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Navajo Healing & Spiritual Practices, a Short Essay


Navajo spiritual practice is about restoring health, balance, and harmony to a person's life.  Others include the Hoghan Blessing Ceremony and the 'Baby's First Laugh Ceremony'.  Otherwise, ceremonies are used to heal illnesses, strengthen weakness, and give vitality to the patient.  Ceremonies restore Hozhò, or beauty, harmony, balance, and health.  One of the exceptions to the concept of healing is the Beauty Way ceremony: the Kinaaldá, or a female puberty ceremony. 

Sick Navajos will seek out a medicine man, or Hatałii, when the need arises.  The medicine man will use several methods to diagnose the patient's ailments such as hand-trembling and trances as well as using special tools such as crystal rocks.  The medicine man will then select a specific healing chant for each type of ailment.  Short blessings for good luck and protection may only take a few hours.  In all cases, the patient is expected to follow the medicine man's instructions for behavior after the ceremony.  These instruction may include the avoidance of sexual relations, personal contact, animals, certain foods, and certain activities.

Possible causes of ailments could be the result of violating taboos.  Contact with lightning-struck objects, exposure to taboo animals such as snakes, and contact with the dead are some of reasons for healing.  Protection ceremonies, especially the Blessing Way Ceremony, are used for Navajos that leave the boundaries of the four sacred mountains, and is used extensively for Navajo soldiers going to war.  Upon re-entry, there is an Enemy Way Ceremony, or Nidáá', performed on the person, to get rid of the evil things in his/her body, and to restore balance in their lives.  This is also important for Navajo soldiers returning from war; many soldiers, whether or not they are Navajo, often suffer psychological damage, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, from participating in warfare, and the Enemy Way Ceremony helps heal their damaged minds.

There are also ceremonies used for curing people from curses.  Many people often complain of witches and skin-walkers that do harm to their minds, bodies, and even families.  Ailments aren't necessarily physical. It can take any form it wishes.  The medicine man is often able to break the curses that witches and skin-walkers put on families.  Mild cases do not take very long, but for extreme cases, special ceremonies are needed to drive away the evil spirits.  In these cases, the medicine man may find curse objects implanted inside the victim's body.  These objects are used to cause the person pain and illness.  Examples of such objects include bone fragments, rocks and pebbles, bits of string, snake teeth, owl feathers, and even turquoise jewelry.

There are said to be approximately fifty-eight to sixty sacred ceremonies.  Most of them last four days or more; to be most effective, they require that relatives and friends attend and help out.  Outsiders are often discouraged from participating, in case they become a burden on everyone, or violate a taboo.  The ceremony must be done in precisely the correct manner to heal the patient, and this includes everyone that is involved.

Medicine men must be able to correctly perform a ceremony from beginning to end.  If he does not, the ceremony will not work.  Training a Hatałii to perform ceremonies is extensive, arduous, takes many years and is not unlike priesthood.  The apprentice learns everything by watching his teacher and memorizes the words to all the chants.  A medicine man cannot learn all of the ceremonies so he will specialize in a select few.

The origin of spiritual healing ceremonies dates back to Navajo mythology.  It is said the first Enemy Way ceremony was performed for Changing Woman's twin sons (Monster Slayer and Born-For-the-Water) after slaying the Giants (the Yé'ii) and restoring Hozhó to the world and people.  The patient identifies with Monster Slayer through the chants, prayers, sandpaintings, herbal medicine and dance.

Another Navajo healing, the Night Chant ceremony, is administered as a cure for most types of head ailments, including mental disturbances.  The ceremony, conducted over several days, involves purification, evocation of the gods, identification between the patient and the gods, and the transformation of the patient.  Each day entails the performance of certain rites and the creation of detailed sand paintings.  On the ninth evening a final all-night ceremony occurs in which the dark male thunder god is evoked in a song.

The medicine man proceeds by asking the Holy People to be present, then identifying the patient with the power of the god and describing the patient's transformation to renewed health.  The same dance is repeated throughout the night, about forty eight times.  Altogether the Night Chant ceremony takes about ten hours to perform, and ends at dawn.

  • All above text is used and edited with permission and is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and from  Please e-mail us with any corrections or comments.
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