The Influence and Role of Religion In Hopi Society

Table of Content

The Hopi, a part of the Pueblo People, are among the various tribes of Native Americans who live in permanent, established villages in Northern Arizona and Western New Mexico (Dozier, 1970, p. 17).

The southern extension of the Colorado Plateau is a high altitude and arid region (Whiteley, 1987, p. 45). The term “pueblo” originates from the expeditions led by Spanish explorer Coronado, where it initially referred to the buildings and architecture. However, over time, the term began to include the people living in these towns and villages1.

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The pueblos set themselves apart from other Native Americans in the area by living in established villages and practicing intensive agriculture. While other tribes were nomadic or semi-nomadic, the Hopi tribe specifically resides in Northeast Arizona. Their villages are scattered across three elevated land formations called “mesas”. Currently, the Hopi tribe consists of around 9,500 members (Anthony, A.E.

& Ricks, J. B., 1993, p. 6.

) The Hopi are a significant focus in the examination of religion due to their unique geographic isolation. This isolation has resulted in their society being largely untouched by European influence, contrasting with neighboring cultures (Dozier, 1970, p. 156).

The Hopi’s neighboring tribes, the Zuni and Laguna, have been targeted by Spanish and Protestant missionaries since the time of European contact3. In New Mexico, traditional Native American religious practices were suppressed due to being seen as a threat and competition to Christianity. However, because of their isolation in Arizona, the Hopi were able to continue their religious practices without interference4. This paper will explore how the Hopi belief system, specifically their belief in Kachinas, is deeply ingrained in every aspect of Hopi society.

The incorporation of religion into Hopi society has a profound influence on its organization. The Hopi people have long recognized the importance of rain in their arid Northeast Arizona environment for sustenance, farming, and rejuvenating the parched land. Their religious beliefs guide them in navigating this challenging ecosystem through intricate ceremonies, prayers, and offerings.

Religion is integral to the Hopi people’s daily lives. It permeates all aspects of their existence, including politics, agriculture, personal relationships, and various stages of life. The spiritual beliefs of the Hopi serve as the foundation that connects individuals to one another, their clans, and their pueblos. As different groups joined the pueblos, the distribution of land and maintenance of order revolved around religious principles.

The Hopi have a strong belief in the spiritual aspect of life, as shown through their detailed analysis of cosmology and the concept of Kachinas. These beliefs are deeply embedded in every aspect of Hopi life and play a crucial role in the social organization of the Hopi people. According to Hopi Cosmology, the creation of mankind is depicted in a story involving four different worlds. Mankind faced numerous challenges and hardships, progressing through three worlds prior to reaching the current world.

In Hopi belief, each world is stacked on top of the previous world, with the fourth at the highest level. Before entering the fourth and current world, man existed in different forms like a mountain lion and a wildcat5. In certain versions of the story, man received supernatural aid in transitioning to the fourth world. According to these accounts, it was the Spider Woman6, the creator of salt and the mother of the Twin War Gods who safeguard the Hopi, that assisted them in ascending the ladder from the third world to the fourth7.

In alternative versions of the creation myth, the Hopi chief guided his tribe upwards to the fourth world. The Hopi accessed the fourth world via the sipapu, an entrance and exit to the underworld situated in the Grand Canyon, near the mouth of the Little Colorado River (Dozier, 1970, p. 204; Schaatfsma, 1992, p. ).

The Hopi people were told to prevent any witches or malevolent individuals from climbing the ladder. However, they acknowledged their failure when a Hopi child died during the journey. The responsible witch was identified and pleaded for her life by revealing that the child was not deceased, but had instead returned to inhabit the third world realm. This tale serves as the basis for the Hopi’s belief in the existence of an afterlife. According to their beliefs, the deceased members of their community go back to the third world, leading lives akin to the living beings. They are sustained by offerings and serve as intermediaries between the Hopi people and the gods.

The Kachinas are the deceased ancestors. This narrative of creation is crucial to the continuous Hopi belief that individuals continue to exist after their physical death. Death is simply a “transition from one state of being to another” (Glowacka, 1999, p.).

