The diyin diné, generally translated as Holy People, are the beings whose actions are recounted in the stories and myths that are the basis for the Navajo ceremonials [Diné binahagha’] and who are pictured in the sandpaintings [‘iikááh]. They are the powerful beings whose intercession is being sought, with whom the participants wish to identify and make common cause.
The core group of these beings contains First Man [Átsé hastiin], First Woman [Átsé asdz], Coyote [M’ii], otherwise known as “first scolder” [Átsé hashké], First Boy [Átsé ashkii] and First Girl [Átsé at’ééd], Talking God [Haashch’ééti’í] and Calling God [Hashch’éoghan]. Other members of this group are the cardinal light phenomena, the white [igai] light of Dawn [hayíík] in the east [ha’a’aah], the blue [doot’izh] light of midday [‘aní’ní’] in the south [shádi’ááh], the yellow [itso] light of twilight [nahootsoii] in the west [‘e’e’aah], the black [izhin] of Night [t’éé’] in the north [náhooks], and the Wind [ních’i]. This group, plus some unspecified others, were the group who emerged from the underworld into this world in the Emergence and who held the first Blessingway [Hózhójí] ceremony on the rim of the Emergence lake. They built the first hooghan and thereby established the properly built and consecrated hooghan as the site for all future ceremonies and as “the place home” for the Navajo.
First Man [Átsé hastiin], with the aid of his medicine bundle [jish], then created this world. After the first hooghan he placed the sacred mountains [Dzi Dadiyinígíí] and they were given diyin diné as their “inner forms” which amimated them. The plants [nanise’] were created and diyin diné were made to animate them. Corn [naad’] was given an especially important position. The same occurred for the animals [naaldlooshii nídaaldzidígíí], the clouds [k’os], water [tó], the thunder clouds [k’osdihi] that make male rain [níts bik’] and the clouds [k’os] that make female rain [níts bi’áád]. So Blessingway [Hózhójí] today describes the creation of this world by First Man [Átsé hastiin].
The older studies separate the diyin diné into good and evil beings or forces, placing many powerful diyinii, including First Man [Átsé hastiin], in the evil group, He is placed there apparently due to a later conflict with his “daughter,” Changing Woman [Asdz nádleehé] over the possession of his medicine bundle [jish]. Changing Woman [Asdz nádleehé] is viewed as the source of all good for the Navajo. The recent work of McNeley and especially, Farella, take issue with this view. In particular, for Farella, First Man [Átsé hastiin] represents the distillation of what it means to be diyin.
“The essence of diyin is knowledge and, in a way, wisdom. In particular, this is knowledge of the future which enables you to predict and at the same time create, or at a minimum appear to create, future events. As already noted, such knowledge or such an ability is not an inherent feature of diyinii; it is something that is achieved ritually. Thus, if one wants knowledge of the future, he employs a divination ritual; if one of diyin diné wants to create something, he uses [Hózhójí] (or another ritual). First Man does this as do the other diyinii. And it is the same thing that earth-surface people do today in the same circumstances. First Man is exceptional only in the completeness of his knowledge; everything that came after him, everything that is known about today was known and, if not created, at least allowed by Átsé Hastiin.”
These newer studies view the diyinii as representing a continuum of knowledge, and therefore power, along which the earth-surface people are also situated. The goal of the earth-surface people, by aiming for knowledge gained over a long and happy lifetime is to join the diyinii at the end of their lives. This is reflected in the fact that death at an early age is viewed with such dismay by the Navajo. A hooghan in which such a death has taken place must be abandoned and sealed with a hole left for the ghost or wind to leave. These ghosts or winds are thought to wander in the area and to be a possible source of witchcraft. However, a death occuring in a hooghan after a long and happy life is no threat to the peacefulness of the household and the windspirit if the person will undertake his trip of four [d’] days to the next word where he joins the diyinii.