Of all the places I’ve visited and seen in the four states that comprise the lands in my book, Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Arizona holds a profoundly special place in my heart. It is a sacred place to the people who have lived there for centuries and it is a sacred place to anyone who visits there. It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are, when you are at Canyon de Chelly, there is a palpable presence. Carl Jung said that it was the only place he knew outside of the Valley of the Nile that so embodied the very essence of antiquity. Joseph Campbell called it ‘The Most Sacred Place on Earth’.
My first visit was in 2014 when this image was shot. At that time, I only drove the north and south rim roads. It wasn’t until later visits that I actually went down to the canyon floor. The floor can only be explored in the company of a Navajo or Dineh guide. My guide was Ben Teller, a man close to my age with thick black hair and equally thick spectacles. Ben told me stories handed down via the oral tradition of the Dineh people, showed me highly revered sacred places within this greater sacred place and sang healing songs. His grandfather was a shaman and his great grandfather was among those who brought the Dineh back from the Kit Carson enforced exile.
The Dineh name for the spire we call Spider Rock is Tsé Na’ashjé’ii. It literally translates ‘The Rock [of this presence] It Spreads Something Sticky’, aka, ‘the Spider’. Tsé Na’ashjé’ii is the home of Na’ashjé’ii Asdzáá, the Spider Woman who taught the Dineh to weave. Dineh children are told that bad behavior will result in the Spider Woman eating them and leaving their bones at the top of the Rock. I don’t know with certainty, but this might be true.
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