In Good Spirits 7 Little Words – The Hopi maintain a complex religious and mythological tradition that goes back centuries. However, it is difficult to say with certainty what all Hopi believe as a group. Like the oral traditions of many other societies, Hopi mythology is not always told consistently, and each Hopi tribe or village may have its own version of a particular story, but “in essence, the versions of the Hopi myth are clearly similar to each other.”
It is also unclear whether the stories told by non-Hopi, such as anthropologists and ethnographers, represent core Hopi beliefs or are merely stories told to the curious while protecting the more sacred teachings of the Hopi. According to folklorist Harold Courlander, “The Hopi are tempted to discuss what might be considered ritual mysteries or religious traditions.”
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Moreover, the Hopi were always ready to assimilate foreign ideas into their cosmology if they proved effective for such practical needs as bringing rain.
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The Hopi came into contact with Europeans as early as the 16th century, and some believe that European Christian traditions may have once influenced Hopi cosmology. Indeed, beginning in 1629, Spanish missions were built in several Hopi villages and operated until the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. But after the revolt, of all the Pueblo peoples, only the Hopi permanently kept the Spanish out of their villages, and regular contact with whites was not restored until nearly two months later. Therefore, the Hopi Mesas were considered “relatively uncultured” until at least the beginning of the 20th century, and we can assume that European influence on the main themes of Hopi mythology was small.
Most Hopi origin stories are related to Tava, the sun spirit. Tawa is the creator and it was he who fashioned the “first world” out of the Tokpella or weather space and its original inhabitants.
Hopi mothers still have the custom of seeking the blessing of the sun for their newborn.
According to other accounts, Tawa or Taiowa first created Sotuknang, whom he called his nephew, and instructed him to create the nine universes according to his plan. Sotuknang also created Spider Woman, who acted as the messenger of the creator and was the guardian between deity and humans. In some versions of the creation myth, the Hopi create all life under Sotuknang.
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However, other stories say that life was created by the Hard Woman of the West and the Hard Woman of the East, while the sun merely watched the process.
Masauwu (Maasaw, Mausauu), the skeleton man, was the spirit of death, the god of the earth, the gatekeeper of the fifth world and the guardian of fire. He was also the Lord of the Upper World or the Fourth World, and there good people fled the evil of the Third World for the sake of the Fourth Promise.
Masauwu is described as wearing a hideous mask, but again showing the diversity of Hopi myth, Masauwu has been alternately described as a handsome, bejeweled man wearing a mask, or as a bloody, terrifying creature. It is also assigned certain belt attributes.
One story says that it was Masauwu who helped the Hopi settle Oraibi and gave them dominion over the land. He also instructed them to watch for the arrival of Pahana (see paragraph below), the lost white brother.
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Maize is vital to Hopi survival and faith. “For the traditional Hopi, maize is a central connection. Its essence, physical, spiritual and symbolic, permeates their existence. For the people of Mesa, maize is a nutrient, a ritual object, a prayer offering, a symbol and a being unto itself. Maize is the mother in the truest sse that men take in the corn, and the corn becomes their flesh, as a mother’s milk becomes the flesh of a child.’
Barry Pritzker writes: “According to the Hopi foot, when time and space began, the sun spirit (Tawa) created the first world where insect-like creatures lived miserably in caves. Aiming to fix Tawa is a spirit called Spider-Grandma. the lower world. The grandmother-spider took the first creatures on a long journey to the Other World, where they took the form of a wolf and a bear. However, since these animals were no happier than the previous one, Tawa created a new third world and once again the holy spider grandmother to transport the wolves and bears there. When they arrived, they became human.” Grandma Pajk taught them knitting and pottery, and Hummingbird brought them a fire drill.
Ancestral Puebloan petroglyph in Mesa Verde National Park. The boxy spiral shape near the center of the photo probably represents the “sipapu,” the place where the Puebloan ancestors emerged from the earth in their creation story.
According to one version, after evil broke out among the inhabitants of the third world with the help of the spider grandmother or bird spirits, a hollow bamboo reed grew in the fourth world when the third world was opened. This sipaput is traditionally considered the Grand Canyon. According to Barry Pritzker, people with a good heart (kindness) reached the fourth world.
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Another version (mostly told in Oraibo) says that Tawa destroyed the third world in a great flood. Before the destruction, the spider grandmother imprisoned the prettier people in hollow reeds, which they used as boats. When the people arrived at a small piece of dry land, after planting a large bamboo shoot, climbing to the top of it and looking around, they saw nothing but more water. Spider Woman ordered the humans to make several boats out of reeds, and using the “stepping boards” on the island along the way, the humans traveled eastward until they reached the mountainous shores of the Fourth World.
Although it may not be possible to determine with certainty which is the original or “correct” story, Harold Courlander writes that, at least in Oraibi (the oldest Hopi village), young children are often told the story of the sipap, and the story of the ocean voyage is related to them when they are older .
He states that the name of the ev Hopi water clan (Patkinyamu) literally means “abode on the water” or “houseboat”. However, he notes that the Sipapu story is associated with the Walpi and is widely accepted among the Hopi.
Barry Pritzker says, “In this fourth world, people learned many lessons about the right way to live. They learned to worship Masauwu, who ensured that the dead returned safely to the underworld, and who gave them four sacred tablets, symbolically a form, describing their journeys and proper behavior in the fourth world. Masauwu also told the people to follow Pahán, the missing white brother.’
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Upon arrival in the Fourth World, the Hopi split up and participated in several large migrations across the land. Sometimes they would stop and build a city, then abandon it to continue their migration. They left their symbols on the rocks to show that the Hopi were there. For a long time, the divided people traveled in family groups and eventually formed clan names based on the euta, or mark, that a particular group received on its journey.
These clans would travel as a united community for a time, but almost inevitably disagreements would arise, the clan would split, and each section would go its separate way. However, when the clans traveled, they often banded together in large groups, only for these groups to disband and reform along with the other clans. These alternating periods of harmonious life, followed by evil, permanence, and separation, play an important role in Hopi myth. This pattern began in the first world and continues throughout history.
During the migration, each Hopi clan had to go in all directions to the farthest end of the earth. Far to the north was a land of snow and ice called the “Back Gate,” but it was closed to the Hopi. However, the Hopi say that other peoples entered the Fourth World through the back door. The “back gate” could refer to the Bering land bridge that connected Asia to North America. The Hopi were guided by various signs in their migration, or they were helped by a spider woman. Eventually, the Hopi clans completed their planned migration and were moved to their current location in northeastern Arizona.
Most Hopi traditions say that they were given their land by Masauwu, the spirit of death and lord of the fourth world.
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