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Hillerman Novels

Jan 02, 2007 05:37 AM
by Mark Jaqua

Hillerman Novels

    Tony Hillerman came out at the end of 
'06 with about his 20th novel situated 
in Navajo country in the 4-corners area 
of the US.  "The Shape Shifter" was on 
the best sellers now and will be again 
when the paperback comes out.  Hillerman 
is in his 80's, so this could be his 
last novel, but hopefully he'll get out 
a few more.

    What I like about Hillerman, beyond 
just being a good writer, is his mixing 
in of Traditional Navajo religion and 
philosophy in the plot of his mysteries.  
It's truly a beautiful philosophy, aimed 
at becoming in-tune or harmony with 
Nature and appreciation of its beauty. 
('And in the desert, rocks, mountains 
and big sky of the US Southwest, one 
always has this reminder of the beauty 
of Nature around one.)  The Traditional 
Navajos call this state of harmony with 
Nature "hozho" or "hozro," and it is 
the kingpin around which the rest of 
the religion spins.

    In Traditional Navajo culture 
(disappeared or disappearing now) there 
is no such thing as punishment for crime.  
If someone gets out of harmony with 
the rest of "the people" or "dineh," 
he is attempted to be brought back 
into harmony with a large variety or 
"sings" or ceremonies, which can last 
for anywhere from a day to 9 or 10 days.  
There is a different "sing" or cermony 
for every type of illness or crime, 
many such sings now being forgotten 
or having no "hatali," singer, or 
medicine-man which can perform them.  
These sings are composed of recitation 
of various myths of in their religious 
fables, sand paintings, and ceremony 
to bring the person back into harmony.  
Its a community event.

    In "Shape Shifter" Hillerman relates 
one of the origins - myths that we are 
held to be in the "4th world" now, after 
the destruction of the first 3 worlds.  
In the first 3 worlds we were not 
fully human, which we become in the 
4th world. This might be analogous 
with the 4th round we are in now in 
Theosophical teachings, or the fourth 
Race (Am. Indians are held in Theosophy 
to be a 4th root-race people, like the 
Chinese, Mongolians, etc.)  There is 
also a myth for the separation of the sexes.

     The only person in Navajo philosophy 
who cannot be brought back into harmony 
is the "witch" or shape-shifter.  He's 
seen as being committed to evil and 
selfishness as a principle.  A sure sign 
of a witch is someone who is rich while 
his relatives are poor.  Greed and money- 
grubbing is one of the big crimes in 
Traditional philosophy.

    Another Navajo belief which tallies 
with Theosophy is about the "chindi."  
The chindi is the spook or bhut (Hindu) 
that a person leaves behind when he dies, 
the "shell."  In some places Hillerman 
says that the Navajos believe in no 
after-life, but in "Shape Shifter" and 
later novels he says that the chindi is 
only the part left behind, that can't 
go on to the soul's other after-death 
great adventures - which is the Theosophical 
idea.  If a persona dies inside the 
hogan, traditionally, the hogan is abandoned, 
and a hole is knocked in the wall in 
one direction, so that the spook can 
leave.  A person is always taken 
outside to die.

     Hillerman went to an Indian school 
for years when young, so is not just 
an outsider, and also made a long effort 
to understand Navajo culture, so you 
might get a better picture of Navajo 
philosophy in his novels than in the 
dry-dust anthropological texts.  

                - jake j.


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