The activities of a Hopi ceremony differ depending on which of the various rituals is being performed. Generally, most tribal ceremonies occur in a kiva, an underground chamber that represents the doorway to the afterlife of the ancestors. Offerings such as food, water or other items are made at an altar, and songs or dances are performed.
The Hopi ceremonial cycle generally operates on two annual periods. The masked group of ceremonies are performed between the winter and summer solstices, while the unmasked rituals are the remainder of the year.
The Soyal ceremony, for example, is the first of the masked ceremonies, performed on the winter solstice. Prior to the actual ceremony, prayer sticks are constructed of feathers, pine needles and branches. One of the Hopi kachinas, or guardian spirits, is represented by a tribal member. Wearing a headdress that symbolizes rain and bearing a shield with a star on it, he guides other tribe members to the kiva, where songs are performed asking for plentiful rain in the coming growing season.
The Hopi flute ceremony, performed every August, is one of the rituals not performed in the underground kiva. Instead, the clan chief proceeds into specific ancestral rooms, followed by children of the tribe. Men wearing white blankets carry cornstalks. Others wear sun emblems, or carry moisture tablets and other items. Once inside, the participants perform prayers and songs asking for rain and food.