Snakes, detail, 1996, Lorraine Black, ET513.E-12
Photo:  Kirstin Roper, © NHMU

Snake Symbolism

In Diné (Navajo) culture, tł’iish (snakes) are powerful beings and important symbols. Associated with lightning and electrical energy, they appear in ceremonies and sand paintings and play a central role in the histories of some of the Diné clans. Big Snake was given to the Tódích’íi’nii (Bitter Water Clan) as a protector and guide on their journey into the new world. Near Kayenta, as Big Snake grew tired, he asked to be left alone and undisturbed in the desert to live forever. In return, he would provide protective powers to remove ailments caused by contact with snakes. There are many songs and prayers associated with Big Snake. In fact, Hoozhónee, the name of a five-day healing ceremony normally translated as “Beauty Way,” can also be translated as the “Snake Way.” To honor Big Snake’s request, the Diné are instructed to avoid contact with snakes, including walking on a snake’s tracks or killing a snake.