Orion's Stellar Trinity: Hopi Kachinas and the Egyptian Connection

by Gary A. David
Copyright © 2004-2012 by Gary A. David
Email: garydavid52@hotmail.com

Kachina Dancing with the Stars

Rising at dawn from the shadows of a kiva (subterranean communal prayer-chamber), the Hopi kachinas stream into the sunlit plaza of a nine hundred-year-old village. Together they step in a single file like cadets at a military university to the steady pulse of a solitary cottonwood drum. A ring of spirit dancers forms inside the negative space created by low, masonry dwellings--a sacred circle within the square. This great kachina wheel turns in perfect synchronization to the seasonal rhythms of the communal heart of Oraibi in northern Arizona.

Vintage postcard, Hopi village of Oraibi, Arizona, founded c. 1120 AD.

In the simplest sense the kachinas (also spelled katsinam, plural of katsina) are intermediary spirits that can take on the shape of any physical object, creature, or phenomenon. Distinct from the Hopi pantheon, these spiritual go-betweens are not actually worshipped, though certain deities (such as Masau’u, god of death and the underworld) can alternately appear as kachinas. Representing the spirit beings, the familiar kachina "dolls" (tihuta) are carved to instruct children about the spirit world, and in modern times to sell to tourists.

Living in the American Southwest for thousands of years, the Hopi people are a sedentary tribe whose primarily focus is toward the earth. In essence, most of their ceremonies attempt to urge the energies of fertility and germination upward and rainfall downward. Unlike the sun dance songs of the Plains Indians, which aggressively pierce the firmament like shafts of sunlight, their kachina songs project a moderate and reserved character. This is partially due to being muffled by the extraordinary masks that sometimes even produce a soft buzzing.

These masks come in many forms: cylindrical, circular, square, dome-shaped. Some have horns, feathers, or black hair; others have brightly painted tablitas that symbolize clouds rising like stepped pyramids from the tops of their heads. Some adult costumes appear goggle-eyed, others simply have painted slits for eyes, while still others have no eyes at all. Several display squash-shaped or tube-shaped snouts, while some exhibit sharp fangs or protruding tongues. A few have ears but many lack noses. Unless they are clearly representing animals or birds, some kachinas even wear helmets that look uncomfortably alien.

Hopi kachina dance, 1921, watercolor, Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma. The black-and-white figures are Kosharis, or Hopi clowns.

The high desert landscape of muted earth tones is contrasted with the brilliant colors of these kachinas. The costumes for the various dances greatly differ, but they include clan kilts, sashes, bandoleers, turquoise pendants, and moccasins. The dancers might add eagle or turkey feathers, fox fur, evergreen ruffs, willow bows, yucca whips, gourd rattles, and knee bells or turtle shell leg-tinklers. During each particular dance, however, all of the participants have the same masks, dress, and accouterments.

From dawn until dusk with only short breaks, the singers press their prayers into the ground by a constant series of dance steps, thereby assisting the cycle of horticultural growth in an extremely harsh land. These spirit messengers are essentially dancing for life-giving rain or the general well-being of the Hopi. Finally the sun slips below the western horizon, making its diurnal descent to the underworld.

The Hopi cosmological model shows that when it is day on the earth plane, it is night in the underworld; when it is summer above, it is winter below. The kachina season lasts from about April until July, a few weeks after the summer solstice--the period when the sowing and most of the hoeing occurs. During the non-kachina season (July until the winter solstice in December), the kachinas inhabit the nether realm in order to help its chthonic denizens in their agricultural pursuits--non-material though they are. Physical life and ethereal afterlife thus mirror each other in perfect symmetry.

During spring planting season Orion disappears altogether from the sky. The Hopi, like the ancient Egyptians, conceptualize him as descending to the underworld in order to act as a catylyst for the subterranean forces of plant growth, ushering corn and other crops toward the sunlight. At the very moment the kachinas are dancing on the summer earth of the upper world, Orion is rising in the winter sky of the lower world.

(See my brief article "Orion’s Invisibility: the Hopi Agricultural and Ceremonial Cycle." Orion's absense lasts about 70 days, which incidentally was the embalming period of Egyptian mummies.)

