Navajo spiritual practice is about restoring balance and harmony to a person's life to produce health. One exception to the concept of healing is the Beauty Way ceremony: the KinaaldÃ¡, or a female puberty ceremony. Others include the Hooghan Blessing Ceremony and the "Baby's First Laugh Ceremony." Otherwise, ceremonies are used to heal illnesses, strengthen weakness, and give vitality to the patient. Ceremonies restore HÃ³zhÇ«Ì, or beauty, harmony, balance, and health.
When suffering from illness or injury, Navajos traditionally seek a certified, credible HataÅ‚ii (medicine man) for healing, before turning to Western medicine (e.g., hospitals). The medicine man will use several methods to diagnose the patient's ailments. This may include using special tools such as crystal rocks, and abilities such as hand-trembling and HataÅ‚ (chanting prayer). The medicine man chooses a specific healing chant for that type of ailment. Short prayers for protection may take only a few hours, and in some cases, the patient is expected to do a follow-up afterward. The medicine man may give advice, such as avoiding sexual relations, personal contact, animals, certain foods, and certain activities for a period of time.
The Navajo believe that certain ailments can be caused by violating taboos. Contact with lightning-struck objects, exposure to taboo animals such as snakes, and contact with the dead create the need for healing afterward. Protection ceremonies, especially the Blessing Way Ceremony, are used for Navajo who leave the boundaries of the four sacred mountains. It is used extensively for Navajo warriors or soldiers going to war. Upon return, the person receives an Enemy Way Ceremony, or NidÃ¡Ã¡', to get rid of the evil elements in the body, and to restore balance in his or her life. This is important for Navajo warriors or soldiers returning from battle. Warriors or soldiers often suffer spiritual or psychological damage from participating in warfare, and the Enemy Way Ceremony helps restore harmony to the person, mentally and emotionally.
Some ceremonies cure people from curses. People may complain of witches and skin-walkers that do harm to their minds, bodies, and families. The ailments are not necessarily physical and may take other forms. The medicine man is often able to break the curses that witches and skin-walkers put on families. Mild cases do not take very long, but for extreme cases, special ceremonies are needed to drive away the evil spirits. The medicine man may find curse objects implanted inside the victim's body. These objects are used to cause the person pain and illness. Examples of such objects include bone fragments, rocks and pebbles, bits of string, snake teeth, owl feathers, and turquoise jewelry.
The medicine men learn fifty-eight to sixty sacred ceremonies. Most of them last four days or more; to be most effective, they require that relatives and friends attend and help out. Outsiders are discouraged from participating, as they may become a burden to others or violate a taboo. This could affect the turnout of the ceremony. The ceremony must be done in precisely the correct manner to heal the patient. This includes everyone who is involved.
The medicine man must be able to correctly perform a ceremony from beginning to end. If he does not, the ceremony will not work. A HataÅ‚ii learns as an apprentice to a master, and the study is extensive, arduous, and takes many years. The apprentice learns everything by watching his teacher, and memorizes the words to all the chants. If a medicine man cannot learn all sixty of the ceremonies, he may choose to specialize in a select few.
The origin of spiritual healing ceremonies is part of Navajo mythology. It is said the first Enemy Way ceremony was performed for Changing Woman's twin sons (Monster Slayer and Born-For-the-Water) after slaying the Giants (the YÃ©'ii) and restoring HÃ³zhÇ«Ì to the world and people. The patient identifies with Monster Slayer through the chants, prayers, sandpaintings, herbal medicine and dance.
Another Navajo healing, the Night Chant ceremony, is administered as a cure for most types of head ailments, including mental disturbances. The ceremony, conducted over several days, involves purification, evocation of the gods, identification between the patient and the gods, and the transformation of the patient. Each day entails the performance of certain rites and the creation of detailed sand paintings. On the ninth evening a final all-night ceremony occurs, in which the dark male thunderbird god is evoked in a song that starts by describing his home:
In Tsegihi [White House],
In the house made of the dawn,
In the house made of the evening light
The medicine man proceeds by asking the Holy People to be present, then identifying the patient with the power of the god, and describing the patient's transformation to renewed health with lines such as, "Happily I recover." The same dance is repeated throughout the night, about forty-eight times. The Night Chant ceremony takes about ten hours to perform, and ends at dawn.