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Hopi Religion

Hopi Religion Quintych (watercolor study), Mark W. McGinnis, 1996

Hopi people do not have a Hopi religion in the same way most European-Americans think of religion.  Hopi life is Hopi religion. There is no separation of the religious life from all other activities of the Hopi. Planting corn, weaving fabric, caring for children are all religious activities.  Likewise the elaborate ceremonies of the Hopi are also seen as practical activities. Their purpose is to ensure the continuation of life.  The practical and religious have no separation in Hopi life and faith (Loftin 3).  For most traditional Hopi it would be literally unthinkable not to have faith in what they see as their unbroken relationship with the Creator that extends back through the history of four worlds and will continue for three more worlds and beyond.

The complexity and richness of Hopi beliefs form volumes of information that is not only far, far beyond the scope of this essay, but much of which is not public information. This essay will attempt to give a small sampling of Hopi beliefs and life.

The Hopi believe that the First World was endless space and the Creator, Taiowa. The Creator first created his nephew Sotuknang and gave him the job of harmoniously forming the universes. Sotuknang in turn created Kokyangwuti, Spider Woman, whom he charged with the job of helping create life on earth, giving the web of life knowledge, wisdom, and love.  Spider Woman then created the twins, Poqanghoya and Palongawhoya, whose job it was to solidify the earth and bring it into balance. The twins were then stationed at the earth’s two poles to ensure this stability.  Spider Woman then began creating all the plant and animal life forms on earth, giving each a name. She molded each out of the earth, covered them with her white cape, sang over them, and gave them life. The Creator and his nephew were both very pleased with the quality of her work.

The Creator then ordered Spider Woman to create human beings. This time she gathered earth of four different colors: yellow, red, white, and black. She molded a figure of each using the liquid of her mouth to form them. She covered them with the white-substance of her cape, which was the essence of wisdom, and they were created in the image of Sotuknang. She then created four more creatures in her own image to be the female partners for the first four men. When she uncovered them it was in the time of the dark purple light — the first phase of creation. The people soon began to move but they were still damp and they still had a soft spot on their heads. The breath of life entered them and it was then the time of the yellow light — the second phase of creation. Then the Sun appeared on the horizon drying the people and hardening the soft spot on their heads. This was the time of the red light and the third phase of the dawn of creation.  The Spider Woman told the people to look at the sun as it was their father, the Creator.

Spider Woman found that the people could not talk so she called upon Sotuknang for help. He gave them the gift of speech and a different language for each color. He also gave them a respect for each other’s differences, wisdom, and power to reproduce and multiply.  He gave them these great gifts with only one requirement: that they always respect, remember, and honor the Creator.

The First People in the First World went out with the pristine wisdom granted them and lived in beautiful harmony with their Mother Earth and all its creation.  All people understood that their real father was the Creator, and their real mother was Mother Earth —  they were made of her flesh and suckled at her breast. The First People multiplied and spread over the earth. They understood each other without talking and the same was true in their dealings with the animals and plants.  But after time they began to forget to respect and honor the Creator, and they began to use their powers only to satisfy their own pleasures. It was at this time that the animals withdrew from the people and became afraid of them. The people of different colors and languages also began to draw away from one another. The Creator was not happy with the way things were developing. Sotuknang gathered together those people who still remembered to follow the ways of the Creator and told them to travel to a large mound where the Ant People lived.  The Ant People invited the people to live with them below the earth. Sotuknang then destroyed the First World with fire. Meanwhile the people learned many useful things living with the wise and hard working Ant People. After the Second World was created the people were allowed to emerge again.  It was not as beautiful as before but still very beautiful. The animals remained wild and kept away from the people.  The people began trading and bartering and soon they became greedy and wanted more and more. They soon forgot to sing praises to the Creator and instead sang praises to the goods they traded. They began to fight amongst themselves and war between villages.  There were still some that remembered the Creator and sang his songs. These people were again spared the destruction of the Second World by being sheltered underground.  The Second World was destroyed by ice.

After a long period of recovery the Third World was created and the people were once again allowed to emerge and again they multiplied, this time creating great cities, and, again, the people became more involved in earthly, material pursuits than in praising and relating to the Creator.  Still a few people clung to the ways of the Creator.  The people became so corrupt they even made flying machines in which they could attack one another. This time the just were saved from destruction by Spider Woman, who sealed them in hollow reeds with food and water, and the Third World was destroyed by a huge flood.  When the Fourth World was created the Spider Woman directed the people to search for the place they should make their home and not settle anywhere where life would be easy for them, as they would just fall into evil ways again.

