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 story where Horne Toad Meets Lightning,” she began.


Yei Bi Chai Rug

The Story is all about POWER


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

horned art

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

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


Next the Horne Toad said, “It’s my turn.” He took his position above the Lightning and pointed his spiky head at the Lightning. The Toad hit his head into the Lightning and sent a fierce strike that splintered into a vast array of smaller strikes, which exploded wildly across the sky. In Navajo mythology, that is why to this day the Lightning strikes splinter and crisscross the evening sky.[3]


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.

One thought on “Navajo Myths: Horne Toad Meets Lightning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.