The Mountain Chant: A Navajo Ceremony



176. The sacrifices made to the gods during these ceremonies consist, of nothing more than a few sticks and feathers, with the occasional addition of strings and beads--a form of sacrificial offering common among various tribes of the Southwest, including the sedentary Indiana, of the pueblos. Daring the six days' work in the medicine lodge and. the corral, I saw but one lot of these sticks prepared (paragraphs 96, 87); but I think this lot represented two sets, i. e., sacrifices to two different


mythical beings. It is, however, indicated in the myth that a considerable number of these sacrifices, called by the Navajo keçàn (Englished, kethàwn), belong to the mountain chant and may properly be offered during its celebration. I have seen among the Navajo a few varieties of these devotional offerings and I have obtained descriptions of many. Although I cannot rely on the minute accuracy of these descriptions, I will present them for such value as they may possess in illustrating the general character of this system of worship, a system which might profitably occupy for years the best labors of an earnest student to elucidate.


177. Fig. 58 represents a kethàwn belonging, not to the mountain chant, but to the klèdji-qaçàl, or chant of the night. It is sacred to the Youth and the Maiden of the Rock Crystal, divine beings who dwell in Taisnàtcini, a great mountain north of the Pueblo of Jemez. The original is in the National Museum at Washington. It consists of two sticks coated with white earth and joined by a cotton string a yard long, which is tied to each stick by a clove hitch. A black bead is on the center of the string; a turkey feather and an eagle feather are secured with the clove hitch to one of the sticks.

FIG 58. Sacrificial sticks (ken)   FIG. 59. The talking kethwn (ken-yalci`)
FIG 58. Sacrificial sticks (keçàn)   FIG. 59. The talking kethàwn (keçàn-yalci`)


178. Fig. 59 depicts a kethàwn pertaining also to the klèdji-qaçàl. It is called keçàn-yalci`, or talking kethàwn. The sticks are willow. The one to the left is painted black, to represent a male character (Qastcèbaka) in the myth and ceremony of klèdji-qaçàl. The other stick is painted blue, to denote a female character (Qastèbaäd) in the same rites. The blue stick has a diagonal face at the top to indicate the square topped female mask (paragraph 168). The naturally round end of the black stick sufficiently indicates the round male mask. The cord wrapped around the two sticks is similar to that described in the


paragraph immediately preceding. About the middle of the cord is a long white shell bead, shown in the cut. The breast feathers of the turkey and the downy feathers of the eagle are attached to the sticks. This kethàwn I saw once in the possession of a Navajo qaçàli. I was permitted to sketch it, but could not purchase it. The interpretation given of its symbolism is that of the qaçàli who owned it. In the myth of klèdji-qaçàl it is said that the beneficent god Qastcèëlçi used this kethàwn when he removed from the prophet Co the evil spell which had been cast on the latter by the wind god.

179. In Schoolcraft's Archives of Aboriginal Knowledge, Philadelphia, 1860, Vol. III, page 306, is a cut illustrating an article undoubtedly of a similar nature to that shown in Fig. 59. It is a sacrificial plume stick of the Moki. The Moki interpreter explained to Mr. Schoolcraft that it contained a message from the Indians to the President and the particulars of this message are fully set forth in his text. At first I doubted if the object could have any other purpose than a sacrificial one and was inclined to discredit the statement of the Moki interpreter. But on learning that the Navajo had a similar arrangement of sticks and feathers, which was called by the significant name of keçàn-yalçi`, or talking kethàwn, I was more inclined to believe that some of these kethàwns may answer a double purpose and be used to convey messages, or at least serve as mnemonic aids to envoys.

180. The cac-bikeçàn (bear kethàwn) spoken of in the myth consisted of two sticks, each a span long, one painted black (male), the other painted blue (female). Each had red and blue bands at the ends and in the middle. There were no feathers or beads. (Paragraph 40.)

