Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cutting Off the Ugly

"We need to have that cut off;" said Laurie, "it's ugly!" "Cut off what," I said rather defensively, and in a voice slightly higher pitched than normal. My wife was in the process of trimming my hair with a sharp pair of scissors. I was afraid that if she got started cutting off parts of me that are ugly, there might not be anything left.

Navajo Skinwalker Carving
Navajo Folk Art

"Dr, Jones can cut it off in a matter of minutes," claimed my wife, "I'm worried about it." "What "IT" are we talking about?" I asked again." "That mole just above your left ear; the one I keep snagging with the comb." "I thought you were doing that to antagonize me," I said with a smirk. Laurie smacked me lightly upside the head, reminding me of her dislike of sarcasm.

Running her fingers through my locks, Laurie said, "Your hair is different." "Still thick, full and not a gray hair one!" I said defensively. "No," said my adoring wife, looking closely and feeling it suspiciously, "It's thinner with just a hint of gray, but it's also . . . coarser!" "A product of my environment," I quipped to myself smiling inwardly at my quick wit. "Smack!" "Did I say that out loud?" I asked in confusion. "That was ugly;" said Laurie, "cut-it-out!"

A few days later, I stood behind the counter of the Twin Rocks trading post rubbing my new temporal scar and worriedly wondering if Laurie had somehow acquired the ability to read my mind; a scary thought indeed! As I contemplated this possibility, Marvin Jim and Grace Begay walked in the door and gently, but firmly, set a carving in front of me. As I focused on, and then recognized the creature crouching before me, I looked up at them and asked, "Have you guys lost your minds?"

Marvin and Grace laughed out loud, and, with a humorous glint in his eye, Marvin said; "I told Grace you would say that." "We carved it because we realized you knew just enough about Skin-walkers to be dangerous." Marvin Jim and Grace Begay are two of the most gifted Native American sculptors I have had the pleasure to associate with. This time, however, they had crossed the line; our friendship was in jeopardy.

Dangerous indeed, I was born and raised around the Navajo culture; I have read the books! I had read "the" book on Skin-walkers. Clyde Kluckhon's thesis on Navajo witchcraft is considered the most intensive study of this cultural phenomenon to date. Dangerous? I think not! Grace smiled patiently and said "Sometimes you look too close at the bad stuff, you need to cut-it-off!" "You mean out?" I asked scratching my head and remembering Laurie's earlier comments. "Off, out, whatever," said Grace, "just get rid of it, look for the good!"

"Okay!" I said, "It makes sense that everything in Navajo culture has an opposing force. Are you willing to talk about this; on camera?" "That's why we are here together," said Marvin. "Get your video recorder set-up," chimed in Grace, "we are here to educate you!" "Great," I thought to myself, "now I have to deal with Navajo philosophers and educators instead of simple sculptors." "Stop it!" Marvin and Grace said in unison. "Did I say that out loud?" I asked in confusion. "That was ugly," said Grace "cut-it-off!"

Twenty minutes later, I was indeed a better informed man. The dynamic duo taught me that their carving was based on the time and place when medicine men knew how to transform themselves into animal-like creatures. The transformation was based on the need to expedite the gathering of healing herbs from the sacred mountains. The intent was based on harnessing supernatural powers for good, beneficial purposes.

The turnaround came through human beings, when a few misguided souls succumbed to what I interpret as the seven deadly sins and strayed from the seven heavenly virtues. However you personally describe this occurrence matters not; the outcome is the same. Many things intended to benefit humans are turned by corruption into that which is harmful. Embracing evil or negativity drove a positive force underground.

The sculpture Marvin and Grace bravely presented was intended to bring to light the upside of a cultural symbol, in hopes of reviving its original, positive intent; to, "cut off the ugly," and raise it back up to its original status of a helpful and beneficial force. I have personally gained a new and improved perspective of Skin-walkers and, hopefully, I will be more open-minded when someone tries to improve my health and well-being or better my education.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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