The Hopi believe that humans have both a body and a soul, and they view all things as having both a spiritual and physical aspect. This dualistic perspective helps maintain a balance between mass and energy.

According to M. D. Glowacka’s article titled “The Concept of Hikwsi In Traditional Hopi Philosophy,” a person’s soul is contained within their breath and is known as the hikwsi (p. 1).

) On the fourth day after death, the hikwsi departs from the physical body and journeys to the third world or the under world. This place is beyond the reach of our senses and is believed to be the original dwelling place of the hikwsi before being incarnated (p.

The Hopi people believe in an afterlife, which significantly impacts their lives in the present fourth world. It is crucial for everyone to avoid breaking any taboos that may offend the gods. Properly performing ceremony and offering rituals is of utmost importance.

According to Glowacka (1998, p.6), failing to follow the correct path may lead to punishment before a soul can reach the underworld. Glowacka’s article discloses that specific behaviors on earth guarantee that the hikwsi will never enter the underworld. Specifically, women who marry illegally or remain unmarried are unable to enter the underworld because they do not possess the necessary wedding garments.

Children who die before reaching puberty cannot enter the underworld. Instead, their hikwsi remains on earth until either another child is born or the mother passes away. In the latter case, the hikwsi can accompany her to the underworld (Glowacka, 1998, p. 7.). The soul’s fate is directly influenced by the individual’s improper conduct during their life.

This belief governs the lifestyle of traditional Hopi individuals. Additionally, Hopi cosmology features a narrative regarding the earth’s creation. According to this Hopi creation story, several gods were in existence prior to anything else. As described in Fred Egan’s perspective, the sky god generated a remarkably beautiful virgin who consequently sparked turmoil and competition among the other gods (Egan, F.).

According to Egan (1994, p. 8), the sky god transformed the virgin into the earth. Her eyes became the springs, her hair turned into the forests, and her secretions became the salt.

According to Egan (1994, p. 8), the story continues by stating that the sky god assigned different areas of the earth to different gods. Masau became the god of the earth’s surface and the dead, Muyingwa was placed at the center to guard the germs of life, Palolokong became the god of the waters and nourished life, while Tawa was established as the sun and father of all the gods.

According to the story, before humans arrived, the earth was already occupied by deities. This Hopi creation story explains how land was distributed and how the clan system was formed among the Hopi. Egan argues that when the Hopi entered the Fourth world, they did not have clans yet (Egan, 1994).

According to Egan (1994, p. 10), groups in the Southwest consisting of matrilineal units would wander aimlessly, and individual bands would form after significant events happened to them.

The Bear clan was named after discovering a deceased bear while they were wandering (Egan, 1994. p. 10).

After emerging from the underworld, various clans wandered around the Southwest region for an extended period. Among them, the Hopi clan obtained knowledge of agriculture and eventually decided to establish themselves on the mesas. According to Egan (1994, p.), the Bear clan were the pioneers in settling down, as they received a portion of land from the god Masau.

According to Egan (1994, p. 10), the Bear clan holds a prominent position among the clans as they were the first clan and currently have their chief serving as the village chief. Additionally, they are the proprietors of the village property.

As additional clans arrived, they were allocated land according to their performance of ceremonies to the Bear clan or their capacity to induce rain. The development of clan stature was in progress. Hopi clans derive their names from animals, plants, or various aspects of nature, and a strong connection exists between the clan and its namesake. The practice of ceremony and ritual links all the clans together in an interconnected manner.

The Tobacco clan offers tobacco and pipes, the Badger clan supplies roots for medicine, and the Sand clan contributes sand for altars (Egan, 1994. p. 11). Together, these clans provide essential elements for conducting appropriate ceremonies.

According to Schaafsma (1994, p. 11), each clan is crucial to the religious system. The Hopi society relies on the various clans, which trace their origins back to Hopi cosmology. Historical evidence indicates a significant drought or manmade catastrophe in the Southwest during the thirteenth century (1276-1299), resulting in the abandonment of many Pueblos north of the Hopi mesas.

