The Order of the White Moon Goddess Gallery Presents

Changing Woman



This is the story of Changing Woman, Estsánatlehi (Estsán = Woman, Natlehi = to change or transform). She is sacred to the Diné, the Navajo people of the southwestern region of United States.  She is one of the Holy People.

“And she began to tell a story:

Not so very long ago, First Man and First Woman noticed that a large, purple raincloud had been hovering for four consecutive days over Chi’ool’ii, Gobernador Knob, the central sacred mountain. Finally, the clouds lifted, and they could see the mountain was covered with rain, an indication that sacred events were taking place. Carrying a song in his mind, First Man decided to approach the mountain. From the bottom he heard a baby cry; and he sang his way to the summit. There he discovered a beautiful baby girl in a cradle made of sky messengers, two short rainbows lay longitudinally under the baby, supporting her back, with red sunrays running crosswise over her head and feet. A curved rainbow arched over her face, with pieces of white shell and turquoise dangling below. Wrapped in a purple rain cloud, the infant was covered with dark blue, yellow, and white clouds, held in tightly by side lacings of zigzag lightning with a sunbeam laced through them.

First Man did not know what to do with the baby, so he took her home to First Woman, who with the aid and wisdom of Talking God raised her. (Williams, 40-41).”

Gobernator Knob

Gobernador Knob

But where did Changing Woman come from? How was she found on the mountain? According to one story, she was left there on purpose:

“A handsome young man and woman came into being just about when the baby was to be taken away. One of them spoke… ‘this is our baby. We gave birth to it.’  It was the man who spoke first. ‘She will control the earth, she will control what happens on the earth. She will be in charge. The earth will be sturdy because of her. She will protect the dark sky, she will protect the sun. She will have control. By her the people will be born,’ he said… ‘She is the very supreme being’ (Wyman, 514).”

Changing Woman grew quickly to maturity within several days, nourished on pollen moistened with game broth and the dew of wildflowers.  When she was grown, “the gods came and dressed her all in white. They gave her moccasins and leggings and a skirt made from white shell. They gave her a white shell headdress. They placed a perfect rock crystal in her mouth (Tchana, 10).”

contemporary Changing Woman art

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When she was mature, “the beautiful young woman was very much in love with the Sun. The suns rays had been tossed at her again while she was going about providing for herself. And she had her first menstruation. When this happened, every creature did likewise. From this time on menstrual blood came into being by which babies were formed (Wyman, 517-518)”

Changing Woman went to a waterfall to bathe herself. As she watched the water glittering in the sunlight, she was greeted by a handsome young man, who smiled at her.  “Changing Woman felt her heart stop beating for an instant (Tchana, 11).”

Varying accounts have Changing Woman impregnated by the Sun by letting a sunbeam shine on her vagina, or by water dripping into it.

After nine days, Changing Woman gave birth to twins—Monster Slayer and Born for Water. The boys, like Changing Woman herself, grew to maturity quickly. “Their feats make them the supreme war gods with power against all foreign dangers. Even so, Changing Woman stands for peace. In the Navajo pantheon, Sun, Changing Woman, and the Twins form a sort of a holy family, prominent in myth and ceremonial (Williams, 43).”

The Twins cajole the name of their father from their Mother and visit the Sun. He gives them five magical hoops to give to Changing Woman—one black, one yellow, one blue, one white, and a rainbow hoop (Tchana, 12). He also gives them armor and arrows to fight monsters.

When the Twins returned home and gave their Father’s gifts to her, Changing Woman rolled the black hoop to the East, the blue hoop to the South, the yellow hoop to the West, and the white hoop to the North. Then, “she took the hoop of many colors and threw it straight up over her head. She blew a powerful breath on it, and it floated up to the sky and disappeared from view. As the hoops rolled away, thunder rumbled in the distance (Tchana, 12).”

One of her twins, Monster Slayer, wanted to kill the ‘monsters’ of old age, poverty, hunger, and lice, but Changing Woman stopped him, saying “ ‘No my son, leave them be. These monsters are bad, but they are also partly good. The humans who are soon coming to live on this earth must use their courage and intelligence. These monsters will challenge them and help them grow.’ So Monster Slayer let those monsters live, and they roam the earth to this day. (Tchana, 13).”

