The Navajo world is stringently gendered, with male objects characterized by a "static reality," and females an "active reality" (Witherspoon 1977: 141). This "static reality" is identifiable with the rigidly structured Navajo ceremonial life, which for the most part is male-dominated. "Active reality," on the other hand, refers to Navajo social and economic life, which is defined by movement and change (Witherspoon 1977: 141).

The epitome of this active reality is Changing Woman, whose qualities described in myth are superimposed in contemporary Navajo life. Witherspoon asserts,

The earth and its life-giving, life sustaining, and life-producing qualities are associated with and derived from Changing Woman. It is not surprising, therefore, that women tend to dominate in social and economic affairs. Women are the heads of most domestic groups, the clans are matrilineal, and the land and sheep traditionally were controlled by the women of residential groups. (1977:141).

Changing Woman's mythical, metaphorical, and pragmatic implications are an excellent vehicle with which to approach other salient areas of Navajo culture. Through an analysis of Changing Woman as described in Paul Zolbrod's version of the Navajo Creation Story, Dine bahane', the symbolic motifs inherent in her mythology can be isolated, identified, and applied to the larger holistic analysis of Changing Woman in Navajo culture.

Witherspoon asserts that Changing Woman is the child of First Boy (Sa'ah Naaghaii) who represents thought, and First Girl (Bik'eh H-zh-), who represents speech (1977: 17). Together, Sa'ah Naaghaii and Bik'eh H-zh- "constitute in linguistic form the ideal world of the Navajo, and they contain the most important ideas and concepts of the Navajo world" (1977:18).

Sa'ah naaghaii and bik'eh h-zh- link into vital concepts of inner and outer forms. All living things have inner and outer forms, and "to achieve well-being the inner forms must harmonize and unify with Sa'ah Naagh‡ii," and the outer forms must do the same with Bik'eh H-zh- (Witherspoon 1977: 25). Changing Woman represents a synthesis of sa'ah naaghaii, which translates to "the capacity of all life and living things to achieve immortality through reproduction," and bik'eh h-zh-, which "represents the peace and harmony essential to the perpetuation of all living species" (Witherspoon 1977:18).

According to Zolbrod, Changing Woman is introduced into the Navajo Creation story at a time of chaos and infertility. The Emergence People in the fifth world had been terrorized by the Binaayee', or monsters, and so only First Man, First Woman, and old man and wife, and their two young children survived. This is significant because without Changing Woman the human race would have ended here, as the adults were past child bearing age and the children related by blood.

For four days, the mountain Ch'ool'i'i was covered with a dark cloud that slowly descended down its base. One day, First Man decided to investigate and set out chanting a optimistic song. He ascended the mountain and at the tip, right when lightning flashed and a rainbow showered him with vibrant colors, did he find Changing Woman. Here is Zolbrod's description of the actual discovery:

He looked down at his feet where he heard a baby crying. But he beheld only a turquoise figure. In it, however, he recognized the likeness of a female. It was no larger than a newborn child, but its body was fully proportioned like a woman's body. (Zolbrod 1992: 175)

First Man brought the figurine back to First Woman, unsure of what to do with it. Changing Woman only remained with them for fourteen days, after which they took her to a ceremony on Ch'ool'i'i, where Nilchi the Wind transformed her into a living deity, along with her sister, White Shell Woman, and corn.3

The next significant event in Changing Woman's narrative is the myth of her sexual union with the Sun, and her birth to a son named Monster Slayer. On the mountainside, Changing Woman and her sister were lonely and felt strange attractions toward different things. They decided to explore this, and so for four days Changing Woman lay on a rock "with her feet to the east and her legs spread comfortably apart. This way she could relax as she observed the sun make its path across the sky. That way it could shine its warmth fully upon her" (Zolbrod 1992: 181). White Shell Women did the same thing in a shallow pool, letting the water flow around her.

Both the sun's rays and the water are images of intercourse, and therefore, it is not surprising that in four days, the women discovered that they were pregnant. In four more days they each delivered boys, which were placed in traditional cradleboards by First Man.

