Part of the Totems to Turquoise exhibition.

A Structured Landscape

"We are the people who believe in the four sacred mountains.... There is no way that we can get away from that. We are Navajo."
—Kalley Musial

Southwest peoples see their world as enclosed by four sacred mountains located to the East, West, North, and South. These mountains define the boundaries of the meaningful world: inside this space is order, and outside lies chaos. The cardinal directions are seen as intersecting at the center of each Pueblo, often at a sipapu, or "earth navel," where another axis extends up to the heavens and down to the underworld.

These directions provide a basic framework that orders the Pueblo and Navajo cosmos. Each direction has its own color, gemstone, bird, corn variety, wind, and spirit being. To the people of the Northwest Coast, the four cardinal directions are less important. Their world is defined by pairs of opposing directions linked to the landscape—the dramatic contrasts between land and sea, mountain and coastline, upstream and down.