The old Navajo woman sat on a wood stool in front of her weaving loom, her hair threaded with grey and pulled back into a “tsiiyeel,” a hair knot. A heavy turquoise and silver studded chain hung from her neck. She was in her finery to meet me, a young white woman working with her missionary friends on the reservation. I watched her gnarled hands move the shuttle stick down again and again, tightly compacting each strand of wool. Before I left, she smiled and gave me one of her small woven blankets. She explained the significance of this blanket, and pointed out the loose threads at one corner to allow all the evil to escape.
I still have that little Navajo blanket and look at it occasionally, touching the geometric pattern, important symbols in Navajo myth. A friend once told me: people matter, not things. And yet, certain things do matter, sometimes a great deal.
Objects, both animate and inanimate, can have special spiritual significance to us.
We notice them or hold them in our hands, see pictures of them or hear about them, and have an emotional reaction. The world speaks to us through these symbols in a personal way. They enrich our lives or give us comfort. After my mother-in-law died, my husband planted a white rose bush in her honor. He enjoys smelling the roses and swears they have a fruity scent, a raspberry-like smell, something my nose never picks up. But his mother, Doris, loved raspberries and always grew a healthy patch of them in her garden every year.
The moon is an important symbol for me.
My birthday is this month, in June, and though I don’t believe in astrology I’m aware that my astrological sign is Cancer. As a Cancer, I’m considered a “moon child.” Coincidentally, my name, Diana, also has something to do with the moon. I’ve never really liked the name Diana. It has too many syllables, so family and friends shorten it to “Dee” which makes me sound like a gum-smacking truck stop waitress. I’ve tried to regain some dignity by telling people the name Diana is actually the Roman translation for the ancient Greek goddess, Artemus. And, surprise, surprise—Artemus happens to be the goddess of the moon. Though lots of people like seeing a beautiful full moon, I make it a point every June to take a night stroll when the moon is full. As I walk I watch my moon shadow and listen for any moon eaters about, the deer that like to browse in bushes and trees nearby.
For many northwestern and Alaskan Indian tribes, deer are emblematic.
They’re considered totem animals, signifying direction and guidance because deer see so well even in the dark. I’m reminded of The Deer Hunter, one of the first movies produced about Viet Nam after the war. I’ll never forget the scene where Viet Nam vet, Michael, makes the difficult decision to go back and search for his best friend, Nick, who’s gone missing in Viet Nam. When Michael makes up his mind, he’s hunting in the Allegheny Mountains. He finally corners a beautiful stag, shoots, and misses the deer. Then he drops his rifle and yells to the open skies, “Okay…okay!” It was as if the deer, with its penetrating stare, reminded Michael of his obligation to find Nick.
Above my kitchen sink, on the window shelf I have a smooth, polished stone the size of the palm of my hand. My friend Gail gave me that stone when my husband and son were both about to undergo surgery, my son donating one of his kidneys to his father. Gail told me it was a “worry” stone, and that I should rub it whenever I was afraid or anxious. The stone seemed like a pretty rock to me so I sat it on the window ledge. Then one morning I held the stone up while I dusted underneath it. It was warm from sitting in the sun and pleasant to hold. I rubbed my thumb over the top of it…and felt soothed.
Image credit: All images by Diana Hooley