After Monster Slayer meets his father the Sun, and eventually rids the world of monsters with his help, the Sun asks Changing Woman to move to a special house in the West with him. Zolbrod recreates this scene, stressing Changing Woman's individuality as she asks for a special house in the West, and Sun asks why he should build it for her.

"I will tell you why," she said to him.
"You are male and I am female.
"You are of sky and I am of earth.
"You are constant in your brightness, but I must change with the seasons.
"You move constantly at the edge of heaven, while I must be fixed in one place...
"Remember, as different as we are, you and I, we are of one spirit. As dissimilar as we are, you and I, we are of equal worth...Unlike each other as you and I are, there can be no harmony in the universe as long as there is no harmony between us." (Zolbrod 1984: 275)
Through Changing Woman's speech, Zolbrod successfully captures the tenuous, but essentially harmonious, relationship of Changing Woman and the Sun, after which every couple should model.

It is after this that the Sun declares the scope of Changing Woman's power: "...Whiteshell woman will attend to her children and provide their food. Everywhere I go over the earth she will have charge of female rain. I myself will control male rain. She will be in charge of vegetation everywhere for the benefit of Earth people" (Reichard 1950: 407).

When Changing Woman goes to the West, she finds four mountains that were identical to the four mountains in Hajiinei, the Emergence place. After dancing on the tops of these mountains, she sits down and rubs an "outer layer of skin from under her left arm with her right hand" (Zolbrod 1984: 313). This skin developed into two adult males and two females, from whom descended the clan Hon‡gh‡ahnii, meaning He Walks Around One Clan.

Then she rubbed the outer layer of skin from under her right arm with her left hand. This too developed into two adult males and females, who eventually became the clan Kin yaa'‡anii, meaning the Towering House People.

After this, she rubbed an outer layer of her skin from her left breast with her right hand. This changed into two adult males and two females as well, who eventually became T- d'ch''''nii, or the Bitter Water Clan.

She again rubbed skin from her breast, this time the right one, with her left hand. Four adults, two men and two women, were formed, who became Bit'ahnii, or Within His Cover People.

She did this two more times, one rubbing skin from between her breasts, thereby forming what would become known as Hashtl'ishnii, or the Mud Clan. The last time she rubbed skin from between her shoulder blades, forming the Close to Her Body Clan.

After she created all of these people, she took them with her to live in the West.4

Although this next passage is not present in Zolbrod's text, it is crucial to defining Changing Woman's identity. It is revealed that, "As the seasons advance, [Changing Woman] becomes old, it is true, but she has the power to reverse the process, becoming young again by degrees, as two children, deifically 'borrowed' from the original cornfield, testified:

When we came in, our grandmother lay curled up, nearly killed with old age. She got up and walked with a cane of whiteshell to a room at the east. She came out again somewhat stronger. Then, supported by a cane of turquoise, she went into the south room. She came back walking unaided. She went next into a room at the west. She came out a young woman. She went into the north room and returned, a young girl so beautiful that we bowed our heads in wonder. (Reichard 1950: 46)

This passage is significant not only because it demonstrates Changing Woman's power of rejuvenation and the cyclical aspect of her nature, but also because it encodes several different layers of symbolism working together. For example, the two canes she rests on are made of white shell and turquoise, which are intimately identified with her. Furthermore, her progression from old age to youth is marked by her visit to four different rooms, each located in a cardinal direction. She reverses the usual connotations of direction by first visiting the east as an old lady, which is symbolic of birth and spring, and ending in the North as a young girl, which is symbolic of death and winter (Aronilth 1991: 36). In a traditional Dine progression, she would have ended with the East as a young girl.


Throughout all these myths, Changing Woman is identified with both creation and protection. She is described in terms of fertility and reproduction; by creating mankind from her own epidermis, and subsequently sustaining them through Earth's bounty, she is the First, and pre-emanate Mother. Moreover, she bestowed several things upon mankind, such as certain ceremonies, that would protect humanity from evil forces. Witherspoon asserts, "Through rituals she bestows blessings on them and provides them with immunity from various dangerous things and protection from malevolent beings" (1977: 91). Her Kinaald‡, or puberty ceremony, is common for young girls to emulate upon their first menses, and her gentle benevolence is held to be the example for all women to strive towards.

