The Navajos of Arizona, New Mexico and some areas of Utah are the most numerous Native Americans today. They carry out sand painting ceremonies which have significant religious and social implications The Navajo Sand Painting Ceremony is conducted even in modern times to request the gods for healing, forgiveness and rainfall. The sand paintings have figures which are emblematic representations of narratives known to Navajo mythology.
In accordance with Navajo faith, sand painting rituals honors and pays tribute to the Holy People. The ceremony also acts as a path for the healing power obtained from the Holy People (Griffin-Pierce 17). The ceremonies are often performed to cure diseases, current or anticipated it is given to a patient individually, occasionally together with their relatives. The concern for health led them to combine religious and medical practices. The ceremonies are not integrated with the calendar, except for some seasonal restrictions they are carried out whenever they are necessary.
Although the ceremonies have an individualistic tinge, during the healing of a patient there may be blessings that stretch to the family, the local community, even the entire tribe, such as rain in a time of drought. Ceremonies often heal patients, especially when the ailment is of psychosomatic origin (Griffin-Pierce 27). Some of the procedures in the Navajo ceremonies may have real organic effects, but above all, they constitute a powerful system of suggestive therapy, which relieves psychosomatic illnesses and allows the patient to face the organic problems with greater strength.
The ceremonial myths speak about heroic figures that receive wounds or get lost and look for the gods in order to heal.В Once achieved its objective, and after having learned the healing ceremony, the hero returns to his home to teach the ceremony and then leaves to live with the gods. They make an offering to appease the gods, who eventually heal them and make them as handsome as their brothers.
As they live their lives, the Navajo people face a lot of challenges in their natural setting. Discrimination, poverty and educational backwardness are some of the main problems faced by indigenous people in the United States (Griffin-Pierce 12). Poverty, difficulties in accessing health services or institutions of justice and discrimination are some of the problems faced by indigenous people in the United States, according to data from different State institutions. The situation is more serious in indigenous groups with “structural” ethnic characteristic and language barrier.
This means, for example, that indigenous people like the Navajo who speak foreign languages are more likely to live in rural areas, engage in manual activities and be poorer. On the other hand, those who identify themselves as indigenous but speak English, usually, live in urban environments, work in commerce or services and suffer less poverty. The Navajo population with some feature of ethnicity is in greater precariousness than people who do not have it. The more ‘structural’ is the trait that gives ethnicity, the greater the poverty. Concerning poverty, it is important to note that the Navajo people like the Navajo face more deficiencies in access to food than the population in general. Nearly half of the Navajo population lack proper education services. Although the problem of access to health effects similar to the entire population in the United States, in recent months it has attracted attention due to cases of indigenous women who were forced to give birth in patios or hospital bathrooms because they did not they received immediate attention. Discrimination is another serious problem that affects indigenous populations is discrimination on the part of other sectors of society.
The Traditional Sand Painting of the Navajo Indians (Southwest of the United States) is an authentic magical process through which the shaman makes designs that tell a spiritual story. They use colored sand, falling in a gentle rain from the fingers of the artificer and create worlds of shapes and colors that involve an ancient process of healing. These are ceremonial paintings since their elaboration implies a specific ceremony therefore they are not made to last since its transforming power is a consequence of the process itself (Spickard 28). In modern times, the Navajos conduct the sand painting ceremony which is meant for different religious appeals such as attracting rain to the parched earth or healing.
The sand paintings ceremony acts as a magical door that opens the access to other worlds of great power. These are worlds in which the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, the Mountains and the Sacred Beings originate from, and it is through the Painting in Sand that those powerful creative forces of the first beings enter our world again. For the Navajo community, the Earth is a living being called Hozho which means balance and harmony. It provides social cohesion and often joins political power or is itself a political power. Its function is to regulate and standardize ideas about the supernatural and the transcendent. They offer a channel to these ideas and provide them with a consensus in each concrete human group for the better functioning of society.
In the healing ritual, the patient is seated in the sand paint already finished and then part of it is spread over the body. But the painting has been previously sprinkled with pollen or sacred cornmeal to safeguard its healing powers. Then the myths and gods associated with painting are invoked, through poetic chants, and the medicine man relates the body of the sick person with that of the deity, the head with the head, the hand with the hand, the foot with the foot and the mind with the mind. Therefore, replacing the evil that there is in the patient for all the good that there is in the sand painting.
This belief that a drawing of the deity, by sympathy, can attract the power of the deity itself, and this power can be used at the whim of specialists (the medicine man), is an example of homeopathic or sympathetic magic. The sand painter deduces that he can produce the effect he desires by imitating it enchantments based on the law of similarity can be called imitative or homeopathic magic.
The shamans turned a kind of buzzer to attract the rain (Spickard 43). The dances, rituals, and ceremonies are intended to neutralize some malefic power or directly influence nature or man. All its elements are related to the sacred. Some objects and representations of natural phenomena are not recognizable due to their stylization by an eye that is not interpenetrated with the symbolism of the Navajo people. The Navajo, like other indigenous peoples, use art as a privileged medium to bring to mind ideas about the transcendent. In this case, we are concerned with dry paintings or sand paintings.
The paintings show a harmony full of power, rays, arrows, and thunder (Griffin-Pierce 32). They are concrete elements that convey the power of the shaman, an energy that emanates from the world of the supernatural and that is expressed in sand paintings as the graphic signs of those elements of power. The religious life of the rich and complex Navajos is based on the celebration of ceremonies, to face the uncertainties and dangers of their universe. From the smallest object, being or power, including insects, to the great mountains that delimit the Navajo territory, with the thunder and lightning that falls on it and the same man, all have their place and an important function in the continuity of the universe.
Griffin-Pierce, Trudy. Earth is my mother, the sky is my father: Space, time, and astronomy in Navajo sandpainting. UNM Press, 1995.
Spickard, James V. “Experiencing religious rituals: A Schutzian analysis of Navajo ceremonies.” Sociological Analysis 52.2 (1991): 191-204.