The Navajo people have a complex system of ceremonial activities and gatherings which they follow. Some are classified as “rites,” while others are labeled as a “chant.” To distinguish rites from chants, a rattle is used as an instrument during the singing with a chant.
Many of the chants you’ll hear from the Navajo culture involve healing. Each can be performed through one of three different rituals. They are called Lifeway, Evilway, and Holyway.
When the lifeway chants are being used to heal, the goal is to mend physical injuries which have occurred. If someone were injured while hunting, for example, the traditional method of healing would involve chants that encourages this process.
For the evilway chants, the goal is to banish evil out of the individual, the village, or the land. By removing the darkness, healing begins because light can once again enter.
The holyway chants are designed to attract goodness toward that which requires it.
Sandpainting ceremonies, called ‘iikááh, are part of the holyway and evilway chants.
Why Are the Navajo Chants Used to Promote Healing?
The goal of the Navajo people is to live in such a way that harmony, happiness, and beauty becomes part of life. Chants are part of this life experience, just as prayers, ritual songs, and other activities that encourage oneness with the universe.
Illness, evil, and darkness are all thought of as conditions which disrupt the harmonies of the universe itself. Because they cause disruption, they become dangerous.
In total, there are at least two-dozen chant complexes that are used to help restore balance back to the system, using the three different approaches. About 8 of the chants, many of them based on rites focused on blessings, are regularly used as part of the Navajo culture.
These chants include windway, mountainway, nightway, and beautyway.
The chants will usually be performed over multiple nights to improve the effectiveness of the effort. Holyway chants, as an example, may be performed over 2, 5 or 9 nights, with ceremony components strung out together over a specific order.
Each chant is also based on the expression of how the universe was initially created. Movements during a chant are clockwise because that follows the direction of the sun. With ritual objects included to also improve each Navajo chant, this core component of the culture continues to thrive.