Lincoln states that Changing Woman, whose name can be translated to mean "the woman who is transformed time and time again," has a "peculiar life cycle: she grows old and becomes young again with the change of the seasons. One might thus interpret her as an allegory of the seasons, but she is more, being related to the earth and vegetation.

Slim Curly said, "Thereby the earth, when vegetation appears in the spring, becomes as a young woman clothed in new dress, whereas harvest in the fall lets her appear as a declining old woman. White Shell Woman is, in reality, the earth which changes in summer and becomes young again, then relaxes or dies off in winter." He called the earth, "Changing Woman Happiness" for summer and "Changing Woman Long Life" in winter. (Lincoln 1981: 25)

Here "Happiness" and "Long Life" are other names for Sa'ah naaghai and bik'eh h-zh-.

Another point in Lincoln's text explains Changing Woman's conflation with corn and reproduction: "She called the people of the clans her children and promised them corn of all colors and plant seed; so now when corn doesn't grow and ripen, women, too, will not give birth, for all seeds and corn originate with White Shell Woman" (Lincoln 1981: 25)

Metaphorical Implications:

Metaphorically, the qualities of nurturing and fertility are applicable to several other areas of Navajo culture, which are all called shim‡ in Navajo (Witherspoon 1977: 91). These are human maternal behavior (including the "coming of age" ritual for pubescent girls called Kinaald‡), the sacred mountain soil bundle (which ties into larger religious considerations), and the symbolism of sheep herding and the corn field (agriculture and sustenance). Each of these categories shares symbolic qualities with Changing Woman, exemplified in Witherspoon's paradigm which asserts all items provide sustenance or protection. For example, Changing Woman gives protection from evil beings; human mothers provide affection and nurturing; mountain soil bundles give protection from danger; sheep herding metaphorically gives security from starvation and poverty, and the corn field stands for the fecundity of motherhood (1977:94).

Mothers and the Female Experience:

Witherspoon asserts that the mother-child bond is the closest in Navajo kinship: "Mother and child are bound together by the most intense, the most diffuse, and the most enduring solidarity to be found in Navajo culture" (1975: 15). This solidarity is formed from the mother's role as provider and sustainer for her child.

As stated before, Changing Woman is the first and model mother. By tracing the Kinaald‡, the Navajo wedding ceremony, and the birth of a new baby, a larger picture will emerge of exactly what shim‡ in Navajo implies.

The Kinaald‡:

The Kinaald‡, or girl's puberty ceremony, is performed when a girl experiences her first menstruation, and culminates in a second gathering after her second period.5 Mythically, the Kinaald‡ is modeled after Changing Woman's own puberty rite, which has been already described. Bruce Lincoln states that the ritual extends five days and four nights, during which "only Blessing Songs are sung, 'which are the holiest,' and all the ritual events are patterned after those of the first and second Kinaald‡," performed for Changing Woman (1981:18).

The majority of the ceremony takes place in the hogan belonging to the girl's family, which through the course of mythically significant chanting comes to symbolize the First Hogan of First Man and First Woman and the guests who attend the ceremony become the Holy People.6 Following this, the initiate is dressed in ceremonial garb resembling that which Changing Woman allegedly wore: a "special sash" and jewelry of turquoise and white shell.

After she is dressed, older females at the ceremony give her a vigorous massage, which is called "molding" the girl. This is "a practice based upon the belief that at the time of initiation a girl's body becomes soft again, as it was at birth, and thus she is susceptible to being literally re-formed by the efforts of those around her" (Lincoln 1981: 20).

Another major part of the Kinaald‡ involves the girl running toward the east, which she does twice a day for the first day, and three times a day for the next three days. Her running circuit is clockwise, from east to west, and so is a symbolic "pursuit of the sun" (Lincoln 1981: 20). Aside from running, the girl's main duty is to grind the corn for the huge cake, called an alkaan, that will be eaten on the ceremony's final day.

