Some Native American tribes in the northwest, particularly the Navajos, use sand painting in healing ceremonies. Because the Navajos believe that sickness is caused by offending a god, the ceremony is meant to restore the patient to that god’s good will. The tribe’s medicine man uses colored sand to make pictures on the ground of the hogan (the ceremonial home), or on animal skins. He uses his hands to scatter the sand into special shapes and patterns that are believed to have healing powers.
The paintings are not made to last and are not stuck in place in any way. In fact, we have very few photographs of sand paintings that were actually made during ceremonies. Paintings have been made for the public to see and take pictures of but they are not exactly the same as those made during healing ceremonies.
The ceremony can last for nine days and nine nights if the patient needs it but is can also be performed in two nights or five nights. First, the sickness must be taken from the patient’s body by herbs or sweat baths. Then the gods must be summoned, through sand paintings, so that the patient can make up for his offense.
The medicine man usually chants while his assistants create the sand painting. The painting can range from only a few feet square to twenty feet square and its main colors are blue, white, black, and yellow. When the sand painting is finished, the ill person sits on it so the gods can enter his body and restore harmony. You can see how the sand painting wouldn’t last very long. After the sand painting absorbs the illness from the patient it is swept out of the ceremonial home.
You can look at some sand paintings by clicking here. Just click on any of the artists’ names in the list. Notice that all the sand paintings on the website are for sale which means that they were not created for healing ceremonies. They were also stuck down, not laid loose on the ground to be swept away later.
Check back tomorrow for a sand painting project!
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