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Morgan Freeman Asks Navajo About God

An unusual guest attended 12-year-old Maysun Peterson’s Kinaaldá, or traditional maturity ceremony, for Navajo girls—actor Morgan Freeman.

An unusual guest attended 12-year-old Maysun Peterson’s Kinaaldá, or traditional maturity ceremony, for Navajo girls.

Academy Award-winning actor and narrator Morgan Freeman joined Maysun’s family for the occasion, which took place last November near Shiprock, New Mexico. Held shortly after a girl’s first menstruation, the four-day Kinaaldá celebrates her transformation into a woman.

Freeman, host of a six-part documentary series airing on the National Geographic Channel, visited the Navajo Nation to ask poignant questions about God. His series, “The Story of God,” explores religions around the globe in a journey that seeks to “shed light on the questions that have puzzled, terrified and inspired mankind,” Nat Geo said in a statement.

In his series, Freeman attempts to uncover the meaning of life, the origin of deities and similarities among the different faiths.

“Over the past few months, I’ve traveled to nearly 20 cities in seven different countries on a personal journey to find answers to the big mysteries of faith,” Freeman said in a statement. “I’ve sung the call to prayer at a mosque in Cairo, taken meditation lessons from the Buddhist leader of the oldest line of reincarnating Lamas, discussed Galileo with the head of the Papal Academy of Sciences and explored the first instructions for the afterlife rendered in hieroglyphs inside the pyramids. In some places I found answers, and others led to more questions.”

Courtesy National Geographic Channel

An unusual guest attended 12-year-old Maysun Peterson’s Kinaaldá, or traditional maturity ceremony, for Navajo girls—Academy Award-winning actor and narrator Morgan Freeman.

The series premiered April 3, and new episodes air every Sunday. Maysun was featured for about eight minutes during the April 17 episode, titled “Who is God?”

The 50-minute segment also included footage from Egypt and Israel, where Freeman explores monotheism, and to India, where Hindus worship millions of gods. In Cairo, he spends time with Muslims who connect to a God who has no physical form. And on the Navajo Nation, he observes the Kinaaldá, during which girls communicate with Changing Woman, one of the Navajo Holy People.

The Kinaaldá is a sacred ceremony that includes several rituals designed to ensure a girl grows into a strong and kind woman. Over the course of four days, the girl bathes, ties her hair back, runs toward the east and bakes a corn cake in an earthen pit.

A medicine man performs songs that invite Changing Woman to help the girl enter womanhood. When the ceremony is complete, the girl is introduced to the deities as a woman and invited to take her place in the world.

“I think what Morgan Freeman was looking for was the way we as Navajos experience God’s different types of conversation,” said Michele Peterson, Maysun’s mother. “The songs we sing are saying the girl is coming out as a woman. Because of those songs, we are surrounded by our deities.”

Courtesy National Geographic Channel

Morgan Freeman witnessed some of the songs, the morning runs, and the cutting of the corn cake.

Only small portions of the actual ceremony can be filmed, said Tom Chatto, a Navajo medicine man who performed Maysun’s Kinaaldá. Chatto also acted as a consultant for the film crew, determining which details of the ceremony could be shared on television.

In fact, most of the ceremony that aired on National Geographic was a reenactment, Chatto said.

“The real one, you can film parts of it,” he said. “But for the TV show, we just reenacted it. We just showed the parts that are OK for the world to see.”

Even in the reenactment, there were places Freeman wasn’t allowed. Near the end of the ceremony, Peterson pulls a blanket over the door of her hogan. Freeman is left outside.

“The most important thing was to do what was appropriate,” Peterson said. “We made sure we were very respectful, and that meant closing the hogan with a blanket or telling the cameras they had to stop filming.”

Freeman did witness some of the songs, the morning runs and the ceremonial cutting of the corn cake. In the segment, Freeman takes a big chunk of the cake and holds it up to his mouth.

“Don’t burn your tongue,” Maysun warns in the clip.

Courtesy National Geographic Channel

Morgan Freeman witnessed some of the songs, the morning runs, and the cutting of the corn cake. He is seen here with Maysun.

Before Freeman left, the family gifted him a turquoise necklace. The actor made headlines in January and February when he wore it at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.

As television audiences witness Maysun’s rite of passage, Peterson said she hopes they understand a portion of the ancient ritual in the context of other world religions.

“The ceremony is a big deal to us,” she said. “This was a way to show people what we believe. It was an opportunity to take something and share it visually.”