“White Painted Woman’s themes are maturity, cycles, femininity and tradition. Her symbols are white colored items.  White Painted Woman taught Her people sacred rituals and She can change Her appearance at will to that of a young girl or an old woman, representing the full cycle of life and all that awaits us in between. When White Painted Woman was a girl, She went away to the mountains, where the sun taught Her how to conduct puberty rites, which is Her function in today’s Apache Puberty Ceremony.

About this time of year, Apache girls participate in a special coming-of-age ritual that takes place over four nights. Part of the ritual commemorates White Painted Woman’s adventure in the mountains and in another part the young women take on Her role so they can prepare for adulthood. In modern times, rites of passage have been somewhat overlooked, but today is definitely a time to consider reinstating them to honor White Painted Woman and draw Her blessings into someone’s life. If you know a child who has reached an important juncture (going to school, getting their driver’s license, graduating) find a way to commemorate that step in their personal growth.

For school, bless a special lunch box or book bag with rosemary oil for mental keenness. For a license, make them a protective automobile amulet (perhaps something to hang off the rearview mirror). Whatever you do, fill this person’s life with magic!”

(Patricia Telesco, “365 Goddess: a daily guide to the magic and inspiration of the goddess”.)

For today’s entry, I’d like to share an article with you by Charlotte Kuchinsky entitled, “The Navajo Myth of the Changing Woman”.  It explains both Changing Woman, White Painted, their similarities and their differences.

“The Changing Woman, is a powerful deity among the tribes of the Navajo and Apache (where she is also called the White Painted Woman). She is considered a benevolent goddess that represents both creation and protection. As such, she is recognized as the goddess of fertility and reproduction.

“Changing Woman” by dreamagic

The Changing Woman got Her name from Her ability to change along with the seasons. In the spring and summer, She appears as a young maiden full of life, vitality and, of course, fertility. In the fall and winter she transforms Herself into an old woman, representing the desolateness of age, infertility, and eventual death.

According to Navajo legend, First Man is responsible for discovering the Goddess at the summit of a mountain where She was born. As the story goes, the sun fed Her with pollen to sustain Her while the rain helped Her grow into a full size woman within a mere eighteen days. But still, She was nothing more than a lifeless figure until the great wind gave Her the breath of life.

The sun immediately fell in love with his creation and took Her for his wife. She bore him a son, which was named Monster Slayer. He was to become the salvation of his people by ridding the world of all monsters.

Eventually, the sun built a very special house for his wife; hidden deep within the western woods surrounded by four mountains to the east, west, north, and south. It is said that when the sun sets in the west because he is going home to his beloved.

“The Dancing Princess” by Lee Bogle

So pleased was Changing Woman with Her home, that She danced gleefully upon each of the four mountaintops. As She did so, She bestowed great gifts upon mankind.

Her dancing created rain clouds from the eastern mountain, bringing the soft rain that would sustain all life. Her dance on the southern mountain brought forth beautiful woven fabrics and jewels. Her dance upon the western mountain caused plant life to spring forth in great abundance. Finally, Her dance on the northern mountain created all of the animals that would help sustain the earth.

After Her dance was finished, Changing Woman sat down to rest. As She sat there, She rubbed off the outer layer of Her skin from various parts of Her body. The flakes hit the fertile earth and immediately spring forth new human beings. These became the various clans of the Navajo.

Changing Woman taught humankind how to appreciate earth’s many gifts as well as how to control the elements of nature. She also bestowed gifts upon them through various rituals referred to as Blessingways.

Each Blessingway served a particular purpose such as blessing a wedding, childbirth, or other happy occasions among the Navajo. It took several days to complete each Blessingway ritual, which contained songs, prayers, and ceremonial baths in the milk of cacti.

One such important Blessingway was called the Kinaalda. It recognized a girl’s growth from childhood to maturity. Much of the honoree’s time during the early stages of that ritual was spent grinding in excess of 100 pounds of corn and wheat.

These, along with prepared cornhusks, were used to form a giant cornmeal cake, which was cooked underground during the Kinaalda.

The ritual also involved the honoree running from west to east while singing and continuing her prayers. She would then take part in a ritual ‘molding’ which is similar in nature to the Apache Sunrise Ceremony. One major difference between the ceremonies, was that in the Kinaalda the girl had to remain awake both the dayand night of her initial ceremony. She was to spend that time in contemplation and prayer.

The last day of the ceremony, the girl ran toward the sunrise one final time and then blessed the cake that she had prepared. The first piece was offered to the sun, while the remainder was used to feed her people.

While many of the Apache and Navajo beliefs and rituals in this respect are the same, there are some differences as well. According to Apache legend, White Painted Woman (another name for Changing Woman) survived the flood in an abalone shell. She was then impregnated twice; first by the sun for whom She bore a son named Killer of Enemies. Later, She was also impregnated by the rain for whom She bore a son named Son of Water.

White Painted Woman also had the ability to change form. When She became old, She would walk east until She met Her younger self and merged to become young once again.

White Painted Woman also taught Her people in a ceremonial ritual. One of the most important was for young girls who had just reached puberty. It represented the rights of womanhood. The ceremony always took place at sunrise and, therefore, became known as The Sunrise Ritual.  Photos of such an ceremony can be seen here and here.

The first part of the ceremony always re-enacted the creation myth. It was meant to help the young girl get in touch with the spiritual side of her people. It also emphasized her strength and ability to overcome the dark side of her nature by tapping into her own inner spirituality.

Next, she was taught what it meant to become a woman, with emphasis on menstruation and sexuality. But it was also an exercise in physical strength and endurance as the girl took part in a four-day ritual involving both dance and running. The sacred ordeal was meant to strengthen the girl physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Finally, the girl experienced the reality of womanhood and all that it entailed; hard work, the numerous cultural demands of the tribe, as well as her commitment to all of humankind. During this time, the girl was expected to give gifts of herself to her people. These might include food, clothing, assistance with daily chores, personal prayers and much more. In return, her people responded with wishes for her prosperity and long-life.

However, the ceremony wasn’t just for the girl. It also brought the community together to recognize binding ties and to form new bonds of family and friendship.

The songs and prayers of both tribes, with regard to their spiritual rituals, are both moving and insightful. The spirituality with which these Native Americans approached life is awe inspiring indeed. It is a shame that the whiteman’s greed and selfishness managed to rob us of such rich history. Without it, we are all greatly diminished.” [1]

Also see my entry on the Goddess Estsanatlehi and White Shell Woman.

 

 

Here is a preview of a documentary entitled “The Sunrise Dance”, showing the ancient, sacred Apache ritual that has never before been filmed.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Kuchinsky, Charlotte. Yahoo! Voices, “The Navajo Myth of Changing Woman“.

 

 

Suggested Links:

American Studies at the University of Virginia, “Changing Woman: Myth, Metaphor, and Pragmatics“.

Cosmic Dust. Earth-Age, “Sunrise Dance“.

Daughters of the Earth, “The Feminine Divine“.

Eller, Jack David. Womennewsnetwork.net, “Documentary: The Sunrise Dance“.

Sharp, Jay W. Desertusa.com, “Profile of an Apache Woman“.

Yupanqui, Tika (Tracy Marks). Web Winds, “Becoming Woman: Apache Female Puberty Sunrise“.