The Holy Wind

lch'i is normally translated as wind, although this does not adequately convey the totality of the concept associated with the word for the Navajo. Nílch'i refers to the air, the atmosphere in its entirety, when still, and when in motion. It is conceived of as having a holiness and powers that are not acknowledged by European based cultures. The term could perhaps as well be translated as Holy Spirit. The translation Holy Wind Spirit has been suggested{*}.

Because nílch'i suffuses all of nature, it is responsible for giving life, thought, speech and the power of motion to all living things. Nílch'i is also the means of communication between all elements of the living world. The nílch'i enters (and leaves) humans through the whorls on their fingers and toes and the whorl pattern in the hair on the top of their heads. It sits on the tips of their tongues allowing speech, which indeed is carried by air. Small nílch'i sit at the ears of the Diné advising them on the proper actions. Those who repeatedly ignore this advice are abandoned by their nílch'i. These nílch'i also report back to the Holy People [diyin diné] on the behavior of the earth surface people, therefore enforcing morality.

lch'i was one of the original Holy People [diyin diné] to emerge into this World with First Man [Áltsé hastiin]. Nílch'i lives in the four cardinal directions [da'nílts'áá'góó], as do the light phenomena, Dawn [Hayíílka], Midday Sky [Yák dilhil], Twilight [Nahootsoii] and Darkness [Chahalheel]. The Nílch'i was instrumental in the creation of the Holy People [diyin diné] and their instruction. Nílch'i entered Changing Woman [Asdzaa nádleehé] to give her life.

For the Navajo [Diné], nílch'i is believed to enter at the moment of conception. Its movement and growth produces the movement and growth of the fetus. When the baby is born, with its first cry, taking in air by itself, the surrounding Nílch'i is added to the child and it becomes a complete being. The growing child is believed to be under the influence of the Nílch'i all around him. The Nílch'i is breathed in at all times. His growth is governed by the Nílch'i. Speech and the ability to stand upright and to maintain balance are also attributed to the Nílch'i. The Nílch'i enters and departs a person through the lungs and the whorls mentioned before.

The final act in Blessingway [Hózhóojí] is to stand up and breathe in the air at Dawn [Hayíílka] to reinfuse the individual with the Holy Wind. This is true of other ceremonials as well.

{*}This translation was suggested by Oswald Werner at the 1972 Pecos Conference in Flagstaff, AZ.
This discussion is based upon Holy Wind in Navajo Philosophy by James K. McNeley © 1981, University of Arizona Press, and The Main Stalk, A Synthesis of Navajo Philosophy by John R. Farella ©1984 John R. Farella. University of Arizona Press.
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