Navajo oral myths and songs
Raised by First Man and First Woman
Changing Woman, or Asdzaa Nádleehé, is the most respected goddess of the Navajo people. She represents all changes of life as well as the seasons, and is both a benevolent and a nurturing figure. All Navajo ceremonies must include at least one song dedicated to Changing Woman. She is related to goddesses found in many other Native American traditions, such as the Pawnee Moon Woman and the Apache White Painted Woman.
According to legend, Changing Woman changes continuously but never dies. She grows into an old woman in winter, but by spring she becomes a young woman again. In this way, she represents the power of life, fertility, and changing seasons. In some stories she has a sister, White Shell Woman (Yoolgai asdzáá), who symbolizes the rain clouds. Ceremonies dedicated to Changing Woman are performed to celebrate childbirth, coming of age for girls, weddings, and to bless a new home.
Changing Woman bears the children of the Sun, Johonaa'éf, after he shines his rays on her. Their children are the twin heroes , Monster Slayer (Naayéé' neizgháni) and Child of Water (To bajish chini), who cleared the earth of the monsters that once roamed it. Changing Woman lives by herself in a house floating on the western waters, where the Sun visits her every evening. One day she became lonely and decided to make some companions for herself. From pieces of her own skin, she created men and women who became the ancestors of the Navajo people. Changing Woman also created maize, an important food source for the Navajo.
Changing Woman in Context
Changing Woman plays a major role in the Navajo Kinaaldá ceremony, a ceremony that marks a young girl's change into a woman. During the long ceremony the girl impersonates and becomes Changing Woman, and participates in activities that are important to the role of women in the Navajo tribe. For instance, part of the ceremony requires the girl and the women who help her to prepare a large corn cake, which is then baked overnight in a pit. The women are not allowed to sleep during this time, and the next day the girl hands out pieces of the cake to guests at the ceremony. The cake represents Mother Earth—with the cake itself coming from the earth—and the girl as Changing Woman is able to change the earth into food. Throughout the ceremony, the girl is supposed to take on the qualities of Changing Woman, including physical strength, endurance, creativity, and fruitfulness.
Key Themes and Symbols
For the Navajo people, Changing Woman represents change—usually the change of seasons, as well as the growth of females into womanhood. She is also a symbol of the sky. She is identified with the earth, vegetation, fertility, growth, abundance, and ideal womanhood.
Changing Woman in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
As with many characters from American Indian mythology, Changing Woman was known only to a small number of people. Even within that tribe, much of the attention dedicated to Changing Woman was done through song. Only recently have characters such as Changing Woman begun to appear in art and literature beyond members of the Navajo tribe.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Changing Woman and Her Sisters: Stories of Goddesses from Around the World by Katrin Hyman Tchana (2006) offers ten stories of goddesses taken from different cultures. Other than Changing Woman, the book features stories of goddesses such as Amaterasu from Shinto mythology and Macha from Celtic mythology .
SEE ALSO Native American Mythology