The Yei and Traditional Navajo Healing

Yei Vessel
Navajo basket in the shaoe of a
pot depicting Yei figure holding
Navajo Rug
Navajo rug circa early 1930s, 
with central Yei surrounded by
symbols representing Spider
Woman. Note red crosses located
at cardinal points around the Yei
figure, a key theme of Navajo
ceremonial art. 
Spider Rock
Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly.
Home of Spider Woman.
  • In the Navajo cosmology there are two forces, human (Dineh or Navajo) and divine (the Yei or "Holy People"). Both are governed by a set of rules as expressed in their origin histories (i.e. Spider Woman, as the provider of the loom her symbol (+) is prevelent in Navajo carpets, Monster Slayer, protector of the Dineh, and central figure in the Enemyway ceremony) and if one abides by those rules they will be safe. And if not, the Yei, who have great powers, must be supplicated, convinced or coerced through a medicine man (hitaalii), to return beauty and set things in harmony, hozho (Witherspoon, 338; Dutton, 89). 
  • Navajo traditional healing is a very complex rich combination of their histories, traditions, songs and symbolic natural elements (either consumed or employed in sand paintings). There exist over 58 distinct ceremonies with more than five hundred chants and corresponding sand paintings, tailored by the medicine man for each unique patient.
  • "The sand painting is not just to be seen but absorbed. When absorbed, its beauty and harmony heal body and mind.... The Navajo do not "look" for beauty and harmony; they absorb and immerse themselves in it. When it is disrrupted, they reformulate it; when it is lost, they restore it; when it is diminished, they renew it, when it is present, they celebrate it." (Witherspoon 338)  
  • Ceremonies, especially exorcisms, are usually conducted privately in a hogan between the hitaalii and the patient. Upon completion, the patient departs, and the medicine man deconstructs the sand painting in the order it was made, and places the material to the north of the hogan. (Dutton, 91).    
  • The Blessing Way is a blessing ceremony given to departing warriors seeking their safe return; and is again perfomed in thanks for their safe return. They depart with sacred pollen to use in prayer while they are away from Dinetah.
  • Evilway is an exorcism performed to dispel evil. Enemyway is a specific excorism to cure Navajo who are ill because they are hainted by the ghosts of dead Ana'i, or non-Navajo.
  • Most ceremonies, especially the Enemyway, is followed by a Squaw Dance, which also serves as a social event welcoming back into the community, the newly cleansed warrior.   
  • Even if not haunted, a Navajo veteran will usually under go a ceremony, especially if they had killed the enemy (i.e. sweat lodge with elders).   
  • Navajo rugs and baskets are "more permenent" depictions of the symbols and stories depicted in the sandpaintings used with the healing ceremonies. 
The Yei and Traditional Navajo Healing