The Navajo Medicine Man – The Unknown Side of the Navajo culture

More than twenty years ago, no one thought that Navajo culture would gain so much popularity among modern Americans as it has today. Thanks to the constant effort made by innovative minds towards bringing back the slowly-disappearing Native American Indian tribes. However, amidst all of this, one side of Navajo that is still behind the curtain is the Navajo medicine man.

Known as Hatalii, the Navajo medicine man is dominant in the Navajo culture ever since its inception. Holding great respect among the Navajo people, he performs the main healing ceremonies on which the Navajo people rely at times of sickness. Also, with extensive knowledge of the Navajo heritage and culture, he acts as a bridge to the past. A bridge to the people’s history, legends, and myths that slowly fade away as the old ones die.

The great significance of Hatalii is not because of his healing practice or knowledge about herbal medicine, but because he teaches people the principles of goodness and prosperity, preserving the Navajo’s traditions and beliefs.

Whenever the Medicine man is called to perform a “sing”, or a healing ceremony, along with healing the sick member, he shares the story of the people and how they emerged from the first world into the fourth world. During this time, he usually answers questions about life and anything related to man’s existence on earth. He tells the young and reminds the old about the supernatural forces necessary for universal harmony and balance.

It’s believed that one in every eight Navajo men is a Hatalii. To become one, training as an apprentice to the old medicine man is the first step. The training includes years and hours of learning ceremonial procedures, assembling medicine bundles (or Jish), and assisting the teacher until an apprentice is ready to conduct independent practices.  

The medicine man has to learn songs and prayers crucial to ceremonies and he must gain knowledge in different types of healing herbs. Most important, he must have faith in the higher powers and the Great Spirit, which is of utmost significance in Navajo culture. Once he is prepared, he renders his healing services.

Today, the medicine man is paid with money for his services. Earlier, when money wasn’t available, he used to be paid with livestock, turquoise, and rugs.

The bottom line is that just like other Native American tribes, the Navajo tribe has been relying on spiritual and religious healing as depicted in their art and craft.

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