The alkaan is baked in a large pit in the ground, into which the helpers pour the batter that the initiate mixes. The batter is blessed with cornmeal and covered with husks, "in the center of which the initiand places another corn-husk cross oriented to the cardinal points. Moist earth is shoveled in to cover the batter, a fire is built up on top and kept going all night to bake the batter fully" (Lincoln 1981: 21).

The fourth day is devoted to singing sacred Blessingway and "free" songs. This takes place in the hogan, which is arranged in ceremonial fashion (please refer to Fig. 1). Lincoln states about the singing:

Throughout the singing, the chief goal is the identification with Changing Woman, as most dramatically announced in the Following Twelve Word Song:

I am here, I am White Shell Woman, I am here. Now on the top of Gobernador Knob, I am here. In the center of my white shell hogan I am here. Right on the white shell spread I am here. Right on the fabric spread I am here. Right at the end of the rainbow I am here. (1981: 24)

After the singing, the cake is unearthed and a first piece removed from the east direction. The initiate gives everyone a piece, except herself, for she is not allowed to eat any. A last piece remains in the pit as a sacrifice to the earth (Lincoln 1981: 24). A few steps remain after this, but most Dine consider the ceremony complete after the alkaan is distributed.

The alkaan is highly symbolic. Lincoln asserts that "given its shape, color, and relation to fire, it must be seen as a solar image..." (Lincoln 1981: 32). Then it is baked in a pit, which is symbolic of a woman's womb (earth=woman). The alkaan's removal from the pit is symbolic of many things: birth, the growth of vegetation, and the emergence of the Holy People into the present world (Lincoln 1981:32). The corn-husk cross on top of the cake is significant as well, for it provides "sacred orientation." Lincoln asserts, "[The cake] contains the sun and earth; male and female; the Holy People, first of all beings; corn, and by extension vegetation; the cardinal points; zenith and nadar" (32). He points out, however, that the initiate is the one participant in the Kinaald‡ who does not consume the alkaan and experience its "social totality." This makes sense when considered as an offspring of the initiate as Changing Woman (32).

The Kinaald‡ puts the Navajo girl on the path to adulthood, which culminates in the wedding ceremony. Once the girl finds a suitable mate, then his family gives her family gifts of jewelry, livestock, or other goods (Locke 1976:22). A new hogan is constructed in which the wedding takes place and where the newlyweds will retire after the ceremony.

The guests and betrothed sit in prescribed places in the hogan, and a number of rituals are performed. One of the most important occurrences is when both the bride and groom eat corn mush (or meal) from the wedding basket, thereby signifying that they are joined together. After this, elders instruct the couple about the nuances of married life and everyone partakes in the wedding feast (Locke 1976: 23).

Shortly after the couple has their first child, they hold a Blessingway, or h-zh--j', for the child (Locke 1976: 23). Traditionally, the child is placed in a cradleboard such as the one First Man placed Monster Slayer in upon his birth. Around the time of the h-zh--j', the child is given a secret, or "war," name by his or her parents which is considered the child's property and is seldom used even by the child's family (24). Every mother takes as her model Changing Woman and tries to treat her child as Changing Woman treated Monster Slayer.

The Blessingway ceremony performed after the child's birth is also performed on several other occasions, such as the departure or return of family members after leaving the reservation for an extended amount of time, during a girl's Kinaald‡ and a woman's wedding (Kluckhohn 1946: 212). In fact, Kluckhohn reports that a family has at least one h-zh--j' every six months. It is "precautionary, protecting, prophylactic--not a cure" (212). The rite,

has the dignity of great simplicity. There are a few songs one night, a ritual bath in yucca suds with prayers and songs the next day, an all-night singing that night. Cornmeal and pollen are prominently used throughout, and drypaintings of these materials and pulverized flower blossoms are sometimes prepared on buckskin spread on the ground. Only in Blessing Way is Changing Woman ever represented in visible form in a dry painting. (Kluckhohn 1946: 212)

Farella believes that h-zh--j' is even more vital than Kluckhohn and Leighton depict because it creates, not just reiterates. "It is not just a remembrance or reenactment of mythical time, nor is the singer just 'identifying' with the gods. It is a repetition of the act [of creation] itself" (1984: 76). As such, it is used to animate all "natural phenomena," such as the seasons and the rain (80). Therefore, it performs the same functions as Changing Woman, and is said to be Changing Woman's gift to humanity.

