From the Journey to the Goddesses


The Changing Woman got Her name from Her ability to change along with the seasons. In the spring and summer, She appears as a young maiden full of life, vitality and, of course, fertility. In the fall and winter she transforms Herself into an old woman, representing the desolateness of age, infertility, and eventual death.

According to Navajo legend, First Man is responsible for discovering the Goddess at the summit of a mountain where She was born. As the story goes, the sun fed Her with pollen to sustain Her while the rain helped Her grow into a full size woman within a mere eighteen days. But still, She was nothing more than a lifeless figure until the great wind gave Her the breath of life.

The sun immediately fell in love with his creation and took Her for his wife. She bore him a son, which was named Monster Slayer. He was to become the salvation of his people by ridding the world of all monsters.

Eventually, the sun built a very special house for his wife; hidden deep within the western woods surrounded by four mountains to the east, west, north, and south. It is said that when the sun sets in the west because he is going home to his beloved.

So pleased was Changing Woman with Her home, that She danced gleefully upon each of the four mountaintops. As She did so, She bestowed great gifts upon mankind.

Her dancing created rain clouds from the eastern mountain, bringing the soft rain that would sustain all life. Her dance on the southern mountain brought forth beautiful woven fabrics and jewels. Her dance upon the western mountain caused plant life to spring forth in great abundance. Finally, Her dance on the northern mountain created all of the animals that would help sustain the earth.

After Her dance was finished, Changing Woman sat down to rest. As She sat there, She rubbed off the outer layer of Her skin from various parts of Her body. The flakes hit the fertile earth and immediately spring forth new human beings. These became the various clans of the Navajo.

Changing Woman taught humankind how to appreciate earth’s many gifts as well as how to control the elements of nature. She also bestowed gifts upon them through various rituals referred to as Blessingways.

Each Blessingway served a particular purpose such as blessing a wedding, childbirth, or other happy occasions among the Navajo. It took several days to complete each Blessingway ritual, which contained songs, prayers, and ceremonial baths in the milk of cacti.

One such important Blessingway was called the Kinaalda. It recognized a girl’s growth from childhood to maturity. 

According to Apache legend, White Painted Woman (another name for Changing Woman) survived the flood in an abalone shell. She was then impregnated twice; first by the sun for whom She bore a son named Killer of Enemies. Later, She was also impregnated by the rain for whom She bore a son named Son of Water.

White Painted Woman also had the ability to change form. When She became old, She would walk east until She met Her younger self and merged to become young once again.

White Painted Woman taught Her people one of the most important ritual for young girls who had just reached puberty. It represented the rights of womanhood. The ceremony always took place at sunrise and, therefore, became known as The Sunrise Ritual. 

The first part of the ceremony always re-enacted the creation myth. It was meant to help the young girl get in touch with the spiritual side of her people. It also emphasized her strength and ability to overcome the dark side of her nature by tapping into her own inner spirituality.

Next, she was taught what it meant to become a woman, with emphasis on menstruation and sexuality. But it was also an exercise in physical strength and endurance as the girl took part in a four-day ritual involving both dance and running. The sacred ordeal was meant to strengthen the girl physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Finally, the girl experienced the reality of womanhood and all that it entailed; hard work, the numerous cultural demands of the tribe, as well as her commitment to all of humankind. During this time, the girl was expected to give gifts of herself to her people. These might include food, clothing, assistance with daily chores, personal prayers and much more. In return, her people responded with wishes for her prosperity and long-life.

However, the ceremony wasn’t just for the girl. It also brought the community together to recognize binding ties and to form new bonds of family and friendship.

The songs and prayers of both tribes, with regard to their spiritual rituals, are both moving and insightful. The spirituality with which these Native Americans approached life is awe inspiring indeed. It is a shame that the whiteman’s greed and selfishness managed to rob us of such rich history. Without it, we are all greatly diminished.”

Estsanatlehi (pronounced es-tan-AHT-lu-hee), or Changing Woman – “The Apache called the earth Goddess by this name, for She never grew old. When Her age began to show, She simply walked toward the east until she saw Her form coming toward herself. She kept walking until Her young self merged with Her aging self and then, renewed, returned to Her home. Among the Chiricahua Apache, the name of this eternal Goddess was Painted Woman. ‘Turquoise Woman’ was the Navaho sky-Goddess, wife of Tsohanoai, the sun. She lived in a turquoise palace at the western horizon, where each night she received her luminous husband. Sister (or twin or double) of Yolkai Estsan (also known as White Shell Woman), the moon’s wife, Estsanatlehi was able to make Herself young each time She began to age, thus Her name, which means the ‘self-renewing one.’

Here is Her story: the ancestral Goddess Atse Estsan (First Woman), discovering Estsanatlehi on the ground beneath a mountain, reared Her to be the savior of earth’s people. When She was grown, Estsanatlehi met a young man; each day they went to the woods to make love. When Her parents looked on the ground and saw only one set of footprints, they knew their daughter had taken the sun as a lover.

Delighted at the honor granted their family, they were delighted again when Estsanatlehi gave birth to twins, who grew so miraculously that eight days after birth they were men, ready to seek their father. But when they found his house, the twins found another woman there. Angry at the intrusion, She threatened them with their father’s anger as well.

Undeterred, the twins remained and won from their father magic weapons, which they needed to clear the earth of monsters. This they did. After dancing with their Mother in celebration, the twins built Estsanatlehi a magnificent home at the sky’s end, so that the sun could visit Her again.

But the twins’ wars with the monsters had depopulated the earth. Estsanatlehi brushed the dust from Her breasts. From the white flour that fell from Her right breast and the yellow meal from Her left, She made paste and molded a man and a woman. Placing them beneath a magical blanket, Estsanatlehi left them. The next morning they were alive and breathing, and Estsanatlehi blessed the creation. For the next four days, the pair reproduced constantly, forming the four great Navaho clans. But the creative urge of Estsanatlehi was not fulfilled. She made four more groups of people, this time from the dust of Her nipples-and the women of these clans were thereafter famous for their nipples.

Feeling Her creation to be complete, Estsanatlehi retired to Her turquoise palace from which she continued to bestow blessings on her people: seasons, plants and food, and the tender sprouts of spring. Only four monsters survived her sons’ wars on evil: age, winter, poverty, and famine, which She allowed to live on so that Her people would treasure Her gifts the more.

In the Navajo creation story, White Shell Woman (Yoolgai asdzáá) is the sister of the Goddess Changing Woman and a wife of Water. Created when the Talking God and the Wind breathed life into two shells, the Sisters grew lonely and sought company—Changing Woman with the Sun and White Shell Woman with a mountain stream. Eventually They gave birth to two sons, who grew up to battle the monsters that roamed the earth. In some Navajo tales, White Shell Woman and Changing Woman become the same character.

According to the Navajo, when White Shell Woman went to live on Her own, the Talking God and other deities came to visit Her. They brought ears of corn that they covered with sacred blankets to create a man and a woman. White Shell Woman was overjoyed with this couple, who along with the descendants of Changing Woman became the ancestors of the Navajo people.

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