These individuals migrated south and became part of the Hopi society. The assimilation of these newcomers was made possible by the Hopi religion. According to Hopi tradition, the Bear clan leader evaluated their skills upon their arrival, and assigned them a suitable place to live. The spiritual beliefs of the Hopi encompassed all aspects of Pueblo society and strengthened the secret religious knowledge of the leaders, which played a significant role in their authority (Adams, 1991, p. ).

The Hopi religion provided a means of maintaining control over newcomers to the territory and ensuring harmony through cohesion and assimilation. It facilitated the integration of these newcomers into the community by establishing relationships between the clans, as depicted in the Hopi tales of man’s migration across the desert and eventual settlement.

Certain clans formed strong bonds and were considered family. These connections still endure and are honored in present times. The Bear, Spider, Rope, and Bluebird clans share a common history of significant events that occurred during their migrations in the Southwest (Egan, 1994. p.).

According to Egan (1994, p. 1), certain clans such as the Cactus and the Lizard clan are connected because they share the same territory.

These clan relationships have a significant impact on the lives of the Hopi people. The clans provide mutual support in various ways, honoring each other through ceremonies. There is a competitive spirit among clans, as they strive to outshine one another. Clans are also entrusted with the ownership of specific ceremonies, requiring them to supply the necessary priests and ensure the proper execution of the ceremony.

The ceremonies play a significant role in uniting the Hopi people within their society. The extensive preparation required for these ceremonies involves almost every member of the clan. Access to ritual knowledge is limited among the Hopi, as each clan possesses its unique segment of the ritual, along with its distinct history and tradition.

A division in ceremonial and ritual knowledge does not signify social inequality; rather, it is a result of diversity (Glowaka, M. D. 1998, p. 2).

The calendar’s cycle of ceremonies is completed by combining the knowledge of ritual from all different clans. Religion facilitates the cohesion between these clans. Marriage within related clans is prohibited (Egan, 1994. p.).

According to Egan (1994), the Hopi society is characterized by being both matrilineal and matrilocal. As a result, loyalties and identities are spread across the entire society. The male relatives of the matriarchs are appointed as the chiefs, and each clan chief holds a specific position within the society.

p. 12). One could be the village chief, another could be the war chief, and the remaining one may serve as the Sunwatch chief (Egan, 1994. p.

12) The chiefs play crucial roles in both the society and the ritual, functioning as a cohesive unit. If any part of the whole is missing, the order of both the ritual and the society is disrupted. Additionally, it should be noted that the women in this society own all the homes and fields, rather than the clans (Egan, 1994).

The belief in the ancient stories of descent determines both clan membership and permissible marriages. The entire structure of Hopi society is founded on their spiritual beliefs and cosmology, with the political structure reflecting the spiritual realm.

The Idea of Kachinas is another aspect of Hopi Spiritual belief that permeates Hopi society. Kachina is a Hopi word that encompasses three interconnected concepts: spiritual beings, masked dancers/ceremonies, and dolls (Adams, 1991, p. ). According to Adams, the Kachinas serve as benevolent spiritual beings that encompass all aspects of the physical world (Adams, 1991, p.

According to Adams (1991, p. 4), the Kachinas reside in the high country and springs near Hopi land from the winter solstice until late July. After that period, they return to their home in the third world or the underworld (Adams, 1991, p.

The Hopi believe that the Kachinas enter the underworld through a ladder located at the San Francisco Peaks, as stated by Adams (1991, p. ). Broadly speaking, Kachinas serve as intermediaries between humans and the gods who govern natural forces.

The Kachina is a spiritual entity that collects the prayers of the Hopi people through song, dance, and performance. These prayers are then presented to the gods, who have ultimate control over the well-being of the Hopi community. In Adams’ study, it is revealed that the Kachina exists in two levels: the priestly or chief Kachinas and the non-priestly or dancing Kachinas (Adams, 1991, p. 17). Within Hopi society, this distinction is reflected in each clan’s claim of lineage from a specific chief Kachina.

Whatever the status and ranking of a specific Kachina may be, it will be reflected in the status and ranking of the clan it is connected to, with the highest ranking Kachina being associated with the highest ranking clan. The main purpose of the Kachina is to assist in bringing rain. They are also called upon to administer punishments. They reside in the underworld in villages that resemble those on earth, and after listening to the prayers of the faithful, they emerge from the underworld and ascend to the top of the San Francisco Peaks in cloud form (Adams, 1991, p.).

