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Long ago, this canyon was not a canyon but a flat area. Then this thing came and made the canyon with its horns. My grandfather told me when I was young that Tse Diyil (Fajada Butte) is sacred. No one is allowed on top of the butte nor even allowed to lean against its sides. A long time ago, they use to say that there was a lady who lived on top of the butte called She Who Dries You Out. She would go to a nearby canyon and fill her jug with water. Then she would take her jug of water back to the top of Fajada Butte. To get to the top of the butte she would take a trail leading to the top of the butte on one of its sides. The lady was considered beautiful. She would come down off the butte and mingle with the people. Then she would take a man back up to the top of the butte with her. Next morning, her beauty would be gone and she'd be an old woman. The man who she came back with would be tied up. When he asked for water she wouldn't give him water, instead she'd urinate into a bowl for him telling him to drink it. Soon the man would get thin then die.

The canyons inside Chaco Cultural National Historical Park contain some medicinal and ceremonial plants. The canyon toward the eastern boundary was filled with naadaa [corn], naagezi [squash], and sunflower plants. Birds of different types would be chirping and flying around. Most of the medicinal plants are located on top of or near the base of the butte cliffside or canyon walls and as well where the plants with the highest ceremonial value --- called or referred to by users and various local or indigenous cultures either as the sister of ololiuhqui, the name for the seeds of the Rivea corybosa plant and means 'round thing', or sometimes toloache (from the Aztec toloatizn), usually referring to D. inoxia, but sometimes D. stramonium, most often the Datura species referred to as jimson weed, or D. metaloides usually applied specifically to the term used to blanket them all, Sacred Datura --- are found. Regardless of the name, the primary medicinal plant is mostly emblematic of the spritual deity or Yei known as Changing Woman (Asdzaa Nadleehe, the woman who is transformed time and again) who can take the form of a maiden, a mature woman, or a crone (like the three phases of the moon, waxing, full, and waning).

When I was a boy, I would be sent down into the canyons to pick the medicinal plants. The National Park Service has ordered that the local Navajos can't pick the medicinal and ceremonial plants that are within the park boundary. If a person says that the plants are not to be gathered and taken out of the park and it is also documented, then we can't gather and take the plants out of the park. If a person should give us permission to gather the plants, then it should be documented so that the Navajos should be allowed to pick the plants. These were the medicines used among the elder people for sickness and other ailments. Nowadays, younger Navajos are not interested in the ceremonial ways, so they don't know of the plants. [1]

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Dangerously perched for the second or third time from a highly angled prone position on the edge of Fajada Butte --- the lonely 400 foot high core remnant of an ancient mountain rising from the floor of Chaco Canyon and home of the sacred Native American solar calendar called the Sun Dagger --- for no other reason than pure curiosity or an adrenaline high, I began watching three vultures lazily circling at about the same height across the valley ... and scary or not, to drop a few rocks over the edge as probably any ten-year old boy might be expected to do no matter where they were.

The three vultures were soon joined by a fourth and in my mind I thought how cool it would be to have the Da Vinci glider my uncle and I had built and launch it from the cliffs and join them. The group was slowly moving away, drifting south and higher on the thermals. One of the four, whether it was the new one to the group or not, widened its circle flying incredibly close to where I was on the ledge, so close individual feathers could be seen and it seemed, but not probable, eye contact made. The vulture circled around toward the group. Thinking there might be a second pass I waited, but in the process of the flight, somehow lost visual contact. The vulture group continued to drift south, but now distinctly with only three members.

With no sign of the bird returning I decided to inch my way back away from the ledge toward the ruin entrance. In a slow turn while rising to my hands and knees in order to scoot back inside where it was safe to stand, I caught what was nothing more than a fleeting glimpse of what seemed to be a person, almost shadow-like, not my uncle or the elder, but possibly a woman, along the ledge several rooms down. Covered with goose bumps and scared out of my mind I scrambled into the ruin and hid in the corner of the crumbling half-height wall in such a fashion that if a person did pass by they would be unable to see me.

I glanced slightly over the wall and could see that it would be easy for anybody to recognize that the ground-surface of the ledge between the ruin and the edge had been disturbed quite recently by a someone or something going in and out of the structure. I decided to hop the wall between the rooms thinking that if someone did come into the room and see the backpacks and equipment they might think whoever owned the stuff was out on the butte and just leave. I raised up in a half-crouch to slip over the wall into the other room when I was confronted by a woman on the other side. At first glance, in the shadow of the cave, backlit with the bright blue sky, she looked like an old lady with long white hair and wrinkled face, but as we both moved to strengthen our positions I could see surprisingly, she was not old at all. Her face was smooth and young and her hair long and black, the whiteness I thought, apparently caused by the brightness of the backlit sky. She carried a small pouch-like bag tied at the top in the palm of her hand. With her thumb and the first finger of her other hand she spread the top open and stuck in two fingers, pulling them out covered with a fine white powder. For some reason I was no longer scared, I even leaned forward as she put her hand out as though she wanted to touch my face. She put three marks across my forehead two fingers wide, each time returning her fingers to the pouch to replenish the powder. She also put what felt like cresent shaped marks on my cheekbones starting at the top of my nose and going outward toward the bottom of my ears. She also put one downward on my chin. She then turned and walked away. When she reached the exit she turned back for only a moment, shaking out the pouch much like one would shake out a handkerchief, the wind coming through the portal catching the dust and swirling it into a white cloud. In the second the dust took to dissipate she was gone.

When my uncle and the tribal spiritual elder I was traveling with returned from the Dagger higher up on the butte and heard my story they began a search in the direction she went outside along the abandoned ruins. They found the pouch and the tie-string laying in the dirt and tracked her to the edge where it got too narrow to walk and too far to jump, but no sign of the woman.(source)


NOTE: Fajada Butte, home of the Sun Dagger, in its own way has its own special sort of power that is said to be spirit related, but also thought by some to possibly be strengthened by a phenomenom called Vortexes. The butte creates an environment that grows a variety of plants traditionally used by the indigenous population for spiritual and ruitual purposes, plants that are not generally found on the surrounding plain. Special plants also grow on the mounds of the ruins of the ancient Native American astronomers that once inhabited the area. Although some feel the plants are equally powerful wherever they grow, the power of the plants is said to be increased by being on the butte.





Navajo Views on the Human Body and Personhood

Author: Maureen Schwarz
Publisher: University of Arizona Press
ISBN: 0-8165-1602-2 / 0816516022
Edition: Hardcover







The Case Against "Shamans" In the
North American Indigenous Cultures