Mountain Soil Bundle:

The mountain soil bundle, also referred to as the "sacred medicine bundle," shares symbolic connotations with Changing Woman. It too is addressed "shim‡," and considered to be a protector. Witherspoon quotes Wyman's assessment of the bundle's importance:

To an individual it is his "medicine," the source of blessings, like the magic bundle of First Man. It can produce things, the comforts of life, absence of worry, accumulation of property, insuring a long and happy life...He speaks of it as "our mother" because Changing Woman and her Blessingway gave it to us. (Witherspoon 1975: 18).

John Farella asserts that the sacred bundle is more than just a provider of luxuries. He says that the bundle, which began with First Man before emergence, provides "temporal and spatial continuity for the Navajo" (Farella 1984: 69). Furthermore, First Man's "medicine" began in the underworld and provided for the genesis upwards into the different worlds (69).

Haile provides one myth in which First Man is dismayed at his forgetfulness when he leaves his medicine in a lower world:

"This is really too bad my children. What now? How shall it be?" said First Man. "We have started out without the thing which regulated our lives, by means of which the earth, the sky were setting firm. We went away without the thing, which had made things firm, by which they had life in them, which regulated the ripening, which regulated the raining, which regulated giving birth, which regulated our progress, with this thing missing, we have come up." (Haile qtd. in Farella 1984: 79-80).

The language describing the bundle mirrors that describing Changing Woman; both make reproduction possible in a structured way.

Contained in the bundle are objects of value on the Earth's surface. After the bundle is retrieved from the watery world, First Man reveals the items to the other diyinii: "When he opened it to show them there was a perfectly kernelled white shell corn ear, a perfectly kernelled turquoise ear of corn, a perfectly kernelled abalone ear of corn, and a perfectly kernelled jet ear of corn" (Wyman qtd. in Farella 1984: 83).

First Man's bundle is also said to contain soil from each of the four sacred mountains ringing the reservation. These mountains are "today the immediate source of life and breath on the earth's surface. The soil is also the earth's flesh" (Farella 1984: 182). Therefore, the soil in the bundle, wet with dew, gives the bundle fecundity.

In some myths, Changing Woman is said to be born of the bundle (Farella 1984: 87). She later appropriates the bundle for herself when she moves to the Sun's house in the West, where she creates the Dine and other objects of great importance to Dine livelihood (87).

Symbolism of Sheep:

As stated before, Dine refer to both sheep and corn as shim‡. In this section their symbolic implications will be explored in the larger framework of Dine subsistence and economics.

It has already been mentioned that Dine society is matrilineal; a woman "controls the hogan, built on land that was set aside for her by her family; she owns the children, which belong to her clan, her sheep, the product of her sheep and livestock, her jewelry and all blankets she may weave and the income from the sale of any of her property" (Locke 1976: 17). The man owns what his family gives him, and what he had saved for himself.

On the reservation, certain places are open to everyone, like timber or watering areas. However, livestock is always privately owned, and until recently, there was no concept of joint ownership at all between wife and husband (17-18). Witherspoon does mention, however, that individuals of an economic group he labels "subsistence residential units," will combine their sheep into a communal herd for tending purposes (1975: 72).

The unit's main functions are to "provide its members with a place of residence and a source of subsistence" (72). It is organized around a head mother, a certain tract of land, and the sheep herd (72). Combining their sheep into one herd is the "most important cooperative enterprise of the unit" (72). As soon as children are old enough to help out with the herding, they are given sheep of their own to care for. "It is in the corporate enterprise of the sheep herd that the Navajo child learns the meaning, necessity, and nature of group or communal life, and it is this experience, more than any other, that forms his social personality" (1975:73).

