as “The Traveling Stone Serpent”. Tsohanoai and his sons are flying along on the sky-blue horse when they see the Traveling Stone Serpent preying on people down below. Tshohanoai lets them off on a mountain top and they descend to face their opponent. In all versions of this encounter a very long running fight occurs, with Nayanazgeni repeatedly shooting the Anaye with his lightning bolt arrows and Tobadzistsini slashing it with his knife of petrified sunlight. The supernatural arrows and knife continuously break off the “scales” and/or “blood” of the serpent, and these bits and pieces of the creature’s body all contribute helpful items to the ancient world. In versions which feature this Anaye as a water-serpent the maimed parts form freshwater lakes and streams (in Mid-American tribes with a similar creature even the Great Lakes are said to have been formed this way) while some of the body parts were transformed into all the lesser snakes by the Heroic Twins. In versions which depict it as a meteor or a flowing body made of “lava” of some sort these parts become deposits of obsidian and/or chert. To make it more confusing some versions which depict this being as a water-monster identify it as Tienoltsodi, the Navajo god of fresh water, and say that the Heroic Twins “tamed” him into being a benevolent deity instead of a malevolent one. Summing up, I wanted to get this Anaye out of the way early because of the wildly varying traditions about it. The remaining episodes of the battle with the Anaye should flow along more smoothly. With this creature destroyed, Nayanazgeni sends Tobadzistsini back to their home village to guard the inhabitants and their mother (or mothers) while he sets off alone against other Anaye. (I’ve mentioned before that in the Apache versions of the Heroic Twins myth Tobadzistsini is the active twin with Nayanazgeni depicted as a coward. The Navajo versions are not as rough on Tobadzistsini, simply treating him as a sidekick or supporting character.)
7. Cloud Swallower
The next Anaye to be dealt with was the giant antelope stag (or in some versions a giant buffalo) Deelgeth, also spelled Teelgeth, Geelgeth and other ways. This variety of spellings is a common occurrence when dealing with translations of myths from languages whose consonant sounds do not have a true equivalent in our language. Another example from Navajo mythology is the moon god Tklehanoai, whose name is sometimes spelled Dklehanoai or even Dgklehanoai. Nayanazgeni is sometimes spelled Naganatzani but I use Nayanazgeni because it’s the most common spelling in the many reference books I use. An example from outside the Navajo pantheon would be the Korean god Jumong (child of the sun god Haemosu by the daughter of Habaek, god of the Yalu river) which is also spelled Chumong. Deelgeth was born at the normal size for an antelope stag (or buffalo) but grew at a rapid rate, feeding on more and more grass to satisfy his expanding appetite. Eventually his ravenous feeding destroyed all grazing land for miles around so he began devouring trees. Soon all the trees were gone, prompting him to begin feeding on other animals and even people who crossed his path. Everything living in Deelgeth’s territory began to flee the area, prompting the now-colossal antelope to begin feeding on the clouds in the sky, since his head was now that high. With Deelgeth devouring any clouds that wandered near him the region now suffered enormous drought as well, forcing the few people and animals left in the area to evacuate. Nayanazgeni entered the vast wasteland that Deelgeth now ruled over. The two circled each other in combat, with Deelgeth surviving every shot from the war god’s lightning bolt arrows and Nayanazgeni surviving every attack by the enormous antelope with his deadly horns and kicking hooves. As the stalemate continued, Nayanazgeni at length withdrew to the edges of Deelgeth’s wasteland to contemplate a new strategy. In full combat they were evenly matched. Stealth was out because with all trees gone from the devastated landscape there was nothing to use as cover for a sneaking approach. At length the talking god Yebitsai spoke to Nayanazgeni through a squirrel (or gopher), advising him to burrow under the ground, tunneling his way to directly beneath Deelgeth where his lightning-bolt arrows would be able to penetrate the creature’s tender underside. Nayanazgeni followed Yebitsai’s instructions, and once directly underneath the giant antelope burst up from the ground and fired a lightning-bolt arrow upward, piercing Deelgeth’s heart. With his death throes, the Anaye devastated even more of the surrounding countryside and even came close to destroying Nayanazgeni in his fury. Deelgeth’s blood was said to spatter on the squirrel that Yebitsai spoke through and on the squirrel’s fellows and this is why some squirrels are red to this day. Nayanazgeni then set Deelgeth’s huge heart in the sky as the Morning Star, his liver in the sky as the Evening Star and his lungs in the sky as the Pleiades. He transformed Deelgeth’s flesh into the smaller, “normal” sized antelopes we have now and kept part of the creature’s blood-filled intestines as a trophy. This trophy would prove vital to Nayanazgeni’s survival against the next Anaye he faced.
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 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.
