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Chindi: Ghosts of the Navajo

Ghosts, light humour and serious beliefs, item 9

In Navajo culture the Chindi is the spirit of the deceased which remains in this world after death. Formed by last breath to exit the body, the chindi is the dregs of the deceased’s spirit -- the parts of his or her nature which could not be brought into balance with the world.

Allowing death to occur in outside in the open air, as is traditional Navajo practice, can give the chindi space to disperse without causing harm. However, even those deaths which take place outside can occasionally form chiindii, or sandspouts. These sandspouts are the result of evil spirits. These spirits are believed to be able to bring on heart problems or even carry a person away from home and are to be avoided.

Deaths which occur indoors are believed to trap the chindi. The trapped chindi haunts the surrounding the objects. A chindi may infect the structure and the deceased’s possessions. These haunted structures are abandoned, the possessions either abandoned with the structure or destroyed, and contact with the body of the deceased is avoided. Special care is taken to honor the burial customs to avoid incurring the wrath of a chindi which may be lingering around the body.

The deceased’s name will no longer be spoken, only to be referred to in general terms such as “father”, “mother”, “sister”, or “brother” to avoid ghost sickness which can be bought about through contact with a chindi called to the victim of ghost sickness by use of the deceased’s name, contact with the any of the infected possessions or by use of the building where the deceased died. Those unfortunates which have not heeded tradition and find themselves consumed by ghost sickness are said to suffer from hallucinations, nightmares, depression, and paranoia – said to be caused by the chindi’s drawing the suffer to join the deceased in death.

To rid sufferers of ghost sickness, Navajo perform a three day ceremony known as the Enemy Way to counter the effects of the chindi and to liberate the victim of ghost sickness.

Those Navajo who follow the Witchery Way, or the Corpse-poison Way, are believed capable of infecting their fellow Navajo with ghost sickness, and may do this to those who have wronged them in some way. Most practitioners of the Witchery Way learn their craft from a relative and, in Navajo tradition, are usually male. They can induce ghost sickness by feeding a person a piece of corpse or powdered corpse bone, preferably made from fingerprints or the parietal, occipital or temporal bones of the skull.

For those cursed with ghost sickness by a follower of the Witchery Way, the effects of the corpse-poison are immediate. The physical reactions can include the tongue swelling, tetanus, and fainting. A victim may also develop a wasting disease, his or her health fading as he/she slowly dies. As the witch has brought the curse upon the victim, no medicine, dance or ritual (including the Enemy Way) is effective in recovering the victim’s health.

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