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Navajo Yei Rugs

Updated on March 16, 2015

The origin of the Yei rug

According to Navajo belief, a Yei is a supernatural being or a holy one with healing powers. Yei can be male or female and are used in sandpainting during sacred rituals to heal sick people. The Yeis depicted in the sandpainting rituals must be destroyed before dawn or dreadful taboos will befall the singer or patient. In the 1930s, Navajo Singer, Hosteen Klah broke the tradition and wove numerous sandpainting rugs. This became very controversial because the sandpainting textile or rug cannot be erased like sand. It was believed that dire consequences would come to the weaver of a sandpainting. However, the high demand from traders, collectors and tourists continue to boost the sales of rugs with Navajo healing ceremonial symbols up to this day.


Yeis are healers in sandpainting rituals.

The Navajo art of Sandpainting began as a spiritual healing system rather than art for art's sake. Traditional Diné healing incorporates ritualism, prayer, ceremonies, and herbology to increase wellness and promote harmony with the universe. Sandpaintings are part of religious chants in which "Earth People and Holy People come into harmony, giving healing and protection."

Many Sandpaintings include yei figures, which are Navajo spiritual beings. The healing ceremonies involve medicine men chanting particular songs and simultaneously creating a Sandpainting on the ground. The medicine man asks for the yeis to come into the painting and help to heal the patient by restoring balance and harmony.

From Navajo Sandpainting - The Art of Healing

Photo Credit Flickr:laser927

The Navajo word for sandpaintings means "place where the gods come and go." The sandpainting has been used for centuries in religious rituals, including healing ceremonies performed by Navajo medicine men. A sandpainting for a ceremony is made on the ground in the ceremonial hogan and destroyed at the end of the ritual. In order to preserve this long-standing tradition, in the late 1940s Navajos began to create permanent sandpaintings, changing the design slightly to protect the religious significance when these paintings were shown publicly. Pictorial sandpaintings which reflect the Navajo environment and lifestyle are also made. Today sandpaintings are made by slowly trickling sand through the hand onto epoxy-covered particle boards, using sand made from naturally colored crushed rock, stone, and minerals for the different shades and colors. The sandpainting is intended to be hung within a frame or by attaching picture hangers to the back of the board.

Sandpainting in my home - Art and healing

This is an example of a vintage sandpainting I had bought from eBay many years ago. It is the creation of Navajo sandpainter Wallace Ben and bears a handwritten inscription on the back of the frame.

The inscription reads:

"This is a Navajo traditional ceremonial sandpainting made to heal sick persons. The sun represents four seasons, four directions and four sacred mountains and in legends the pollen boy serves as mediators between gods and patients, rainbows serve as abundance of moisture to make life complete. This painting is made out of natural color sandstones."

Signed by Wallace Ben, Shiprock, NM.

A Navajo Yei Rug Giclee Print Art (16 x 12 in)
A Navajo Yei Rug Giclee Print Art (16 x 12 in)

Beautiful resolution and vibrant colors are captured in this giclee print of a Navajo Yei Rug. This will brighten up any room or office.


Navajo Yei style rug


This small rug has the five front-facing Yei figures with both of their hands holding on to the feathered bows on one side. Normally, both arms are upright and opposite each other in most of the Yei weavings.

The intriguing Yei style rugs are strongly representative of Navajo ceremonies centered on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing. The "Holy People" portrayed in Yei weavings communicate between the Navajo People and their gods, and are believed to restore health & spiritual well being when called upon in a properly conducted ceremony. The stylized woven figures carry rattles, pine boughs, or yucca strips.

The Yei weaving style originated in the Shiprock, NM area of the Navajo Nation, but today is woven throughout the Nation and are often of bright and bold hues on a grey background.

Zapotec Yei tapestry as a wall hanging for the home - A true work of art

This is a panoramic view of a Navajo-style Zapotec Yei rug over 9 feet long gracing our dining room wall. I bought this years ago from Taos, New Mexico and remember vividly that it was love at first sight. Making room in my luggage for this weaving was a challenge but it was all worth it.

It had 8 square-headed female Yei figures and a Rainbow Guardian at the end with an elongated body which frames two sides and the bottom of the rug. Each of the colorful skirted Yei figures have uplifted arms holding feathered bows with a cornstalk in the middle of them. The cornstalk represent the signs of life for the ancient Southwest Indians.

