We do not even know what they called themselves. Certainly, they did not call themselves Anasazi. That is a name that the Athabaskan-speaking Navajo, who moved into their homeland and saw the monumental ruins of their settlements, gave to them. It is a term tinged with more than a hint of hostility. It is often translated “ancient strangers,” but it is more precisely rendered “ancient enemies” or “enemy ancestors” (annasázi, from anna' = enemy/stranger, and bizází = ancient/ancestor). They were the ancestors of the modern-day Pueblos. Their descendants most often call them simply “the ancient ones.” The Hopi, one of the tribal nations descended from them, term them hisatinom, “the ones who came before.” Understandably, given the etymology of the term “Anasazi,” contemporary Pueblos consider the term offensive. Today it is considered more precise and correct to refer to them as “Ancestral Puebloans” or “Ancient Puebloans.”
Despite the pejorative connotations of their most familiar appellation, no indigenous people in the Americas has been more romanticized than the “Anasazi.” Given this and the fact that they disappeared before the coming of Europeans to North America, is it possible to say anything about their religious beliefs and practices? The answer is a definite (but cautious) “Yes.”
There are thousands of years of Native American habitation in the Americas prior to European contact that can only be known in two ways: archaeology and oral tradition. For groups like the Ancestral Puebloans, there is only archaeology and the oral tradition of others. Archaeology is excellent at helping us discover the material world. It can tell us what a given people’s houses were like, what they ate, their level of health, and many other tangible things.