Hopi Beliefs & the Spirits

by Momi Awana, Demand Media
The concept of motherhood plays an important role in Hopi spiritual beliefs.

The concept of motherhood plays an important role in Hopi spiritual beliefs.

The Hopi established the Oraibi settlement in the Black Mesa region of Arizona around 1150, though archaeological evidence suggests they may have entered the region between 500 and 700. They adapted to the dry climate, launching a successful system of dry-farming based around short-eared blue corn. Their spiritual beliefs reflect and enhance their reliance on the earth and the importance of family to survival.

The Earth-Mother and Spider-Woman

As members of the Pueblo cultural group, The Hopi integrated their respect for and reliance on the earth into their spiritual beliefs. They built their homes out of adobe bricks, but the ground served the more important function of providing tribes with nourishment, particularly the corn that served as their staple crop. As a result, the Hopi believed that the earth was a mother figure of sorts. According to their legends, the spider-woman Kokyangwuti created humanity out of clay and her own spittle, imbuing them with wisdom and the potential for happiness.

The Cloud People

Rain played an equally important role in Hopi survival, and they marked its importance in their rituals surrounding birth and death. When a member of the community passed on, the Hopi would dress the deceased in masks of white cotton to represent clouds, as they believed all Hopi became clouds in the afterlife. These clouds would bless the village with rain. The rain would become corn, which would go on to nourish the bodies of living Hopi.

Spiritual Interdependence

When the Hopi asked their ancestors, whom they called "kachinas," for rain, they did so with the understanding that the kachinas must give something in return. The Hopi established a system of interdependence and reciprocity by holding ceremonies in which they would offer the kachinas the fruits of their labor. The kachinas, in turn, would eat the essence of the offering, leaving the physical component behind for the Hopi. By consuming the lightest aspect of the food, the kachinas were able to float, as clouds, and continue providing rain, fulfilling their obligation to their living relatives.

Sun-Father and Judgment

The Hopi believe that the present generation of humans are simply the fourth in a series of creation and destruction cycles. Taiowa, the Sun-Father, created the world, but humans eventually forgot about Taiowa and became corrupt in their actions. Disappointed in humanity, Taiowa sent his nephew, Sotuknang, to destroy the world's surface. The faithful, righteous humans survived each cycle of destruction, eventually migrating to the Black Mesa region to establish the Hopi culture. The story of creation and destruction encouraged the Hopi to maintain the balance between the physical and spiritual world through reciprocity, ceremony and their traditional way of life.

About the Author

Since 2003, Momi Awana's writing has been featured in "The Hawaii Independent," "Tradewinds" and "Eternal Portraits." She served as a communications specialist at the Hawaii State Legislature and currently teaches writing classes at her library. Awana holds a Master of Arts in English from University of Hawaii, Mānoa.

Photo Credits

  • Edward S. Curtis/Hulton Archive/Getty Images