Know Your Ghosts – Chindi

The Navajo nation has a proud heritage. One of the largest remaining Native American cultures, the Navajo have a rich history of myths and legends.  Like most cultures, they have their own flavor of ghosts.

The Navajo word for ghosts is Chindi.  The Chindi are the spirits of those who do not receive proper burial rites, similar to the Scandinavian Gjenganger.  Also like the Gjenganger, the Chindi spread disease, though they are not seen as corporeal.

The Navajo believe that the final breath of a person releases the Chindi, which contains all of the sin of that person’s life.  If the Chindi is released outdoors, it can dissipate on its own given time.  In fact, some Chindi become dust devils (known as “chiindii”), with the clockwise rotating funnels being “good” and the counterclockwise containing “evil”.  If, on the other hand, the Chindi is released inside a home or lodge, it must be abandoned or ritually cleansed to remove the spirit.

A common belief is that Navajo witches and medicine men can infect people with the disease carried by the Chindi.  This “ghost sickness” produces nausea, fever, fatigue and sometimes a sense of being suffocated or drowned.  The Chindi themselves can visit this upon a victim or hiding a piece of a corpse on an individual can bring about the same illness.

ghostbeadsGhost beads, made from cedar berries, are supposed to protect against these evil spirits.  The beads are made by allowing ants to eat away the inside of the berry, leaving on the shell, which is then punched through on the other end and strung together on necklaces or bracelets.  Turquoise was also thought to keep the Chindi at bay, and was often used with the “ghost beads” to form talismans against the ghosts.

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