The original Night Chant involved four teams who danced twelve occasions each with half-hour delays in between-a total of 10 hours. The dance shifts involve two rows facing each other. Each of the six male dancers takes his female partner, dances with her to the end of the line, lowerings her there, and moves back to his own line-up. The recite itself is performed without variation and has a hypnotic gist on the listeners. The only relief is provided by the rainmaker-clown referred Tonenili, who sprinkles water around and engages in other flirtatious antics.
The prescription men who supervise the Night Chant insist that everything-each scattered and line in every beach illustration, each composition in every song, each feathering on each mask-be arranged in exactly the same way each time the cure liturgy is performed or it will not bring about the desired result. There are probably as many active Night Chant drug males today as at any time in Navajo history, due to the general increase in the Navajo population, the popularity of the ceremony, and the central character it plays in Navajo life and health.
There are typically twenty-four Nightway cover-ups, although the ceremony can be performed with fewer. These concealments are worn by the God Impersonators who perform the ritual dances. Some of these impersonators-Calling God, Gray God, Whistling God, Whipping God, and Humped back God among them-wear the masks of ordinary male divinities with special flounces appended at the time of the ceremony. Other concealments include the yellow and blue-blooded Fringed Mouth of the Water mask, the Black and Red God disguises, the Monster Slayer mask, the Talking God mask, and the Born for Water mask.
In addition to being worn by the God Impersonators who dance on the stunning final night of the nine-day ceremony, the cover-ups are vital to the application of numerous “medicines”. They likewise play a vital role in the initiation of the young. The masks of the female goddesses are actually worn by gentlemen, since women are not allowed to minister to the person for whom the recite is being sung.
The masks used in the Nightway ceremony are made of sacred buckskin, which must be obtained without shedding the animal’s blood. Buckskin is a symbol of life-time to the Navajo people.
The medicine man’s sacred packet is made up of ceremonial items such as bags of pollen, feathers, stones, scalps, parts of ridge sheep horn, and a flint blade believed to belong to the god known as the Monster Slayer. The sacred sheaf also includes gourd clangs and the sacred buckskin disguises worn by the God Impersonators.
As in the Mountain Chant, sand paintings represent a major role in the healing rites of the Night Chant. Twelve different beach decorates are considered appropriate for the Nightway, of which a maximum period of six are usually chosen: four large and two small-scale. When soothing personal illness the patient and his or their own families naturally have a say in which sand decorates are used. Each one is associated with a particular story and is complying with specific psalms, petitions, and ceremonial procedures.
It is rarely the medicine man himself who realizes the beach paintings, although he is responsible for overseeing their preparation. Usually his assistants do the actual painting, dribbling small amounts of colored sand through their digits onto a smooth sand skin-deep. The developing works of art must be perfect; in other words, there is indeed no fluctuations from the specific characteristics place down by the gods.
Every detail in each beach decorating has a special meaning. Standard Nightway sand make-up intends include First Dancers, Whirling Logs, Water Sprinklers, Fringed Mouth Gods, Black Gods, and Corn People.
The purpose of the sand decorates is to allow the recipient to suck the powers are described in the decorate, often by sitting or sleeping on it. It is considered wrong-if not downright dangerous-to reproduce these beach covers in any way, since they might attract the attention of the gods to a situation where no real healing is intended.
That these healings “work” within the Navajo Universe which includes all of Nature meets gumption to me because one is not kept separate from the other.
Here are two brief excerpts of the Night Chant that I especially like.
The first address the need to restore balance and harmony to a being, character, mas that has been diseased or left alone to deal with bad feelings that others have projected( arrows of evil) because they cannot own their own feelings, or because of a collective need to blame, two aspects of the same problem. What I like best is that there is an acknowledgement that there are divinities and people who can create this mystic/ physical darkness but that recognise this powerful personal/ mystic/ mythological world can alter both the personal and the resulting discord experienced by Nature into One of Peace.
There is also an element of absolute trust that this is so…
Restore my figure for me. Restore my mind for me. This very day remove your sorcery from me. Your spell “youve had” walk away from me.
You have made it away for me. Far apart it has gone.
This second excerpt places the healing that are available for the individual in the context of the whole of Nature,
“Peacefully may I amble. Peacefully, with abundant light mass, may I saunter. Peacefully with abundant showers, may I step. Peacefully, with abundant seeds, may I walk.
Peacefully with inexhaustible trees, may I walk.
Peacefully with inexhaustible chicks may I walk.
Peacefully with abundant animals may I walk. Happily, on a road of pollen, may I saunter. Happily may I walk.
As it was long ago, may I go. May “its been” beautiful before me. May it be beautiful behind me. May “its been” beautiful below me. May “its been” beautiful above me. May it be beautiful all around me.
In Beauty may I walk
In Beauty it is finished.”
I find that writing about this ritual has a healing effect on me. It’s as if the writing brings the ritual to life in some non- ordinary mode- and so it may be.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist( an individual who has studies swine in their natural habitats)( onetime) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a scribe. She publishes her toil regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.
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