The people divided into groups to begin their migrations and the search for the promised land.  They were instructed to travel to the ends of the earth and back. The traveling migration groups of the Hopi were called the clans.  The Creator sent the god of death, Maasaw, to give them instructions on the migration, how to know their final home when they found it, and how to live when they arrived. These instructions were written symbolically on tablets he gave the four major clans. He explained to them that the clans must make migration in the four directions to the end of the earth in each direction before they could reach their home.  The marks and influences of these migrations can be seen all over the Americas. Some settled in the tropics, living the easy life, ignoring the Creator’s law. There they built great cities that were destined to fail. Some clans persisted and finished the migrations and found their true homeland.  It was, as recommended by Spider Woman,  a land of difficulty where they would have to rely on sparse rainfall to grow their crops and rely on their prayer to the Creator for help and sustenance in survival (Waters 3-36).

It was the Bear Clan that first completed the full migration and found the Hopi Mesas in what is now northeastern Arizona. They settled in a village called Oraibi. As other clans arrived from the migrations, they had to apply to the Bear Clan for permission to settle. If they had used their powers wrongly during the migration, they had to settle in other villages. If they hadn’t misused their powers, they had to demonstrate their ceremonial contributions to prove their worthiness. The clans arrived, settling on the three Hopi Mesas, developing their skills in dry land farming and grazing. They evolved an annual cycle of ceremonies to keep them in touch with the Creator.  They were assisted each year by kachina, spirits who blessed and helped their efforts. [The word kachina is now being replaced by the word katsina, as there is no ch sound in the Hopi language.] Their religious life was connected to the practical life of each day (Waters 109-111).

When Maasaw instructed the people on how to farm the land, he told them that they could use the land only if they did so with humility and with good harmonious hearts. If they exhibited arrogant, greedy, or disrespectful behavior, or did not maintain their obligations to the Creator, the sparse rains would not come and their labor would be in vain. To insure that they kept their connection to the Creator this time, after the previous three failures, the Hopi developed one of the most complex and wonderful year-long ceremonial cycles human beings have ever devised.

One of the most important aspects of Hopi ceremony is the kiva. It is an underground chamber, circular or rectangular in shape, that is sunk into the earth like the womb of Mother Earth.  While public dances are held in the village plaza, secret ceremonies are held in the kivas. Ladders lead down into the kiva where, at the center, is a fire pit. The eastern side is raised above the level of the western side and the priests always occupy the lower level and the novices the raised level. Each village may have any number of kivas.  Oraibi once had fourteen active kivas.  The kiva is the focal point of the religious life and the heart of the ceremonies and propagation of Hopi life (Waters 126-7). Another important element of nearly all Hopi ceremonies is the pahos or prayer stick. The feathers in a pahos may be of any kind but usually an eagle feather is used.  From the time of the Hopi’s emergence to the Fourth World, eagle feathers were used as a vehicle to carry messages from the people to the Creator. The pahos can also contain cotton string, painted sticks, corn pollen and husk, honey, and other materials.  A pahos is made with great prayerfulness and smoked over.  It is then used in a shrine where its invisible power is absorbed by the forces of life (Waters 131-2). Ritual smoking is the most common form of Hopi prayer among men. John Loftin has summarized the practice as follows:

[Ritual smoking] involves the smoking of Hopi tobacco mixed with rain tobacco or spruce, pine, and aspen in a variety of clay pipes with reed stems.  The participants sit in a semicircle, and each one “drinks” four puffs of smoke from the pipe, which is then passed to the next person. As the pipe changes hands, the two men involved exchange kinship terms — for example, “my father-my son,” my uncle-my nephew” — thus demonstrating the unity of their hearts in requesting material blessing from the sacred. The Hopi feel that prayers are effective only if the participants are united in their thoughts and feeling, which should be focused on harmony and fertility for all the world. They also think that one participant with bad feelings, such as anger, greed, or arrogance, can ruin the efficacy of Hopi prayer. (38)

Other important elements found in Hopi ceremonies are cornmeal and medicine water. Sacred cornmeal is used in a multitude of ways in the ceremonies. Cornmeal is symbolic of Mother Corn, which is synonymous with Mother Earth — Corn is the sustenance of life. Medicine water is created by refracting a ray of sunlight through a piece of quartz into a bowl of pure spring water. It is a uniting of heaven and earth, of the male and female, to form sacred water for use in ceremonies.