Changing Woman is considered to have made the first sheep:

She busied herself with what is called earth mirage and earth rising haze. This she rubbed (on her hands and then) on the white shell, the turquoise, abalone, and jet (jewels) while they followed her with their eyes whenever she moved her hands with it away from them...The water which she sprinkled on them "will be called amniotic fluid,"...but the amniotic fluid...soaked into the soil right there. From this the soil soaked spot herbs grew which were to be (future) sheep. (Farella 1984: 90)

Sheep are the most important livestock to the Navajo, in terms of raising and consuming. In fact, they reflect Dine kinship and social relationships (92). Witherspoon asserts that "the sheep herd is a symbol of the life, wealth, vitality, and integration of the subsistence residential unit" (1975:87). Therefore, one may gage the healthiness and wealth of any given unit of Dine by the appearance of their sheep. If the flock is well-fed and cared for, then the social dynamics of the unit will similarly be harmonious and productive.

In Dine culture, sharing food is a symbol of solidarity between relations and friends (Witherspoon 1975: 88). Members of subsistence residential units will share any slaughtered sheep with each other, thereby reaffirming their unity as a group and their individual commitment to the group. Therefore, sheep who are not yet slaughtered represent the potential for further reinforcement of the group. Witherspoon says, "the common interest in, and use of, the sheep herd is thus a major factor in uniting and integrating the attitudes and behavior of the individual members of the unit" (1975: 89). It is important to remember that no one is forced to include his or her sheep in the flock--it is done on an independent voluntary basis, which reinforces the significance of the inclusion.

The Symbolism of Corn:

Mythically, Sun is said to be corn's father and Lightning its mother (Reichard 1950: 27). One myth, which Stevenson recorded, places Talking God and another deity as created by corn from Changing Woman and her sister:

When Changing Woman placed an ear of white corn, and her sister an ear of yellow corn, on the mountain where the fogs meet, 'the corn conceived, the white corn giving birth to Talking God, the yellow corn giving birth to another deity.' Sun's presence is implied, since he is believed to rest periodically on mountain tops, which figure greatly in creation. (Reichard 1950: 29)

Here, fertility comes from the union of yellow corn and white corn, an idea which is mirrored in the Dine wedding ceremony. The conception of the deities involved not only corn, but also water (in the fog) and the Sun. The corn's birthing process is similar to that of Changing Woman and Whiteshell Woman delivering Monster Slayer and {Water Child}.

Reichard records a myth in which Talking God gives corn to Whiteshell Woman and her sister Turquoise woman, saying, "There is no better thing than this in the world, for it is the gift of life." Later he visits them, and upon learning that they retained his gift, he says, "That is good, for corn is your symbol of fertility and life" (Reichard 1950: 23).

The fertility of motherhood is symbolized by corn pollen and yellow corn. Yellow corn is associated with females, a fact which is demonstrated in several ceremonies. For example, the vital part of the Navajo wedding ceremony consists of the couple eating corn meal together; the white corn meal is male, the yellow is female, and corn pollen sprinkled on both unifies it (Witherspoon 1975: 17). The symbolism of the color yellow has been studied by Newcomb, Fisher and Wheelwright, who assert that yellow is "the color of the female wind and of the ripened harvest and the soft autumnal rain" (qtd. in Witherspoon 1975: 17).7

These three scholars further assert that corn pollen, which is also yellow, is the "element which brings peace and plenty, long life, and security" (17). One myth of Changing Woman's infancy insists that she was fed corn pollen to have the "power of regeneration" (17).

Farella asserts the following about corn's importance:

Corn is, first of all, diyinii... Corn is, of course, the essential domestic plant; there is no wild form. Unless it is cultivated, it cannot survive. Man, of course, does this and in return he is fed, but the corn meal and corn pollen are also the food of diyinni, and these are returned to diyinni in the form of offerings. (1984:30)

Pragmatic Implications:

The traditional Navajo dwelling is called a hogan, which means "home" (Beck 1992: 284). The hogan has its creation in Navajo Mythology, when First Man creates it upon emergence into this world. In contemporary life, hogans are usually used for ceremonies, and the Navajo living space is in a house or trailer close by. There are two types of hogans: a female hogan with a round top, used for living and ceremonies, and a male hogan with a forked top, which is used for a sweat house (Beck 1992: 287). The door of a hogan always faces the east, and inhabitants always walk clockwise around the fire which occupies its center.

