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Navajo Tradition and Yei'Bi'Chei Ceremonials

West of Santa Fe - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Navajo religion is a combination of moral philosophy and preventive medicine. The teachings and beliefs are set forth in a myriad of legends and corresponding ceremonies. Throughout all these legends, Man is the central theme and is paramount in the Navajo world, with the sun, moon, stars, animals, plants, ceremonial knowledge, and all the rest of nature created for his use and benefit. The the Navajo, the constant purpose of life is to control his environment. He can best do this by observing various taboos and by avoiding or overcoming disease, misfortune, or evil through the proper exercise of a prescribed ceremony. At all times he must maintain, or re-establish his balance and harmony with nature. The ceremonies and rituals of Navajo religion are aimed at fulfilling the requirements of life and living; they are not concerned with preparation for death and afterlife. After death man loses his identity and merely becomes one with the universe, and is neither punished nor rewarded.

One of the major ceremonies of the Navajo is the nine-day Night Chant or Yei'bi'chei dance. It is only held during the winter months and is usually attended by everyone from miles around. It is during this ceremony that boys and girls receive their initiation into the rituals of Navajo religion. The boys are stripped to a loincloth, and with heads bowed, are approaced by the masked Yei'bi'chei who sprinkles pollen over various parts of the boy's body then "whips" him with yucca leaves.

The second day of the Night Chant is a busy one. In the morning sacraficial kethawns and ceremonial cigarettes are prepared, and the patient is administered his first sweat bath. In the afternoon a small sand painting is made and appropriate chants are sung. The sand painting is about a yard in diameter. At the outer edge, in the four cardinal points, are four mounds of colored sand representing the four sacred mountains. The four single colored lines leading from the mountains toward the central figure indicate the trails of various gods. The figure in the center is that of THADITIN ASIKE, or Pollen Boy. Leading to the center of the painting is a line of white corn meal and in its course are figures of four foot prints. The paitient is then brought in and made to exactly follow these foot steps and then sit in the center of the painting. HASTSEYALTI arrives and takes his place to the north of the patient and the singing and chanting commences.

In all Navajo ceremonies, much of the ritual, chanting, sand painting, making of prayer sticks, and general conduct of the rite is under the direct supervision and direction of the Medicine Man. He is a man of unusual talents and prodigious memory. His revered position as HATAATLI comes only after years of arduous study and apprenticeship, by which time will know one of the great ceremonies perfectly, and some of the minor ones as well. The intricacies of a nine-day "Way" range from the creation of several sand paintings to the purification rites and the supervision of the dancers.

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