Ancient Hopi Rituals and Ceremonies

Updated on November 3, 2017
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis has a strong affinity to Native American traditions, beliefs and spirituality.

Katsina Dolls

Drawings of kachina dolls, from an 1894 anthropology book, by Jesse Walter Fewkes. The Hopi call them Katsinas. They are the most important part of the sacred ceremonies.
Drawings of kachina dolls, from an 1894 anthropology book, by Jesse Walter Fewkes. The Hopi call them Katsinas. They are the most important part of the sacred ceremonies. | Source

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.

Dancers of the Powamu Ceremony

Kachina dancers of the Hopi pueblo of Shongopavi, Arizona, USA taken sometime between 1870 and 1900. Dancers of the Powamu Ceremony.
Kachina dancers of the Hopi pueblo of Shongopavi, Arizona, USA taken sometime between 1870 and 1900. Dancers of the Powamu Ceremony. | Source

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."

Eagle is Sacred to the Hopi

Eagle Is Sacred to the Hopi
Eagle Is Sacred to the Hopi | Source

Underground Kiva

Interior panorama of a reconstructed kiva at Mesa Verde National Park. Similar to a Hopi Kiva.
Interior panorama of a reconstructed kiva at Mesa Verde National Park. Similar to a Hopi Kiva. | Source

Cornmeal

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

Hopi Reservation from Arizona State Route 264 a few miles from Oraibi.
Hopi Reservation from Arizona State Route 264 a few miles from Oraibi. | Source
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A markerHopi Reservation land. -
Hopi Reservation, Hopi, AZ, USA
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Hopi Reservation

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Four Corners

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.

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier

© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Very glad to know that.

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      fra 2 months ago

      you helped me w/ my report

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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 9 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Dave and welcome to HubPages. The Hopi culture is very interesting and deeply spiritual. You might try looking up Hopi Cultural Center online for a lot of information. At this time I do not know of any seminars or training programs. Have you read Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters? It is an excellent source of Hopi culture. Also, look up the Four Worlds of the Hopi online for a wealth of information on their beliefs. The eighth annual Hopi Festival should be coming up this September. Thank you for reading my article, I appreciate it.

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      Dave Renfro 9 months ago

      Watched a video recently that has inspired me to look into the ancient Hopi ways and beliefs. (I'll share the link below and says it's well worth watching - just takes a little over two minutes to watch) As someone who all too often in life has kept his spirituality compartmentalized in Sunday mornings or bible study nights, I want to know more about the Hopi's spirituality. It seems that it was integral to everything that they did all day long every day.

      Do you know of any seminars or onsite training programs I could attend that would give me a more immersive experience in learning about the Hopi culture? Would love to have your thoughts as I begin m journey.

      Here is the link to the thoughts of a Hopi elder on how we got where we are in America. They're well worth pondering...

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7xe346hROnE

      P.S. I'm new to Hub Pages (first visit today in fact) so I apologize if you've provided that information elsewhere here.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 10 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thanks

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      michael 10 months ago

      nice website

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 24 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you very much, Jodah. Glad you enjoyed the hub. The katsina dolls are incredible, I agree.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 24 months ago from Queensland Australia

      This was an intriguing hub Phyllis. Sorry it has taken me so long to find it. I enjoyed leaning about the Hopi people and their traditions. Those katsina dolls are incredible. Thank you for sharing.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi aesta. How enjoyable and interesting it must be for you to learn of the cultures and traditions of the Navajo and Hopi peoples. The Southwest is beautiful country full of remarkable history. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, I appreciate it very much.

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      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      It is only this year as we travelled through New Mexico and Arizona that we became aware of the native American rituals and life. Our Navajo guide brought us to his playground as a child and it was fascinating. There is so much to learn and thanks for focusing on these. We're finding our the art of the Hopi here in Arizona.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Nadine May. I am glad you enjoyed reading about the Hopi. They are a very interesting people. I like that they keep their ancient traditions. Thanks for the visit and comment, I appreciate it.

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      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Very interesting to read about the Hopis. Now I understand the medicine wheel better after someone, who was visiting us in south Africa, explained about and Four Corner ritual. He called himself "Little Sun"

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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      You are so right, Sheila. This is why some of their ceremonies are not open to the public.

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      sheilamyers 4 years ago

      Thanks for answering Phyllis. I had a feeling not everything would be revealed to outsiders. If that happened, people could use the rituals in the wrong way or simply make a mockery of things they don't fully understand.

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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      DrBill -- that is sad that you lost the Kachinas over the years. All is well for them, for I am sure they have found a good home. Kachina dolls, Katsina for the Hopi, are very valuable and that increases over time, especially if they are made by a Hopi carver. Their true value is in their spiritual meaning. Thanks for sharing your story about the ones you had.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Greetings Alastar! I was just thinking about you when I came back here and here was your comment. Yes, we do share so many thoughts and interests on so many subjects. Thank you for including me in the "great writers" on HP. I agree with you that HP will be seeing an increase of good writers and great articles.