Alph H. Secakuku describes the great Hopi ceremonial cycle according to the rhythm of the moon (5).  Muya comes for Muuyawa, which means moon:

Kelmuya: Men’s Societies Ceremonies — Each year the Hopi religious calendar is formalized and decreed  during this season in November. The Wuwuchim ceremony  participants are restricted to those who have completed  the “manhood” initiation. In the ceremony they proudly  commemorate and celebrate the wholeness of the creation  of the Fourth World. The ceremony requires eight days  of preparations and eight days of kiva rituals. The  ceremony is announced, participants purify and ready  themselves, perform sacred secret ceremonials in the  kivas, and a public dance is performed in the plaza to  involve the entire community.  As this is the first  great ceremony of the ceremonial cycle the fire of life  is lit, the emergence from the underworld proudly  commemorated, germination of life on earth celebrated,  and the eternal path of life for all humankind proudly  set.

Kyaamuya: Storytelling and Soyalangwu — This period in December is a time of reverence and respect for the  spirit beings.  It is a time for storytelling and the  performance of the Soyal ceremony.  Elders tell stories  both on adult and children’s levels. They are meant to  serve as moral guides and maintain a high standard of  Hopi life.  Soyalangwu ceremony is performed at the  arrival of Kyaamuya, the winter solstice season. The  sunrise and lunar observations set the time for the  ceremony.  This ceremony is to give direction to the  germination begun in the Wuwuchim ceremony. No colorful  public dance is performed during this period.  Instead,  its religious significance derives throughout from  rituals in the kiva which include reverent silence,  fasting for purification and humility, and the eating  of sacred Hopi foods to achieve prolonged spiritual  concentration and dedication. It is at this time that  the Soyal Katsina, the first katsina of the season  appears.

Paamuya: Social Dances — This is the time of the  “moisture moon,” in January.  It is marked by “social”  dances held at night in the kiva or homes, or in the  plaza by day.  The dances often deal with animals of  the area and involve women and men in carefully planned  and rehearsed dances. It is a festive time of reverence  and pleasure.

Powamuya: Bean Dance, Katsinam — The Powamuya is  perhaps the most complex of all Hopi ceremonies.  The  ceremony is the third of the great winter ceremonies  and among its purposes is to purify the new life that  has begun in the first two ceremonies. Beans are  planted in the kivas and grown as part of the  ceremonies. It is also a time of initiation of Hopi  children into either the Powamu or Katsina societies.  In this ceremony the katsinam appear among the Hopi so  life for all humankind can have substantial growth and  maturity.

Osomuya: Night Dances, Soo’so’yoktu, Katsinam – This season encompasses the month of March when a series of  katsina night dances takes place in each of the  villages.  From now until the end of July the katsina  rituals and beliefs will be manifested in the lives of  the Hopi.  The katsinam are ever-watchful spirit  beings, the invisible forces of life and messengers who  listen for humble prayers. The immediate goal of the  night dances is to create a pleasant atmosphere for all  life forms, encourage their growth, and bring all-  important rain.

Kwiyamuya: Hototom, Katsinam —  April is the time  fruit trees begin budding and planting time is there  for gardens and some early crops.  It is also time to  build windbreaks, called kwiya, for the seedlings. It  is a time of racer and mudhead katsinas visiting the  villages and creating much entertainment and  excitement.

Hakitonmuya: Hototom, Katsinam — This is the time for  planting beans, pumpkins, melons, and gourds. In May  men of different clans go forth to collect eaglets and  young hawks and adopt them into their clan families.  The families have said prayers to the mother eagles to  let them have an eagle and a gift of turquoise or  polished shell is left in the nest for the mother.  The  Hopi believe that anything young, like eaglets, is  innocent and pure of heart, thus possessing the  greatest spiritual powers.  Treated the same as newborn  Hopi children, the eaglets receive a ritual blessing,  have their “hair” washed, and are given a Hopi family  surname. The eaglets remain in the village to live with  and observe the people in the village for the rest of  the time of the katsinam.

