Listening Woman (1978)

Listening Woman (1978)

Salt Cedar Clan

A Navajo clan mentioned in several of Tony Hillerman's Navajo detective novels, with land near the fictional No Agua Wash, which may be imagined to be somewhere in the vicinity of Teec Nos Pos, Arizona. Because the salt cedar, or tamarisk, is an invasive species introduced into the Southwestern US at the turn of the 20th century for the purpose of erosion control along river banks, it is highly unlikely that the Diné would have named one of their kinship groups after a plant that didn't appear in their territory until after Euroamerican settlement.

The Navajo, or Diné, are comprised of more than forty family lineages, or clans, that claim common ancestry.


The werewolf is a mythological creature in common in folklore traditions around the world, and the term generally refers to a man who can change form at night and turn into a wolf. Werewolves are considered evil and dangerous, as they are believed to bite, injure, and kill people and livestock. Hillerman borrows the term werewolf to refer to a Navajo wolf (also known as skinwalker), a member of the community who is believed to engage in black magic that is associated with shapeshifting, manipulating supernatural forces, and harming people.


A sing is another way of referring to something as formal as a Navajo healing ceremony, as well as something as intimate as an individual prayer, because the use of songs or chants is a central element of Navajo spirituality. There are nearly 100 Navajo healing sings of varying range and intricacy, each originating from the Navajo Creation Story. These formal sings are so nuanced and complex that a Navajo singer, also known as a hataałii, learns only one or two sings over many years of apprenticeship. Sings can last anywhere from one to nine days and can include chants, songs, prayers, lectures, dances, sweat baths, the use of prayer sticks, and the creation of sand paintings. Of course, prayers and observances that are sung by individuals on a daily basis might last only a few seconds and involve merely the ability to observe, appreciate, and maybe sprinkle a few grains of corn pollen.

Other Native American traditions also have ceremonies, traditions, and healing practices in which songs are significant components. Hillerman mentions Hopi singing in some of his novels, for example. The Hopi believe strongly that these dances and songs, when combined in the proper way, work to give them a good life full of rain for agriculture and therefore success and prosperity for the people.


A bundle of blankets and bedding materials that have been rolled up and tied together so that they can be transported from place to place. A bedroll can be easily rolled out and used for camping outdoors or sleeping on the floor, and then rolled back up. These days, lightweight sleeping bags have replaced bedrolls, but the principle of a transportable bed is the same.


Snakes are limbless reptiles. Some snakes are venomous, meaning they are able to inject their prey with poison, while most snakes are not. Found on almost every continent, snakes are also found as iconic elements in human culture. Mankind's fascination with the snake's ability to shed its skin, its abilities to travel through multiple elements (earth, air, water), its provocative stare, and even its shape have led some cultures to worship the snake, while others maintain a profound aversion if not fear toward it.

In some versions of Navajo mythology, for example, the diving heron brought witchcraft to the Earth’s surface. First Woman gave bits of witchcraft to different beings, and when she gave it to rattlesnake, he had to eat it as he had no hands. This led the rattlesnake to be poisonous, and snakes in general are considered powerful creatures toward which strict taboos are maintained.


The hearth is technically the floor of a fire pit or fireplace. Hearth also refers to the extension from the center of the fire outward to the warm floor in front of the fire. The hearth is often associated with the center, or heart, of a home.


In meteorology, thunder is the by-product of the movement of lightning through the atmosphere. As lightning snaps through the air, it instantaneously superheats the air around it, causing the air to expand in an explosive fashion, creating a shock wave that sounds like a giant clap.

In the Navajo tradition, Thunder can be a protective force and is considered to be one of the Holy People. In Navajo culture, the Holy People are immortal beings that can take the outer form of landscape elements, animals, plants, and celestial bodies. Conversely, Thunder can be personified as an evil and destructive force, which means that when dealing with such a powerful entity, one must be cautious.

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.

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.


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