Jan 02, 2007 05:37 AM
by Mark Jaqua
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
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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