Masauwu, Skeleton Man, was the Spirit of Death and the Keeper of Fire. He was also the Master of the Upper World, or the Fourth World, and was there when the good people escaped the wickedness of the Third World for the promise of the Fourth. Masauwu is described as wearing a hideous mask, but again showing the diversity of myths among the Hopi, Masauwu was alternately described as a handsome, bejeweled man beneath his mask or as a bloody, fearsome creature. However, he is also assigned certain benevolent attributes. One story has it that it was Masauwu who helped settle the Hopi at Oraibi and gave them stewardship over the land. He also charged them to watch for the coming of the Pahana (see section below), the Lost White Brother. Other important deities include the twin war gods, the kachinas, and the trickster Coyote.
Maize is also vital to Hopi subsistence and religion. “For traditional Hopis, corn is the central bond. Its essence, physically, spiritually, and symbolically, pervades their existence. For the people of the mesas corn is sustenance, ceremonial object, prayer offering, symbol, and sentient being unto itself. Corn is the Mother in the truest sense that people take in the corn and the corn becomes their flesh, as mother milk becomes the flesh of the child.
Some contemporary (typically feminist) writers tend to posit an absolute importance of the feminine to the Hopi and attribute the role of a male Creator (Tawa) to intrusions into Hopi folklore of European beliefs. In this interpretation, the Hopis traditionally saw the goddess Spider Woman as their creator, "Grandmother of the sun and as the great Medicine Power who sang the people into this fourth world we live in now.” The theory holds that under centuries of pressure by white culture, Spider Woman has only recently been replaced by a male Creator and “the Hopi goddess Spider Woman has become the masculine Maseo or Tawa…”
While this view of Hopi mythology is deeply controversial, certainly the Hopi have much in their culture and mythology which emphasized the importance of the feminine. For instance, the Hopi are a matrilineal society, and children belong to the clan of the mother, not the father. The Hopi Mother Nature is symbolized by both Mother Earth and the Corn Mother. "Spider Woman, Sand Altar Woman, and other female spirits [are] conceived to be the mothers of all living things. This mother is represented in the cult by the sipapu, the opening in the floor of the underground ceremonial chamber, or kiva, for the sipapu is the womb of Mother Earth, just as it is the hole through which humankind originally emerged from the underworld.
However, Hopi religion was and is presided over by men, as were most political functions within the villages. Most importantly, it was only men who could be initiated into the Kachina cults and perform the required dances and ceremonies which brought rain to the Hopi.
The other version (mainly told in Oraibi) has it that Tawa destroyed the Third World in a great flood. Before the destruction, Spider Grandmother sealed the more righteous people into hollow reeds which were used as boats. Upon arriving on a small piece of dry land, the people saw nothing around them but more water, even after planting a large bamboo shoot, climbing to the top, and looking about. Spider Woman then told the people to make boats out of more reeds, and using island "stepping-stones" along the way, the people sailed east until they eventually arrived on the mountainous coasts of the Fourth World.
While it may not be possible to positively ascertain which is the original or "more correct" story, Harold Courlander writes that at least in Oraibi (the oldest of the Hopi villages), little children are often told the story of the sipapu, but the story of an ocean voyage is related to them when they are older. He states that even the name of the Hopi Water Clan (Patkinyamu), literally means "A Dwelling-on-Water" or "Houseboat" Clan. However, he notes that the sipapu story is centered around Walpi and is more accepted among Hopis generally. Frank Waters is somewhat more insistent, and asserts that the entire story of the sipapu, especially its proferred location in the Grand Canyon, merely symbolizes the Hopi tale of a water voyage from the west. In this interpretation, the Colorado River represents the western ocean while the cliffs of the canyon represent the Fourth World's rocky coasts.
In the course of their migration, each Hopi clan was to go to the farthest extremity of the land in every direction. Far in the north was a land of snow and ice which was called the Back Door, but this was closed to the Hopi. However, the Hopi say that other peoples came through the Back Door into the Fourth World. The Hopi clans also passed through the tropics in the south, and today many Hopis regard the Aztecs, Mayas, and other Central and South American Indian groups as renegade Hopi clans that never finished their appointed migrations. The Hopi were led on their migrations by various signs, or were helped along by Spider Woman. Eventually, the Hopi clans finished their prescribed migrations and were led to their current location in northeastern Arizona.
Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon missionary who first visited the Hopi in 1858, records a tradition that the Hopis were brought to their mesas by three prophets, and were not to cross the Colorado River to the west until these prophets had returned again. The idea that the Hopi were not to cross the Colorado or Rio Grande Rivers without permission is echoed in Frank Waters' work, although without mention of "three prophets. Waters continues that the Hopi settled in their desert land at the behest of Masauwu so that "they would have to depend upon the scanty rainfall which they must evoke with their power and prayer, and so preserve always that knowledge and faith in the supremacy of their Creator who had brought them to this Fourth World after they had failed in three previous worlds. In any case, most Hopi traditions have it that they were given their land by Masauwu, the Spirit of Death and Master of the Fourth World.
Perhaps the most important was said to be in the possession of the Fire Clan, and is related to the return of the Pahana. In one version, an elder of the Fire Clan worried that his people would not recognize the Pahana when he returned from the east. He therefore etched various designs including a human figure into a stone, and then broke off the section of the stone which included the figure's head. This section was given to Pahana and he was told to bring it back with him so that the Hopi would not be deceived by a witch or sorcerer.
Another version has it that the Fire Clan was given a sacred tablet by Masauwu, who as the giver of fire was their chief deity. In this version the human figure was purposely drawn without a head, and a corner of the stone was broken off. Masauwu told them that eventually the Pahana would return bringing the broken-off corner of the stone, but if in the meantime a Hopi leader accepted a false religion, he must assent to having his head cut off as drawn on the stone.
This same story holds that three other sacred tablets were also given to the Hopi. These were given to the Bear Clan by their patron deity Söqömhonaw, and essentially constituted a divine title to the lands where the Hopi settled after their migrations. The Hopi had a Universal Snake Dance. The third of these was etched with designs including the sun, moon, stars, clouds, etc. on one side with six human figures on the other.
Author Frank Waters claims that he was shown this third tablet in Oraibi in 1960. He describes the stone as "approximately 10 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 1 1/2 inches thick. The stone resembled a dull gray marble with intrusive blotches of rose. The physical existence of such a stone is substantiated by a few other sources. For instance, in the late 19th century, several Mormon missionaries were visiting a Hopi named Tuba in Oraibi. Tuba took his visitors inside the village kiva and once there, he produced what appeared to be a marble slab about 15"x18". This was covered in "hieroglyphic" markings including clouds and stars. As well, the later Ethnological Report No. 4 produced by the US government seems to uphold the existence of such a stone, based on the testimony of John W. Young and Andrew S. Gibbons. This describes the stone as made of "red-clouded marble, entirely different from anything found in the region.
Waters writes that these tablets again rose to great importance around the turn of the twentieth century as a result of trouble at Oraibi. This trouble involved a split between those called the Friendlies, who supported the efforts of the US government, and the Hostiles who opposed these efforts. The split was further exacerbated by old clan rivalries. The Bear Clan led the Friendly faction, and was strenuously opposed by the Spider and the Fire Clans, which led the Hostile faction. Finally, in 1906, there was a "push war" at Oraibi wherein the Friendlies pushed the Hostiles over a line which had been drawn on the ground. The Hostiles were thereafter banished from Oraibi and created the village of Hotevilla. The tablets were seen as important in that the Bear Clan tablets determined the traditional settlement pattern of the clans and the boundaries of Hopi lands as well as investing the clan with symbolic authority. However, the Fire Clan tablet was intimately connected with the return of Pahana and gave the Fire Clan claim to great importance. The tablets were also studied as prophetic and were believed to hold answers for the Hopi in the midst of their great dilemma. Waters claims that during the infighting, one of the Bear Clan tablets were stolen by another clan, and that for the time being all have been hidden. However, he maintains that they still exist, as evidenced by the tablet which he was shown in 1960. A letter from the Hopi to the President of the United States in 1949 also declared that "the Stone Tablets, upon which are written the boundaries of the Hopi Empire, are still in the hands of the Chiefs of Oraibi and Hotevilla pueblos...
