North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World
Children: Learning to be Hopi
Katsina Ceremonial Calendar
At the winter solstice, the katsinas in their physical form start to enter the
Hopi villages. Their presence marks the beginning of the katsina ceremonial season, which continues throughout the first half of the
year. After the last
day of the Niman Ceremony, the summer solstice observance, The katsinas return to their home on the San Francisco mountain peaks, until the next December,
when the cycle begins anew.
These ceremonies are part of a broader, yearly ceremonial cycle
based upon lunar and solar observation. The Hopi ceremonial
calendar roughly corresponds with certain months of the year.
Select a month to learn more about that time of year.
The Katsina Season
From the summer solstice in July until the winter solstice in
December, the katsinas remain in their home atop the San Francisco
During this time, the non-katsina season, Hopi people return to their daily
routines. Autumn is marked with social dances and
harvest activities in anticipation of the forthcoming ceremonial
Sixteen days before the winter solstice, Soyal, one of the Chief Katsinas, enters the Pueblo. He gives the appearance of a weary old
man who has just awakened from a long, deep sleep, tottering and on
the verge of losing his balance. The katsinas are just awakening
from a long sleep at their homes in the San Francisco Mountains.
People stand around the plaza and on housetops, following Soyal's
every move. He wobbles over to the dance plaza where with great
exaggeration, he dances and sings in a barely audible voice a song
that is regarded as too sacred for the public to hear.
He totters over to the kiva controlled by the Bear Clan, where the
Soyal ceremony will take place. There, he sprinkles cornmeal to the north,
south, east, and west, opening of the kiva for the
other katsinas who will be coming from the other directions.
December is a time of reverence and respect for the spirit beings.
It is a time for storytelling. The katsinas appear for the first
time during the nine-day Soyal ceremony. Everything that is to
occur during the year is arranged at Soyal. No colorful public
dance is performed during this time. Instead, its ritual
significance derives from private rituals. On the last day, the katsina season is formally opened by the katsinas.
Paamuya, "moisture moon," arrives in January and is welcomed with
non-ceremonial dances, held at night in the kiva or home, or performed
during the day in the plaza.
The season of Paamuya is a time of festivity for the Hopi. Memories of
these times sustain the Hopi through the long winter nights and inspire
a deeper reverance for this world.
In February—long before the growing season begins—bean seeds are
sprouted in sand-filled containers in warm kivas. On a chilly
winter morning the katsinas walk through the village distributing
the fresh, green bean sprouts to the women of each household, who
cook them in soup. These sprouts foretell the germination that will
occur during the upcoming agricultural season.
The 16-day Powamuy Ceremony celebrates the growth of both plants
and children. Younger children receive gifts tied to a bundle of
bean sprouts from the katsinas who befriend them. Older children,
age 10 to 15, are initiated into the katsina beliefs.
Because many types of katsinas appear during the Powamuya, they are
called mixed katsina groups. Most of these katsinas participate in
other events throughout the season.
Several times in March, while the weather is still cold, groups of katsinas travel from kiva to kiva to dance throughout the night.
They bring gifts of food—samples of produce that will grow
abundantly during the coming agricultural season.
During the Osomuya, a season encompassing the month of March, a
series of katsina night dances takes place in each of the villages.
From now until July, the katsina rituals and beliefs will be
manifested in the lives of the Hopi. The katsinas are ever watchful
spirit beings, the invisible forces of life, and messengers who
listen for humble prayers and meditations. The immediate goal of
the night dances is to create a pleasant atmosphere for all
lifeforms, encourage their growth, and bring all-important rain for
Around this time, racer katsinas come to the village plaza to
challenge men and boys to footraces. The Hopi take turns racing the katsinas across the plaza. Losing to a Runner katsina generally
results in an unpleasant consequence, such as being doused with
water, having cockleburs rubbed into the hair or grease smeared on
the face, or even receiving an unstylish haircut. However, whether
his opponent wins or loses, the Racer katsina always gives him a
gift of food. The Racer katsinas depart with a message for rain.
During the season called Kwiyamuya, fruit trees begin to bud, some
peach trees are in blossom, and weeds begin to appear in the corn
fields. It is time to prepare and plant gardens and fields with
various crops, especially early corn. It is also the time to
construct kwiya, windbreaks that protect the seedlings and give the
period its name.
The Hakitonmuya period is the season for planting beans and other
vine crops including pumpkin, watermelon, muskmelon, and gourd. The
word "haki" means wait, and May is the time to wait for warmer
weather before planting corn in large quantities.
All Hopis except for the very young are involved in this season's
ceremonial and domestic activities. Duties are clearly distributed
among women and men. Men tend to crops and livestock, hunt large
and small game, and perform all ceremonial responsibilities. Women
spend a great deal of time preparing corn for ngumni, finely ground
cornmeal. They shell, winnow, wash, roast, and grind corn on grinding
stones. Then, the finely ground ngumni is made into a variety
of foods and breads, including piki, a very thin
cornmeal bread, pik'ami, a type of sweet corn pudding, and many others.
Wuko'yis is an important time for all plant life, especially the
sacred corn, which receives the special blessing of rain to support
its growth to maturity.
People who live near the kiva have heard the sounds of katsina songs in the nights. Throughout the season, the katsinas will
appear in all twelve Hopi villages, sometimes at several villages
on the same day. Excitement spreads from one village to another as
people await the first day of the dance. Precisely at
sunrise on the dance day, the katsinas appear and
proceed in single file to the plaza, bringing gifts of food to the
people—symbols of what the coming harvest will bring.
When the ceremony ends the next day, the katsinas are reluctantly
sent home to their spirit world and silence falls on the village.
The activities of summer climax with the
sacred Niman ceremony, an important ritual ending the katsina season. In the Niman ceremony, the katsinas who have been on Earth
in their physical form since the winter solstice will return home
to their spiritual world. Plant life has now blossomed in
acknowledgement of the people's prayers and meditations, powerful
energy of the katsina blessings, and the participation of the
supernatural beings in the cycle of ceremonies from November
The Niman Ceremony is performed precisely at midsummer. It is the
time of the most intense prayer and meditation in the village.
All rituals conducted are for the benefit of all mankind.
At sunrise, the katsinas appear at the plaza bearing stalks of corn
and melons. This represents that they have brought their bounty and
the intangible virtues of life for the people. The katsinas dance
throughout the day, accompanied by dancing and singing. At the
onset of the last dance, the village's brides of that year are
presented, dressed in their wedding robes, to receive special
blessings from the katsinas.
The next morning, the katsinas perform their final ritual of the
ceremonial cycle, depart this world, and return to the spirit
world. They carry with them the special prayers of the Hopi to the
six directions of the Hopi world.
Image 1: Lightning Dance Wand
Hopi, ca. 1904
Lightning bolts, or tawepiki, are
carried by male dancers in the
Buffalo Dance for rain.
Cottonwood (Populus sp.), commercial paint and stain; W 20.0 x H 31.0 cm; 36033-1
Image 2: Blue Corn Maiden Katsina: Sakwap Mana Tihu
John Fredericks, Hopi, ca. 1995
Cottonwood (Populus sp.), commercial paint and stain; W 20.0 x H 31.0 cm; 36033-1