Thursday, November 9, 2006


Navajo Ceremonial Baskets
Navajo Ceremonial Baskets

The young French couple stood across the counter from me, studying a small ceremonial basket with intense concentration. They had asked to see the weaving a few minutes earlier, then, in halting English, asked if I would explain its significance in Navajo culture. It does not take much to get me talking about the depth of meaning associated with ceremonial baskets, so, before I knew it, I was overwhelming them with information. The young woman seemed to understand better than her mate and soon formed an attachment to the weaving and its metaphorical significance.

The gentleman was not so easily sold, he continued to stall and ask questions; seemingly uncertain about spending his hard earned Francs on the basket. The mademoiselle patiently listened to his questions and my explanations for a few minutes longer, then quietly intervened. Placing her hand on his, which held the basket , she said " C'est Magique!" He looked into his sweetheart's eyes, understood her passion and relented on the spot. As they walked out the door with their new treasure, I thought to myself,
"She is right, it was magic!"

Maybe it is the time of year that makes me think of supernatural occurrences and their associated paraphernalia. The apple-crisp autumn mornings, warm harvest gold sunlit days and lingering nighttime hours packed with brilliant diamondesque star-filled skies are mystical. Our sunrises and sunsets glow ominously with wide ranging variations of blood red and pumpkin orange light enhanced by smudged black, smoke-like cloud patterns. The trees are losing their leaves and taking on a more skeletal, primordial appearance. Crazy-weird, chaotic weather patterns affirm the struggle between summer's tenacious warmth and the cold frosts of winter, adding to the magical feel of the season.

Navajo ceremonial baskets speak of an awakening of consciousness, life lessons, morality tales, connections to ancestors, family relations and visions of a bright and positive, progressive future. All this, contained in a tightly woven, specifically patterned plaque that is an essential element in all ceremonies led by a Hataalii or Medicine Man. Ceremonial baskets are woven of sumac, a sacred plant that provides healing sensations to the weaver and strength and durability to the basket.

Mother Earth is known to absorb all energy, whether positive or negative, and reflect it back to the world of humans in an uplifting, widely dispersed, nourishing manner. She allows only the ceremonial basket to momentarily neutralize her powers, giving the singer time to re-create a healing ceremony and redirect that energy directly into the patient. Magic? Yes, for those who believe!

Medicine Man John Holiday
Navajo Medicine Man John Holiday

I have always held an affinity for Navajo ceremonial baskets; I believe it came at an early age. When they ran a filling station in Bluff during the 1950s, our parents traded gas and oil for baskets; there were stacks of them placed about our home, in corners, under the beds and on high shelves. Duke and Rose still have some of those same weavings; treasures they lovingly associate with weavers, traders and ceremonies long ago re-assimilated into the bosom of Mother Earth. Due to these woven mementos of the past, those ceremonies are gone but not forgotten .

I am sure we will always want to carry Navajo ceremonial baskets at the trading post. As long as they are available to us, we will make them available to others. Ceremonial baskets are exemplary ambassadors for Navajo tradition and culture. A simple, circular step pattern woven with splits of red, black and white sumac portrays the basic, essential elements of a dissipating belief system. The Navajo have a unique, agriculturally based culture that has served them well for possibly thousands of years. Science has caused many of those once loyal to those beliefs to question their viability. Progressive thinking is natural and beneficial, but the old culture and tradition should also be remembered and respected; it also has much value. If ceremonial baskets can aid in the cause, that is indeed magical.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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