The Mythology and Spirituality of Navajo Weavings

Navajo weavings have been an important part of the culture of the Navajo people for hundreds of years. The legacy of this textile art form has been influenced by a variety of factors that have affected the Native American lifestyle, and it continues to persist and evolve today in the capable hands of contemporary weavers. Though both antique and modern Navajo weavings are valued commercially and artistically, there are spiritual and mythological elements present in the traditional practice of weaving that should not be taken for granted.

Weaving plays a role in the cosmology and creation stories of the Navajo, which lay out principles and life philosophies that still affect the people today. The mythological being known as Spider Woman, who represents textile art in the culture’s legends and symbols, weaves together parts of the universe and a map to its beauty and balance.

Spider Woman is also responsible for bestowing the gift of weaving on the Navajo people. Her husband, Spider Man, oversaw the construction of the first loom and weaving tools from elements such as sky, earth, sun, and lightning. It was Spider Woman who instructed the people, specifically the women, in the secrets of creating beautiful things on the loom, so that they could know and prosper as a people. To this day there is ritual and song associated with constructing looms, traditionally done by men, and the actual process of weaving, long dominated by women, though men do occasionally pursue the art.

Partly because the concepts of craft, beauty, and religion are so interconnected in their art and culture, Navajo weavings are surrounded by various types of belief and ritual. It is said the Spider Woman taught the people to always spin their thread towards the body instead of away, so that the beautiful goods come towards the weavers instead of departing from them. A baby or young weaver is supposed to find a dewy spider web in the sunlight of early morning and place the right hand upon it without damaging the web to receive from the spider the gift of weaving. The weaving song is integral to properly completing a blanket, and negative thoughts or words should never approach a standing loom.

Many early blankets were woven with a small hole in the middle out of deference for the Spider Woman, so that her spirit and gift would not be trapped in the piece. These holes are still sometimes included in modern design, though they are more often represented in the pattern than an actual gap in the material. “Spirit lines,” contrasting thread running from the inside of the design to the edge of the piece, are also sometimes included so that the creative spirit does not get trapped in the pattern.

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