Navajo tale “Changing Woman and the Hero Twins after the Emergence of the People” is a perfect example of archetype (model) in ancient, and not so ancient, mythology. Containing within the story of its pages the repetitive use ofa numerical value, a father god and sons of the father god, and heroes who must overcome dramatic obstacles while obtaining help from outside sources, “Changing Woman and the Hero Twins” places itself among a rich history of similar myths and folklore from around the globe, both secular and religious.
One of the major similarities between this tale and others in worldwide lore is its epetitive use of a numerical value, in this case the number four. From the very first paragraph, where after the monsters have been eating the people “there were only four persons remaining alive” (“Changing” 36), to the “four places of danger” (“Changing” 40) that the Hero Twins must overcome by deceiving each of the subjects thereof four times in the middle of the tale (“Changing” 41), to the four monsters – Old Age, Cold Woman, Poverty, and Hunger – spared death at the end (“Changing” 46-47), the number four figures prominently throughout.
In fact, nearly very gesture in the entire story seems to fail to culminate into any real action until the fourth time it is advanced. For instance, at the beginning of the narrative it takes Talking God four calls to the last four people remaining alive before he finally decides to stand before them (“Changing” 36).
Later, when Talking God and Calling God create Changing Woman and White Shell Woman, they cannot seem to accomplish the task until the fourth time they enter and raise the buckskin, after which the two females (who are actually somehow one) emerge in human form from images of omen wrought in turquoise and white shell, respectively (“Changing” 37). Even the major antagonist of the story, Yeitso, is not immune from the predictability of the obsessive-compulsiveness of the repetitive, ritualistic four.
As the four holy people say to the Hero Twins, advising them on the habits of the said monster, “They said that he showed himself every day three times on the mountains before he came down, and when he showed himself for the fourth time he descended from Tsotsil to Tosato to drink” (“Changing” 44). Unfortunately, the twins use this advice less advantageously than they should.
As the narrator states, even though Yeitso kneels down to drink four times from a lake, “The brothers lost their presence of mind at the sight of the giant drinking, and did nothing while he was stooping down” (“Changing” 45). Understanding the lack of drama that would have followed from a surprise ambush and the easy killing of the main terror of the tale without a fght (though compared to the twin’s father, Yeitso actually doesn’t seem so terrible), the twins can be forgiven for their temporary, fear-induced inaction.
The repetition of numerical values is a common factor in historical myth and eligious texts. A text that uses this repetition extensively is the Christian Bible. The number seven is used at the beginning of the text, in the second chapter of Genesis, to describe the week it took for God to create the world – six days for Him to create it , and one for Him to rest (Holy 2).
The number seven is also used at the end of the text, when John introduces his apocalyptic book of Revelation by addressing it to “the seven churches in the province of Asia” (Holy 867). The number forty also appears early and later in the text, first in the Old Testament to describe Noah’s forty ays and nights of rain while in the ark in Genesis chapter seven (Holy 5), and later in the New Testament to describe Jesus’ forty days and nights of fasting in the wilderness in Matthew chapter four (Holy 682-683).
The number forty is also foundational to the history of the nation of Israel, as laid out in Numbers chapters thirteen and fourteen, when the Israelites explore the promised land of Canaan for forty days, get scared to try and take it over because the people of the land are so big, rebel against God by refusing to enter, and are punished by Him by being forced to ander around the desert for forty years – one year for each day they had explored the land before (Holy 105-106).