Although the Hopi have hundreds of kachinas, one in particular pertains to Orion. The most prominent feature of Sohu, or Star Kachina, is the three vertical four-pointed stars arranged horizontally in a row across the top of his head. These bring to mind the "belt stars" of what is most important constellation in Hopi cosmology. These stars are interspersed between four vertical eagle feathers. (See contemporary carving by Loren Phillips.)

This kachina has dark straight hair, goggle eyes, and diamond-shaped teeth. On his right cheek is painted an equilateral cross (i.e. a star), on his left a crescent moon. He wears a fringed buckskin shirt and a kilt made of turkey feathers, both of which are odd attire for a kachina. As scholar Barton Wright succinctly notes: “He does not resemble the usual Hopi Kachina.” (Hopi Kachinas:The Complete Guide to Collecting Kachina Dolls, Northland Publishing, 1993, 1977) The 19th century archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes observes that Sohu has equilateral crosses painted on his forearms and legs. He holds yucca whips in both hands and a fox skin trails behind him.

Hopi drawing of Star Kachina from the village of Walpi on First Mesa.
from Fewkes, Hopi Katchinas (Dover Publishing, Inc., 1985.
Fewkes spells the kachina's name "Coto" rather than Sohu.)

Ghan (Mountain Spirit) Dancers, San Carlos Apache, Arizona. Note three crosses (stars) on headdress.

The Hopi word sohu (or soohu) simply means “star,” but in their belief system stars are conceptualized as supernatural entities, with those of Orion being ritually paramount. (I have written extensively about this in my book The Orion Zone: Ancient Star Cities of the American Southwest.) For instance, Orion synchronizes both the "New Fire and manhood initiation" ceremony (Wuwtsim) in November and the winter soltice ceremony (Soyal) in December. For the latter the constellation achieves the highest point in its arc across the southern sky at midnight. When the "belt" of Orion appears in the overhead hatchway of the kiva, this is a signal for the ceremonies to begin. The constellation's stellar trio is thus an astro-chronometer for the Hopi ceremonial cycle.

Egyptian Nights Tales

Now let's turn to Egypt in roughly the period that most archaeologists believe the major pyramids were built. In the pristine air of the Sahara Desert the constellation Orion shines with extraordinary brilliance. The word "Sahara" comes from The Arabic word çahra, which itself means 'desert'. One of the Egyptian Pyramid Texts --some of the world’s oldest funerary literature-- states that the word Sahu (or Sah--the first syllable of "Sahara") refers to "the star gods in the constellation Orion."

The pharaoh was the divine embodiment on earth of Sah/Orion in the sky.

Hieroglyph for Sah. Note triad ('belt") and sash ("sword").

O King,

you are this great star, the companion of sah,

who traverses the sky with sah, who navigates the det [Duat, 'underworld'] with Osiris;

you ascend from the east of the sky,

being renewed at your due season and rejuvenated at your due time.

(Pyramid Text Topics, "Sah in the Pyramid Texts")

Like the Hopi Star Kachina (Sohu), the triadic "belt stars" on Egyptian representations of Orion are instead positioned on the crest. "Since Sah represented in hieroglyph was positioned above the head, the Orion's Belt was assumed to be a crown on the head of Sah." ("Ancient Egyptian Astronomy," Jiro Kondo, October 17, 2008)

So the belt is really a crown!

From the Pyramid of Unas (c. 2375 BC): "He [the deceased king] is given the arm (power?) as the Great Sekhem, the star Sah (Orion), the father of the gods. He renews his risings in the sky, the flesh of the Crown [italics added], as Lord of the horizon." (E.A. Wallis Budge, Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, Vol I, Dover, 1973) Or: "Sah is encircled by the det [Duat], pure and living in the horizon." "Sah in the Pyramid Texts"

The inset at the right is found on the ceiling of Senenmut's tomb, c. 1475 BC. In the sky chart we see the predawn "belt" stars rising perpendicular to the horizon (green line), positioned in much the same way as in Senemut's tomb. Note the top star on the panel in his tomb is offset--like both Mintaka and the smaller Menkaure pyramid at Giza. Is "the flesh of the Crown" a reference to the stellar trinity that rises above the eastern horizon to renew itself as lord of the earth?

