In June 2021, Yasmin Boland started talking about that dreaded topic of life changes – menopause, etc. Other than finding myself gaining weight each year and turning into the Venus of Willendorf’s body double, nothing horrible happened to me on a physical level or emotional level. But my life has had those OMG moments now for decades.
So let’s talk about Changing Woman. In April 2001, my husband drove us from El Paso, Texas up Interstate 25 and past Nageezi on US Highway 550 on the way to his parents’ house in Aztec, New Mexico. By the time we got near Dzil Na’oodilii (Huérfano Mesa), it was dark out. I was in the passenger seat staring out at the mesa/mountain and Harry was telling me about Navajo legends. I remarked that the mountain or butte was spinning and started blabbering on about spider woman spinning. He almost spun off the road. YOU see it? Yeah, its rotating clockwise.
Dzil Na’oodilii is translated as “Encircling Mountain” but I cannot find anything on the Internet, at least, that talks about the visual phenomenon of seeing the butte rotate while driving by it. We passed the butte on another trip during the day and it didn’t “move” but I swear I saw it spinning on that first trip.
Now for Yasmn’s replay of her Unity Radio program from Monday, June 28, 2021 where she talks about how she FINALLY sat down and started to read a book she got over 30 years ago called “Power of the Witch” currenlty published under a different cover.
Yasmin spent some time talking about matrilineal societies and matriarchal societies. Meanwhile, I need to back up to Sunday, May 16, 2021 when I drove into Elko and up Mountain City Highway towards Owyhee, to a house at the top of one of the steepest roads I’ve ever had to drive up, to a huge house with a stunning golf course lawn. The owner’s son had lost everything when COVID hit in Utah and he was forced to move into his parent’s basement. I’m not joking. He was living in the basement with his dog. Ryan had listed a wall curio for $30 on Facebook and I had to have it. I’m trying to get all of my crystals into curios or into grids so off I went, with my dogs in the back seat of my 2007 Ford F150. Sasha had long since damaged the back seat so I had it removed. The dogs ride in pet beds with their toys.
Out comes Ryan, and the sweetest dog I have ever met named Little Man. Little Man was the runt of the litter and was born on a reservation. The tribe named him Little Man. Because the ATM will only spit out $20 bills, and because I never carry cash, Ryan says, no problem, opens the door, in hops Little Man and in hops Ryan. Just take us to the Maverick gas station. So down the hill we went, past Home Depot, past Walmart, and into the Maverick station where he bought junk food while Little Man sat patiently at the door. MY DOGS were going wild. They had never been in the truck with another dog and they didn’t know Ryan from a ground squirrel on the ranch at the bottom of the mesa. Ryan gets back in, hands me $10 and off we go back to the edge of Elko, past a new housing development and up the hill from Hell.
BUT on the way, I learned that Ryan cuts grass and weeds and PRUNES – not trims – professionally prunes trees. SO with a handshake – ick – COVID – no contact ICK – I hired him. He can’t drive, so on May 20, we all piled back into the truck and drove down the Lamoille Highway, climbed up the summit, at which point the highway drops about 500 feet with a bit of a curve down towards the Humboldt River. We crossed the bridge that crosses the Humboldt and railroad tracks, drove through town, back out to the very edge of town and then climbed that hill. There was Little Man and Ryan with equipment. Little Man got in the truck, the dogs went wild. Ryan got in and home we came.
About 90 minutes with Little Man in the front yard and my dogs in the back, they couldn’t stand it any longer and they had to play. Plus, Little Man wanted to come inside to explore. And that’s how Little Man became a regular play date. He now eats at the table with everyone else, sleeps in the flower bed or under a tree, and has learned that at my house we have SNACKS – peanut butter on saltines, marrow bone puppy biscuits, yummy sandwiches, etc.
So, you’re thinking, WHO THE BLANK cares. What on EARTH has this got to do with Changing Woman or anything of importance AT ALL? Well, Ryan poured out his heart about how he only had ONE item gifted to him from his grandmother when he was 16 years old back in 1984. ONE thing of value and he wanted to sell it to buy a cheap car to get himself back to Utah to take a job he was offered now that COVID has let up.
And WHAT, you ask, was the item?
Ryan insists it’s a rug. I insist it’s a handspun Navajo BLANKET. My husband insists it’s a SUPER rare ceremonial blanket there was NEVER supposed to leave the possession of a Navajo (Dineh) medicine man’s possession. Ah, can’t make out the details? It’s large. I didn’t stretch it but it’s roughly 63 inches wide and 34 inches deep and very thin and very light weight.