Nayanazgeni now turned his attention to a cliff-dwelling Anaye monster called Tsetahotsiltali. In those myths which featured the Thunderbirds’ nest as being at the top of a mountain he traveled along the same mountain range to reach this foe. Tsetahotsiltali lurked in a high mountain pass where he would kick (or in some versions butt with his head) passersby off the trail to their deaths on the rocks below, where his scavenger children (in some myths 12 in number) would feed on the corpses. This Anaye was immune to plummeting to his own death by the fact that his long hair grew into the mountainside like roots, safely anchoring him. Coming upon the Anaye unexpectedly around a sharp turn in the narrow ledges, Nayanazgeni was taken by surprise and kicked with such force by Tsetahotsiltali that even with his strength he was nearly knocked off the cliff wall. The next kicks sent the war god’s bow and lightning arrows plummeting to the ground before he could bring them to bear against his Anaye foe. The 4th kick Nayanazgeni blocked and struck his attacker with such force that the Anaye would have been sent to his doom except for his incredibly long hair rooting him to the mountainside. The battle continued in this way, with the 2 combatants savagely fighting at close range and the Anaye’s long hair allowing him to just swing back to the ledges from which Nayanazgeni tried to knock him. Eventually the war god wrenched the monster’s rooted hair from the cliff walls and one last blow sent it to its doom far below. While the creatures own children (and in some versions its mate) devoured its corpse, ravenously fighting over the eyes, arms and liver, Nayanazgeni rapidly made his way down the cliff to his fallen bow and lightning-bolt arrows. The Anaye’s monstrous children had finished their gruesome meal by this point and scattered in panic from the being that had slain their parent. Shooting his lightning bolts at the fleeing Anaye, Nayanazgeni killed them all and transformed them into buzzards because of their taste for corpse-flesh. In some versions 1 of them manages to elude Nayanazgeni briefly and when the war god catches it he contemptuously decides it is too filthy, small and ugly to kill so he lets it live and the myth, proving once again that bigotry is universal, goes on to say that this Anaye became the father of the Paiutes, whom the Navajo considered a ragged and dirty people who lived on the vermin of the desert.
10. The Gods With Lightning Eyes
Nayanazgeni now set out to slay the Anaye known as Binaye Ahani, the gods who killed with lightning from their eyes. In some versions of the Heroic Twins’ battles with their monstrous foes ALL of the creatures they face, Deelgeth, the Thunderbirds, etc kill with their eyes. While Nayanazgeni was trekking along, the salt goddess Ashiih Estsan appeared to him and instructed him to come to her home at what is now called Zuni Salt Lake to gather salt, which would be of use to him in his battle with these particular Anaye. In other versions the mother (or mothers) of the Heroic Twins gives this advice. Nayanazgeni obeyed these instructions, establishing the sacred tradition of gathering salt prior to major undertakings. The Binaye Ahani stood upright, had long, thin bodies, stubby arms and legs and faces with bulging eyes. Or in some versions multiple faces running up their bodies, like on a totem pole, and the bulging eyes on all the faces shot the deadly rays which were their weapons. Their numbers vary from myth to myth. In some versions they lived in underground tunnels that they burrowed themselves and in others they lived in systems of caves. Either way, their homes were said to be adorned with beautiful precious gems as well as minerals like gold, silver, copper, etc. The legend of these treasures filling the homes of these Anaye lured people into their lairs, where, in a tidy little object lesson the Anaye would shoot the treasure-seekers with the lightning from their eyes, transforming the bodies of their victims into the gems and minerals they had come hoping to steal. Thus the treasures increased in number, luring even more greedy people in search of them. In other versions the rays just killed the victims. Nayanazgeni entered the subterranean lair of the Anaye, seeing the glittering bodies of their victims scattered throughout the labyrinthine corridors. He at last came to the Anaye, who invited him in as they did their previous victims. When they unleashed the beams from their eyes at him Nayanazgeni took shelter behind some of the petrified bodies of the creatures’ victims, returning fire with his lightning-bolt arrows, which the beings evaded or parried with their eye-beams. At length this running battle took the combatants to the chamber where the Anaye had their fire. Nayanazgeni now took salt from his pouch and as instructed threw it into the fire, causing it to sputter and spatter in all directions, striking the Anaye in their eyes, blinding them and depriving them of their weapons. The war god now shot his writhing foes with his lightning-bolt arrows, killing them, following which he scalped them. He transformed the slain creatures into Prairie Dogs, which is why those animals have such short legs and why they burrow in the ground. In other versions he transformed them into Screech Owls and Whippoorwills, but that makes less sense. The precious gems and minerals that were the remains of these Anayes’ victims he scattered throughout the world, to be sought out and unearthed over time by greedy people like Those Who Came From The East.
