Ancient Hopi Rituals and Ceremonies
Nine Sacred Ceremonies
Each year the Hopi people of the Four Corners region in the southwest USA, perform nine ceremonies that are ancient rituals. The ceremonies are strange and seemingly barbaric to modern society. They are so complex that a non-Hopi would have to study for years to be able to fathom the meaning of the preparations, the rituals, the spirituality instilled in them and the faith derived from them -- yet the simplicity of the concept is so profoundly beautiful.
There are many other ceremonies throughout the year, but these nine unfold the entire course of the Hopi Road of Life. Wuwuchim is the first winter ceremony and is followed by Soyal and then Powamu. These three portray the first three phases of Creation.
So much faith and perfection is put into these ceremonies that even one slip of the tongue in a recitation, one omission of a word, one stumble in a dance, can discredit the performer and bring misfortune for the entire village and a failed crop for the year. If that happens, then all is in vain, all the time-honored preparations and ancient wisdom is wasted. Even the wrong thoughts, evil thinking, will be known to the spirit beings and all is lost. These ceremonies are to dramatize the universal laws of life and, because they unfold the Hopi Road of Life, they therefore must be performed without mishap.
In July, precisely at midsummer for the Hopi, the Niman ceremony is held. It is the ending ceremony of the katsina season. Since the winter solstice, the katsinam (all the katsinas) are the spirit beings and have been on earth for the sacred ceremonies, and it is time for them to return to their spiritual home. This ceremony involves intense prayer for the entire village and the energy, the hope for peace, is sent out to all mankind.
Dances, Songs, and Regalia
The dances, songs and regalia are simple yet convey the mysteries of an ancient people. For us to begin to understand the concept and the symbolism of these ceremonies, one must go back to a harmony with Mother Earth. Go back to the simple elements bestowed upon us within the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms. For the Hopi, the truth includes this then goes even deeper.
The Katsinas are seen as supernatural beings who are messengers. Each Katsina represents a particular spiritual role in the ceremonies.
To the Hopi, the great breathing mountains, the talking stones, even the cornstalk are all alive and play a significant part as symbols of the spirits which give them form and life. The spiritual forms are manifestations of the one supreme creative power that fills them with meaning -- The One Power, which gives them movement in their earthly journeys and seasonal cycles. All this must be with unison of the constellations in the night sky, the lunar and the solar observations. These truths are deeply and utterly part of the Hopi, their ceremonialism and their very way of life.
Mysterious and Sacred Rituals
Although the mysterious and sacred rituals may seem confusing or barbaric at times, the esoteric beauty of the ceremonies will touch one's heart and the vague meanings become intuitively familiar and comfortable as one is observing.
The Wu'wu'chim ceremony consists of eight days for preparation and eight days of sacred rituals in the Kiva before the public dancing ceremony begins.
Not all ceremonies are open to non-Hopi people, but for those that are, there are strict and common sense rules.
Never applaud, shout or take photographs, remain silent and try to hide within a group of other people so you will not be noticed by the performers, for their focus must be religiously on the ceremony. You must stand on the rooftops with the Hopi people who are not involved in the rituals.
The Kiva, the Paho and Eagle
The most important part of all ceremonies is the Kiva, an underground chamber where the rituals are held by the priests of the clans who had the authority to conduct the religious ceremonies. The kiva represents the world below, from whence the people emerged. This sacred place is sunk deep into Mother Earth, symbolic of the womb, is cylindrical and large enough to hold several clans.
A paho (pa'ho) is an essential part of the ceremonies. It is a prayer-feather. Usually this is an eagle feather, but can be any kind of feather that has been purified and blessed. The preparation that goes into the paho is a major ritual of all ceremonies held in the kiva. The paho has an ancient tradition attached to it. When the people emerged to the Fourth World they were met by Eagle. They asked Eagle's permission to live on the land.
A simple paho is a downy feather of Eagle with a string of Gossypiumi Hopi cotton (native to the area) attached to it. Some pahos can be very elaborate, such as the male/female paho. Simple or exquisite, every paho is made with a concentration of prayer, ritually smoked over then taken to a shrine and stuck in a cleft of rocks or hung from a bush until it has absorbed the vibrations of the prayer.
After successfully passing many tests, Eagle gave his permission and a feather to them. He told them that they may use the feather whenever they want to send a message to Father Sun/Creator. Eagle said,
Eagle told the Hopi people
"I am the conqueror of air and master of height. I am the only one who has the power of space above. I represent the loftiness of the spirit and can deliver your prayers."
No Hopi ceremony is ever conducted without cornmeal. The use of cornmeal in the ceremonies is so varied and so significant in meaning that it would be inconceivable if not included. Cornmeal, from Mother Corn, is the sustenance of life. Mother Corn is the same as Mother Earth to the Hopi. The Road of Life in the kiva is drawn with cornmeal. Katsinas (Kachina Spirits) approaching the village follow paths of cornmeal.
Lines of cornmeal are laid as a blockage to prevent all living creatures to the area during the night of the Wuwuchim ceremony. The Katsina dancers are sprinkled with cornmeal as they are welcomed and several other ritualistic uses of corneal are required.
Every ceremony is announced by the Crier Chief from the roof of a house. Ritual smoking is an imperative part of every ceremony. Tobacco is a sacred plant and is used for several rituals.
The Book Of The Hopi
The details of each ceremony is so involved and complex that an entire book can be filled with these ancient traditions. One book that goes into depth and detail was beautifully written by Frank Waters, who spent quite some time with the Hopi in the mid 1960s. He faithfully wrote down the words of thirty elders of the Hopi clans. The Book Of The Hopi gives startling insight into these ancient and beautiful customs.
The way of life for the Hopi is their religion. It is a complex system of tradition passed down orally and surrounds their rituals and ceremonies. For their entire life, a Hopi lives their sacred traditions.
The sacred traditions begin at the moment of birth, when the baby is kept in a darkened room for twenty days. Cornmeal is placed in the room as stripes on the wall, four marks to divide the days into four groups of five days each. The first five days is to symbolize the time spent underground before the first emergence into the first world, the next five days is emergence to the second world, the next five days is emergence to the third world, then finally emergence to the fourth world. With the symbolic emergence of each world, a cornmeal stripe is removed. At the end of the twenty days, the baby is taken outside to be presented to the Sun Spirit, Tawa.
Hopi Reservation Land
Note From Author
The Four Corners region in the southwest USA, consist of the southwest corner of Colorado, northwest corner of New Mexico, northeast corner of Arizona and southeast corner of Utah. These four states meet precisely at a corner, where flags surround the monument -- this is the famous and beautiful Monument Valley.
Is it 'katsina' or 'kachina'? Most people know these dancers or carved dolls as Kachina, which is what the Navajo and other tribes call them. In the Hopi language, there is no 'ch' sound, therefore, the dolls and dancers are called katsina.
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Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.
Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier
© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns