the Hopi Agricultural and Ceremonial Cycle
excerpt from The Kivas of Heaven: Ancient Hopi
Gary A. David
© 2004-2011 by Gary A. David
hangs still on every hill,
curls up the valleys at eve; but noon
fullest of Spring; and at midnight the moon
her westering throne to Orion's bright zone,
he slopes o'er the darkened world's repose;
a lustre in eastern Sirius glows."
Meredith, from "Invitation to the Country"
the latter part of April, all of May and June, and about half of July, Orionís
influence is significant by virtue of either its departure or its total absence
from the sky. At present Rigel is approximately 15 degrees above the western horizon
on April 20 at 8:00 p.m., an hour after sunset, and by 9:15 in the evening it
is just touching the horizon. Orion is last seen on the western horizon in early
May, and by mid-May it is blotted out altogether in the sunís glare, which is
called its heliacal setting. After that it will not reappear until about July
21st, its heliacal rising in the east. However, some nine centuries earlier when
the first villages on the Hopi Mesas of Arizona were being settled, Rigel touched
the western horizon on April 20 at 8:00 p.m., again an hour after sunset, and
by early May achieved its heliacal setting. At this same time (circa A.D. 1100)
it was not seen again until about the second week of July, its heliacal rising
coinciding with the annual arrival of the monsoons. Much like the flooding of
the Nile in Egypt, monsoon rain fulfills the agricultural and ceremonial cycle.
But what is the meaning of all these star positions? If the Anasazi (ancestral
Hopi) and modern Hopi planting schedules coincide, then sweet corn, whose symbolic
direction is designated as Below, was planted in late April when Orion was departing
for his two-month sojourn in the Underworld. The importance of sweet corn is reflected
primarily in its customary harvest at the Niman Ceremony in July and its use as
a gift from the Hemis kachinas (masked intercessory spirits) to the children.
The remainder of the corn was planted from late May until the summer solstice
when Orion was inhabiting his subterranean abode.
His influence possibly
causes the spirits of the corn to rise from the Underworld and enter into the
sown seeds, acting as a catalyst for germination. Orion is planted in the Underworld
at the same time as all the various types of corn, thereby assuring their germination
and quickening growth during the lengthening days of the year. During this part
of the seasonal cycle a minor agricultural rite of planting is performed in the
fields. This is actually a sort of native Passion play involving Masauíu, the
Hopi god of earth, death and the Underworld. (He is the counterpart of the Egyptian
god Osiris.) ď...Masauíu strikes down his challengers and strips them of their
clothes, until in the end he also falls down as if dead. Then he rises to accept
prayers and gifts. On one level this is a mime depicting the life cycle of the
corn plant; the ear is stripped from the plant, the cob is stripped of its seeds,
and some of these are buried... but he, as a corn symbol, rises again and accepts
the thanks of the people.Ē (Hamilton A. Tyler, Pueblo Gods and Myths (Norman,
Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964), p. 33.) Thus, Masauíu/Orion functions
as not only as symbol of resurrection imitated by farmers assisting the forces
of nature, but also as a manifestation of the corn itself, which is planted in
the spring and returns after a few months to provide the people with its bounty.
Domesticated in Mesoamerica circa 5000 B.C., corn is undoubtedly the most
sacred and ritualized of all Hopi foodstuffs. The symbolic color directions for
each type of corn are as follows: yellow for Northwest, blue for Southwest, red
for Southeast, and white for Northeast. This encompasses the terrestrial (horizontal)
plane of Masauíuís domain. In addition, black (or purple) corn, known as kokoma,
or Masauíuís corn, symbolically representing the direction of Above, is planted
in May for the fall harvest. When Masauíuís dark corn of the zenith is brought
down and placed in the dark earth together with Orion, then no major ceremonies
can be held. The resumption of the ceremonial cycle will have to wait until Orion
once again rises in the east just before dawn in July, when the ripening sweet
corn reaches its full maturity and the life-giving monsoon rains begin.
We have seen here a
direct relationship between the perceived absence of Orion and the vernal sowing
of corn. The placement of seeds in the soil at the very time Orion in the chthonic
realm is urging the life force forward and upward into the light must have seemed
ancient Hopi as a cosmically
ordained synergy. Fettered by the paradigms of science, we moderns rarely have
the opportunity to witness a synchronistic magic of such magnitude.
excerpt from The Kivas of Heaven: Ancient Hopi Starlore
Copyright © 2004-2011 by Gary A. David. All rights reserved
Any use of text without the author's prior consent is expressly forbidden.