Wuko’uyis: Katsinam — This is the June planting  season. It is an important time for all plant life,  especially the sacred corn which needs special blessing  to support its growth to maturity.  Traditionally, a  clan mother sponsors an organized planting party in her  clan corn field. It is also the time of the human  clowns. At about noon, a rowdy handful of human clowns  appear on the roof of one of the houses of the plaza  and make their raucous and awkward way down, in search  of the katsinam. The clowns have a very complex  ceremonial role. They act out many activities  indicative of that which is not in keeping with the  Hopi way — dishonesty, disrespectfulness, laziness. In  doing so they provide a great deal of amusement for the  people. Their acts also provide serious and wise  advice because the clowns are powerful critics of  unacceptable behavior.

Talangva: Katsinam Niman — The month of July is when all activities of summer climax with the sacred Niman ceremony or Home Dance — the all-important ritual  ending the katsina season. In the Niman ceremony, the  katsinam who have been on earth in their physical form  since the winter solstice will return home to their  spiritual world.  The ceremony is performed at  midsummer and is a time of high prayer and kiva rituals  as well as the final katsina dances. On the first day  of the Home dance the katsinas give the adopted eagles  the same presents given to good Hopi boys and girls:  katsina dolls, toy bows and arrows, and other gifts.  The eagles are then smothered in cornmeal. All their  feathers are removed except the head feathers and one  primary feather on each wing.  The removed feathers are  used in ceremonies for years to come and in that way  they stay a part of and continue bestowing blessings on  the family and village into which they were adopted.  The eagles are ritually buried with the gifts they  received from the katsinas. The eagles and their  knowledge of how the Hopi have been living then return  to the spirit land with the katsina.

Tala’paamuya: Snake-Antelope or Flute Ceremonies — This is the time of the summer social dances which include the Flute and the Snake-Antelope ceremonies

which are held on alternate years. The Flute Ceremony is a symbolic representation of the entire pattern of   humanity from the emergence to the present through song  and dance. The ceremony is to help bring the last of  summer rains and warming to mature the crops. The  Snake-Antelope Ceremony is the most famous to the  general public of all the Hopi ceremonies due to its  sensational aspect of men dancing with live  rattlesnakes in their mouths.  The ceremony lasts  sixteen days and the Snake Dance is held on the final  day.  The ceremony consists of gathering the snakes,  of races, and of dances.  The Snake Dance itself does  consist of the men dancing with all kinds of snakes,  including rattlesnakes, clenched gently between their  teeth.  Rarely is anyone bitten.  After the dance the  snakes are released outside the village with the  blessing that they carry the message of the renewal of  life to the four corners of the world.

Nasanmuya: Maraw, Harvest — This is the harvest season  in September and the time of the beginning of the  women’s ceremonies. The Marawimi Ceremony is performed  only by those women and a few men who are initiated  into the Maraw society. The ceremony is focused on  prayer and meditation.

Toho’osmuya: Lakon, O’waqolt — October is the time that the women’s ceremonies continue. Only women who are part of the Lakon society can participate in the

Lakon Ceremony and a few men are also participants to carry out specific ceremonial duties. The ceremony  deals with reinforcing maternal ideals. The final part  of the women’s ceremonies is O’waqolt, or the Basket  Dance.  As with the previous two ceremonies, the dance  involves both men and women and encourages healthy  impregnation and maternal ideals.

From approximately the winter solstice to the summer solstice the Hopi are assisted in their ceremonies by the spirits called katsinam. Katsinam are believed to come from the San Francisco Mountains to the west of the Hopi mesas, but they are also said to be from neighboring stars and distant worlds. They are invisible forces of life. They are not gods but messengers.  Their mission is to help bring rain and snow, moisture to help the continuation of life through the crops of the Hopi. There have been as many as 350 different katsina in the Hopi ceremonies. When the men who impersonate the katsinam dance, they lose their own identities and become the katsina.  It is a great responsibility.  Girls are given likenesses of the katsina carved from cottonwood roots to help them learn about the spirits. It is believed that the katsinam emerged with the people, were with them on their migrations, and now continue to help them.  The songs and dances of the katsinam are meant to serve as prayer, to provide help, and to bring happiness. The katsinam can be extremely powerful and at times terrifying in their incredible costumes (Waters 165-7). The creative force of the katsinam make them some of the most outstanding artistic expressions of any culture. The design and construction of hundreds of different katsina costumes is stunning in its diversity.  The songs and dances of the katsinam are equally amazing.  Each song and dance has a traditional complexity far beyond a non-Hopi’s understanding, but within that tradition each performer has the latitude for creative variations, which if very well done, are considered the ultimate in Hopi creativity. The katsinam are capable of expressing the full range of spiritual and human dimensions: from dignity and prayerfulness to beauty and loveliness to terror and ugliness to comedy and even vulgarity.