Changing Woman next prepared the earth for people by making horses, sheep, and other animals, along with tools to help people cook and make clothing (Tchana, 13). After these feats, Changing Woman chose to go to the West. Prior to Her journey, she made a pot of cornmeal mush and raised the stirring sticks to recite one of the most beautiful blessings I have ever read:

“From here, only in blessing may I go through life! In blessing may I start out! With blessing directed towards me from every direction may I go through life! May I be in control of dark cloud, of male rain, of dark mist, of female rain, of various fabrics, of various jewels, of collected waters and water’s child, of pollen, of cornbeetle, of various fine game, of various plants, may I continue to be in charge of all these! Before me it is blessed, behind me it is blessed, below me it is blessed, above me it is blessed, in all my surroundings it is blessed. My speech is made blessed by pollen, I am long life-happiness as I go through life! (Wyman, 441)”

Changing Woman’s home in the West was a wondrous place:

“In that place there was no land, only blue water rippling out in every direction. And floating in the midst of the water was a house of white shell and crystal, shining with all the colors of the rainbow. Talking God and Calling God were waiting for her there. They showed her all the different rooms of her house—the rooms of dawn, and the rooms of twilight, the rooms of sea and sky, the rooms of summer and autumn. Everything was perfect in the house of Changing Woman, and she ran from room to room laughing and singing (Tchana, 14).”

After several days, Changing Woman decided that she would make some people:

“Then she began to think about how human beings could be made. Then, thinking about it, she rubbed skin from her breast, she rubbed skin from her back, from under her arm on the right she rubbed skin, and from under her arm on the left side she rubbed skin. Then she placed these four things down and covered them first with a dark cloud, then she covered them next with a dark fog. Then she covered them with darkness, dawn, horizontal blue, and twilight, it is said. Then she went around to the east side and gave them life with her breath. Then she went around to the west side and the north side and gave them life with her breath. That with which she had covered them up was moving up and down, more than before. She uncovered them. Four of them stood up…(Wyman, 633).

Either four or eight people were created (accounts vary). These are ancestors of the first clans of the Diné. Changing Woman instructed them on how to feed and shelter themselves, how to pray, and how to live together in peace (Tchana, 15).

Changing Woman is loved and honored by the Navajo people to this day. Her sacred stones are white shell (she is alternatively known as White Shell Woman), turquoise, abalone, and jet, and she is known for having eyes the color of obsidian. Corn is one of her creations, and the cliff rose found on the sunny side of Gobernador Knob is sacred to her (Wyman, 513).

cliff rose

Cliff Rose

The Kinaalda of Changing Woman, celebrating Her second menstruation, is a ceremonial, which is conducted for young Navajo girls:

“In the Kinaalda, the girl herself is a symbol, not only of the major Navajo deity, Changing Woman (and her counterpart, White Shell Woman, Turquoise Woman, and others) and the concepts with which she is associated, such as Earth and Life, but also the power of reproduction. Her coming of age is connected with new growth of plants and changes in environmental conditions…when a Kinaalda is held, Changing Woman’s first Kinaalda is symbolically re-enacted (Frisbie, 373-374).”

Several ritual elements of Changing Woman’s first Kinaalda are done for the young woman, including purification, molding, racing, ceremonial dressing, corn grinding, baking of a sacred cornmeal cake, hair brushing, painting with red and white ocher, and singing of special songs. This is a ritual of endurance for the young girl, often involving no sleep, and lasts for several days (Frisbie).

Changing Woman, according to Terry Tempest Williams, can be considered an Earth Goddess:

“In the Navajo way, Changing Woman has a sphinxlike quality. No matter how much we know about her, the total is a question mark. She holds the mysteries of earth and the promise of fecundity (44).”