At first Ryan just shared some very poor resolution photos taken on his $40 phone in hopes that I could help him confirm that it was authentic and not a Mexican fake. At first Ryan had convinced himself that his grandmother had worked as a teacher on a Navajo Reservation when she was very young. After much grilling and trying to get him to focus, he asked his mother and learned that, no, his grandmother, the late Martha Smith (1911-1988) had NEVER taught outside of Wisconsin. That killed his story that the students had given it to her in the 1930s. We had no idea when or how a uber devout “NO PAGAN stuff allowed in MY HOME” Christian acquired this item but she had kept it in a cedar chest with mothballs and for some reason gave it to her grandson. He had no interest in it and kept it in a suitcase from that point on.
UNTIL on June 18, when I picked him up to cut the grass, he handed me the suitcase and a case of other items to “appraise”. I freaked out because in what little research I had done, I was pretty sure, as was Ryan, that the item was worth at least $1,800.
I was too queasy to open it until a week later I figured I had to. I didn’t tell my husband about it because he grew up in Aztec and his father had served in Guam and the Pacific with the Navajo Code Talkers. The late Eluid Timothy Duran was CLOSE friends with medicine men, and he used to take my husband onto the reservation to visit families in hogans. Mr. T had been the head of the county social security office so he was very well known. Families that could not afford to pay him to help them get disability (once he retired he opened up an office of his own), would pay in livestock or RUGS. Alas, most of the rugs “disappeared” into the family. I knew Harry would be able to authenticate it and I was afraid he’d want to buy it.
NOW for the creepy part. After many years of sneering at my interest in the paranormal, my husband FINALLY watched a Linda Moulton Howe podcast and listened to one of Joshua P. Warren’s radio podcasts. One of the suggested videos was Mirage Men. That triggered a flood of memories from 1975 that I will omit. However, in one of the long TWO hour long, TWO and a HALF hour long, LONG phone calls, Harry said, and I quote, WHY am I seeing a CLOTH – YOU SAID CLOTH – “No, I didn’t” YES you said CLOTH – these medicine men are showing me a CLOTH that you have and they are telling me to lie face down on it.
I did not soil myself. How that didn’t happen, I do not know but I felt that the YEI in the blanket were ratting me out. So I shared the photos. He freaked out. We are in the process of saving the money to pay Ryan for it. I already drew up a Bill of Sale!
And NOW, to bring you back to Changing Woman and Yasmin’s videos about MATRIARCHAL societies!
The above screen shot is from the Nizhoni Ranch Gallery website. One of many that I poured over trying to find anything comparable. The Yei became a popular “motif” but not all YEI blankets and rugs are the same. In 1974 in the Bandelier National Monument gift shop I bought a Dover Publications paperback originally published in 1914 and then republished with some color plates.
The first time the word “yei” is used is on page 76 when G.W. James introduces The Night Chant, A Navaho Ceremony. By Washington Matthews – May, 1902
Archive.org, is an amazing resource. I learned about it at a workshop when it first launched. I’m THAT old. Not wanting to rekey the pages 139-141, I searched for a PDF and found this fantastic version of the original! You can download it as well and use Adobe Acrobat Professional to convert it to text if you ever want to extract a quote.
PAGE 139 “In the Hopi and Zuni pantheons there are certain divinities of greater or lesser power and importance, called Kachinas. These are often represented upon the baskets of the Hopi, as in Fig. 199, and these are called Kachina baskets. Corresponding somewhat to these Pueblo divinities are the Navaho Yei, representations of which are common in the sand-paintings. To reproduce these, however, in any unauthorized or secular fashion has always been deemed impossible by the reverent and devout Navaho. Even to see a photograph of a sand-painting, if it contained a representation of the Yei, gave a shock to most Navahos, and while the medicine-men chanters never resented Dr. Matthews’s making pictures of the paintings, and, indeed, as he says, often came to ask to look at them when instructing younger members as their assistants, this may be regarded as the familiarity of the professional rather than the normal attitude of the ordinary lay member of the tribe.
Keep in mind the above excerpt was written in 1914.
Page 139 “With these thoughts in view it can well be understood with what shocked surprise, thrilled horror, and fierce condemnation the Navahos learned that a blanket, clearly of Navaho origin, was on exhibition at a certain trader’s store into which was woven as the design the figure of one of the yei”. (Story goes on to tell the tale of how the trader refused to give up the rug and was almost shot).
“For a long time it was not known who the weaver of this blanket was, but it eventually became known. She is one of the inventive geniuses in design, whose taste invariably goes to figures. Horses, sheep, cattle, men, women, etc., she loves to picture as she weaves, and her skill in manipulating the yarn is as great as her designing ability. She it was who, having lost the superstitious fear that oppresses most Navahos, men or women, as to the evil power of the Yei, determined to make the blanket, incorporating their sacred figures as her design. The blanket was seen by a collector and sold to him for several hundred dollars. For some time the weaver refused to make another, but finally produced one of others of the gods, and later still another. There are only some six or seven of these Yei blankets known to exist. Two of them are now in the possession of Mr. Richard T. F. Simpson, Indian trader at Canyon Gallegos, near Farmington, New Mexico, one of which is reproduced in Fig. 200, and another is owned by Mr. William MacGinnies, of Boulder, Colorado.