Read about the Zapotec Weavers of Oaxaca, Mexico

Photo part 1 of 5 - Yei Rainbow guardian forms the border of three sides of the rug (right side)

Photo part 1 of 5 - Yei Rainbow guardian forms the border of three sides of the rug (right side)
Photo part 1 of 5 - Yei Rainbow guardian forms the border of three sides of the rug (right side)

Part 2 of 5

Part 2 of 5
Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5

Part 3 of 5
Part 3 of 5

Part 4 of 5

Part 4 of 5
Part 4 of 5

Part 5 of 5 - Yei Rainbow Guardian's elongated body with feet up in the air on the left side

Part 5 of 5 - Yei Rainbow Guardian's elongated body with feet up in the air on the left side
Part 5 of 5 - Yei Rainbow Guardian's elongated body with feet up in the air on the left side

Eyes and mouth cannot be woven

Traditionally it is considered sacrilegious to weave the eyes and mouths of the Yeis so these features are often embroidered in after the rug is woven.

Yei vs. Yeibeichai or Yeibichai rugs - sometimes confused for each other

There is a difference.

Yei and Yeibeichai rugs are quite different in the manner the holy Navajo beings are depicted in the weaving. The Yeis are slender and front-facing and have square or rectangular heads and depicted with multiple figures in a row often surrounded by on three sides by a single rainbow yei or guardian.

Yeibeichai Navajo rugs are more like pictorials and have side-facing figures in the act of portraying actual dancers of the Blessing Way Yei ceremonies. These figures usually have blue masks, holding rattles, bows and arrows.

Colored sand trickle through artist's hand - Unique work of art

Instead of a brush, colored sand trickle from artist's hand to create one-of-a-kind artwork called sandpainting.


Navajo weavers plan the design in their heads

No diagrams or schematics

Patterns and designs are rarely diagrammed and even the youngest weaver is taught to plan her designs and colors in her head - to visualize the complete product. The Navajo loom is upright as opposed to the horizontal type used in Mexican and Spanish weaving. The exact length and width of the textile must be planned because the ends or selvedge is attached before any weaving is done. The wool is washed, carded and spun, and in some cases dyed. Only after this labored work is accomplished can the weaving begin.

This is a miniature Navajo loom that I had purchased from a Navajo grandmother many years ago. It is a replica of the real thing and has a partly woven Navajo rug with its recognizable geometric designs. It proudly sits on top of the fireplace mantle in the living room.

Great Navajo Yei rugs from eBay - Start collecting now.

Some of the best deals come from eBay, that is if you know what you are looking for.

Is it a "Yei" or Nay? Leave me your thoughts before you leave.

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    • JohnCumbow profile image

      JohnCumbow 5 years ago

      Yei, of course! I've always been intrigued by these rugs. Thank you for a very informative lens.

    • EcoPottiJo profile image

      EcoPottiJo 5 years ago

      Yei, what a lovely and colourful plus informative lens. Many thanks for sharing . Blessings to you x

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      Yei, I feel like I just visited a sacred place...your home seems full of spirit. Appreciated learning the symbolic meaning.

    • Shorebirdie profile image

      Shorebirdie 6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Very nice. I love how you explain the spiritual significance of the rugs.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Yei! These are awesome and unique. :)

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I am so pleased to learn the background of the Navajo Yei rugs - I had no idea of their cultural significance before

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 6 years ago

      It's definitely Yei! What a well written and informative lens. Thumbs up!

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 6 years ago from California

      Navajos are the best known for their weavings, and the Yei figure is also well known. I was fascinated when I found these same designs from weavers in a small remote village in Eastern Europe. The weavers there had no electricity, and no way to know of the Navajo rugs, yet their designs were very similar, including the Yei symbols. I have a few of these weavings to go with my genuine Navajo ones. You really presented this well. *Blessed*

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 6 years ago from Western Mass

      i hadn't heard of these - they are beautiful pieces of art.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image

      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      Yei! - Big Yei!

    • profile image

      GetSillyProduct 6 years ago

      yei, they are awesome

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      What lovely for rugs! Thank you for sharing the background of these beautiful pieces of Native American art.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      These are beautiful rugs. Thank you for sharing so much in your articles. I lensrolled this to Native American Coloring Designs, thank you for featuring that lens here. I will return your kindness and feature this on there. I appreciate that very much.

    • sorana lm profile image

      sorana lm 7 years ago

      Definitely 'Yei'. Great lens and very interesting topic. Thanks.

    • Sensitive Fern profile image

      Sensitive Fern 7 years ago

      After reading the Tony Hillerman novels I went out to the Four Corners region and something about the landscape (or my sensitivity to geographical energy) made the way that the Yei are portrayed make complete sense. On an energetic level they really do look like that, and it's something to do with the land itself.

      Looks like you've hit the "Cupid's Blessing" jackpot today already so I'm adding to it - from your Spiritual Healing Squid Angel.

    • NanLT profile image

      Nan 7 years ago from London, UK

      Beautiful and beautifully explained.

      Blessed by your friendly neighbourhood Reiki Squidoo Angel

    • profile image

      moonlitta 7 years ago

      This art is amazing, but you sure know it! Here's a Valentine kiss for a lovely lens.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 7 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Yei for sure! These designs are outstanding - I love Navajo art.