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land of the gods. He now proceeded to teach his people the new rites he had learned from the gods and the preparation and use of the sacrificial sticks. A day was appointed when this new ceremony would be performed; all the neighboring tribes were invited to attend, and there was much rejoicing and exchanging of friendly good will. The ceremony was continued through nine days and nights, at the conclusion of which the prophet vanished in the air and was seen no more on earth.”
The following is the account the Navahos give of the origin of the ceremony of the Mountain Chant.
“This ceremony is in reality a great passion play. The costumes are numerous and elaborate. There is much dancing, so called, but it is really not dancing at all, simply the acting out of the drama of the great cosmic myth in perpetuating the religious symbols of the tribe.”
The following description of the “Fire Play” is given by Dr. Washington Matthews:
"The eleventh dance was the fire dance, or fire play, which was the most picturesque and startling of all. Every man except the leader bore a long thick bundle of shredded cedar bark in each hand, and one had two extra bundles on his shoulders for the later use of the leader. The latter carried four small fagots of the same material in his hands. Four times they all danced around the fire, waving their bundles of bark towards it. They halted in the east; the leader advanced towards the central fire, lighted one of his fagots, and trumpeting loudly, threw it to the east over the fence of the corral. He performed a similar act at the south, at the west, and at the north; but before the northern brand was thrown he lighted with it the dark bundles of his comrades. As each brand disappeared over the fence some of the spectators blew into their hands and made a motion as if tossing some substance into the departing flame. When the fascicles were all lighted the whole band began a wild race around the fire. At first they kept close together and spat upon one another some substance of supposed medicinal virtue. Soon they scattered and ran apparently without concert, the rapid racing causing the brands to throw out long brilliant streamers of flame over the hands and arms of the dancers. Then they proceeded to apply the brands to their own nude bodies and to the bodies of their comrades in front of them, no man ever once turning around; at times the dancer struck his victim vigorous blows with his flaming wand; again he seized the flame as if it were a sponge, and, keeping close to the one pursued, rubbed the back of the latter for several moments, as if he were bathing him. In the meantime the sufferer would perhaps catch up with some one in front of him and in turn bathe him in flame. At times when a dancer found no one in front of him he proceeded to sponge his own back, and might keep this up while making two or three circuits around the fire or until he caught up with someone else. At each application of the blaze the loud trumpeting was heard, and it often seemed as if a great flock of cranes was winging its way overhead southward through the darkness. If a brand became extinguished it was lighted again in the central fire; but when it was so far consumed as to be no longer held conveniently in the hand, the dancer dropped it and rushed, trumpeting, out of the corral. Thus, one by one, they all departed. When they were gone, many of the spectators came forward, picked up some of the fallen fragments of cedar bark, lighted them, and bathed their hands in the flame as a charm against the evil effects of fire.
“The Hoshkawn Dance, the Plumed Arrow Dance and the Wand Dance are some of the other important ceremonies in the great rite of the Mountain Chant. Few white people, except those living in the immediate vicinity of the Navahos, have ever witnessed many of the Navaho ceremonies for the reason that as these ceremonies are primarily for the healing of the sick, no regular time for holding them is ever appointed by the priests. When a Navaho gets sick it is necessary for his friends and relations to hold a consultation and decide on what one of the many ceremonies will most likely effect a cure. This decided, a theurgist is selected who is familiar with the rites to be performed and he is immediately sought out and bargained with. The patient pays all the expenses of the ceremony, which is often a very elaborate affair and very expensive. All visitors are expected to feast, make merry, and have a good time, at the expense of the patient.
“One of the most interesting features, to the casual observer of the great religious ceremonies of the Navahos, is the elaborate painting with various colored dry sands. Careful preparations are made in the lodge by covering the floor with a coating of sand about three inches in thickness. A black pigment is then prepared from charcoal for the black, yellow sandstone for the yellow, red sandstone for the red, and white sandstone for the white. A kind of blue is made by mixing the black with the yellow.
“Before beginning the painting, the surface of the sand is carefully smoothed with a broad oaken batten. Young men usually do the painting under the careful and ever watchful eye of the shaman. There is a set rule which must be followed in each of the four great paintings. The Navaho shaman believes that to depart from the fixed order as handed down from father to son through many generations, would be to invite the enmity of the gods. The true design must be followed, although within certain limits the artist must display his skill.
“In order to understand these sand paintings it is necessary to know thoroughly the myths upon which they are based. Perhaps no white man has ever yet been able fully to understand and appreciate their symbolism. Since the Navajos do not preserve any patterns to go by, it is wonderful how they are enabled to preserve all the details of these elaborate paintings. Yet they claim not to have varied in any essential detail in all these hundreds of years.