Navajo witchcraft

Stuart Lawrence stuartwl at
Mon Apr 29 21:45:57 MDT 2002

----- Original Message -----
From: "Hunter Gray" <hunterbadbear at>
To: "Marxism Discussion List" <marxism at>
Cc: "RedBadBear" <Redbadbear at>
Sent: Monday, April 29, 2002 22:02
Subject: Brief reply to Stuart Lawrence [Navajo witchcraft]

> The Navajo Nation is -- to couch something of great complexity in trenchant
> terms --  another country and another world with very distinctive roots
> whose continual and vital life are far, far more ancient than anything in
> Europe!   [And this is, of course, true of any tribal nation.]  Unless
> you're willing to spend a good deal of objective time in the vast Navajo
> country, I don't think you would ever be able to even slightly understand
> this matter of witchcraft -- and, in any case, I don't think you have the
> slightest moral or other justification to attempt to make any kind of value
> judgment in  this or any kind of Native American socio-cultural setting.
> That's the prerogative of the Native people involved -- and no one else.
> A note just received from my oldest son recalls that summer night in July,
> 1980 that we were visited -- and were quite prepared to exercise our very
> much Navajo-approved self-defense rights. He writes:  "I remember that night
> . . .I have a hard time explaining skinwalkers etc to anyone who hasn't been
> in that setting, period. "  [John Salter III]
> Navajo witchery is the essence of predatory criminality.  No law enforcement
> agency of any kind intrudes into the matter of traditional Navajo
> self-defense when this extremely ancient and malignant evil threatens one's
> very health and life.

Don't we need to be willing to treat societies as having some aspects in common,
especially when it comes to the way they generate and respond to deviance or threats to
social order? You've frequently asserted that no one but Native people can understand or
make claims about Native societies, to the point where you dismiss even the suggestion
that there is something similar about the labeling and exclusion of those associated with
witchcraft and other forms of deviance them in various cultures, including European ones,
at different times in history. Neither you or I can prove that there is or isn't something
unique about the phenomenon of Navajo witchcraft, but I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't
claim a unchallegeable position of authority that permits you to make claims without
evidence. If one credits the authority of cultural tradition above all else, one might as
well give up on historical materialism entirely and enjoy life as it's served, including,
if one happens to be from the USA, our own hegemonic and pretty damned ancient ideologies.

Even if one does accept your wholly anti-Marxist, spiritualist view of Navajo witchcraft
(as simply an "ancient and malignant evil") , I don't think the image of you standing in
the front door of an isolated house with your "always loaded Marlin .444 lever action" can
be understood without reference to non-Native traditions, like the idea that "a man's home
is his castle," to be defended with deadly force if necessary, or to the material
conditions that enable living in isolation and killing from great distances with the use
of firearms. Isn't one of the major props of bourgeois society the notion that everyone is
ultimately responsible for protecting his own life and property from the bad guys, because
they'll always be a threat and the state will never be there when you need it?


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