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The Navajo Shaman

Katsanos, Tina

Shamans are usually one of the most influential people in the community. Within
the Navajo Tribe, the Shaman is both a Leader and a spiritual healer. The Shaman
conducts all kinds of rituals that help them come in contact with certain Gods, almost all
of the rituals the shaman will conduct require sand paintings for both harvesting and
healing(Anthropology). A sand painting is said to be the places where the gods come
and go (Anthropology).These paintings are made according to which kind of sickness
they would be used for and most likely only one painting will be used at a time.
The Navajo people believe that illnesses come upon them when there is
disharmony in the universe. The participants are one of the most important parts of the
ceremony. The people around the Sand paintings in costumes dance sing and have
tribal chants, which they have to perform. The medicine man is given the task of
remembering other ritual chants which are very difficult to learn and without these the
ritual can not be performed. Diseases to the Navajo are not something that you can
name, they have an unknown cause and are not known by a simple thing. A disease is
something that is caught by interaction with some of the natural elements, such as:
Lightning, Water, Animals, etc.(Navajo). These diseases are not easy to spot.
Identifying the disease may even take a few days and the diagnosis is taken from many

different diagnosticians but the first one that is questioned is the family member of the
person who is ill. Most often in fear of misdiagnosis multiple people are asked so that
they do not perform the wrong ritual, Stargazing, listening and hand trembling are all
different methods they may use to reach a conclusion of what kind of illness they are
dealing with.
The sand painting is distinctive to the Navajo people it is only conducted by the
Shamans that are a part of the Navajo Tribe. These paintings are made according to
which kind of sickness they would be used for and most likely only one painting will be
used at a time. These paintings are made for only one ceremony at a time; the Shaman
and his companions often make them on afternoons and early mornings towards the
end of the nine-day ceremony that it is being used for. The paintings also include the
sun raft which is a raft that has three roots coming out of it which represent four of the
sacred plants of the Navajo.
The sand painting is said to be a gateway and it allows the spirits to come into
this world and lets the ill individual receive healing energies from the healing spirits, it
transfers strength and beauty. The painting is now said to be considered toxic by the
people who are part of these traditions, so they are destroyed within half a day to
prevent anybody else from becoming sick. The sand has to be returned to the ground
according to the medicine man.
Being a medicine man is not something that can be learned from research;
methods of healing people are taught from generation to generation. Each medicine
man has his own distinct tools that he takes with him whenever he has to go treat
somebody. One of the most common of these tools are the crystal rocks. The medicine

man has to be chosen by a person who is already a medicine man and brings him when
he has somebody to heal so that he can learn also. His protg is under his
responsibility until he is able to conduct a ritual independently.
Medicine men are required to learn certain chants, although it would be nearly
impossible to learn every single one. These chants require a tremendous amount of
dedication from these practitioners. Medicine men also collect herbs which they make a
herbal tea out of and then a prayer is sang, which allows the tea to be drank by the ill
person that the ceremony is being conducted for. The herbal tea varies depending on
what the illness is, and often times the tea makes the patient throw up and the shaman
sees it as a cleansing of the soul. There are over 450 different herbs that the shaman
can collect, some of these, which are very rare.
The shaman is a very important person in not only the Navajo Tribe but many
Indian tribes. They are believed to not only to be able to communicate with spirits but to
bring back souls and cure people from illnesses.
Shamans are still relevant in todays society. For instance, At Mercy Medical
center in Merced, California, Va Meng Lee comes and takes care of the spiritual beliefs
of his tribe members. In this hospital the Shaman is allowed to conduct nine different
types of rituals, one which is known as Soul calling. They give credit where due to
doctors for taking care of the health factors of patients but they allow the Shaman to try
healing the soul and not just the body of each individual. The Shamans who perform
these rituals are given limitations, such as they can only speak on level three from one
to ten.

Brown, Patricia Leigh. "A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul."The New
York Times. The New York Times, 2009. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.
"Anthropology & the Human Condition." Navajo Healing Practices -. 8 Nov.
2011. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.
"Navajo Sandpainting." Navajo Sandpainting. Native American Art, 1 Apr.
2010. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.