All the katsinam return to their spiritual homeland after the Niman ceremony with the exception of one, the Maasaw katsina. He is designated to stay and look over the Hopi villages and keep them safe. Maasaw is a wonderfully complex god in Hopi beliefs. He not only gave the Hopis their land and taught them farming, but also taught them fire making, homebuilding, and hunting skills. It must also be remembered that he is the god of death. The description given of the god in the numerous stories of his escapades is a most gruesome one:

He was about to step past the stranger, when the man [Maasaw] all at once changed his appearance so drastically that he now looked most repulsive. By making his transformation he had turned himself into a grotesque figure. His head was of colossal size and his face was covered with blood. Sores infested his head, from which sprouted only a sparse covering of hair. Ugh, he presented such an ugly sight!  His body was clearly in a state of putrefaction, so offensive was the stench he emitted. His shins were clearly visible, spotted with boils from which dripped pus (Molitki & Lomatuway’ma 45).

Maasaw had the capability to change himself into other forms as needed, primarily in order not to frighten villagers who could sometimes die from the sight of him. Hopi stories abound of his adventures that range from nobly protecting the Hopi people and helping them against their enemies to lecherous acts of taking sexual advantage of women.

Stories played a key role in the education of children and the general perpetuation of the cultural legacy of the Hopi. The stories ranged from complex tales of the migrations of the clans to children’s tales of morals and humor. The following illustrates the latter category:

Holding Up the Cliff

Coyote was living out there south of Oraibi, and one day he was going around looking for something to eat when he saw a grasshopper clinging to the base of a cliff. Coyote thought that the grasshopper looked very peculiar, with its legs against the cliff wall that way, but he was hungry and decided to eat it if he could. As he approached the grasshopper it said, “Thanks that you have come! I have been waiting all night.”

Coyote said, Why? Is something the matter?” and the grasshopper answered, “Matter? Yes, everything is the matter. The cliff wall is about to come down, and if it falls, the whole village will come down with it. I wanted to go up there and warn the people, but there was no time. So I stayed here and braced my feet against the cliff to hold it in place.” Coyote said, “Oh, that is something good that you are doing.”

The grasshopper said, “Now that you are here, I can warn the people of Oraibi. Come quickly and hold the wall for me.” Coyote went at once, lay on his side, and braced all four feet against the rocks.  The grasshopper said, “Do you have it held firmly?” Coyote said, “Yes, I’m holding it Go quickly, I don’t know how long I can hold it.” The grasshopper asked again, “Do you have it?” and Coyote said, “Yes, I have it.” Then the grasshopper leaped away.

Coyote laid there for a long time, his feet braced against the cliff wall. He was pushing very hard, and he was getting tired. At last he said, “I can’t hold it any longer!” So he jumped up and scrambled away, expecting the cliff to come down on him. But nothing happened, Coyote said, “Well, I did a good thing. I held it until Grasshopper arrived at the village and warned the people. They must have fixed it up above.”  told by Abbot Sekaquaptewa in July of 1968. (Courlander 232-3)

The Hopi life is one built around an oral tradition and complex web of ceremony, ritual, and traditions that are designed to keep them in touch with the Creator. This connection begins at birth. For the first twenty days of a child’s life it is kept in a darkened room. The process has been explained as follows:

…the twenty day confinement period after birth is understood as a reenactment of the emergence myth, the darkened room symbolizing the underworld from which the Hopi emerged in the beginning. The baby when born is perceived by the Hopi to be incomplete, just as the first Hopis were in the underworld.  According to tradition, Hopis in the underworld underwent a metamorphosis from insect-like creatures to fully human beings who finally emerged into this world.  The twenty-day confinement period following a birth is divided into four periods of five days each, symbolic of previous worlds.  The day after the birth the attendant rubs four lines of sacred cornmeal onto the four walls of the room, each one about one inch wide and six inches long.  Then at sunrise on the tenth, fifteenth and twentieth days, one cornmeal line is removed to symbolize the transition of the infant from one world to another. At sunrise on the twentieth day, the baby is considered to have emerged to this world and is taken outside to the edge of the mesa to be presented for the first time to the sun…..  The presentation of a twenty-day old infant to the sun is likened to the emergence of the Hopi through the earth navel. (Loftin 29)

The beauty of this ceremony in connecting each newborn with the original creation of the Hopi themselves is typical of the repeated connections made throughout the life of each individual Hopi with all Hopi before. It is also a very gentle way to make the transition from the dark warmth of the womb to the light of the Hopi world.  Each traditional Hopi is so deeply connected to the past and to all other Hopi that to ask them of their “roots” would only evoke a very perplexed response.

The Hopi culture follows a matriarchal lineage and property rights. Following clan and kinship, women own the homes, the cisterns, and even the sacred tiiponi, which is the “heart” of each of the major men’s ceremonies. This may seem strange in a culture that is so ceremonially dominated by men and their complex cycle of religious observance, but it is a characteristic of many cultures. Women are perceived as innately sacred. They have, naturally, tremendous sacred power to create life within themselves. They are the human manifestation of Mother Earth. Men, on the other hand, need to create external structures of relationship with God to attempt to make themselves sacred and keep a connection with the Creator.

Hopi women are also the owners of the fields. They call upon the male members of their kinship group to assist them in caring for the crops. The dry agriculture of the Hopi lands can easily be seen as a condition which would need divine intervention for success. When the Hopi emerged they were given their choice of what they wished to grow for sustenance. Staying with Spider Woman’s advice, they chose a short blue variety of corn that is noted for its difficulty to grow but also its hardiness.  The Hopi now grow six kinds of traditional corn: yellow, blue, white, red, purple and sweet.  These colors correspond to the cardinal directions of the Hopi: red, southeast; white, northeast; blue, southwest; yellow, northwest; purple, up; and sweet or speckled corn, toward the center of the earth (Page 31). Corn is seen not only as the basis for the life of the Hopi but a metaphor for the Hopi themselves. The Hopi word quatungwu means a harvested corn plant and also a human corpse.  They are  both transitory (Loftin 31). The Hopi concept of death and the afterlife is also deeply connected with their entire cosmic understanding. “Afterlife” is not the best way to describe the Hopi’s sense of what happens after death; it is more a continuation of a very long cycle. The Hopi don’t explicitly talk of reincarnation but the general belief is that people are born back into this world to continually take part in the immense continuity of humankind working its way through seven worlds in seven successive universes for an eventual forty-nine states of existence. There can be some exceptions to this continual reemergence. If people lead a ritually perfect existence, there is a chance they would become a katsina and join the spirit realm. If people are evil, practicing witchcraft, their reemergence into the cycle of life might be excruciatingly slow and painful. The Hopi way is not to dwell on a fear of damnation or a chance of eternal glory, but to be content to live in the nature cycle of Hopi life. The Hopi way is to shun individual honor, gain, fame, and attention.  The Hopi priests who take part in the great ceremonies return to everyday life as common villagers when the ceremony is finished. There is no “full-time” priesthood (Waters 192). The Hopi way is to live with the patterns of life as  a harmonious component. People are willing to play the needed roles to keep in unity with the Creator. Hopi morals and ethics are tied to the ceremonial and everyday life, as there is no difference seen between the two. Humility, kindness, peacefulness, and generosity is a way of life, not a set of imposed rules. Life is to be experienced in a receptive manner rather than as a series of events where the individual attempts to manipulate life by imposing individual will.

