Tag Archives: Navaho Mythology

Beginning: Red Ants

There is first a setting out, a beginning of all things.  Among the Huron in America, a woman fell from from the sky, hurling toward water.  Two loons that were flying over the water saw her and placed themselves beneath her to cushion her fall, holding her above the water, and calling for other animals to help hold her up.  The cry of the loon can be heard a long distance.  Animals came, including the turtle, and helped her, building earth from the bottom of the sea.  Here in the Southwest, among the Navaho, human beings emerged from the earth as red ants and red ants are the ancestors of those that walk the earth today on solid ground.

I remember my Uncle Floyd on his ranch in Cherokee, Texas, taking poison to the large red ant hills in the corrals and alleyways of the cattle pens.  Some ants died, but most of them survived the attack and continued to bring small stones to their portal.  The red ants never stung him, nor me.  Uncle Floyd eventually gave up the task and let them be.  The Navaho and other tribes collect the stones at the ant pile and place them in gourds to make rattles.  Uncle Floyd, Aunt Lennie, and I would attend the Methodist Church in Cherokee, Texas, and hear the minister read Genesis on how God created the earth and gave dominion of its creatures to man in the beginning.

I never assisted in putting the poison on the ant hills.  The red ants always looked so harmless and when I held one in my hand, there was no stinging, just a waving of the antenna and a deliberate attempt to find a way off of my boyish hand.  Today here on Flying Hat, I let the red ants live and bring their little stones to their entry holes.  I wonder how they place themselves down in the ground and what chambers they retire to.  Their pathways are so well-traveled on the surface that they may be two inches wide, devoid of vegetation, and a hundred-yards in length.  In Pecan Tree pasture, the ants have a lot of food from the side-oats gramma Cody Scott and I planted five-years ago.  In the area cleared around the ant hills, I can see the tracks of deer.  The word, deer, is traced back to an Indo-European hypothetical word meaning,  to breathe.

On our place here in Texas, the ants emerge from the earth and a deer signifying breath stands above them on solid ground brought up by turtles in ancient times to save the woman that fell from the sky in the beginning.

Notes

For method, N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain.  For Huron, Elsa A. Nystrom, Primary Source Reader for World History, volume I: to 1500.  For Navaho, divers sources including Washington Matthews, his Smithsonian series on Navaho singing chants.  See also Frank Waters, Masked Gods.

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Filed under Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966

Blue Ground I

In 1977, I climbed Mount Taylor during the day and came down the mountain in the evening by full-moon light.  The coming-down at night was unplanned.

I still climb mountains, not with rope and anchor, but one foot in front of the other, up the trail to the summit where a cairn is located, signing my name on the log book tucked in a steel tin.  Mountaineering climbs test body, attack motivation; high altitudes increase depression, morbid thoughts.  One of my climbs, Mount Taylor near Grants, New Mexico, combined the usual test of fortitude with a special insight into mysticism.   Mount Taylor is the southern holy mountain in Navaho mythology and I was determined to see what was at the summit and, more importantly, what was on the mountain that made it sacred.

To be candid, the nature of man’s life is radically material.  For a short period of time, the individual is formed as an ensemble of perceptions and sensations, the life cycle, four score years or so.  Before birth, the ensemble, there is oblivion and after death, the same:  oblivion.  But during the ensemble, there is life, movement, talking, sensing.  Religion, magic, and witchcraft exist as explanations about oblivion, life, oblivion.  Saints, sages, and shamans that seek to explain are in the end, like Thomas Aquinas, swept away by the magnitude of life, the universe, that they become silent (or should) and express only that the ultimate mystery is ineffable [1].

That the ultimate mystery is unexplainable should not mean despair, immobility.  It often does petrify.  Nevertheless, take the body and place it there, here, over there, up there, down there!  Explore.  There is the mountain, desert, ocean, space.  Witness the inexpressible grandeur of the place.  It is all we have, but it is quite enough.

My reasoning, therefore, in climbing Mount Taylor was to put myself on top of the sacred mountain to encounter the ineffable or, at least, be present in nature at a high altitude, looking at vistas from the summit.  I would be a moving participant, a spectator, to the incomprehensible spirit that moves in all things.  I was not in search of the supernatural or mystical in the conventional, religious sense.  Within my life, I wanted to place myself in nature at her most inspiring locations.  That was all, but quite enough as it turned out.  For at the climb’s end, that evening, the coming-down time from Mount Taylor, I saw blue ground, but I did not understand.

(Next, Blue Ground II)

Notes

[1]  Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Mysticism and Logic. See also Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path of Guatama, “The Benares Sermon of Buddha–6th century BCE,” in Elsa Nystrom, Primary Source Reader for World History, Volume I to 1500, Wadsworth, 2006, pp. 38-39.

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Filed under Adventure, Colony Road