Hogans are characterized by a rich tradition of symbolism. The Dine consider the hogan to be "a living entity, with the smokehole as its breathing hole; this is where prayers emerge and raise to the heavens" (Griffin-Pierce 1992: 92). Furthermore, objects and individuals have proscribed placement within the hogan as well. Although the interior is always a contiguous whole, it is metaphorically divided by the four poles into the four cardinal directions: the south side is associated with things relating to subsistence, the West with social relations, the North for Ôreverence,' and ceremonial objects, and the East is the door (Griffin-pierce 1992: 94).

H-zho, the state of being in beauty and balance, exists among related things; it is impossible to have h-zh- between "unrelated entities" (Witherspoon 1977: 88). Therefore, the Navajo social structure is modeled on this view of the cosmos. Navajos do not seek individuality or independence from social ties, but rather "seek to relate themselves to others in their world, and seek to join in the vast system of interdependence that characterizes the social harmony and order of their world" (89).

Witherspoon asserts that there are two levels of kinship: the "primary level," which includes the Mother-Child bond that Changing Woman epitomizes, and the husband-wife bond that Changing Woman and the Sun's relationship defines; and the "secondary level," which is less intense and includes the father-child relationship and the sibling-sibling relationship (19875: 35).

Dine children address their father as an in-law, or shaadaani. Witherspoon comments,

Just as Navajo refer to Changing Woman as Ônihima' (our mother), they refer to the Sun as "nihitah' (our father). The Sun and his associated symbols and their meanings provide the major conceptual framework for the Navajo definition of fatherhood. (1975: 33).

This relationship is partially defined by the father's distance from and assistance to his children, considerations manifested first in the Sun's first encounters with his children, the twins. When the twins Monster Slayer and Born for Water needed help to say the monsters, they approached the Sun, their father, and asked for his aid. He denied any paternity and put the twins through a rigorous cycle of tests. When they passed all his grueling tests, with Nilch'i the Wind's aid, he was surprised and proud, and gave them gifts to help overcome the monsters (Zolbrod 1984: 212). Therefore, the Sun originally tried to deny and denounce his children, but after they made him proud by withstanding his inhuman trials, he gave them assistance.

Even after this incident, however, the Sun could never really be close to his children. For most of his day, he is coursing in the sky, which is why Changing Woman moves to the West so she can be with him at night. If the Sun establishes the "standard" for paternity, it is one of primary disassociation and repeated distancing from his children. Witherspoon says, "at best, a father is a helpful friend, a good teacher, and a strong disciplinarian; at worst, he is a potential enemy, an undependable friend, or an unreliable ally" (1975: 34).

Dine kinship extends far beyond the nuclear family. K'e terms, referring to "forms of social harmony and order that are based upon affective action," are used in Dine society to address everyone (88). Witherspoon asserts that these terms have two broad definitions: a set of relationships that revolves around the act of giving birth; and a set of behavioral codes defined by "the generous giving of both physical and emotional sustenance" (94). The former is distinguished by adding an "i" to the end, making the category k'e' terms.

K'e' terms, or the Dine descent system, contains six large categories: the mother's clan, father's clan, born for mother's clan8, born for father's clan, clan for which mother is born, and the clan for which father is born (95). Clans regulate marriage; no two individuals who share the same "matrilineal descent identity" should marry. Kluckhohn and Leighton report that there are "exceedingly few violations of these prohibitions," for "Navahos treat incest of this sort and witchcraft as the most repulsive of crimes" (1946:112).

Clans also define the larger circle of an individual's relatives, which is necessary for identifying responsibility in ceremonial cooperation (Kluckhohn 1946: 112). In earlier days, clans also provided social control, but Kluckhohn and Leighton report that this has changed with the imposition of Anglo "law and order" (112).