One Egyptian primordial figure named Geb (see inset at the upper-right), who lies supine upon the earth and whose green body represents vegetation, is also known as the father of the gods. (John Anthony West, The Traveler's Key to Ancient Egypt: A Guide to the Sacred Places of Ancient Egypt, Quest Books, 1995) He is usually portrayed as ithyphallic--metaphorically, "the flesh of the Crown"? The goddess Nut --metaphorically, the Milky Way-- arches above him with star-seed glistening on her breasts, belly, and thighs. The union of Geb and Nut, earth and sky, produces the brothers Osiris (Orion) and Seth, as well as the sisters/wives Isis and Nephthys.

In this mythological nexus, Geb is conflated with Osiris, Nut with Isis. A celestial layer of further complexity shows Osiris associated with Sah/Orion and Isis with Sirius. "Behold, he has come as sah, behold, Osiris has come as sah..." (Pyramid Text Topics, "Sah in the Pyramid Texts")

"Prepare a path fro me, O you who are at peace; see, I enter into the Netherworld, I open up the beautiful West, I make firm the staff of Orion..." (R.O. Faulkner, "Spell 180," The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead,
University of Texas Press, Austin, 1990, p. 177)

Most appellations for Orion have a masculine connotation, but the three stars in a line are specifically called "Jacob's Rod," a reference to the virile forefather of biblical twelve tribes of Israel.

When superimposed on Nut and Geb, the proportions of the Great Pyramid conform to the Sky-Earth mating.

Nut, drawn by Faucher-Gudin, the painted inner lid of a coffin from the XXIth [sic., or XIXth?] dynasty in Leyden.
(History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Gaston Maspero, Grolier, London. The stars on her body and limbs represent the band of the Milky Way.

Scene from the rectangular zodiac of Denderah, drawn by Faucher-Gudin.

"Sahû and Sopdît, Orion and Sirius, were the rulers of this mysterious world. Sahû consisted of fifteen stars, seven large and eight small, so arranged as to represent a runner darting through space, while the fairest of them shone above his head, and marked him out from afar to the admiration of mortals." (Maspero)

From this drawing it is difficult to identify the "belt stars," though they could be the two to his right and one to his left that are at belt-level. The horizontal curve of these three stars corresponds to their position when Orion is at its culmination, or meridian passage. The one star to Sahu's right and the two to his left at head-level are also horizontal. This, we recall, reflects the orientation on the headdress of the Hopi Sohu Kachina. Sahu/Osiris wears the white crown of Upper Egypt.

"...their souls shine in heaven as stars; and that of Isis so called by the Greeks the Dog-star, but by the Egyptians Sothis; that of Horus, Orion..." (Plutarch, Plutarch's Morals: Theosophical Essays on Isis and Osiris, translated. by Charles William King, 1908, www.sacred-texts.com)

Behind Orion/Sah/Osiris, Sirius rests in her barge as the cow Hathor with the star between her horns. Hathor and Isis are sometimes conflated. The sparrow hawk on the papyrus column, or axis mundi, represents their son Horus, which sometimes is also identified with Orion.

As a sky god, Horus wears the red crown of Lower Egypt. If the positions of the deities on this vignette suggest a celestial map, then the tip of Horus' crown reaches above Orion's upraised arm to an area known as the northern stargate. In the sky chart seen below, the celestial equator and the ecliptic intersect at the galactic axis.

The yellow cross marks the coordinates (c. 4500 BC, beginning of the Predynastic Period) where the ecliptic and the celestial equator intersect in the middle of the galactic plane (Milky Way). This is close to the galactic anticenter, the point in the sky (near Elnath in the constellation Auriga) that lies in the direction opposite the center of the Milky Way. This is called the northern stargate. Conversely, the southern stargate is located at the galactic center near the constellation Sagittarius. (For more on celestial portals, see my article: "The Dual Stargates of Egyptian Cosmology.")

Again from the Pyramid Texts we find the pharaoh as risen king being addressed:

The celestial portal to the horizon is opened to you,

and the gods are joyful at meeting you.

They take you to the sky with your soul, you having been endowed with a soul through them.

You will ascend to the sky as Horus upon the sdsd* of the sky

in this dignity of yours which issued from the mouth of Ra [sun god]

as Horus, who is at the head of the spirits,

you being seated upon your iron throne.

May you remove yourself to the sky,

for the roads of the celestial expanses which lead up to Horus are cleared for you.

Seth [brother of Osiris] is brotherly toward you as the Great One of On.**

for you have traversed the Winding Waterway [Milky Way] in the north of the sky

as a star crossing the sea which is beneath the sky.

The det [Duat] has grasped your hand at the place where sah [Orion] is.

the Bull of the Sky [Taurus] has given you his hand

and you eat of the food of the gods whereof they eat...

*sdsd, a standard identified as a Wepwawet, also Upuat, or "opener of ways"
**On, or An, either a form of Osiris or Horus the Warrior.

(Pyramid Text Topics, Sah in the Pyramid Texts)

In addition to Sah dennoting the "soul of Orion," we find an important verification for the sky-ground dualism of the Orion Correlation Theory. The Egyptian homophone sahu, for instance, means 'property', and its cognate sah-t refers to 'landed property', 'estate', 'site of a temple', 'homestead', or 'environs'. Because the term sahu simultaneously refers to both stars and ground, this conceptual mirroring aligns the two realms, or "...on earth as it is in heaven."

Why the close parallel between Sahu of the ancient Egyptians and Sohu of the ancestral Hopi? These and other linguistic correlations corroborate if not a Hopi migration from the Old World, then at least a pre-Columbian contact with Middle Eastern or North African mariners, perhaps Phoenician or Libyan. (A few chapters of my book Eye of the Phoenix: Mysterious Visions and Secrets of the American Southwest deal specifically with cultural diffusionism in early times.)

The following native quotation suggests a transoceanic connection: "Then we who are called Hopi came to inhabit this place. We were the first to set foot on this earth. For this reason Maasaw [also spelled Masau'u, a complex deity whose dominion includes the earth--see discussion and picture below], the god who lives invisibly, transferred this land to us. He gave us not only this land here, but also that which lies beyond the oceans." (Ekkehart Malotki and Michael Lomatuway'ma, Maasaw: Profile of a Hopi God, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1987, p. 69)

Unlike some constellations, Orion (Sah) can be seen from anywhere on earth. Is it merely a coincidence that Soh, the Hopi word for star, and Sah, the ancient Egyptian word for Orion, are similar? Variants of this word have, in fact, made the rounds all across the globe.

"As the result of this intimate association between the pharaoh and Sah (Osiris), the name Sah has become a royal appellation, not just in Egypt, but all over the world. It has been transliterated into nearly every language in the western world and used as the title of nearly all our kings. Sah was seen as a sacred title by the Magi and used in Persia, where it became the royal title Shah. Further eastwords, in India, it became Sahib. In the greatest of all ancient empires, Rome, they chose the appellation Caesar. In the frozen wastes of the north, in Russia, they inhereited the same tradition and the title became Tsar. Word of the power of such a sacred name spread far and wide so in the damp north-west of Europe, in Britain, the royal appellation became Sire. For lesser nobles here, the title became Sir, but in the military world the tradition remains and this is always pronounced as 'Sar'! Such was the power and influence of ancient Egypt." (Ralph Ellis, Jesus: Last of the Pharaohs, Edfu Books, Dorset, UK, 1999, 1998)

The masculine Sah has literally walked (or sailed) his way around the world. (It would not be going too far, then, to relate that the Hopi word saha means 'calf of the leg'.) The Greeks believed that Orion, because he was the son of Euralye (which literally means 'broad, far ranging') and Poseidon (god of the sea), had the miraculous ability to walk on water. Is this just a metaphorical description of seafaring? Or is this the origin of the power attributed to Jesus? It is also interesting to note that the "belt stars" are also known as the "Three Kings," i.e. the Magi. These "wise men" (read 'magicians' or 'sorcerers') of course made the long journey to Bethlehem from the East, probably either Persia (Iran) or Babylon (Iraq).

