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In this drybrush watercolor I have painted a very special, very respected Navajo elder - the Medicine Man. I have concentrated attention on his head for it is the receptacle in which much of the most valuable knowledge of the Navajo people is kept. It is the Medicine Man who conducts the healing ceremonies which the Navajo people trust to heal their afflicted ones.
The Medicine Man still makes house calls! On the floor of the sick person's hogan he first makes a sand painting with four basic colors; white, blue, yellow and black. His materials are ground charcoal and minerals. The healer has memorized hundreds of designs and will choose the appropriate one for the illness he has diagnosed. When the painting is completed the patient is seated upon it in ceremonially dictated positions while treatment is administered.
The Medicine Man is also called a "Singer". This is based on the fact that he has learned hundreds of chants or songs which can be varied in innumerable ways. The basic chant he selects and his improvisations upon it are dictated by the assumed cause of the illness.
In addition to the sand painting and the chant, herbal potions, incense, pollens, precious stones and bits of shell are used in the treatment. When it is completed the patient is taken out into the sun and the sand painting is destroyed, bit by bit, in the order in which it was constructed. The sand is swept up and scattered on the north side of the hogan.
There are no books, no written records. The knowledge is all contained in the memory of the Medicine Man. Symbollically, I have closed it off with the golden headcloth. The battered pot hanging on the stove pipe indicates that the old man has grown rich only in the respect of his people, not in worldly goods.
- Ray Swanson
This Piece has been Signed by Ray Swanson