Frank Waters,
Masked Gods:
Navaho & Pueblo Ceremonialism

(Swallow Press, 1950;
Ohio University Press, 1984)

Masked Gods was a groundbreaking book when it was first released in 1950. Frank Waters took the study and interpretation of Navaho and Pueblo folklore, ceremonies and rituals into new areas. The most amazing thing about this book is that Waters successfully parallels these cultures' views of man's place in the world and overall view of life with Buddhism and Taoism. His conclusions are still original, even unique, among the Native American ethnologists and anthropologists.

In the foreword, Clyde Kluckhohn of the anthropology department at Harvard University, refers to his interpretations as "bold and unconventional" and states that many anthropologists are going to "disagree violently" with his "facts." Thus, the book made its debut amid the most extreme controversy from the Ivy League to the community colleges.

This is an exciting book that will keep you eagerly turning pages. It is a behemoth of information at 432 pages. When you flip through it, you notice that there is very little white space. This book gives you maximum ink on the pages. I like that and feel that I have gotten a good bargain for the price.

Waters takes you there. When he is telling about the Snake-Antelope Ceremonial, you will feel as if you are right there in the snake kiva and you will likely laugh out loud at Waters' admonishment of Dr. Elsie, hardcore lady ethnologist on serious field duty, for reverting to femininity and becoming just an ordinary woman when a snake jumps into her lap. Science went out the window (and if the kiva had had a window, Dr. Elsie would have, too). The lively, active writing takes you inside the action and presents this exhaustive study in a totally entertaining way. It educates and enlightens without becoming scholarly or dull.

This is the most thorough volume on this culture. The author went all the way back in time and followed the evolution and migration of these peoples throughout their history to the present. He interweaves enough of the happenings with other Native American nations for you to comprehend the overall picture of the Americas. Then, as he comes to the present, he narrows his focus and zooms in for a close-up look at these specifics cultures. His treatment of the country's history is impressive and his ability to so eloquently explain so much time in so short a space is amazing.

If you have ever wondered what the kachinas really represent or why the Aztecs sacrificed humans, this is the book for you. Waters has accomplished a thorough examination of the folklore, beliefs, practices and culture of the Navaho and Pueblo natives. This is a must read for all Native American buffs, ethnologists or students of Native American studies. Anthro students will even get a charge out of it, though maybe not of a positive nature. Still it is guaranteed to rouse your emotions and stimulate your thinking. Your library should not be without this book.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 13 September 2003

Buy it from