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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Anthropology Tidbit: The Navaho and Sandpainting

This semester I'm taking a Native religions' class. As I've told you in the past, I like to share interesting tidbits about past human society that you may have never been aware of. Western religions are fairly recognizable to many of us, but Native rituals give us an entirely different perspective on life after death and accessing a world that is unseen.

Navaho and Sandpainting: How they access the unseen world

The Navaho use sand paintings to breathe life into an ailing person. The ritual ceremony involves the invocation of mythic beings in the unseen world. These mythic peoples have access to cures (albeit they may or may not use them) and they are once again retrieved for help by oral means with the help of a medicine man or singer. The physical form of the painting is important in that is manifests particular diyin dine’e (holy people) who will then mark the sick person with the same sand that was used to invoke themselves.

The significance of the sandpainting is that each pattern, and the entity invoked by it, is specific to each cultural circumstance, “the felt human needs that call for it and are often considered in the selection of the sandpaintings”. This means that the painting is not just art unchanged, but an aspect of Navaho tradition, and only one of the “many Navaho ceremonial ways”.

Sand painting also acts as a rite of re-creation for the ailing person. Although forces act against the ailing person, the idea is for the person to learn to live with what they have been given. Therefore, the result is not a life threatening disorder, but a newly molded Navaho with the ability to cope with their ailment. In the center of the sand painting is where the Navaho will be faced with all the tensions of their culture and the wholeness of the universe.

The painting, along with its flaws, becomes a part of the ailing person, and when it’s destroyed and the holy people disappear, the “tensions and imbalances that gave rise to the suffering”, disappear with them.


Navajo sand painting. Photograph. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Web. 22 Sep. 2011.


Emm said...

This course sounds fascinating! Are there many people practicing the religion today?

Cruiselife & Co said...


I know sandpainting is still a large part of Navaho culture. As far as how many people are still practicing it, I believe Tibetan monks, Native Americans in the Southwestern United States, Aborigines, and Latin Americans all practice some form of sand painting on religious days. Maybe not in same context as the Navaho.

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