Thursday, February 28, 2008

Through Sacred Eyes

Peggy Black Navajo Basket
Navajo Basket Weaver Peggy Black

In a recent interview with Navajo basket weaver Peggy Black, I asked about the Yeibichai she sometimes weaves into her creations. The Yei are powerful beings gifted to the Navajo to help stave off sickness, disease and other complications caused by unbalanced forces of nature. The Yei act as a buffer between the real and spirit worlds, and are a catalyst for positive change. They are the epitome of supernatural healing power, are not to be trifled with or summoned unnecessarily and generally do not have a sense of humor when it comes to nonsensical human misconduct.

As we talked, Peggy began to open up about her cultural beliefs. She spoke of being raised traditionally and of the spiritual comfort she found in those traditions. Peggy feels that by respectfully weaving the Yeibichai into her baskets, she can capture their benevolent presence and the blessings they bestow. We also discussed the sacred masks of the Yei.

Ancient Navajo legends speak of how the Gods often find favor in an Earth Surface Person of low standing. They then present him the tools, knowledge and understanding to raise himself up and walk with them in their sacred world. Coyote always appears to provide a little chaotic mayhem, but this too is overcome. Before the Hero is allowed to live among the Gods, he must first return to earth and accomplish a specific task. He must then teach his brothers the hard-won knowledge he has accumulated, and instruct them in the ceremonies he has acquired. In the case of the Yeibichai, the instruction often involves use of sacred masks.

Navajo Basket by Peggy Black
Navajo Basket Weaver Peggy Black

These masks were created to empower Navajo participants with the ability to transform; to metamorphose into the Yeibichai. What captured my attention, and stimulated my imagination, was a reference Peggy made to, "looking through the mask". As I understand it, Peggy was attending a Yeibichai ceremony when the people in the hogan were granted the opportunity to don a mask and view the world through sacred eyes. It seems that to look upon the Yei, to see them for what they truly are and avoid harmful consequences, one must first look from the inside out.

Without first taking the proper precautions, associating with the power of the Yei can cause blindness, or even attract the sickness and disease they are said to cure. If one is not familiar and harmoniously in tune with these positive forces, protection from harm is not assured. To truly know the Yeibichai, one has to see them from the inside.

I felt privileged that Peggy would share this interaction with me. Bits and pieces of personal information such as this bring me closer to understanding the people who inhabit this mysterious and strikingly beautiful landscape. One day, I hope to clearly see them through their own eyes.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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