NAVAJO MYTH

Balladeer's Blog

Balladeer’s Blog

I will be periodically rotating some of the other topics I am interested in on these other pages. These mythology pages are not meant as the definitive breakdown on the various pantheons I’ll be featuring. They are just meant to pique the interest of people who may not be familiar with them and hopefully motivate them to read more about them. Since the Graeco-Roman, Teutono-Norse, Egyptian and (to a lesser degree) Hindu pantheons get the lion’s share of the attention the less-exposed pantheons are the ones I’ll be starting with. I’ll be adding more entries as time goes on. If you like this page check out my page on Bunyoro mythology at https://glitternight.com/bunyoro-mythology/

And on Vietnamese mythology: https://glitternight.com/vietnamese-myth/

And on Hawaiian mythology: https://glitternight.com/2011/02/20/the-top-eleven-deities-in-hawaiian-mythology/

PAR T TWO ON HAWAIIAN MYTHOLOGY – https://glitternight.com/2011/03/02/eleven-more-deities-from-hawaiian-mythology-2/

SHINTO gods and goddesses – https://glitternight.com/shinto-myth/

KOREAN MYTHOLOGY – https://glitternight.com/2011/03/24/the-top-11-deities-in-korean-mythology/

NORSE MYTHOLOGY – https://glitternight.com/2011/04/10/the-eleven-most-neglected-deities-in-teutono-norse-mythology/

NEW!!!!!! AZTEC MYTHOLOGY – https://glitternight.com/2011/05/10/the-top-eleven-deities-in-aztec-mythology/

 MY APOLOGIES FOR THE VARYING SIZES OF THE LETTERS IN SOME OF THE FOLLOWING ENTRIES. I’M WORKING WITH WORDPRESS TECHS TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM – IN THE MEANTIME CLICK HERE FOR CLEARER LETTERING – https://glitternight.com/navajo-myth-clear/

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.  
NohoilpiThe 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.  
  
HastseziniNavajo 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.    
                                               NAYANAZGENI ( “FOREIGN GOD SLAYER” ) VS THE ANAYE
1. The Birth of the Anaye – click here: https://glitternight.com/2012/04/25/navajo-myths-god-slayer/
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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.  
 
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
World Mythology
Dine Bahane
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
Yurok Myths  
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2010. 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.
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