Cultural Reference

Dawn People

The Dawn People are Holy People (deities) of Navajo mythology. In Navajo culture, the Holy People are immortal beings who can take the form of landscape elements, animals, plants, and celestial bodies. Dawn People are a group that includes Dawn Woman, Dawn Man, and Dawn Boy. They are responsible for the creation of the dawn, a moment that has symbolic resonance for cultures around the world. In some tellings of the Navajo version, the Dawn People are associated with cardinal directions of light: Dawn Man is East, Dawn Woman is North, and Dawn Boy has affiliations with the West as he follows the Rolling Darkness as it retreats before the rising sun.

Coyote Song

One of a set of 17 songs that is performed during the Enemyway ceremony. Coyote is the trickster figure in Navajo cosmologies and is often referred to as First Angry or First Scolder. He is said to have brought witchcraft into the world, which, similar to Coyote himself, has an ambivalent nature that can be used for good or ill. Coyote and his songs, therefore, can be especially effective in restoring balance, harmony, and health, but only if their power is harnessed productively.

The Enemyway is sung in order to protect Navajos from harmful ghosts of slain warriors, or in more contemporary parlance, to protect Navajos from the deleterious effects of non-Native influences.

First Songs

In the Navajo healing tradition, the First Songs are a group of four songs ('acáłe) that are sung on the very last morning of the Enemyway ceremonial. The Enemyway is sung in order to protect Navajos from harmful ghosts of slain warriors, or in more contemporary parlance, to protect Navajos from the deleterious effects of non-Native influences. Here, at the end of the Enemyway, the individual known as the Stick-Receiver, who has been responsible for procuring and protection a symbolic enemy talisman throughout the ceremony, leads a group of singers into the hogan where the ceremony is being conducted. The Stick-Receiver then sings the First Songs. This closes out the ceremonial. According to Father Berard Haile, these are the First Songs of Coyote.

Coyote People

In some versions of Navajo cosmology, there are stories and songs about a group of Coyote deities, who are also referred to as Holy People. Coyote, known as First Scolder in much Navajo lore, is a trickster deity that can be both benevolent and evil. The Coyote People show up in the Coyoteway ceremonial that cures Coyote illness, a form of mental illness associated with the ambivalent nature of the coyote.

sway dancing

The music played during the Girls Dance of the Enemyway ceremonial is known as “Sway Music.” These are complex songs with minimal, repeated vocalizations. While this music is played girls ask non-related men to dance, hence, sway dancing.


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.

bounding stick game

A game traditionally played by Navajo women before sunset. The Navajo name for this game is tsìdìł. Navajo legend suggests that Changing Woman gave the game to the first Dine' clans to teach a lesson about ethics, morality, and living in harmony.

Players create a circle of forty rocks with a large flat stone in the center. The players then throw wooden sticks into the circle, scoring the game by where the sticks fall relative to the center stone and by which side of the stick was up when it fell. The game is curtailed at nightfall, limiting the duration of the play. In addition to teaching moderation, by stopping the play of the game at nightfall, the game also represents movement through the circle of life: the circle of stones represents the Navajo homeland, Dinetah; the stones that make up the circle are the stars found in Father Sky; the center stone represents Mother Earth; three sticks painted white on one side and black on the other, represent day and night. The four spaces between the stones represent the Colorado, Rio Grande, Little Colorado and San Juan rivers.

Today, the game is used in classrooms to teach history, culture, and the Navajo language.

Hard Flint Woman

In Navajo cosmology, Hard Flint Woman is the grandmother and leader of the Hard Flint Boys. In the Enemyway story, Hard Flint Woman leads the Hard Flint Boys to Monster Slayer to participate in the first Enemyway ceremonial. Monster Slayer, also known as Nayé̆nĕzganĭ, is the eldest of twins born to rid the earth of the monsters who were killing the people, and the Enemyway is sung in order to protect Navajos from harmful ghosts of slain warriors, and can be used for those returning to Dinetah, or Navajo Country, to rid of the harmful effects of evil spirits, or chindi, they may have been exposed to when away from home.

According to Navajo tradition, the story of Hard Flint Woman can be seen in the evening sky. Hard Flint Woman is a part of a family that includes the Hard Flint Boys (the Pleiades), Hard Flint Man, and Hard Flint Woman. While there are only seven stars in the Pleiades constellation, the entire family may be represented by the nebula of stars around the Pleiades constellation. Some versions of the Hard Flint Woman story also suggest that the Maia nebula, which is part of the Pleiades cluster, represents Hard Flint Woman getting into an argument over the bounding or bouncing stick game, a game played by Navajo women involving a stone circle and sticks.


In some versions of Navajo traditional medicine, the crowbill is associated with the Enemyway, a ceremonial that is sung to cure people from illness caused by coming into contact with an "enemy," typically someone or an experience outside the Navajo culture and traditional lifeways. The enemy individual could be a member of another tribe, or in more contemporary times, an Angloeuropean. The enemy experience could be going away to fight war, such as World War Two, or to boarding school or university off the reservation. The symbolic scalp is collected during a ritualized warpath prior to the ceremony, brought to the place of healing without being touched, and kept out of sight until it is time to be destroyed.

At the close of the ceremonial, the patient who is being cured takes the bill of a mountain raven, or an imitation crowbill made from juniper, and mock attacks the ashes of the symbolic enemy scalp after it has been burned, thus symbolizing the defeat of the enemy causing unbalance and associated illness in the patient, thereby restoring the patience to harmony and equilibrium.


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.


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