Star-Studded Orion Set In Stone

Many examples of this constellation's stellar trinity can be found in the rock art of Four Corners region of the U.S. These are portrayed both in the vertical (Orion-on-the-horizon) and the horizontal (Orion-at-culmination).

One-horned shaman with spear or arrow. The ancestral Hopi designated stars in rock art by equilateral crosses or plus signs instead of the Egyptian five-pointed asterisims. This carving perhaps shows anthropomorphic Orion on the eastern horizon.

Another one-horned shaman with rectangular body and spear, Galisteo Basin, New Mexico. At lower right are either three "crows-feet" or three stars--both symbolic of warfare. If stars, then they could represent Orion at its culmination, or the point when it crosses the meridian.

The spike of this agave, or century plant, is over 10 feet tall. Photo by Eileen Nauman. The Aztecs used this cactus to make a fermented beverage called octli (or more commonly pulque), similar to tequila or mescal. However, this was not a tradition among the ancestral Hopi.

In Hopi culture the One Horn society is called Kwan, which refers to the agave, a type of cactus. Members of this fierce parmilitary group act as village guardians, possessing the absolute authority even to execute anyone caught trespassing upon sacred ceremonies. Kwan additionally plays a large role in the Wuwtsim ceremony mentioned above, which somewhat resembles the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, or "Day of the Dead." This society also pays homage to the warlike sky god Sotukang, who has one horn as well. One-horns incidentally imported the cult of the horned or plumed serpent from Mesoamerica to the Southwest.

"Also in front of the One Horn altar in the Lance Kiva is planted a six-foot lance with a flint point sharpened for destruction or for correction of wor
ld evils." (Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi, Penguin Books, 1977, 1963) The One Horn shamans thus warn us of impending doom on the earth, or, as the Hopi say, the ultimate destruction of the current Fourth World. (See my article "The Hopi Blue Star: Comets, Supernovae, and the Coming Catastrophe." )

The single horn of the Hopi Kwan society as well as the staves that its members hold morphologically echo both the scepter of Sah/Orion/Osiris and the phallus of Geb. Also, the stiff yucca whips of the Star Kachina remind us that the spiny leaves of the yucca plant poetically resemble the scintillations of stars across the desert sky.

One of the primary roles of Kwan is to serve Masau'u, god of the underworld, fire, and death but also of the earth. This Hopi god can bascially be correlated to the Egyptian god Osiris/Orion. In my book The Orion Zone I extensively present the case that Masau'u is in fact a terrestrial equivalent of Orion. He is, for instance, the sole nocturnal god in the Hopi pantheon, who travels across the entire earth before morning comes. What better way to express Orion's movement from the eastern to the western horizons during the course of the night?

Painted with the finger instead of a brush, these dolls are given as gifts to young or adolescent Hopi girls. Attached to the figure is a sprig of rabbitbrush. The belt line may represent the Orion triad.

Although Orion's shape is frequently conceptualized as an hourglass, it can also be seen as a giant rectangle in the sky. Rectangles or squares iconographically signify 'the earth' or 'place', not only in the rock art of the American Southwest but in many cultures around the world. As mentioned, Masau'u is the primary Hopi god who rules over the earth plane. In rock art he is sometimes depicted with a rectangular torso. His form as a kachina is frequently embodied in flat, rectangular dolls crudely painted with dark colors as distinguished from the vivid colors of most other kachina dolls.

Masau'u is traditonally seen as a lone figure with a sack of seeds and a dibble, traversing the vast desert mesas. Like the spear, the planting dibble is essentially a male symbol. After being used throughout his life as an agrarian tool, it is finally planted upon a man's grave. In this way his spirit can climb down to the subterranean realm of the afterlife.