Ways to Honor Changing Woman in Your Life

  1. Support the People who love and know Her best. If you are near the Navajo reservation, visit tourist sites such as Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, Antelope Canyon, and others, to support their local economy. If you are unable to visit these areas, search for and purchase authentic Navajo craft items online. If you have never seen a real Navajo rug, they are truly beautiful and worth the price you will pay for these works of art.
  2. If a young girl in your life is undergoing puberty or has experienced her first menstruation, give her a gift of jewelry made with white shell, turquoise, abalone, or jet (a little harder to find, but a still a beautiful stone).
  3. To honor your first menstruation, if you have never done so, create a Rite of Passage as suggested in Diane Stein’s Casting the Circle.
  4. Make corn bread or corn cakes and offer some to the Earth to honor Changing Woman. Be sure to offer this to all four directions.
  5. At dawn, get up and run or walk outside towards the rising sun, as far as you are able. To build your endurance, continue this on a regular basis. (Remember, young women undergoing a Kinaalda ceremony have to undergo racing at dawn!) Good health will contribute to a long and happy life.
  6. Participate in the Clay Meditation ritual below to create an ideal version of yourself. (A young woman is ceremonially ‘molded’ by family members during her Kinaalda.)

Clay Meditation Ritual

Items needed: Self-hardening clay (available at craft stores or online, usually less than $10.00 for several pounds.) Alternatively, you can make salt-clay dough to be baked later. In a small bowl, have a small pinch of cornmeal ready.

Create your sacred space (cast a circle, call the quarters)
Thinking about all you have read about Changing Woman, recite the following

Changing Woman
Mother of the Hero Twins
Mother of corn
Mother of animals
Mother of people

Mother of Earth

I invite You to this sacred space

Please Be With Me Here Now

Take a large lump of clay (large enough to make into a figurine—perhaps the size of a tennis ball or baseball). Rub near your breast, arm, back, etc. to obtain a small piece of waste skin. Work into the clay. Add the pinch of cornmeal to the clay and work it in. Knead the clay until it is soft and pliable.

Form the legs of your Ideal Self. Remember the Kinaalda and the endurance necessary for this ceremonial. What is it you need endurance to accomplish? Ask Changing Woman to provide you with endurance.

Form a torso, arms, and hands for your Ideal Self. Your arms and hands are symbols of hard work. Remember the corn grinding that takes place in the Kinaalda. Where do you need to work harder in your life? Ask Changing Woman for determination to accomplish your goals.

Form the breasts and heart area of your Ideal Self. Whom do you need to nurture and love in your life (don’t forget yourself!)? Ask Changing Woman for the ability to love.

Form the head, face, and mouth of your Ideal Self. These represent thinking and speech. Where do you need more discipline in your life with regard to your thoughts and speech? Have you gossiped or been unkind to others? Ask Changing Woman for self-control and patience.

Form the sense organs (eyes, ears, nose) for your Ideal Self. Where do you need to be open to perceive beauty? Ask Changing Woman for the willingness to perceive the beauty that surrounds you.

Form hair for your Ideal Self. How can you be beautiful to others? Ask Changing Woman for both inner and outer beauty, and to let your inner light shine through.

Form the belly and yoni of your Ideal Self—this represents your creative self. Whether you create children, nourishing meals, ideas, poetry, art, or dance, you are still creating! Ask Changing Woman for the power of creation in your life.

Add any final touches to your Ideal Self figurine and set it aside for drying. After it is thoroughly dry, you may add other decorations such as fabrics, stones, paint, etc. (Follow the package directions.)

In beauty it is done
In harmony it is written
In beauty and harmony it shall so be finished
Changing Woman said it so
(Hauseman, 12)

Changing Woman statue

Statue of Changing Woman in Sedona, AZ

Thank Changing Woman for Her presence, release the quarters, and open the circle.

Below is an original work of art I created to honor Changing Woman. It is a rainbow hoop circled with purple wool yarn. The four wooden posts represent each direction and color of the hoops that Changing Woman rolled after she received them as gifts. The centerpiece is colored red and white to represent the colors of ocher that are painted on young Navajo girls during the Kinaalda, and the stones are white shell, turquoise, jet, and abalone.

level one project

Works Cited