Navaho Myths: Horne Toad Meets Lightning 

Irene Notah was sitting in the sun, enjoying the afternoon warmth. She was wearing a small, shiny, gold pin on her lapel. It looked like a lizard. When asked about it she seemed pleased to tell the story.[1]

photo (6)


The story has several elements that are embedded in Navajo mythology. “It all started with Grandfather Chei,[2] who is the figure shown on many Navajo rugs. He is sometimes depicted as a ‘Horned Lizard’ or Horne Toad, which leads to the traditional story where Horne Toad Meets Lightning,” she began.


Yei Bi Chai Rug

The Story Is All About POWER


One day Lightning started arguing with Horne Toad, saying that he had more power than the Toad. Lightning threatened the Toad, saying that he was so powerful, his strike could kill Horne Toad dead right on the spot. Horne Toad, however, was pretty clever. In his experience, by moving his head and tilting to the side, he was harder to hit than Lightning realized.

horned art

Grandfather Chei Horne Toad, at National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, Wyoming

One afternoon Lightning said to Horne Toad, “If I were to strike four times, I bet I can kill you.” Taking up the challenge, Horne Toad walked a distance away and stood in the field and waited. When the lizard felt the spontaneous urge, he moved his head to the side and his body rolled to that side. When the flash of light and bolt of lightning arrived, it hit the ground near by and missed Horne Toad. Three more strikes and three more times with the same result. Horne Toad had avoided all four strikes.


Next Horne Toad said to Lightning, “It’s my turn.” He took his position above Lightning and pointed his spiky head at Lightning. The Toad thrust his head down and his spikes hit into Lightning and sent a fierce bolt of electricity that splintered into a vast array of smaller strikes, which quickly exploded wildly across the sky. The image lit up the entire horizon, as the sun was setting.


LESSON: In Navajo mythology, Horne Toad’s spikes hitting Lightning is the reason why lightning strikes splinter and crisscross the evening sky to this day.[3]

Other Lessons: Many Navajos believe that the Horne Toad is their Grandfather. As a sign of respect, they pick up the animal and rub it across its chest in a sign of blessing from their respected ancestor. Gold Horne Toad lapel pins are another sign of respect.




[1] Irene Notah is on the Board of the Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions in New Mexico and is a frequent contributor of her knowledge to the other members of the Board. The story is retold with her permission, and with the permission of her nephew, Tom Henio, who also added his version to the story.

[2] The Yei Bi Chai rug image was discovered on the website http://www.weavingbeauty.com.

[3] The images of the horne toad and lightning were found on the internet and the author believes they are in the public domain, since they were not signed.

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