11. The Bear Who Pursues
Next Nayanazgeni set out to slay the Anaye known as The Bear Who Pursues. As you would expect this alien or foreign god was depicted as an enormous, several-story tall bear. I favor those myths which depict it as a polar bear (which the ancient Navajo would know about from their time in the north with the Athapascans) since the polar bear is the only known bear to actually hunt down humans and will actually chase its prey of any species until their quarry collapses from exhaustion. To me an animal with such habits would certainly merit the name The Bear Who Pursues. I can’t believe the pro-polar bear camp never cites this argument to support their contention. At any rate, Nayanazgeni traveled northward, to the land where the cold weather goddess Hazke Estsan held sway. In some versions this goddess, always depicted naked and sitting in the snow, appears to Nayanazgeni and tells the war god where he can find this Anaye.
Seeking his prey throughout the frigid northland, Nayanazgeni and The Bear Who Pursues stalked each other, in some versions in the middle of a snow storm. When they at last closed in combat, the Anaye’s thick, furry hide proved invincible to even the most rapid-fire onslaught of the war god’s lightning-bolt arrows. The goddess Hazke Estsan appeared again to Nayanazgeni and told him the only way to defeat this Anaye was to behead the creature. In other versions he decides for himself to try that since nothing else is working. Nayanazgeni now took careful aim and hit the Anaye directly in the throat, the subsequent lightning blast tearing the head from the body, killing it. In those versions of the Heroic Twins story in which the sun god Tsohanoai gave both Twins lightning-bolt arrows AND a knife made of petrified sunlight, he uses the knife to behead the giant bear. Nayanazgeni now divided the head into three pieces; one piece he transformed into yucca bacatta, AKA the banana yucca (in the Apache version the Heroic Twin turns it into the Mojave yucca), one piece he transformed into soapweed yucca and the third piece he transformed into mescal beans and/or peyote, to be used for oracular and divination purposes. Now Nayanazgeni turned his attention to the sole remaining Anaye at large: the chief of them all, Yeitso himself.
12. God Of The Great Salt Lake
As the title I chose for this segment makes clear, I favor those versions of the Yeitso story in which his lair is the Great Salt Lake. Those versions associate him with the Utes and given the enmity between them and the Navajo (which extended even into the era of contact with Europeans, from whom the Utes would obtain firearms and stage attacks on the Navajo ) this makes sense. Plus “God Of The Great Salt Lake” struck me as a real kickass title. Other versions locate Yeitso’s lair elsewhere. Traveling south after beheading The Bear Who Pursues, Nayanazgeni made his way into Yeitso’s territory. From a distance he beheld the enormous Anaye Chief approaching what is now called the Great Salt Lake, and the myth states that the salt in the lake comes from Yeitso’s sweat and/or his urine, since he either bathed in the lake regularly or used it for his waste or both. The giant was carrying his usual basket of dead victims, both human and animal. Coming to a stream, Yeitso sat down to devour his victims and then, as was his custom, drank so deeply from the stream that he dried it up, as he had with all the other streams, rivers and lakes he drank from. This part of the myth is used to explain why so much of the area is desert, claiming it used to be full of life-giving streams until Yeitso’s depradations made it arrid. Nayanazgeni attempted to sneak up on the Anaye but Yeitso either saw his shadow (or in some versions his reflection) and knew he was there. The two foes exchanged taunts and insults and then the battle was joined, with Yeitso armed with his own bow and lightning-bolt arrows, that he had been given by their father Tsohanoai in the distant past. Nayanazgeni avoided the Anaye’s lightning bolts, in some versions with help from the rainbow goddess, Nattsilit, before she was frightened off by Yeitso. The war god’s own lightning-bolt arrows kept finding their mark, but doing no harm to Yeitso since he was protected by stone-armor that had also been a gift from Tsohanoai. (“D’OH!”) With the Anaye Chief thus protected from Nayanazgeni’s weapons but the war god vulnerable to destruction if he failed to evade even one of Yeitso’s bolts things looked grim for the Heroic Twin. Just then, he was saved by the arrival of Tsohanoai, the sun god, with the other Heroic Twin, Tobadzistsini, whom Tsohanoai had picked up along the way, riding behind him on the sky-blue horse of the sun god. Tsohanoai announced it was time for his foul offspring Yeitso to meet his end. Yeitso rained lightning-bolt arrows up at his father, but Tsohanoai’s shield, the sun itself (for anyone who forgot), protected him and Tobadzistsini. Tsohanoai and Tobadzistsini now came down to join Nayanazgeni in battle against the Anaye Chief. Yeitso’s armor continued to protect him from all their assaults until Tsohanoai knocked the armor from his son’s body; in some versions by blasting him with thunderous sun-bursts, in others by grappling with him hand to hand and in still others by having his sky-blue steed kick Yeitso with his powerful forelegs, thus cracking the armor and causing it to fall off. With Yeitso now exposed and vulnerable, Nayanazgeni shot him with four lightning-bolt arrows in rapid succession; the first causing him to reel back and stumble toward the east; the second causing him to stumble toward the south; the third made him stumble toward the west and the fourth toward the north. Then Yeitso fell to his knees, raised himself partly, but fell on his face and died, with his four limbs pointing in the four cardinal directions. Tobadzistsini now used his knife of petrified sunlight to cut off the Anaye Chief’s head and threw it far from the giant’s body. Blood from the body began flowing like a river toward the head and Tsohanoai warned the Heroic Twins that if the blood reached the head Yeitso would be revived. Tobadzistsini now used the knife to gouge long pits in the Earth to catch the blood and these pits became various valleys and canyons. Next the three deities tried to transform Yeitso’s remains into other living things , as Nayanazgeni had done with all the other slain Anaye, since the myth explains that gods cannot be fully destroyed unless their life force is transformed into something else. Yeitso’s magic was so strong, however, that their efforts to transform his remains into something else only resulted in transforming him into more Anaye. Some versions say the remains were being transformed into an entire army of Yeitsos, others simply say that every drop of his blood and every piece of his flesh was turning into another Anaye creature. All agree that the numberless Yeitsos or additional Anaye were enough to overwhelm all the gods and have the world at their mercy.