Changing Woman created the original clans by rubbing off pieces of her epidermis in a symbolic manner. According to Zolbrod, she made the heads of the original six clans. There are over sixty clans today (Kluckhohn 1946: 111). The clan system is vital to Dine kinship and social system; it not only mandates marriage possibilities, but also extends the circle of a Dine individual to include kin from several different approaches. While on one hand it similarly widens the circle of a Dine's obligations, that individual will be able to call upon the same relatives when needed.


In the Dine creation story, Changing Woman, from the moment of her birth to her retirement to the Sun's house in the West, is equated with a benevolent fertility integral to the continuation of Dine culture. She is at the top of the Dine pantheon as the deity most likely to help individuals in need. Moreover, she is credited with bestowing the Blessingway ceremony, the Kinaald‡, sheep, and corn upon humanity, thereby protecting not only Dine spiritual health, but basic subsistence as well.

Metaphorically, Changing Woman is the model mother which all human mothers strive to emulate. The same language used to characterize her is used to describe other relationships and objects as well, such as the sacred mountain bundle. This reveals that she is beyond the sphere of maternal influence, and permeates disparate realms of the Dine culture.

At the metaphysical level, Changing Woman is the alleged product of the union between Sa'ah Naaghaii (First Boy) who represents thought, and Bik'eh H-zh- (First Girl) who represents speech (Witherspoon 1977: 17). Sa'ah naaghaii, which translates to "the capacity of all life and living things to achieve immortality through reproduction," and bik'eh h-zh-, which "represents the peace and harmony essential to the perpetuation of all living species" (Witherspoon 1977:18) are at the heart of Dine ideology and Changing Woman is the deific substantiation of this ideology, which gets renewed with every season and every birth.

Works Cited:

Aronilth, Wilson, 1991. Foundation of Navajo Culture. NCC Press.

Beck, Peggy, and Anna Lee Walters, eds., 1992. The Sacred Ways of Knowledge, Sources of Life. NCC Press.

Douglas, Mary, 1966. Purity and Danger. Routledge Books.

Farella, John R., 1984. The Main Stalk: A Synthesis of Navajo Philosophy. University of Arizona Press.

Griffin-Pierce, Trudy, 1992. Earth is My Mother, Sky Is My Father;: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting. University of New Mexico Press.

Kluckhohn, Clyde and Dorothea Leighton, 1974. The Navajo. Harvard UP.

Levi-Strauss, Claude, 1966. The Savage Mind. University of Chicago Press.

Levi-Strauss, Claude, 1976. Structural Anthropology. Volume II. Basic Books.

Locke, Raymond Friday, 1992. The Book of the Navajo. Mankind.

Reichard, Gladys A, 1950. Navajo Religion. Princeton UP.

Witherspoon, Gary, 1975. Navajo Kinship and Marriage. University of Chicago Press.

Witherspoon, Gary, 1977. Language and Art in the Navajo Universe. University of Michigan Press.

Zolbrod, Paul G, 1984. Dine bahane'. University of New Mexico Press.

1The term "Dine" can be subdivided into the Diyin Dine, or Holy People, and the nihok‡‡' dine'e, or earth surface people (Witherspoon 1977:96). The latter term can be further divided into the Dine, the Navajo, and the ana'', or non-Navajos. Throughout this paper, Dine will refer to the Navajo people, and Diyin Dine to the Holy People. 2 For a classification of ceremonies, consult Reichard 1950: 314-337. 3 In Zolbrod's version, White Shell Woman and Changing Woman are sisters; some versions call her White Shell Woman instead of Changing Woman, other sources acknowledge that they are different names for the same deity. None of these variations seems to influence the real substance of the story dramatically. 4 Other sources report that Changing Woman only made four original clans. For more information, consult Witherspoon 1975:40. 5 There is no equivalent for males in Navajo culture. 6 For a longer discussion of hogans, please see page 7 Please see Witherspoon's chart on color in Appendix A. 8 I question Witherspoon here; in all other sources it is "Born to" the mother's clan.

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