April 19, 1941, Tucson, Arizona. “Greetings from Arizona Harold Bisch”, Sent to: Mar. and Mrs. AJ Hughes, in Springfield, Illionois.
Our writer was brief indeed, but the card provides much more information. The card says, “WHIRLING LOG (GOOD LUCK) SAND PAINTING OF THE NAVAJO INDIANS
“The Navajo Indians have an elaborate nine day ceremony, the Yebashi, in which a sand painting is made daily and according to their religion, each one must be destroyed before sunset, otherwise it would be a very bad omen.
“These are made by qualified Medicine Men in which many colors of sands are used ground from colored rock. The ‘Whirling Log’ sand painting is one of the very important of a group and is said to bring good fortune.”
Navajo sand paintings, translated to English mean, “places where the gods come and go”. They are used in rituals to bring good luck, healing and good harvests. The figures are gods, places where they gods live, visions, dances, chants or plants important to the Navajo people.
This sand painting represents the story of a person, who floats down a river in hollowed out logs, which you can see in the painting. You can also see the plants; corn, squash, beans and tobacco. Yellow is the pollen cast on the river water.
The men who create the sand painting and perform the rituals are known as Hatalii. Not only do they heal, and communicate through the sand-painting and ritual, but I feel like they communicate through time. All those generations of Navajo people, engaging in the same rituals, making paintings from and in the sand, adding pollen, the same words, the same emotions, thoughts, inspiration tied to the same culture through time. And, the younger people learning and participating in the ritual.
Thinking about this sand-painting as a communication method to the gods, the Navajo people and the date of the card caused me to connect World War II and the Navajo code-talkers. Navajo and other Indian nation people were recruited and volunteered during World War II to translate radio communications between US forces. Because the language was spoken by very, very few outsiders, it proved to be an unbreakable code. The work these men did saved thousands of lives over the course of the war.
The Navajo passed into this world, called Glittering World (the fourth world), through three previous worlds. I love that this incarnation is called the Glittering World and it reminds me of the completely brilliant blue skies of the Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona and the four corners area. The blue skies and red, red rocks, seen everywhere in this part of the Southwest, are brought into the jewelry of the area – silver, turquoise and coral – earth, the skies and the night time heavens, in one piece, crafted by these very same people. There is something mystical about this combination.
The first time I saw Monument Valley, I was stunned. While we’ve all seen pictures and films of the area, there is nothing quite like driving up that highway into Navajo land and being surrounded by such breathtaking beauty and the sounds of the desert – wind, trees, sand, birds and not much else. When I handle my turquoise jewelry, cool to the touch, I remember.
I’ve never seen a Navajo sand-painting being made, but I have seen Tibetan monks making a sand painting in much the same way, with similar purposes and, being destroyed at the end. There is something universal about sand, time and things blowing away. Perhaps the idea of troubles being blown away with the sand – the curing aspect of the ritual – is more universal than one might think.
Here’s to sand, time and continuity.