The Hopi belief in the afterlife is intertwined with their belief in Kachinas. When a Hopi person passes away, their breath of life or hikwsi journeys to the underworld to reunite with their ancestors. During this journey, the hikwsi may be held back and subjected to punishment based on their actions in their previous life.

In the afterlife, punishment involves being immersed in fire pits for purification, which serves as a strong motivator for adhering to proper behavior during one’s earthly existence (Adams, 1991, p. 17). After descending to the underworld, the departed maintains a Hopi-like existence, sustaining oneself by consuming the food offerings provided by the Hopi people and responding to their prayers (Adams, 1991, p. 8).

Each day, the Hopi ancestors go up the San Francisco Peaks as clouds and come back to the Hopi, bringing rain to nourish the crops and the land. The spiritual part of the Kachina forms the foundation of the Hopi’s faith in a life after death, and this afterlife is crucial to Hopi religion. Since the Hopi rely on their religion to provide them with rain, their spiritual beliefs permeate all aspects of Hopi society. Showing proper behavior and respect among villagers is essential for the Hopi to enter the underworld, resulting in a system of cooperation among them.

The masked dancers and ceremonies are the second aspect of the Kachinas in Hopi tradition. It is believed that the Kachinas used to physically visit the Hopi, but for unknown reasons, they no longer do so. Instead, the Hopi were taught to wear masks and costumes to mimic the Kachinas. By doing this, they were told that the Kachinas would spiritually return to bring rain and answer prayers.

Since ancient times, the Hopi people have engaged in a series of intricate rituals with various activities, such as feasting, singing, smoking, dancing, and performing. During these ceremonies, initiated participants wear Kachina masks and costumes. The dancers wearing masks are known as Kachinas, just like the spirits themselves. The Hopi men view the masks as their companions (Adams, 1991, p. 20).

The mask is a holy item crafted from cottonwood root. It symbolizes the essence of a particular Kachina and signifies the union of the man’s spirit with that of the Kachina when he wears the mask and costume. Through this bond, he becomes capable of conveying the village’s entreaties for rain or other divine requests to the gods who hold authority in these matters. The dancers themselves embody the unity between the Hopi people and their faith.

According to Adams (1991, p. 15), the Kachina ceremonies and masked dancing play a hierarchical role in the Hopi society. Specifically, only men are allowed to wear Kachina masks and partake in these dances. On the other hand, girls are initiated into the Marau and Lakon societies.

At birth, infants are isolated for a period of twenty days. Following this, the mother introduces the child to the sun deity and bestows upon it a name derived from her kinship group (Egan, F. 994, p. 13). For boys between the ages of eight and ten, a ceremonial father selected by the parents guides them into the Kachina religion (Egan, F.).

According to (1994, p. 13), the boy’s clan and the ceremonial father’s clan develop a kinship relation, which enhances unity within Hopi society. Moreover, the boy is initiated into different societies and receives guidance in ritual practices.

When the boy reaches the age of sixteen, he is initiated into one of the four main men’s societies: Kwan, Tao, Wuwutsim, or Ahl. This induction grants the boy a new status as a taka, which means “man” (Schaafsma 1992, p. 3). These four men’s societies together form a unit within the Kachina cult.

Membership in these societies cuts across clan boundaries. The Kachina cult not only initiates boys into manhood, but also contributes to the division of men and women into distinct roles and integrates multiple clans into a cooperative unit. The Kachina ceremonies serve as significant social gatherings where friends and relatives come together. The ceremonies play a crucial role in fostering strong connections within the community.

The ceremony involves not only the participant but also practically everyone in the village where it is held. Those not directly participating sponsor the ceremonies by providing food for the Kachinas to distribute to the people attending. Throughout the ceremonies, all the homes in the village keep their doors open to visitors in search of food and conversation. The cycle of ceremonies commences when the Kachinas come back from the underworld on the winter solstice and concludes in late July.

