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Re: Navajo meanings for color -Ellen


From: Judy Decker (judydeckeriad_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Thu Nov 13 2003 - 14:24:46 PST

I see why you are confused.... I decided to do a
little surfing myself. Just as with many Native
cultures - the colors stand for the four directions
and also have religious significance (The Lakota have
different symbolism for colors, too). I copied this
from a web site (from Navajo Religion - 1950)

"Color, an outstanding symbol of Navajo ceremonialism,
is especially significant in combination, but first I
discuss the more general aspects of each color in the
order in which they most commonly occur. No color or
sequence runs through a single chant consistently;
none has the same meaning in every setting, nor does
chance account for apparent exceptions to the rules;
every detail is calculated. If there seems to be a
variation, it is for cause.

"WHITE garments are indicative of purification,
readiness to undertake contact with divinity. Myths
that have a description of the bath indicate that
beautiful white clothes are supernaturally provided
for the patient after he has washed in yucca suds.
Such garments were furnished to Monster Slayer by
Talking God; to Changing Woman at her nubility rite by
First Woman. At present Changing Woman is believed to
live in a home made of white shell in the western
ocean [Pacific}. When the sisters, Whiteshell Woman
and Turquoise Woman, came to the home of Monster
Slayer - represented in the Eagle Chant as the owner
of corn - he made them purify themselves by bathing,
then gave them white buckskin clothing.

"BLACK [ljin, ljinigi], dark [dilxil], is a sinister
color; it threatens and, since it confers
invisibility, it also protects. It is paired with blue
in the Day-Sky sequence; it is jet of the precious
stones. One of the most puzzling questions of color
symbolism is the position of black and white in the
paintings; black is sometimes at the north - the
accepted direction where evil and danger dwell - and
sometimes at the east.

"In connection with direction, sex, color, place, and
vegetation symbolism, black is paired with yellow or
blue almost as often as it is with white. Black Wind
is the power of Sun; with it are associated Yellow
Thunder, Yellow Snake, and abalone. Sun gave Black
Wind as a mentor to Monster Slayer, Blue Wind to
Child-of-the-water. Later Big Fly was substituted. The
Winds when acting as mentors match the boys they guard
in color.

"Black God’s entire costume is black, even though he
is the fire god. He often got what he wanted by
burning the home of recalcitrant or harmful person,
but when he went with Bat to offer the prayer stick to
Winter Thunder he threw down his fire drill with great
force and so much smoke filled the house that it
became completely dark. Probably the striking of fire
and darkness from the same implement, the fire drill,
symbolizes a black-red color pair. Another event
suggests suck a pairing: it will be remembered that
Winter Thunder indicated his willingness to meet Dark
Thunder by white smoke and that a white cloud
announced his war party; at the same time a dark cloud
from which red light glowed indicated where Dark
Thunder’s warriors were.

"RED [ltci , ltci’, litci ‘igi] is the color of
danger, war, and sorcery as well as their safeguards.
As such, it is paired with black.

"According to tla h’s version of creation, Red Turtle,
Red Thunder, Red Otter, and Red Water Monster were
guardians of the third world.

"In the war legend there are many references to red.
First Man gave a prayer stick, colored with blue paint
and sparkling earth, symbols of peace and happiness,
to Child-of-the-water to watch while his brother went
on one dangerous mission after another. When the
warrior got into serious trouble, the prayer stick
turned red as blood.

"Red may signify flesh. Some skirt tassels of gods
depicted in the sand paintings are black and white
with a small dot of red between them; this dot
represents flesh, particularly of rare game, and is a
symbol of plentiful meat.

"Red stands for blood as well as flesh. Talking God
explained the color of the red yarns tied to the
rattle stick of the War Ceremony as he instructed
Monster Slayer: “This [red] represents the blood that
will flow on the soil.”

Navajo Religion, Vol I; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950

Discussion of the Sacred Circle:
(this shows research sources - although many are other
web sites) - Compare White Mountain Apache - Navajo
and Asian Sacred Circles - briefly talks about color.

If you find an authoritative source on color symbolism
- please share.


Judith Decker
Incredible Art Department
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