Marianne Millar “Whirling Logs”
The universe, according to the Navajo, is a delicate balance between many powerful forces, each with the potential for both good and evil. If this delicate balance is upset, even unintentionally, misfortune or illness for the transgressor is the result. To restore the disrupted order and thereby cure the disease or problem, a Navajo medicine man or hataalii is called upon to perform the appropriate ceremony or “Chant Way”. These rituals are so complex that most hataalii rarely master more than two in a lifetime. They can take anywhere from one to nine days and involve many prayers and offerings, medicine tools and hundreds of songs or chants. They also include the all-important sand painting.
Sand paintings, or dry paintings, are made from crushed colored sandstone and powdered plants. The dry pigment is sprinkled onto fresh sand in the patient’s hogan into the prescribed design. At the appropriate time during the Chant, the patient is asked to sit in the center of the sand painting facing east, the direction from which all supernatural powers come and enter the sand painting, making it their home. If the powers are pleased, the patient is cured. If the powers are not pleased because of any slight error made in the singing of the songs to the painting of the sand design, even greater disaster can occur. After the ceremony is complete, the sand painting, which has absorbed the evil, is taken out and disposed of, far from any home, trail, or corral.
This sand painting is called “Whirling Logs” and is used in the Night Chant and Feather Chant. The story associated with this painting is about a hero named Self Teacher who leaves home because his family is angry at him over gambling debts. The gods finally help our hero hollow out a log in which he travels down the river with his pet turkey. Suddenly, he and his craft are captured by Water Monster, who carries him down to the home of the Water People. Before the gods are able to secure the release of Self Teacher, Frog teaches him how to cure the illnesses caused by the Water People. As Self Teacher rides his whirling log to the surface of the lake in a whirl pool, he is rescued by Talking God and Harvest God. In the final act of this story, Self-Teacher is reunited with his pet turkey, which shakes its wings, releasing the seeds put there by the gods. Self Teacher is able to plant a field of crops from these seeds that quickly ripen for harvest. He can then return home to share the knowledge of farming that he has gained and the cures that he has learned.
In this image of the sand painting, one can see the whirling logs represented by the black cross set in the middle of the piece and outlined first in white to signify the foam, and then in yellow to represent pollen cast on the water. The four sacred plants of the Navajo; corn, squash, beans, and tobacco, also radiate from this center and are flanked by two horned and humpbacked gods called Ghaan’ask’idii or Harvest God. At the top of the image, which is also the eastern entrance, is Talking God. Encircling the other three sides is Naats’iilid, the rainbow deity who guards the southern, western, and northern sides of the painting.
Acrylic mixed media 48″ x 48″
(Click images to enlarge)
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