To the Hopi, kachinas are supernatural beings who represent and have charge over various aspects of the natural world. They might be thought of as analogous to Greco-Roman demi-gods or Catholic saints. There are literally hundreds of different Kachinas, which may represent anything from rain to watermelon, various animals, stars, and even other Indian tribes. However, the kachinas are also thought to be the spirits of dead ancestors, and they may come to the Hopi mesas in the form of rain clouds.
The Hopi say that during a great drought, they heard singing and dancing coming from the San Francisco Peaks. Upon investigation, they met the Kachinas who returned with the Hopi to their villages and taught them various forms of agriculture. The Hopi believe that for six months out of the year, the Kachina spirits live in the Hopi villages. After the Home Dance in late July or early August, the Kachinas return to the San Francisco Peaks for six months. The Hopi believe that these dances are vital for the continued harmony and balance of the world. It serves the further and vital purpose of bringing rain to the Hopi's parched homeland.
The true Pahana (or Bahana) is the "Lost White Brother" of the Hopi. Most versions have it that the Pahana or Elder Brother left for the east at the time that the Hopi entered the Fourth World and began their migrations. However, the Hopi say that he will return again and at his coming the wicked will be destroyed and a new age of peace will be ushered into the world. As mentioned above, it is said he will bring with him a missing section of a sacred Hopi stone in the possession of the Fire Clan, and that he will come wearing red. Traditionally, Hopis are buried facing eastward in expectation of the Pahana who will come from that direction.
The legend of the Pahana seems intimately connected with the Aztec story of Quetzalcoatl, and other legends of Central America. This similarity is furthered by the liberal representation of Awanyu, the horned or plumed serpent, in Hopi and other Puebloan art. This figure bears a striking resemblance to figures of Quetzacoatl, the feathered serpent, in Mexico. In the early 16th century, both the Hopis and the Aztecs seem to have believed that coming of the Spanish conquistadors was in fact the return of this lost white prophet. However, unlike the Aztecs, upon first contact the Hopi put the Spanish through a series of tests in order to determine their divinity, and having failed, the Spanish were sent away from the Hopi mesas.
One account has it that the Hopi realized that the Spanish were not the Pahana based upon the destruction of a Hopi town by the Spanish. Thus when the Spanish arrived at the village of Awatovi, they drew a line of cornmeal as a sign for the Spanish not to enter the village, but this was ignored. While some Hopi wanted to fight the invaders, it was decided to try a peaceful approach in the hope that the Spanish would eventually leave. However, Spanish accounts record a short skirmish at Awatovi before the Hopis capitulated. Frank Waters records a Hopi tradition that the Spanish did ignore a cornmeal line drawn by the Hopis and a short battle followed. However, after the Hopi surrendered, they were still unsure of whether the Spanish were the returning Pahana. He writes that after the skirmish at Awatovi,
"Tovar [the leader of the Spanish] and his men were conducted to Oraibi. They were met by all the clan chiefs at Tawtoma, as prescribed by prophecy, where four lines of sacred meal were drawn. The Bear Clan leader stepped up to the barrier and extended his hand, palm up, to the leader of the white men. If he was indeed the true Pahana, the Hopis knew he would extend his own hand, palm down, and clasp the Bear Clan leader's hand to form the nakwach, the ancient symbol of brotherhood. Tovar instead curtly commanded one of his men to drop a gift into the Bear chief's hand, believing that the Indian wanted a present of some kind. Instantly all the Hopi chiefs knew that Pahana had forgotten the ancient agreement made between their peoples at the time of their separation. Nevertheless, the Spaniards were escorted up to Oraibi, fed and quartered, and the agreement explained to them. It was understood that when the two were finally reconciled, each would correct the other's laws and faults; they would live side by side and share in common all the riches of the land and join their faiths in one religion that would establish the truth of life in a spirit of universal brotherhood. The Spaniards did not understand, and having found no gold, they soon departed.