Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman.
Rain Boy and Butterfly Boy: There is a great arch of colored stone in
Navajo Country, and it is called Rainbow Bridge. In order to reach it
you must ride horseback for days through desert and bare rock land and
through great red rock canyons. Not many people go there. In ancient
times it was the home of Rain Boy, a powerful god, whose weapon was
lightning and who traveled as fast as the wind on his rainbow.
One day long ago he had to go on a journey. He left his wife and
daughter at home at Rainbow Bridge and told them that no matter what
happened they were not to go out into the sunlight.
"We will obey you, Rain Boy," said the two women, and when he had gone
they sat by the open door and took up their weaving. They were both fine
weavers. When they needed a new design they would look out of the door
until they saw something beautiful. One day, it was the design of a
leaf; another day, a bird feather suited their needs. But today they
could not see anything that pleased them.
As it happened, White Butterfly Boy had flown into their part of the
country from his home in Chaco Canyon, where the ruins of the dead
people lie. Butterfly Boy looked just like a Navajo except that he had
wings. He possessed one other great power. He could change himself at
will into a white butterfly. Today when he came to Rainbow Bridge he saw
the beautiful wife and daughter of Rain Boy looking out of the door of
"They are beautiful. I should like to talk to them," he said to himself,
but he had heard that Rain Boy wouldn't let them talk to strangers and
forbade them to leave the hogan when he was away. So Butterfly Boy
planned a trick; he changed himself into a white butterfly and flew down
onto the door sill.
"Oh, what a beautiful creature," cried the mother. "What a splendid
design he will make for our weaving."
"Let us catch him," said the daughter.
But when they reached out with their hands, White Butterfly Boy spread
his wings and flew to a milkweed blossom some distance from the hogan.
The women forgot their promise to Rain Boy and ran out of the house into
the sunlight where they chased the sparkling white butterfly; each time
they got near enough to catch him, away he flew, farther from the hogan.
Four times he flew, and the fourth time he lit on a tassel of corn silk
in Rain Boy's garden. Great yellow pumpkins coiled their arms between
the corn stalks, and when the women ran into the garden the pumpkins
caught them, so they could not take another step. Then Butterfly Boy
turned himself into a man with wings.
"There," he said. "I have you. Now you will come live with me in Chaco
He took them far off over the desert and canyon until they came to the
land of deserted hogans. Here, long ago, people had lived, but now
nothing but the dead remained, and they were buried deep under the blown
Now, Rain Boy returned from his journey, and finding the hogan empty, he
searched outside for tracks. In the sands by the hogan he saw footprints
of his wife and daughter, which led into the garden and among the
pumpkin vines where they disappeared. It was here that White Butterfly
Boy had turned into a man with wings, and with Rain Boy's wife on one
arm and the daughter on the other, he had flown back to his home in
Chaco Canyon. After looking carefully among the corn stalks, Rain Boy
sent out a streak of lightning to point the direction they had taken.
The lightning struck near Chaco Canyon. Rain Boy mounted his rainbow and
rode over the sky to the home of White Butterfly Boy. There he found his
wife and daughter, who were prisoners in the hogans of the ancient
people. Rain Boy was very angry with them for disobeying him, but he was
even more angry with White Butterfly Boy for his treachery.
When White Butterfly Boy came flying home at night, Rain Boy said, "I
challenge you to a race. If you win, you may keep my wife and daughter.
If you lose, you die."
"I agree," said White Butterfly Boy."We shall race to Mount Taylor,"
said Rain Boy. "Get ready. When I send out my lightning we shall start."
Now Butterfly Boy had nothing in the world to race upon but his own
wings, so he spread them out proudly and waited with his only weapon
which was a magic axe that could kill whoever held it, at a puff of
Rain Boy took off on his bolt of lightning and was gone instantly.
Butterfly Boy beat his wings as fast as he could, but it was going to
take him a long time to reach Mount Taylor. On the way, he saw Humming
Bird poised in the air before a flower.
There is nothing in the world that Butterfly Boy liked more than to have
fun. About his throat hung a tiny silver bell. He wanted to hear how the
bell would sound on the throat of Humming Bird as he darted from blossom
to blossom, so he took the bell from his own throat and threw it into
the air. It dropped with a tinkle onto Humming Bird's neck; this is the
noise you hear today when Humming Bird rushes in upon a flower.
Soon after his delay with Humming Bird, Butterfly Boy reached Mount
Taylor. There sat Rain Boy on the end of a streak of lightning.
"I win," cried Rain Boy. "Now we will race back again."
"All right," said Butterfly Boy tiredly. By now he was already
exhausted, but he was cheerful and did not give up. Again he spread his
"Ready?" shouted Rain Boy, and this time he rode up over the sky on a
great rainbow. Butterfly Boy strained himself to fly, but it was a long
time before he reached his home in Chaco Canyon. There sat Rain Boy on
the end of the rainbow, and his wife and daughter were waiting beside
"I win again," Rain Boy said, and raising his head he proclaimed: "now
you will die!"
"Wait," said Butterfly Boy. "Won't you please kill me with my own axe?
It would make me happy to die by the blade I have carried on my
But Rain Boy knew that Butterfly Boy's axe was a magic axe. At a puff of
breath from its master it would fly back and kill the man who held it.
"No," he said, "I will kill you with my own axe." And again he raised it
above his head. But Butterfly Boy begged four times, and the fourth time
Rain Boy stuck his own axe in his belt and took the magic axe in his
hand. But he was not to be tricked. He had a scheme in mind."Now," said
clever Rain Boy, "close your eyes."
As soon as Butterfly Boy had shut his lids Rain Boy changed axes, and
grasping his own trusty weapon he hit Butterfly Boy a deadly blow on the
head. The skull cracked, Butterfly Boy was killed at one stroke, and out
of the crack in the skull came a net of butterflies, all bright-winged
and lovely. Away they flew to scatter over the sky; and that is how the
beautiful butterflies of this world came to be born.
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