Navajo Sandpaintings, also called dry paintings, are called “places where the gods come and go” in the Navajo language. They are used in curing ceremonies in which the gods’ help is requested for harvests and healing.
The figures in sand paintings are symbolic representations of a story in Navajo mythology. They depict objects like the sacred mountains where the gods live, or legendary visions, or they illustrate dances or chants performed in rituals.
Sandpaintings are but one rite in a ceremonial. From the distinct set of paintings that belong to a specific chant, the chanter selects those that will best heal the patient, never using the entire repertoire of paintings on a single occasion.
In the two-night form of a chant, one sandpainting is made, while the last four days of a nine-night ceremonial would have sandpaintings.
After its sanctification, the patient sits on the painting while the chanter performs a ritual to enhance the absorption of its healing power. Immediately afterward, the remains of the painting are taken outside to an area north of the hogan, where they are returned to the earth.
According to Navajo belief, a sandpainting heals because the ritual image attracts and exalts the Holy People; serves as a pathway for the mutual exchange of illness and the healing power of the Holy People; identifies the patient with the Holy People it depicts; and creates a ritual reality in which the patient and the supernatural dramatically interact, reestablishing the patient’s correct relationship with the world of the Holy People ( GriffinPierce 1992:43).
For the Navajo, the sandpainting is a dynamic, living, sacred entity that enables the patient to transform his or her mental and physical state by focusing on the powerful mythic symbols that re-create the chantway odyssey of the storys protagonist, causing those events to live again in the present.
The performative power of sandpainting creation and ritual use reestablish the proper, orderly placement of the forces of life, thus restoring correct relations between the patient and those forces upon which the patient’s spiritual and physical health depend. The sandpainting works its healing power by reestablishing the patient’s sense of connectedness to all of life. -Griffin-Pierce