Native American Sand Painting

Native American sand painting is a ritualistic expression of the beliefs of the tribes of the American southwest, most notably the Navajo tribe. The paintings are made from colored sand, crushed minerals and crystals and are then placed on a surface, a hide or flat wooden "counter" by the Hatalii or medicine man. He uses great skill and precision form years of training to let the sands and minerals fall from his hands to the correct location in the painting. The sand paintings are used for healing ceremonies only and are created, used and destroyed all within a twelve hour period. The paintings are believed to be living works of art and while the painting is being created the Hatalii will chant and ask the Holy People, yeibicheii, to come and become part of the painting to heal the patient.

Materials like gypsum, ochre, and red sandstone are used to create the varying colors and designs. Multiple colors and substances are used when creating and using other colors like pink and brown. There are at least 600 different sand paintings and probably over 1000 that are used in healing ceremonies. In any given ceremony there may be as many as thirty different sand paintings used depending upon the ailment and ceremony. Some ceremonies lasts days or even weeks and each time every painting is destroyed as it contains the ailments of the patient and is considered to be toxic. The Holy People that were called into the painting will take in the illness and absorb it when the painting is destroyed.

For many reasons, outsiders are not allowed into the sacred ceremonies which have led medicine men to create and demonstrate their skills in demonstration only sand paintings. These paintings are similar to the ones used in ceremonies but have purposeful mistakes. These are performed because the paintings are sacred and should not be photographed. The introduction of the mistakes allows the paintings to lose their sacred nature, but allows for outsiders to appreciate the artwork and beauty of the sand paintings.

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American Indian Art

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