Another version of Masau'u (also spelled Maasaw) shows him wielding a club in his right hand, similar to Orion. "People claim that the inside of Maasaw's club is filled with planting seeds. He is reputed to be an excellent farmer. For this reason he has within his club every variety of planting seeds."
(Malotki and Lomatuway'ma, Maasaw, op. cit., p. 121) As this quotation implies, Masau'u additionally shares the fecund aspects of the Egyptian god Geb. These include both the vegetable and animal kingdoms. If one dreams of Masau'u, for instance, an abundance of crops and livestock will result. Masau'u paradoxically uses this club as a lethal weapon or to induce unconciousness in anyone touched by it.

Masau'u is even responsible for human procreation. If a women wishes to bear children, she paints a decorative circle on the neck or brim of a ceramic vessel but leaves a half-inch gap called a 'gate of breath'. This she dedicates to Masau'u. (Malotki, Maasaw, op. cit., p. 128)

Mastop Kachina doll, Museum of Northern Arizona.

Masau'u is related to another kachina, the first syllable of whose name is the same: Mastop, or Death Fly Kachina. His body is painted black, and either one or two white handprints are painted on his chest, with other smaller handprints on his legs and upper arms. He carries a short black-and-white striped staff in his right hand (like Orion's club) with which he beats away the village dogs. His black, cylindrical helmet has a rounded crown, and on each side of the mask is painted white dots representing stars. These wedge-shaped star groupings on each side of his head might signify Orion's "belt" in both the rising and setting positions, together with his "sword." Trailing down from Alnitak, this celestial weapon contains Iota Orionis and the fertile star-seeds of the Great Nebula, M-42 and M-43. Given the virile aspect of Mastop, Orion's phallic sword is an appropriate mask decoration.

Always arriving in pairs, dark Mastop and his twin appear on the second to the last day of the Soyal (winter solstice) ceremony. They approach from the northwest, the direction of Grand Canyon, where departed spirits go to exist in a subterranean afterlife. Antically leaping about, each Mastop dashes up to a crowd of females, grabs one of them by the shoulders from behind, and makes a series of short hops that mimick copulation. Fertility and death are thereby inextricably linked.

This contrasting light-and-dark nature can also be applied to Orion. Another name for the constellation is Jugula. The term possibly derives from the Indo-European root yeug-, which means 'to join' or 'to yoke', thus reinforcing the conjugal meaning suggested by the Orion's sword within its sheath. On the other hand, the word may refer to the slayer who severs the jugular vein with his sword. (Anne Wright, "Orion the Giant, the Hunter," Constellations of Words: Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations.)

If one reviews Orion's influence throughout a number of cultures, a composite picture emerges: warrior, hunter, hero, giant. The warfare and hunter qualities of Orion can also be attributed to Masau'u. Prayers for victory in battle, for instance, are offered to this fierce god, but only at night. A warrior about to embark on the warpath will make prayers feathers as offerings to the shrine of the deity.

Masau'u is also associated with success in hunting, especially small game such as rabbits. "Maasaw's special relation to rabbits is manifest from the very fact that he constantly pours their blood over his masked head in order to protect his face from the intensive heat of the fire by which he sits. In this context the god is actually characterized as maakya, the Hopi term for 'a successful hunter.'"
(Malotki and Lomatuway'ma, Maasaw, op. cit., p. 186, 188)

In many diverse folklores the rabbit is connected not only with fecundity but also with the moon, reinforcing the nocturnal nature of Masau'u. More obvious, perhaps, is the fact that beneath his feet Orion hunts the hare in the form of the constellation Lepus.

In the ever-complex mythology of the ancient Egyptians, Osiris/Orion is also bound up with the moon and the hare: "Osiris represented Lunar Light in his character of the Hare-headed Un-Nefer, the up-springing Hare in the Moon." (Gerald Massey, Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World)

On the petroglyph panel below we see a possible depiction of the "belt stars" in the context of a bear. Above the bear is juxtaposed a rabbit and a "soul-face" star surrounded by three or more Masau'u-faces.

