The wind I heard this afternoon had a different timbre. It was an autumn wind through and through, like the one Shelley addressed as "O Wild West Wind, thou breath of autumn's being," "sweet though in sadness." It was an expectant wind, unlike the storm winds of winter and summer, which somehow seem just part of the season, striking not a new note but blending into the overall effect. An autumn wind is restless and heralds change.
In many mythologies, wind is the life force of creation, the breath of the divinity. In some cases, it is the speaking of a word by a god (whose divine breath shapes the word) that creates the world and its humans. I was especially charmed by the conception of the wind in Navajo stories, in which the wind is present not only in nature and the gods but in each individual. Wind plays a central role in creation as well as in the ongoing relations between humans and deities. It sometimes takes the form of a helpful god appearing to an individual in times of trouble or need. At these times it takes the guise not of a powerful storm but of a quiet companion, whispering advice and wisdom. Not quite a guardian angel or a conscience, it's more like a sage friend. The Navajo call this wind deity Nilch'i.
Nilch'i plays an important part in the adventures of Reared Within the Mountains, the hero of The Mountain Chant. He appears to the hero at crucial times, issuing guidance, giving warnings, and teaching him how to access and use his own power. Although Nilch'i is a deity, the life force in him is the same force that animates Reared Within the Mountains and all other people. Nilch'i is much like an inner voice, inspiration (from Latin, "to breathe upon or into") that arises when the individual pays attention to its sometimes subtle utterances.
I was struck by the contrast between the role of the wind in the Navajo stories and the Greek myths. Heroes in the Greek myths are often at odds with the winds, which appear as tools of the gods, used to manipulate or punish humans; Odysseus and Agamemnon battle the winds on several occasions, usually coming out the worse for wear. Once, the god Aeolus tries to make Odysseus a present of the winds by tying them up in a bag, but Odysseus's men set them free, whereupon they blow the ship wildly off course, displaying the tricksterish nature that is often their hallmark.
The portrayal of the winds in both traditions is complex, but I see a fundamental difference between them centered on the issue of power and control. In Greek mythology, humans often seem to be at war, either with nature or each other. They are guided by the principle of Arete, "excellence," often in military and athletic pursuits that involve competition or strife. In Navajo mythology, the key concept is Hozhooji, living in harmony and beauty. Strife and discord are a part of the scene, but an individual seeking Hozhooji learns to live in balance with contending forces. Anyone can do this; you are not dependent on the whims of the gods or the impersonal workings of Fate but rather on your own ability and desire to live in tune with nature and other people.
In the Navajo stories, even a wild or destructive wind has its place and purpose in the overall scheme. It may cleanse the world and prepare it for a new season, like the wind blowing leaves around my apartment building this afternoon. It may come as a whirlwind, drilling a hole in which the hero shelters from his enemies. Or it may simply bring needed rains.
To me it seems that the wisdom in this Native American tradition has been trumped too many times by forces thriving on antagonism, but it's always possible to change course. I love the Greek myths but have always thought it would be tough to actually inhabit the world they portray (though in a way, we do inhabit the world they portray). I can better imagine living within the boundaries of the Navajo universe. Life is still difficult there, and certainly the winds still blow. But how different it would be to be measured not by the length of your sword or the size of your ship but by how well you listen.