Creation Title Image

Although the importance of the sacred mountains as geograhical boundaries cannot be denied, the mountains form even more vital spiritual boundaries which are intimately associated with the Dine creation story.

The importance of the creation story (also called the origin myth or emergence story) in Dine culture is analagous to the emphasis placed on the Bible in Judeo-Christian culture (Klukhohn and Leighton 194). However, there are some marked differences. Most importantly, the creation story is transmitted orally in Dine culture during only the winter (Dine divide the year into two seasons: Hai--winter, and Sh'--summer). Therefore, not only is the creation story a fluid text which differs in specific detail from one teller to the next, but it is forbidden to recite it during summer--to violate this is to invite sickness.

The creation story has been written down by ethnographers, such as Washington Matthews, Aileen O'Bryan, Leland Wyman, and most recently Paul Zolbrod, whose version Dine bahane', I heavily rely upon. 1

Levi-Strauss asserts that myth operates by a double structure. He says, "On the one hand, myth always refers to events alleged to have taken place long ago. But what gives the myth an operational value is that the specific pattern described is timeless; it explains the present and the past as well as the future" (1963: 208). According to his explanation, what was fundamentally important to the ancestors described in myths is similarly vital to the contemporary people who repeat the myth. Furthermore, myth and rite "replicate each other; the myth exists on the conceptual level and the ritual on the level of action" (Levi-Strauss 1963: 232). Rite becomes the pragmatic manifestation of myth.

The Navajo Creation Story is a collection of myths that not only operates according to the structure that Levi-Strauss describes, but has the same intense significance as well. Paul Zolbrod describes the Creation Story as "a kind of boundless, sprawling narrative with a life of its own...[and is] the soul of a distinct Navajo identity that found shape under a particular set of social or ceremonial conditions" (1992:19). It has "social and religious applications" to contemporary Navajo life, that are most poignantly evident in the relationship between "each member of the community and between the community and the whole surrounding cosmos" (Zolbrod 1992:24). Through the telling of myth, this relationship is explained and reiterated.

Zolbrod asserts that the Dine incorporate discussions concerning deities from the Creation Story into everyday talk on common subjects. He says, "I have heard Navajos talk about Changing Woman and Monster Slayer the way some of my neighbors discuss characters in a soap opera" (1992:22). Not only are the deities efficacious, but they are entertaining as well.

The Creation Story enumerates a lively pantheon of deities that Gladys Reichard categorizes in a spectrum from "Persuadable Deities," or those that are morally good and usually willing to aid mankind; "Undependable Deities," who do mischief but sometimes can do good; to "Unpersuadable Deities," who are essentially evil (1950: 70). The premiere persuadable deity is Changing Woman, who represents the capacity for reproduction, a concept central to Dine ideology.

Washington Matthews envisioned the "Origin Legend" as divisible into four distinct parts: I. The Story of the Emergence; II. Early Events in the Fifth World; III. The War Gods; IV. Growth of the Navajo Nation. He made a distinction between the "Origin Legend" as being general property of the entire nation, while the myths associated with different ceremonies were the property of the ceremoniesŐ practitioners (51).

What can be gleaned very generally from these different versions of the creation story is the following:

The mountains are fastened and covered with elements that represent natural phenomena; their colors are associated with the precious stones; they have bird, plant, and sound symbols; they are inhabited by the Holy People. The mountains represent parts of the earth's body--heart, skull, breast, and internal organs--and like, the body of an earth person, they have th power of motion, given them by the Winds. Other gifts have been bestowed upon them. For example, sisn'djini was fastened by a bolt of lightning and covered with daylight, and additional gifts of white lightning, dark cloud, male rain, and white corn made it symbolically more complete. (Reichard 21)

The chart below adapted from Reichard shows each mountain's direction, color, and jewel association (21):

east white Sisn'djini' whiteshell
south blue Mt. Taylor turquiose
west yellow Mt. Humphreys abalone
north black Dibentsah jet

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