The main objective of the ceremonies is to obtain rain, but there are also additional purposes. One significant purpose of the ceremonies is the redistribution of wealth. When the ceremonies commence during the winter solstice, numerous individuals in the Pueblos may confront the threat of hunger. The ceremonies aim to rescue these individuals from starvation.

Frequently, more prosperous villages are requested to provide food for those who are less fortunate (Adams, 1991, p. 157). Kachina ceremonies serve other purposes as well, such as coordinating work groups for dam repairs or other public projects, promoting fertility, addressing disciplinary issues, initiating individuals into different societies, or healing individuals. Some Hopi masks display parallel lines and warrior marks on the cheeks, implying that the Kachinas may have supported the Hopi during times of war (Adams, 1991, p.).

The cycle of ceremonies includes three main events. The initial one is called Soyalang, which takes place during the winter solstice. Soyalang is a ceremony celebrated to welcome the Kachinas back to the earth after their time in the underworld. This ceremony is of great significance and is specifically associated with the Bear clan (Rushford ; Upham, 1992, p.

40). The second ceremony is the Powamuya, which takes place in February. During this ceremony, young men are initiated into the cult. Powamuya is sometimes known as the Bean dance.

Food redistribution plays a crucial role in the ceremony known as Nimanywu, which is one of the three major Hopi ceremonies. Nimanywu takes place after the summer solstice and is intended to send the Kachinas back to their underworld home. While regular Hopi ceremonies span three days, the three major ones – Soyalang, Powamuya, and Nimanywu – last for eight days (Adams, 1991, p.).

According to Dozier (1970, p. 57), ceremonies take place in the village square, which is enclosed by buildings that are typically two stories high on all sides. By staging these ceremonies in the town square, it becomes a public event that enables the entire population to easily observe from various angles, including the rooftops.

This public display of the elaborately dressed Kachinas differentiates between community members who are part of the cult and those who are not. This display establishes the sacred power held by certain individuals and distinguishes them from others (Rushford ; Upham, 1992, p. 97). The ceremonies not only delineate the power structure but also foster stability by incorporating all clans into the Kachina cult. Lastly, the dolls represent the third aspect of the Kachinas.

The Kachina dolls are made from cottonwood root by the Hopi and are miniature representations of different Kachinas (Adams, 1991, p. 6). Female children receive these dolls until they are eight or nine years old, when they are initiated into women’s societies (Adams, 1991, p. 6).

The purpose of Kachina dolls is disputed among experts, but it is believed that they may have been used as tools to teach children about recognizing and distinguishing between different Kachinas (Adams, 1991, p 6). These dolls serve as a valuable way to reinforce the power structure of Hopi society as reflected in the Kachina world. The importance of this can be seen in the fact that children are required to learn about it (Adams, 1991, p 6). From childhood, when children are given Kachina dolls, their lives become intertwined with Hopi religion, which organizes the structure of their society.

Religion permeates every aspect of Hopi society, with clan identity being closely tied to cosmological beliefs. The ordering of clans creates stratification, with the Bear clan holding the highest position. This religious belief system also influences the location of each clan’s residence and serves as a means of controlling the integration of newcomers without causing conflicts.

Religion plays a crucial role in determining clan identification, which in turn affects marriage eligibility. The Hopi religion deeply influences the Hopi community from a young age, beginning with the introduction of Kachina dolls. As individuals reach puberty, they are initiated into the Kachina cult as part of their religious indoctrination. Upon death, Hopi individuals return to the underworld to carry on their Hopi existence and ensure rainfall for their people.

All aspects of society, including the cooperative execution of ritual and ceremony and the initiation of youth into adulthood, are given order by the religion of the Hopi people. Central to Hopi religion is the belief in the continuation of Hopi life after death.

The Hopi people’s behavior towards each other is significantly impacted by this idea. In order to attain the reward of living in the underworld, cooperation between the Hopi and careful adherence to ritual detail in life are essential. The involvement of all individuals in different ceremonies contributes to the unity of the religion. The Kachina cult’s diverse societies function as a unified entity and are indispensable for the successful execution of a ceremony and the functioning of the system.

The Hopi religion, specifically the Kachina cult, plays a vital role in uniting the Hopi society by transcending other social organizations like the clan.

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