13. Xenogenocide – Nayanazgeni, Tsohanoai and Tobadzistsini looked on as, according to some myths “every drop of Yeitso’s spilled blood” was growing into either another Yeitso or another Anaye, or Brown Giants depending on the version. In myths where Yeitso was killed right after the Heroic Twins left the house of the sun god we are told that the new Yeitsos/new Anaye had been growing since the Anaye Chief had been struck down and that Tsohanoai came down from the sky after Nayanazgeni had slain all the other Anaye and pointed these new threats out to him and Tobadzistsini. The sun god Tshohanoai now instructed the Heroic Twins to produce the wind charm he had given them back when they had journeyed to his home in the west. They did so, and the three deities (in some versions Estsanatlehi is there, too, so it would be four deities in that case) placed the wind charm on the ground and stood over it, joining hands and chanting. The wind charm began spinning and rose up in the sky, eventually twisting into an enormous tornado. This tornado, which the myth states lasted for four days and nights (again the Navajo theme of “four” showing up) swept into the midst of the spawning Yeitsos/new Anaye, sucking them all off the Earth. In some versions the tornado also uprooted many trees and caused many deaths among human beings as well, as it cleansed the land of the Anaye. In other versions it killed off ALL the human beings in the world as well as the Anaye following which Estsanatlehi, the seasonal goddess, began creating new tribes from scrapings of her skin – or from corn kernels – to repopulate the world. Some versions of the myth say that the wind-charm spell is still in effect and any time a tornado or cyclone strikes it means another Anaye has been born somewhere in the land and must be swept off the Earth, regardless of the collateral damage or loss of life involved. Thus, with the Anaye defeated for all time, Estsanatlehi chose to live in the house of the sun god, where she would greet her husband at the end of each day as he finished his journey across the sky.
14. Epilogue – Yebaad and Yebaka, the deities who were the foster parents of Estsanatlehi and her sister Yolkaiestsan (and in some versions the parents of the lesser Anaye, sending them to plague humanity for various sins and faults) feared that without the Anaye around to fear, humanity might once again fall victim to its tendency to hubris, which is what caused the problems that forced them to abandon the previous worlds the Navajo had lived in. To prevent that, the couple gave birth to (or in some versions just created outright) Sa, the goddess of old age, Dichin, the god of hunger and Tgaei, the elderly couple who are the joint deity of either “poverty” (the accepted interpretation) or “entropy” (my personal preference). In some versions Hazke Estsan, the goddess of winter weather is included in this grouping of new deities. These new gods and goddesses would be a check on humanity by serving as necessary evils. For example hunger would provide the motivation for people to hunt and fish and farm, “poverty” or “entropy” would wear out people’s clothing, houses, tools and weapons, forcing them to remain industrious by making new things. Other versions of the myth say that these deities were the only Anaye who survived the tornado, and were spared by Nayanazgeni when they each gave him reasons why they should be permitted to live.
Source books for the above composites:
North American Indian Mythology
Sweet Salt: Navajo Folklore And Myth
The Gift Of The Gila Monster
A Dictionary Of Gods
The Mythology Of The Americas
In The Beginning: The Navajo Genesis
Myths And Tales Of The Chiricahua Apache
A Dictionary Of World Mythology
Tales of the Cochiti Indians
Spirits, Heroes & Hunters From North American Indian Mythology
Navajo Sacred Places
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