Initially, Katie was squeamish about the dissection, which surprised Rory because she was a farm girl. When he asked her, she explained Navajos have a strong aversion to dead things because of their belief in chʼį́įdii, ghosts of the deceased. A person’s chʼį́įdii is the spirit left after the last breath stops, and the chʼį́įdii may become trapped inside if a person dies in the hogan, the simple, one-room homes of the Navajo.
"Why is there a difference, dying inside versus outside?" Rory asked.
"Space allows chʼį́įdii to disperse, that’s why it is better to die outdoors. No one will ever set foot in a hogan where a person died, or even go near it because the chʼį́įdii is still in there. It is the residue the dead person cannot bring into Hózhó, universal harmony."
"Pretty bad juju," Rory quipped.
"After death, no one speaks the decedent’s name for fear the chʼį́įdii will hear and make one ill."
This was Katie’s culture, and these were the thoughts she tamed as she steeled herself for the lab’s hard tasks. She grew up with many religious beliefs that seemed primitive to Rory. But his upbringing was similarly based on religious dictates, and most were far-fetched, too. Why should he be less tolerant of the beliefs of others?
The next time you witness a mini-whirlwind of dust/dirt, pay attention to which way it spins. The Navajo call these ‘dust devils’ and believe that a clockwise dust devil is a good spirit and the counter-clockwise is an evil entity.