      I am so happy you found such great interest in this article on the Hopi. They are fascinating people to me and I feel a strong affinity/kinship with them. I am working on another article about them and was going to put it on another site I write for, now I think I will publish it here on HP, especially for you -- yes! You are right, Katsina dolls are fascinating. There are some mysterious things about them, too, which I will talk about in my new article. I think you will enjoy learning more about them, my friend.

      Yes, Alastar, I will get in touch with you in about 2 weeks. Till then, my friend, may all your directions take you to the right place. Your friend and fan .... :)

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Phyllis,

      We were a young couple with one daughter, another on the way, in the Air Force - far from a base. We had purchased them mostly as fascinating "tourist" items... not realizing they had real value... moved multiple times, over the years, they just disappeared in the transitions. Perhaps there were not of any real value... but I still wish I had somehow managed to keep one or two... ;-) ... Perhaps I will find a photo with some of them in it, one day... part of my family history research... ;-)

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Sheila - you always encourage and motivate me in my Native American studies and writing, and for that I am grateful. Thank you. I know for sure that the Hopi are very open to all curious seekers who want to learn about the Hopi traditions, rituals, etc. -- however, they do not give out all information about everything. They keep safe the sacredness of their rituals by not telling all, and this is totally necessary for their spiritual works. Thank you so much, Sheila, for your visit and comments and for your question. I really appreciate this.

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Ah Phyllis your my kind of writer and we do share so many like thoughts and interests on so many subjects. When some say most of the great writers have left HP I can only point to writers like yourself and many others to know that is not the case. Although it is true some star writers have gone on the big flame of excellent articles remains and I believe will increase.

      The Hopis and Four Corners are of great interest to me and this hub has added greatly to my knowledge of this most intriguing and admired people. As examples some of the the ceremonies and dances are truly new to me. There is a very good reason for those kivas structure which I won't go into here and the Katsina dolls are simply fascinating. Thank you for writing this my friend!

      Phyllis, if you would, please privately connect with me in about 2 weeks or so if you would. Of course keep on doing what we're doing now anyway. Till later my friend...:)

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      sheilamyers 4 years ago

      I've said it before and I'll say it again - I love your hubs about Native American culture! You mentioning the cornmeal brought a question to mind. I'll ask you because you're knowledgeable about these things. I've read about how when someone is "practicing" to do the cornmeal drawings, they omit a small part because they only do the complete drawing during a ceremony. Is this true? Also, would the person omit parts of a drawing if it's being done as a demonstration for the general public to show how someone does them and not as part of a ceremony?

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      OMGosh, Bill ! You had a collection of kachina dolls? Why did you let them go? I am curious and would love to hear more about your collection, how they came to you, which ones they were, and where they have gone. I wish you could write a hub about it. Thanks for your visit and comment. Hope to hear about those kachina dolls.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Bobbie, it is always good to hear from you. Thank you.

      I feel your ring somehow will come back to you, maybe not the same ring, but one like it that will mean something very special to you. I love anything about the Hopi people and their history/traditions. Thanks again for your visit and comment. I appreciate it very much.

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Great reminders of our years in Winslow, AZ. ;-)

      Wish I still had all those little kachina dolls I collected back then... ;-(

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      As far as I know, Eric, there are 34 clans of the Hopi within the First, Second, and Third Mesas. We could all take a lesson from the Hopi and their beliefs. If the whole world was like the Hopi people, we would all be far better off. Thanks for the visit and comment.

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      PurvisBobbi44 4 years ago from Florida

      Hi,

      I enjoyed reading this hub about the Hopi Indians.

      When I went to Texas with my friend I purchased a turquoise ring made by them. Ir was beautiful and I had it for months until I lost it giving "Drug Screenings" I know it came off in a glove I pulled off in a rush.

      Anything about Native Americans is a plus with me since I have two chief in my family tree.

      Thanks for the treat of the topic and for all your valuable research. It was great information.

      Bobbi Purvis

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting. I have never seen it written about in such a way. Without trying to be too PC, I think it important to think of a Hopi Nation. I believe there maybe over one hundred clans.

      I had to laugh about the "ts" spelling. I had a good buddy named Marvin Tsotsie and I don't think Thurman Joshongava (sp) ever could say the "ch" sound. Real good folks thanks for stirring some memories.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      My gosh, Billy, thank you so much for your words of kind praise. I greatly appreciate this.

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It is always educational reading your articles. Excellent research on this one and very, very interesting. Well done, Phyllis.

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