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Ancient Hopi Rituals, Ceremonies, and Traditions

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

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.

Nine Sacred Ceremonies

Each year, the Hopi people of the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States perform nine ancient ceremonies. The ceremonies are so complex that a non-Hopi observer would have to study for years to be able to understand the meaning of the preparations and rituals, as well as the spirituality instilled in them and the faith derived from them. Yet the simplicity of the underlying concepts is profoundly beautiful.

There are many other ceremonies throughout the year, but these nine unfold the entire course of the Hopi Road of Life.

Wuwuchim, Soyal, and Powamu Ceremonies

Wuwuchim is the first winter ceremony and is followed by Soyal and then Powamu. These three portray the first three phases of Creation.

Niman Ceremony

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.

Perfection Is Critical

An important element of these ceremonies is perfection. Even one slip of the tongue in a recitation, one omission of a word, or 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, or a moment of evil thinking, will be known to the spirit beings and all will be lost. These ceremonies are meant to dramatize the universal laws of life, and because they unfold the Hopi Road of Life they must be performed without error.

Kachina dancers of the Hopi pueblo of Shongopavi, Arizona, circa 1870-1900. Dancers of the Powamu Ceremony.

Kachina dancers of the Hopi pueblo of Shongopavi, Arizona, circa 1870-1900. Dancers of the Powamu Ceremony.

Dances, Songs, and Regalia

The dances, songs, and regalia are simple, yet they 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 time when humans were in harmony with Mother Earth. One must go back to the simple elements bestowed upon us within the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms. For the Hopi, the truth goes even deeper.

The Katsinas

The Katsinas are seen as supernatural beings who are messengers. Each Katsina represents a particular spiritual role in the ceremonies.

The One Power

To the Hopi, the great breathing mountains, the talking stones, and 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 in unison with 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 to non-Hopi observers, the esoteric beauty of the ceremonies will touch one's heart and the vague meanings become intuitively familiar and comfortable.

The Wuwuchim ceremony consists of eight days of 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:

"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, to the Hopi people

Interior panorama of a reconstructed kiva at Mesa Verde National Park. It is similar to a Hopi kiva.

Interior panorama of a reconstructed kiva at Mesa Verde National Park. It is similar to a Hopi kiva.


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 from 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, by Frank Waters

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 30 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.

Birth Traditions

The sacred traditions begin at the moment of birth, when the baby is kept in a darkened room for 20 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 the emergence to the second world, the next five days is the 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 20 days, the baby is taken outside to be presented to the Sun Spirit, Tawa.

The Hopi Reservation as seen from Arizona State Route 264, a few miles from Oraibi.

The Hopi Reservation as seen from Arizona State Route 264, a few miles from Oraibi.

Author's Notes

  • Four Corners Region: The Four Corners region in the southwestern United States consists of the southwest corner of Colorado, the northwest corner of New Mexico, the northeast corner of Arizona, and the 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.
  • Katsina vs. Kachina: 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.

Gratitude and Blessings

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.

Learn More

© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on August 22, 2020:

Hi Linda. You are most welcome. I am glad it will help with schooling. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Linda Bausman on August 22, 2020:

What a great article! My grandson and I will be reading this as part of his homeschooling. Thanks!

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on October 15, 2019:

Thank you, Bryan.

Bryan on October 15, 2019:


Janet B. Eigner on April 13, 2019:

Please update and add the actual or near-precise dates of each ceremony and its name...thanks,

Dr. Janet Eigner

Santa Fe, NM

on March 20, 2019:

Wow I Read this cool

Aileen on November 28, 2018:

hi im a fifth grade

Hope on March 29, 2018:

i am hopi and most of this is accurate but some of it isnt

chinas on February 14, 2018:

what is the hopis

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 14, 2018:

Read the article Grace for information on kachinas.

grace on January 09, 2018:

amazing what are kachinas

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 21, 2017:

Very glad to know that.

fra on September 20, 2017:

you helped me w/ my report

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on February 22, 2017:

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.

Dave Renfro on February 19, 2017:

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...

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 Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on February 09, 2017:


michael on February 08, 2017:

nice website

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 23, 2015:

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

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on December 22, 2015:

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 Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 15, 2015:

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.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 15, 2015:

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 Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 05, 2014:

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.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on January 05, 2014:

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"

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 07, 2013:

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

sheilamyers on December 07, 2013:

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.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 06, 2013:

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 Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 06, 2013:

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 .... :)

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on December 06, 2013:


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 Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 06, 2013:

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 from North Carolina on December 06, 2013:

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...:)

sheilamyers on December 06, 2013:

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 Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 06, 2013:

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 Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 06, 2013:

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.

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on December 06, 2013:

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

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

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 06, 2013:

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.

Barbara Purvis Hunter from Florida on December 06, 2013:


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

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 06, 2013:

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 Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 05, 2013:

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

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 05, 2013:

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