"Step into the shoes of him who lures the enemy to death."
—from the Navajo Enemy Way
On a windswept bluff high above the reddish-brown San Juan River, four states—Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado—converge. Visitors to the area come to play a game of twister at the Four Comers Monument, contorting themselves so that each of their limbs touches a different state. Then, remarking upon the windswept, sandy desolation of the place, they hurry off to the greener ground of the Rockies or the populous Grand Canyon. For most of them, there is not much to see, not much reason to linger on this arid plateau. But to the Navajo Indians who inhabit it, the Four Corners country, bounded by four sacred mountains of abalone, white shell, turquoise, and redstone, is a land of peerless beauty, exalted in song and story as "the center of the earth."
The Diné Bike'yah, the Navajo nation, is also a terrifying place, populated by millions of mischief-working ghosts, by witches and were-animals; for in death, the Navajo believe, one's soul flies from the body, leaving behind not only the mortal shell but also any good characteristics one may have had in life. Only the newborn and the very old are spared this fate; their souls merely vanish into the void. The rest, victims of alcohol poisoning, of Kit Carson's bullets, of ancient...