Navajo Indian Legends
Witches and Witchcraft
In the emergence legend Navajo Indians speak of a
"Witchery Way" technique is that mentioned in the
emergence legend. A preparation (usually called 'poison' by
English-speaking informants) is made of the flesh of corpses.
The flesh of children and especially of twin children is preferred, and the
bones at the back of the head and skin whorls are the prized ingredients.
When this 'corpse poison' is ground into powder it 'looks like pollen.'
It may be dropped into an Indian hogan from the smoke-hole, placed in the
nose or mouth of a sleeping victim or blown from furrowed sticks into the
face of someone in a large crowd. 'Corpse poison' is occasionally stated to
have been administered in a cigarette.
Fainting, lockjaw, a tongue black and swollen, immediate unconsciousness or
some similar dramatic symptom is usually said to result promptly. Sometimes,
however, the effects are less obvious. The victim gradually wastes away, and
the usual ceremonial treatments are unavailing."
Sorcery is one aspect of those activities that the Navajo refer to by the
stem of an idzin plant. Sorcery, called idzin, is essentially an enchantment by
spell. Most informants regard it as a branch of witchery way, but unlike
witchery way, the sorcerer need not personally encounter his victim.
Instead, the sorcerer obtains a personal item from the intended victim such
as a piece of clothing, a fingernail, or a lock of hair. This is "buried with
flesh or other material from a grave or buried in a grave or under a
The sorcerer then recites the proper incantation, which consists of a prayer,
a song, or both. There are also rare instances of sorcerers making images of
their victims from clay or carving them from wood and then killing or
torturing the victims by sticking pins into the effigies or shooting projectiles
Wizardry refers to those practices that the Navajo Indians call adagash.
"The central concept here is that of injecting a foreign particle (stone, bone,
quill, ashes, charcoal) into the victim. The projectiles are often described as
'arrows.' English-speaking Navajos will occasionally refer to this kind of
witchcraft as 'bean-shooting,' but the majority of informants stated that
actual beans were never used.... The shooting was apparently believed by a
few informants to be carried out through a tube, but the majority opinion
was that the objects were placed in a special sort of red basket or on a
cloth or buckskin and made to rise through the air by incantation. According
to some informants, shooters removed their clothes and rubbed ashes on their
body before shooting".
Frenzy witchcraft refers to one of several classes of behavior that the
Navaho designate as ajile. It is associated with azite, the Prostitutionway
chant. Information on this chant is extremely hard to come by due to the
Navajo Indian's great reluctance to discuss anything about it. However, it
includes the use of certain plants, gathered in a prescribed manner, for "love
medicine" and luck in trading and gambling. Also, divination by ingesting
Datura (Jimson weed) is a form of frenzy witchcraft. Such divinations are
used mainly to locate stolen goods and trace thieves rather than to diagnose
illness. These practitioners reportedly never behave as were animals. Father
Bernard Haile held the opinion that frenzy witchcraft was originally a
technique for obtaining foreign women.