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Sand Painting Series

The Importance of Navajo Sand Paintings

The Navajo sand paintings are some of the most precious relics of Native American history. Navajo sand paintings are created with colored sand, and this sand is made from exotic rocks found on the land. These sand paintings were made by the medicine man, who with the help of up to 12 people, created paintings depicting holy people, animals and landscapes.

The Navajo believe that the holy people depicted are able to enter the bodies of the sick and heal them. After each chant (day), the drawings are destroyed for good.


There are certain laws that protect these sand paintings. The most important of them all is the one which states that sand paintings are not to be used for commercial gain, or to be replicated for show. The Navajo believe that these paintings are very sacred, and selling them borders on blasphemy.

Even though this rule is in place, there are those who have learned to go around this rule. They do so by reversing some of the colors on the sand paintings, and make deliberate errors, so that they can provide a glimpse of what a Navajo sand painting is like. The Navajo also have rules about women when it comes to sand paintings.

They cannot chant along, because if they do, then they will injure their unborn child. A menstruating woman is also seen as unclean, so she cannot participate either. However, a woman advanced in age, those who are post-menopausal, are able to be chanters, or even diagnosticians.

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The way that the sands are placed on the painting requires ultimate precision from the medicine man, as well as the people that are helping him. Up to 12 people can be involved at a time, and each has his or her own spot to work on. No one but the medicine man knows how each drawing will turn out. The medicine man could have dozens of paintings memorized. While each sand painting is done, the medicine man will chant at the same time.

Each chant is him asking the Yei, or the Holy People, to leave the painting and enter the sick person and heal them. The patient will then be asked to sit on the finished painting, while the medicine man continues to make his chants. By sitting on the painting, the patient is now able to absorb all the spiritual powers, and the Holy People will travel into the person’s body and take all of the sickness out of the person’s body.

When the chant is done, the process of destroying the painting begins, since it is now toxic with all of the illness now in the painting. These ceremonies last a certain number of days, depending on different factors. On each day, a new painting is made.

Sand paintings are not only used to heal the sick, however. Sand paintings help bridge the physical and the spiritual worlds, and the Native Americans believe that their gods could provide favor with a lot of things. Some of these include blessing the harvest, blessing new marriages, and blessing new homes.

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