Today about 6,500 of the 9,500 Hopi live in villages on or around the three ancient mesas. The villages express considerable independence in government and religious ceremonies (Secakuku 1), but they are all represented by a tribal council imposed by the U.S. government. The history of foreign intervention into Hopi life is a long and extremely complex one. Spanish, American, Navajo, and other pressures and influences have taken their toll on the Hopi ways, but compared to many Native American groups they have been extraordinarily resilient. Only about five percent of the Hopis have converted to Christianity and they have maintained the core of their homeland, although Navajo encroachment continues (Page 157).  The Hopi have had the title of “The People of Peace” imposed on them by whites. Their basic ethical persuasion is certainly one of peace and harmony, but they have not been without conflict, especially conflict within the Hopi. From the time of the migrations to the present the Hopis have not been all of one mind. Today among themselves there is a split between what the whites have labeled the “traditionalists,” those who would stay strictly to the old ways, and the “progressives,” those who would adapt to the American ways around them. Most Hopis reject these labels as the distinctions are not nearly that clear.

Certainly, the fullness of the Hopi ceremonial cycle has been eroded. One has only to contemplate the commitment, devotion, and immense amount of labor and time it would take to maintain the ceremonial cycle in the old ways, to see how quickly modern ways and thinking could diminish it. While the lessening of devotion to the ceremonial cycle saddens many Hopi, it is also seen by many as the fulfillment of prophesy. According to the Hopi cosmic vision, the Fourth World will inevitably end as did the first three.  The end will come in a similar way with the Hopi slowly forgetting and not observing their obligations to the Creator.  The Creator will then again call those faithful into protection, destroy the Fourth World, and start anew with the Fifth World. This apocalyptic vision caught special attention during the Cold War Years, particularly in the 1980’s when it looked as if we might well destroy ourselves. The prophecy has had a fatalistic impact on some Hopi, but many elders contend that is not the proper reaction to the prophecy:

Prophecy provides one with a strong direction in life. It illustrates definite patterns of evolution in this world, lets individuals know what to expect for the future, and as such prepares them for the inevitable. By taking note of prophecy and recognizing the signs of its fulfillment, people can adjust their lives in accordance with the ways of the universe, and by doing so, prolong the existence of this world. There is a definite strength in prophecy; it provides a clear recognition of present day realities, it calls for an acceptance of disharmony and corruption in spirit, and it points toward the importance of self-sufficiency, self-discipline, and attentiveness to Hopi teachings and practices in preparation for the next world.  Unfortunately, few Hopis appear to be taking note of prophecy and adjusting their lives for the better….  Most people express frustration and depression when talking about prophecy….  Prophecy has been used as an excuse to avoid personal responsibility in improving the qualities of life and behaving in a way that follows Hopi teachings and beliefs. There runs a tremendous pessimism throughout Hopi that things will only get worse….  It is foretold that although this world will end, no one can predict exactly when this event will come to pass.  In the meantime, people have lives to lead and a responsibility to do their utmost to contribute to the harmony of the universe — and other people’s well-being. (Loftin 115)

Lessons that can be learned from the Hopi are many. A primary one is the lesson so many tribal cultures represent: a sense of harmony and unity with nature. The Hopi envision a total web of the cosmos.  They see themselves in harmony with not only other people, but also with the other animals, the plants, the land, the earth, the stars, and the universe itself. They believe that one is not free to act independently of this great interdependency. We are not “free.” We have obligations to fulfill and duties to carry out to ensure that this web is not broken and that the cosmic road of life progresses. The Hopi have created a way of interlocked practical and religious life that attempts to fulfill those obligations with a deep sense of beauty.  The complexity and unity of the Hopi way of life is even more amazing when the difficulty of sustaining their physical lives in the arid environment is considered.

Many Hopis do not wish to be romanticized by the dominant culture as a timeless, noble people. They are very aware that they are human beings with the problems of most human beings. A look at their internal history makes that clear. But the lessons of the Hopi are needed by the post-industrial world. They are lessons that may help lengthen the time all humanity has until the Fifth World.


Courlander, Harold, Hopi Voices: Recollections, Traditions, and Narratives of the Hopi Indians, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982.

Loftin, John D., Religion and Hopi Life in the Twentieth Century, Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Malotki, Ekkehart and Michael Lomatuway’ma, Stories of Maasaw, A Hopi God, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.

Page, Susanne and Jake, Hopi, New York: Harry Abrams, 1994.

Secakuku, Aph H., Following the Sun and the Moon: Hopi Kachina Tradition, Flagstaff, Northland Publishing, 1995.

Waters, Frank, Book of the Hopi, New York: Penguin Books, 1977.

1996 copyright Mark W. McGinnis

Full Book Version of Designs of Faith available at

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