181. The glòï-bikeçàn, or sacrifices to the weasels, were four in number, two yellow and two white. In preparing the sticks one end was always; to be held to the north, the other towards the south. At each end & narrow circle of red and a narrow circle of blue were painted; the red being to the north, i. e., outside of the blue at one end and inside of it at the other. The weasel men directed that the sticks should be buried in the ground in the same direction in which they were held when being made, lying from north to south with the outer red ring at the north. (Paragraph 41.)

182. Four sticks pertained to the klictsò-bikeçàn: one was black, with four white deer tracks painted on it; another was blue, with four yellow deer trucks; a third was white, with four black deer trucks; the fourth was yellow, with four blue deer tracks. The Great Serpent said to the Navajo prophet: "Then are certain moles who, when they dig in the ground, scatter the earth in a long winding heap like the form of a crawling snake. In such a heap of earth will you bury these kethàwns." (Paragraph 42.)

183. There are two sticks belonging to the kethàwn of the lightning god (i¢nì`-bikeçàn). One is black, with a white zigzag stripe from end


to end; the other blue, with a yellow zigzag stripe from end to end. (Paragraph 43.)

184 The Estsàn-¢igìni, or Holy Women, showed the prophet but one kethàwn stick. It was painted white and decorated with three pair's of circular bands, red and blue, the blue in each case being next to the body of the painter while he holds the stick in decorating it. This kethàwn must be buried at the base of a young spruce tree, with the first blue circle next to the tree. (Paragraph 455.)

185. Four sticks were shown by the Tcikè-cac-nátlehi. They were black, sprinkled with specular iron ore to make them shine; decorated with three pairs of bands, red and blue, applied as in the kethàwns of the Estsàn-¢igìni; and buried under a young piñon, with the first blue band or circle next to the tree. (Paragraph 46.)

186. The two kethàwns seen by Dsilyi` Neyáni at Big Oaks, the home of the ¢igin-yosíni, were both banded at the ends with blue and red and had marks to symbolize the givers. One was white, with two pairs of stripes, red and blue, running lengthwise. The other was yellow, with many stripes of black and yellow running lengthwise. (Paragraph 49.)

187. At Last Mountain, the home of the skunks, two kethàwns, evidently intended to symbolize these animals, were shown to the Prophet and his divine companions. Both the sticks were black: one had three white longitudinal stripes on one side; the other had three longitudinal rows of white spots, three spots in each row, on one side. (Paragraph 90.)

188. The two sticks shown by the squirrels, Glo`dsilkàï and Glo`dsiljíni, were painted blue, sprinkled with specular iron ore, and surrounded at the ends with red and blue bands. One was to be planted at the base of a pine tree and one at the base of a spruce tree.

189. At Dsilyi`-içín the porcupines exhibited two kethàwns. They were very short, being equal in length to the middle joint of the little finger. One was black and one was blue. Each had red and blue terminal bands and each had a number of white dots on one side to)represent porcupine quills. "Bury them," said ¢asàni, "under a piñon tree." (Paragraph 52.)

190. At Qo¢estsò four kethàwns, rather elaborately decorated, were shown. Two were half white and half black, the black part having white spots and the white part having black spots on it. The other two were half blue and half yellow, the yellow beings potted with blue and the blue with yellow. There were red and blue rings at the ends. (Paragraph 53.)

191. The Tçikè-¢igìni showed their visitors two kethàwns, one black and one blue. Each was a span long and was surrounded with three pairs of bands, blue and red, put on in the manner observed in making the kethàwns of the Estsàn-¢igìni. (Paragraph 184.) To the center of the black kethàwn five blue feathers were tied. To the center of the


blue kethàwn five yellow feathers were fastened. Five black beads were interred with the black stick--one tied to the center, one stuck in the end, and three laid loose in the ground. Five blue turquoise beads wore similarly buried with the blue stick. Such kethàwns must be buried at the foot of a spruce tree, with the beads towards the mountains of ¢epéntsa. By "head" is meant the end held the farther from the body of the painter when the paint is applied, the end having the red band at its extremity. (Paragraph 54.)

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