Having probably read this passage while studying anthropology and yes, I took a college level course on textiles which never paid off until now, I hope, I freaked out when I saw the ALL WHITE yei with brown and black or brown and red skirts and green necklaces. Plus, Ryan’s grandmother’s blanket has two rainbow yei. (Shown below are the “regular” yei.)
BUT BUT BUT WHO cares? What’s this got to do with Changing Woman and that moving mountain?
I want to start with this introduction because I think Yasmin Boland will want to use it in one of her Unity Radio shows or in a lesson for her Sun, Moon, and Stars subscribers:
“The Diné see the universe as made up of myriad interrelated living elements, from ants to mountains, and hot winds to hail and thunderstorms. In their cosmology, all beings have a natural place in creation, and when beings are in harmony and balance, the universe is in a place of hozho (beauty) – this is a Diné term for harmony and has nothing to do with attractiveness”. Joshua P. Warren openly admits that he believes that everything is animated even inanimated objects. Sentience is complicated but those of us with large crystal collections KNOW they are sentience so why not a table or a chair – they all can become haunted, right?
“THE HOLY PEOPLE
To the Diné the universe is alive, and each aspect of it has spirit power and a soul. Then, in addition to these, there are the larger ancestral spirit beings, the cultural gods and goddesses. These include Changing Woman (Asdzáá Nádleehé), who is deeply connected to their sacred traditions, and is the Diné’s most beloved spirit being. Changing Woman has twin children, Monster Slayer (Naaytt’ Neizghlini) and Born for Water (Tóbájíshchíní). Their father is the Sun, and the four of them form a holy family that is encountered in many Diné stories and ceremonies.
There are also many other spirit beings in Diné cosmology, collectively called yei. These include beings with such names as ‘Growling God,’ ‘Black God,’ and ‘Water Sprinkler.’ Each of the yei has a specific place in Diné ceremonial cosmology, and during ceremonies they are sometimes portrayed by masked dancers.
These ‘Holy People’ do not necessarily care about humans or wish them well, mostly they are considered to be indifferent.”.
AND YET the “YEI” are invited to to “merge” with or assist in healing ceremonies. And my husband IS a physician and I am, well, able to do energy healing so DID they seek US out because I hardly ever go anywhere and it’s not like there’s anything to do in Elko County anyway. I missed the Art in the Park festival – too hot. I went once to the Lamoille Festival and vowed not to bother in the future. We do have three museums but I haven’t visited them in a long time. So imagine having a suitcase handed to you with a YEI blanket and then this happened only a week later!
My husband was told that the clinic where he works was closed on Thursday, July 1st. He assumed one of the social workers who owns the clinic was sick. Friday he found out NO; they had been EVICTED – – without notice – – because the homeless, who make up many of their patients, had been hanging around the parking lot and the other commercial tenants were fed up. NO letter. No process server. Just GET OUT. They are consulting their attorney.
And get out they did. Everyone was packing up office furniture and supplies and files and the donated items – mostly clothes and shoes. My husband wandered into the back room and ON THE FLOOR he found this! He said not a word. Picked it up and walked straight out the front door to his car and put it in the trunk.
Do you all know what this is? Yes, a painting on what appears to be copper then mounted on several layers. But what is the painting of?
A KACHINA! – Another supernatural entity that most of you have seen in the form of a doll but they also are depicted in paintings. My next task is to contact art galleries and see if anyone recognizes the signature.
The Brooklyn Museum has 287 kachinas that you can view online. I’ve searched multiple databases and cannot find a kachina with this coloring much less a turtle next to it. It appears to also have an eagle’s claw and arm with a dream catcher. But if you’re interested in kachinas, this is a great place to start:
So, to summarize, I believe that I “saw” Changing Woman spinning (by the way I am learning now to card fleece and spin it using a kick spindle). Spider Woman weaves intricate webs so maybe the two wove this tale?
But I find it VERY odd indeed, that after 30 years Yasmin Boland finally got around to reading her book.
Did anyone else pick up on the fact that Changing Woman’s story sounds a LOT like the Wicca’s Goddess’s Wheel of the Year, mmmm??????
Please leave lots of comments. If you recognize the artist who made the kachina, PLEASE contact me. If you are an expert in Navajo blankets, please contact me. If these yei speak to you, PLEASE contact me!