The bear at center-right contains three horizontal stars in its body--perhaps Orion's triad when it is high in the sky. Hopi cosmology does not associate the bear with Canis Major (the Big Dipper). Instead the high-ranked Bear Clan is primarily concerned with spiritual matters and healing. The bear is additionally associated with warfare. After the killing of a bear, for instance, its dead body is treated as if it were a dead human enemy, and its slayer is called a kahletaka, or "war chief." Eaters of bear meat also have to paint their faces black. (Richard Maitland Bradfield, An Interpretation of Hopi Culture (Derby, England: published by author, 1995), p. 234)

This panel also depicts a rabbit, four or perhaps as many as seven renditions of Masau'u, possibly a one-horned shaman, a pair of two-horned shamans, three serpents (horned or plumed), two four-pointed stars (one with a human face), an equilateral cross, a hand print, two birds, a couple lizards, and a naturalistic corn stalk.

Orion's triad and sword enclosed in a square, Perry Mesa, Arizona

Polychrome ceramic bowl, Hooper Ranch Pueblo, Arizona. Occupied from 1230-1300 AD, this pueblo had 65 ground-floor rooms and some two-story rooms, plus a rectangular kiva. Is this trio the Star Elders corresponding to Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak?

Sparrow hawk on the hunt.

As mentioned above, the sparrow hawk is the totemic form of the Egyptian god Horus. He represents the living pharaoh on earth, whereas his father Osiris represents the dead king "risen" in the underworld. These two concepts may ostensibly seem contradictory, but both the cosmology of the Egyptians and that of the Hopi conceive the underworld or afterlife as co-extensive with the celestial realm.

Also previously mentioned, the Hopi Wuwtsim ceremony links the worlds of the living and the dead, somewhat in the mannar of our Halloween. It occurs in early November, the month that the Hopi designate as the "sparrow hawk moon." The word kyeele, 'sparrow hawk' (Falco sparverius), has a alternate meaning of 'neophyte', 'novitiate', or 'a boy who is initiated into manhood', which is part of the purpose of the ceremony. This raptor is a symbol of bravery, since it attacks birds larger than itself, buts its main diet is rodents such as rabbits.

This secretive ritual is not for the faint-hearted. As anthropologist Mischa Titiev has written:

"Let us recall that on the fourth day of the proceedings, visitors are barred from the pueblo and all the trails are closed. This is a night of mystery and terror. People are forced to remain indoors and are forbidden even to glance outside, and patrols of Kwans [the Agave, or One Horn, Society] and Horns [the Al, or Two Horn Society] rush madly through the village, constantly challenging each other and maintaining a dreadful din. Concurrently, in the kivas underground, a most esoteric and awe-inspiring ritual is being performed which no white observer has ever glimpsed." (Mischa Titiev, Old Oraibi: A Study of the Hopi Indians of Third Mesa (Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1992, reprint, 1944), p. 135.)

All the roads leading to the village have been closed with lines of cornmeal by the fierce and autonomous Kwan society, the only exception being the road from the northwest where the Maski, or House of the Dead, is located and along which the spirits may proceed. This is, of course, the direction of Grand Canyon--the place of the initial Emergence of the Hopi from the Third World as well as the current home of ancestor spirits. Around sundown great quantities of food had been set out on the western side of the village of Oraibi for the visiting spirits to consume.

Just when Orion, his brilliant stellar trinity blazing, reaches the top of his parabolic journey across the night, the spirits throng the village and enter the kivas with which they were connected while still alive. In the pandemonium that results from the mingling of life and death, Orion looks down in the dead of night from his most commanding position in the firmament, observing the ceremony expressly dedicated to Masau'u--the underworld god who can only walk nocturnally with the living upon the face of the earth.

The Orion Zone

The Hopi god Masau'u/Orion near Oraibi, Arizona
(figure adapted from an illustration by Petra Roeckerath,
Stories of Maasaw, A Hopi God,
Ekkehart Malotki and Michael Lomatuway'ma,
University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1987).

Orion, illuminated manuscript from Hyginus, 1482 AD.
This drawing shows both aspects of Orion's stellar trinity: the horizontal (on crest and belt) and vertical (on club).

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

from The Kivas of Heaven: Ancient Hopi Starlore
Copyright © 2004-2012 by Gary A. David. All rights reserved
Any use of text or photos without the author's prior consent is expressly forbidden.
Email: garydavid52@hotmail.com

home  |  articles  |  biography  |  rock art  |  news  |  links  | videos  |  order