(also Estasanatlehi; Turquoise Woman; Changing Woman; Painted Woman; White Shell Woman)
In the Navajo pantheon, Estsanatlehi is the most respected of goddesses. In the Apache mythos, she is less significant, but in both she represents change, renewal, fertility, and the eternal cycle of life. She is the wife of Tsohanoai, the sun god and sister to Yolkai Estsan, the wife of the moon.
Estsanatlehi’s existence mirrors that of the seasons. She is a young woman in the spring and blossoms into womanhood in the summer. In autumn, she loses her fruitfulness and becomes an old woman in the winter. As the snow melts and the first buds appear, however, she is renewed and becomes young once more.
It is said that when her age begins to show, Estsanatlehi simply walks eastward until she perceives her own form coming toward her. She continues onward until her new self merges with her old self. Then she returns to her abode in the far western horizon.
Estsanatlehi’s origins are mysterious. In legends, she is a foundling, discovered sometimes by gentle coyotes, sometimes by the first human couple, and sometimes by the ancestral goddess Atse Estsan.
In the first telling, Estsanatlehi is born of darkness and dawn on Spruce Mountain and is swaddled in a blanket of clouds and rainbows in a crib of lightning and sunbeams. Later, she creates the first humans from maize. In the second telling, the first couple observe a massive black cloud descending onto a mountain. Anticipating great wonders, they approach the mountain and find there a baby girl. They take the infant Estsanatlehi to their home, where she matures into a full grown woman in eighteen days. Lonely, she then creates more humans from pieces of her own skin.
In the third telling, Atse Estsan discovers Estsanatlehi beneath a mountain and rears her to be the savior of earth’s people. In that tale, Estsanatlehi grows to womanhood and meets a young man. Each day she met her suitor in the woods, where the two made love under the trees. Her adoptive mother, curious, sought the couple’s footprints but found only one set and thus knew that her daughter had taken the sun as her lover.
As a result of the union, Estsanatlehi gave birth to a pair of mighty sons, Monster Slayer and Born For Water, who grew into manhood only eight days after their birth. Grown, they sought out their father’s house, only to find another woman there. The woman was angered at the intrusion and threatened the two young men, but they were not deterred and waited for their father.
For their perseverance, they received magic weapons that allowed them to rid the earth of monstrous beasts. To celebrate, the young men danced with their mother and build her a magnificent palace of turquoise at the sky’s end. But the destruction of the beasts had depopulated the world. Estsanatlehi therefore brushed white flour and yellow meal from her breasts and from it molded a man and a woman.
She left her creations under a magical blanket for one night and found them alive the next morning. Estsanatlehi blessed the pair and, for four days and four nights, they mated, creating the four great Navajo clans. But Estsanatlehi desired more humans and brushed the dust from her nipples and formed with it four more groups of people.
Thereafter, Estsanatlehi bestowed many blessings upon humanity, though four monsters had escaped the deadly weapons of her sons. These were: age, winter, famine, and poverty. She allowed those evils to live so that mankind would treasure her gifts all the more.
In later legends, Estsanatlehi became the ruler of the realm of the dead, in the west, from whence good things flow.