The Ghostway (1984)

The Ghostway (1984)

sand painting

Also known as sandpaintings or dry paintings, sand paintings (or iikááh in Navajo) are created by a medicine man (or Hataałii in Navajo) for ceremonial purposes. Sand paintings are created by pouring colored sands, crushed dried plants, crushed stone, or other powdered pigments onto the ground. Sand paintings are generally symbolic representations of different stories in Navajo mythology and are created in conjunction with the performance of certain chants. Navajo sand paintings began as an integral part of religious and healing ceremonies rather than as art for art’s sake. However, many Navajo artists currently produce sand paintings for the commercial art market. Sand paintings created as art generally contain important errors so that it is not an exact replica of a sacred ceremonial sand painting.

Sun God

The sun retains a significant position in most cosmologies, often taking on anthropomorphic features. From Ra, Apollo, Buddha, and the Christ figure, to indigenous appreciations of the creative power and potential of the solar disc, the figure of the Sun God is assigned an importance and range of powers pertinent to the specific needs and value systems of each group. For example, Sun-Father is a Navajo Holy Person, husband of Changing Woman, while in the Kiowa tradition, Sun Boy is the originator of the sacred tribal items.

Often the term "Sun God" is used inappropriately, generally as a blanket term to signify dominant male figures in non Judeo-Christian religions, specifically those of Native American tribes.

Keams Canyon, Arizona

Keams Canyon is a small community of about 300 people in a census designated area within the Hopi Reservation in Navajo County, Arizona. The name designates both the community as well as a nearby canyon, which features a channel that flows from Balakai Mesa to Polacca Wash. The location is named after the Keams brothers, who operated a trading post in the area in the late 1800s. It is called Lók'a'deeshjin in the Navajo language, which means "reeds extend in a black line." The Hopi call it Pongsikvi, which translates to "government community."

In the Dark Wind, Hillerman refers to this location as “Keans Canyon” and places the Joint Use Administration Office in the area, although it is actually located in Flagstaff, Arizona. However, the Hopi Indian Agency is located in Keams Canyon.

Littlewater Trading Post, New Mexico

Littlewater translates to Tó ‘Áłts’íísí in Navajo. Littlewater is a small tribal chapter of the Navajo Nation location near Crownpoint, New Mexico. The Navajo Nation government system consists of five agencies (Chinle, Crownpoint, Fort Defiance, Shiprock, and Tuba City) with several local chapters within each agency. Each chapter has an administrative meeting place known as the chapter house, where the community gathers to discuss a variety of issues concerning life on the reservation.

In The Ghostway, Hillerman refers to a trading post that was most likely located in San Juan County, New Mexico on U.S. Highway 666, which is almost one hundred miles northwest of Crownpoint. A trading post is an establishment where goods can be traded. It is also a social center where news and gossip are exchanged. Trading posts have been associated with American frontier culture since the seventeenth century. Over time, trading posts developed into a cultural institution at first funded and backed by empire, later by national interests, and most often by enterprising business men.

Rio Puerco River, New Mexico

A western tributary of the Rio Grande River that passes through the central part of the state of New Mexico. The Rio Puerco River originates in the Nacimiento Mountains in the Santa Fe National Forest and flows south 230 miles to meet the Rio Grande River about 20 miles south of Belen. The areas surrounding the river were once populated by ancient Pueblo peoples, and later by Native American tribes such as the Navajo and the Apache, who were pushed away by the U.S. army when the government took over the region in the 1860s. Hispano and white settlers moved into the irrigable lands along the river but overgrazing, erosion, and flash flooding led to changes in the landscape, which drove people away. Today, most of the lands around the river are uninhabitable, the river itself is dry for much of the year and subject to flooding during the rainy seasons.


Windmills are structures that use spinning vanes, sales, or blades in order to convert the force of wind into energy and/or power. Different versions of the windmill have been used for centuries. Before the widespread use of electricity, windmills were used to mill grain and pump water. More recently, windmills in the format of wind turbines have been used as a more energy efficient and environmentally friendly tool for generating electricity.

A specific water-pumping windmill on joint-use territory land between the Hopi and Navajo reservations becomes the subject of major conflict in Hillerman's novel The Dark Wind. This windmill is occasionally referred to by its very specific identifier: Windmill Number 6.

smoke hole

In the traditional construction of a hogan, the Diné dwelling house, a hole is cut in the roof in order to let smoke from the hearth fire below out of the room. The hole is usually placed off-center and aligned above the rock slab that serves as a hearth so that as the smoke rises it leaves the residence. In later, more modern hogans, flues that facilitated the removal of smoke directly from the rock-slab or adobe hearth have replaced the hole in the roof.

Borrego Pass, New Mexico

An unincorporated community of the Navajo Nation located in McKinley County, NM. The Spanish name Borrego, meaning "yearling lamb," corresponds with the Navajo name, Dibé Yázhí Habitiin, meaning "ascending lamb trail." This small town originally formed around a trading post that no longer operates there.

Coyote Canyon, New Mexico

A canyon located in McKinley County, New Mexico. Its Anglicized name is based on the Navajo one, Mą'ii Tééh Yítłizhí, meaning "Where Coyote Fell Into Deep Water," which is based on a story of the spiritual being Coyote falling into a river after taking a drink of water. Coyote Canyon is one of the many chapters of the Navajo Nation, whose government system consists of five agencies (Chinle, Crownpoint, Fort Defiance, Shiprock, and Tuba City), with several local chapters within each agency. Each chapter has an administrative meeting place known as the chapter house, where the community gathers to discuss a variety of issues concerning life on the reservation.


An individual who is a follower of the Catholic faith, one of the three major branches of Christianity, with the other two being Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. The Greek term “Catholic,” which originated in early Christianity, was first used in the 2nd century A.D. in reference to an orthodox view of the New Testament, one that advocated a literal approach to the scriptures. When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as it official religion in the 4th century, The Roman Catholic Church developed a strict system of religious and political hierarchy headed by the Pope, who is considered the ultimate authority ruling over all the churches around the globe. Roman Catholicism was the unquestioned, prevailing faith across Europe throughout the middle Ages, and did not become a distinct entity until the rise of Protestantism in the 16th century. The split caused by the Protestant Reformation, which opposed and challenged the dogmatic rule of Catholicism, in effect created what is now perceived as two separate religions. With nearly 1.2 billion followers throughout the world, Catholicism is still the largest Christian denomination.

In general, a Catholic, or practitioner of the Roman Catholic faith, must subscribe to specific beliefs and adhere to the structural operations, rituals, and functions of the Church. Some of the core beliefs include the acceptance of Jesus Christ as a divine savior, the Church’s doctrine as the definitive truth as it was professed by Jesus in the 1st century, and transubstantiation—the belief that during the ritual of the Holy Sacrament the wine and bread consumed by the devotees actually become the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ. A severe observance to moral rules is also a central component of the religion. The confession of sins to an ordained priest is required as a regular practice, along with active worshiping by attending mass, reciting prayers, and promoting missionary initiatives.


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