Source: Sandner on Death and Rebirth Symbolism in Shamanism

“The symbolic process of death and rebirth is found where ever there is a life crisis necessitating rites of transformation, rechanneling psychic energy from old patterns to more functional new ones….

Eliade sums up these scenarios as follows: ‘First, torture at the hands of the demons or spirits, who play the role of masters of initiation; second, ritual death, experienced by the patient as a descent to hell, or ascent to heaven; third, resurrection to a new mode of being – the mode of ‘consecrated man,’ that is, a man who could personally communicate with Gods, demons or spirits.’ (1958: 91) When the shaman has demonstrated his power to suffer death and be revitalized in his own person, he is in a position to perform this act for the suffering patient.  He may himself undergo in a trance the supernatural journey necessary to cure the patient, as among the Siberians, or he may accompany the patient on a symbolic journey created by the images, myths, and prayers.

…  Among the Navaho myths, the nearest equivalent to these shamanistic scenarios is the healing procedure of Gila Monster, who symbolizes the healing power of the medicine man. …in the Flint Way myth …the hero has been shattered beyond recognition by White Thunder as punishment for the seduction of his wife.  The hero’s family and friends seek out Gila Monster is the only one able to restore him.

Big Fly, who acts as door guard for Gila Monster, informs them that Gila Monster knows what to do. Offerings are made to Gila monster four times, with an extra bundle added on each trial. To the families sorrow, these offerings are ignored until Big Fly gives instructions for their proper preparation and presentation. Although suspecting who has told the secret of the sacrifice, Gila Monster accepts and smokes tobacco from the offering. However, despite being urged to hurry, he takes his time in coming to the ceremonial gathering. The hero’s family weeps in sorrow and apprehension that he cannot restore their son.

Gila Monster’s procedure is to have himself cut up first and then restored as an example of his power to restore the patient. After his parts have been scattered and then reassembled, Wind blows through them to restore breath, Sun shines on them to restore winking, and finally Gila Monster’s two agate pouches step over the assemblage ritually and he revives.

Having amply demonstrated his power by having himself dismembered and restored, Gila Monster, like the Siberian shamans, is now ready to do likewise for his patient.

… In a later part of the myth even the spectators are torn to bits by dancing birds, but Gila Monster is able to restore them in a mass healing ceremony. Then he calls for a rain of Flint that destroys the destructive birds, and the ceremonies concluded.” Sandner, Donald, Navaho Symbols of Healing,  pp. 157-160.

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