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Literal meaning: ‘the woman who changes’. The most respected deity of the Navaho Indians—hunters living in the semi-arid area of Arizona. It is said that Estsanatlehi never remains in one condition, but that she grows to be an old woman, and in the course of time becomes a young woman again. She passes thus through an endless course of lives, always changing but never dying. The apotheosis of the seasons, Estsanatlehi dwells in a floating house on ‘the great water in the west … and here the Sun visits her, when his journey is done, every day that he crosses the sky’.

According to legend, primeval man and woman once observed a black cloud descend on to a mountain. ‘Surely something has taken place,’ said the first man. ‘Let us go and see.’ So the primeval couple trudged to the summit of the mountain and were surprised to find a baby girl there. This happened to be Estsanatlehi, who was the daughter of Naestan, ‘the woman horizontal’, and Yadilyil, ‘the upper darkness’. The first woman picked up the baby and carried it home. Fed on pollen brought by the sun god Tsohanoai, Estsanatlehi grew into a woman within eighteen days.

On another occasion the changeling goddess felt lonely in her marine home. She had no companions there. She thought she might make people to keep her company, so one day, she used small pieces of her own skin to create men and women.

Subjects: Religion

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