Mountains of the Navajo


For most Native Americans these mountains serve as cosmic pillars, defining the world in which they live. Each peak is associated with a color corresponding to the direction in which it lies: blue or green for North, yellow for West, red for South, and white for East.

The Navajo, the largest tribe in the United States, have expanded the scheme of four mountains to cover an enormous area, extending from the San Francisco Peaks of Arizona in the west to the Sangre de Cristo Range of Colorado and New Mexico to the east. According to various versions of their creation myth, when first Man and First Woman emerged from a hole in the earth, they brought with them the soil of the sacred peaks that had given light to the worlds lying beneath ours. With this soil they fashioned the sacred mountains of the four directions, along with two or three others, depending on the version of the myth. One account describes the creation of the western peak, Doko'o'slid, or the San Francisco Peaks, in the following way:

The mountain of the West, they fastened to the earth with a sunbeam. They adorned it with abalone shell, with black clouds, he-rain, yellow corn, and all sorts of wild animals. They placed a dish of abalone shell on the top, and laid in this two eggs of the Yellow Warbler, covering them with sacred buckskins. Over all they spread a blanket of yellow evening light, and they sent White Corn Boy and Yellow Corn Girl to dwell there.

First Man and First Woman created the mountains of the other three directions in a similar manner, fastening them to the earth with lightning, a flint knife, and a rainbow and spreading over them coverings of white dawn, blue sky, and darkness. Sis Najini, which is identified with Blanca Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, they placed in the East. Tso Dzil, or Mount Taylor, also in the Sangre de Cristo Range in the South; and Dibe Ntsa, which seems to be Mount Hesperus in the La Plata Range of southern Colorado.

Each mountain has its inner form, a deity or spiritual essence in human shape, who acts as its soul or spirit, imbuing it with a power and intelligence that makes the peak itself a supernatural being. One Navajo with whom I spoke at the college where he teaches used the analogy of an instrument and its music to describe the relationship between the mountain and their indwelling deities: "If you ask a person where music is in a violin and he takes it apart, he will find nothing. In the same way, if we excavate and take apart a sacred mountain, we will also find nothing. But with belief we can find the holy person and his power in the mountain."


The Sangre de Cristo Wilderness : Between Heaven and Earth