Stages of Life

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Stages of Life

Photo Credit: Danielle Shirley

Stages of Life

from Perry Robinson

There is no kinder or more loving Navajo deity than Changing Woman, mother of the Twins. Traditional teachings tell of how she nurtured, protected, and raised them to be great warriors.But at times, there is some confusion, especially when she was first discovered by First Man and raised by First Woman. Often in the stories she is called both White Shell Woman and Changing Woman, the names becoming interchangeable. Perry Robinson clarifies the issue and provides an understanding of the times in a woman’s life that she becomes like this holy person.

First Man noticed that something strange was happening on the top of Gobernador Knob. The clouds had gathered, storms with lightning brewed around the top, and there seemed to be activity that beckoned him to go and see what was taking place. When he climbed to the summit, he found a baby wrapped in clouds and tied in a cradleboard with lightning and sunbeam fastenings, a backboard fashioned from the land, with a rainbow overhead. First Man brought the baby named White Shell Woman back, and with First Woman, took care of the infant.But she was no ordinary child.Each day was as a year and so twelve days later, she had her first menses that marked her reaching puberty.Now as a young woman, she had the four day kinaaldá ceremony performed to recognize the changes that had taken place in her body and thoughts as she matured. She was now ready to bring forth life.

The holy people were happy with her progress.Already she had received a new name—Changing Woman—to identify not only what she was experiencing, but also the pattern of life she and the five fingered beings (humans) would follow. That is why people change on a daily basis as they grow and learn and hold greater responsibilities that include new tasks and understanding. Eventually Changing Woman assumed the next stage in life, motherhood. Monster Slayer and Born for Water, the Twins, were carefully taught and protected until they were ready to assume their own duties as men who serve as protectors and providers. As time passed, Changing Woman had to leave them behind and travel to the west to join her husband, Sun Bearer.She lives there eternally, but unlike humans who die, she is still able to bless the lives of the Navajo people.

Women, today, follow the same pattern established by Changing Woman and undergo a life of constant change—birth, childhood, youth, maturity, and old age. Just as White Shell Woman went through a series of shifting experiences, as noted in her other name, so don’t humans. There are four times that a female has life events similar to this goddess, where she shifts from her daily growth and development and joins with the holy people in a sacred moment (day) similar to White Shell Woman. These are special times that mark the connection between holiness and daily life, the sacred and the profane. The first is the birth of a baby that has a holy wind (‘Ii’sizíinii) placed within it; the second is when a girl reaches maturity and has her kinaaldá ceremony performed, at the end of which she is recognized as White Shell Woman with the power to bless the lives of all who come to her at that time; the third is on the day when a woman gives birth to a baby; and the fourth is when old age has run its course and the elderly woman dies. In all four of these special times, the person who is normally Changing Woman becomes White Shell Woman as she participates with the holy people in events that link the physical with the unseen world.

As humans who undergo constant physical and emotional change from cradle to grave, we also have those times in which the sacred enters into our lives through special events that remind us about what brings real meaning, not just temporary happiness, to our existence. We become participants with the holy people, who help us understand that there is much more to life than just living if we follow the patterns they have established while also assisting future generations.

As each of us experience change, we have the opportunity to choose between actions and things that are good or harmful, those that follow a helpful pattern or steer us in a wrong direction.Course corrections are taken, some large and others small, but all are under our control. The only person who can bring about real change—regardless of the circumstances—is the one living through it. Life is all about course correction and living the pattern.

I am Perry Robinson my clans is Edge Water born for Nakaii’dine. I am from Pinon Arizona born and raised there. I finished high school at Intermountain H.S. in Brigham City Utah in 1974 went to school in Utah State University for a year. I got inducted into military. I was in Marines for 4 years. Worked in construction, as a Boilermaker and iron worker for some years. I slowly worked my way back into schools to get licensed in counseling grandfathered in and a license to do traditional counseling- ceremony. I worked for Navajo Nation behavioral health for 25 years as a traditional practitioner. Retired last year. Started working with UNHS. Now as traditional consultant- practitioner.

Many articles in this section were adapted from, a website for Native Youth by Native Youth