Wisdom Teachings of the Hopi

Eloise Hart

Much of the wisdom of the American Indians is written in symbols — a language without letters or sounds that speaks to that part of our natures which remembers. Unfortunately few of us are able to get in touch with these ideas that may have meant everything to us in past lives. It may help if we reflect upon the possible meaning of the prehistoric pictographs left throughout the Americas, many of which are in the form of circles, planes, crosses, swastikas, and symbolically shaped animals, humans, and gods.

In The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky offers interpretations: the circle (egg or disc) represents infinite space; the universe before life began, slumbering, as it were, in a state of unconscious nonbeing; the Divine from which all issues forth and to which all returns. A dot within a circle suggests the germ of manifested life, whereupon the circle becomes a circumscribed area limited by human comprehension, or by the confines of its manifested activities — beyond which the unknowable extends "forever." The dot extended into a line suggests duality: spirit and matter, heaven and earth, and the innumerable light and dark yang-yin qualities found throughout manifested existence. When the horizontal line is crossed by a vertical, human life is indicated. The circumference now may disappear, leaving the cross, symbol of the descent of spirit into matter, or of a divine being into earth life. In some cultures the cross symbolizes completion, that equilibrium of spiritual and material forces which occurs when a man or woman is enlightened.

Among the American Indians part of the circumference is left in place, forming a swastika — that ages-old emblem of the beginningless, endless motion of life; of cycling periods of time; and of spiraling cosmic forces. The Hindus refer to this ever-enduring rhythmic motion as the periodic outbreathing and inbreathing of Brahma: the awakening and sleeping of vast world systems. The Greeks speak of the Logos or Word which, being at once sound, vibration, and motion, awakens universal life.

Interestingly the accounts of Indian elders of northern Arizona, as told in Frank Waters' Book of the Hopi [this retelling of the Hopi creation story is drawn from Frank Waters' remarkable narrative on Hopi traditions first published in 1963], bear startling similarities to Greek and Roman, Asiatic, Persian, and other accounts of the destruction of successive world-continental systems alternately by fire and flood; of the periodic reversals of the earth's poles; and of the six invisible companions of our earth globe, paralleling the invisible souls or "bodies," composed of spiritual, mental, psychological, and astral energy-substances, of human and all animate beings.

In Hopi tradition creation began before time itself when in infinite space there was only an immeasurable void in the mind of the Creator, Taiowa. Then he thought of the finite, and his thought created Sotuknang who was to help create life and lay out the universe according to the divine plan. Sotuknang gathered from the endless expanses of space the substance which was to become manifest, molded it into forms, and arranged nine universal kingdoms. He gathered the primordial waters and placed them within the universes, and also gathered the primordial airs, arranging their circulations.

Then Sotuknang went to the First World and produced Spider Woman — that wonderfully symbolic figure who spins forth from herself the multitudinous forms of karmic illusions, and then ever after aids and supports her children. Spider Woman scooped up a bit of earth, mixed it with saliva, and formed two beings. She covered them with her cape of thin white substance and sang the Song of Creation. When she pulled off the cape, Twin beings sat up and asked: "Who are we? Why are we here?"

Following Spider Woman's instruction, one Twin solidified the earth, and the other filled the world with music so that all the vibratory centers along the globe's axis trembled and quivered in tune. Thus the whole world became an instrument, and sound became the means for carrying messages to the Creator. Having accomplished this, the Twins were assigned to the poles of the earth to keep it rotating harmoniously.

Now Spider Woman clothed the earth with trees and flowers, birds and animals and, as she had created the Twins, she produced eight human beings from earth of four colors. Sotuknang gave these first men and women speech, wisdom, and the power to reproduce. He told them: "I give you this world to live in and be happy. But remember, love and respect the Creator in all you do."

With their purity of heart these people realized that the earth was a living being like themselves and knew that while the sun was their Father, his and the earth's life-giving force was from the Creator. Although they were different colors, these first people felt as one and understood each other's needs. Gradually, however, they forgot their Creator. The animals drew away and became wild, and the different races departed one from another.

Fortunately, a few in every group remembered and endeavored to live harmoniously with their brothers. When conditions on earth had become so discordant that he was obliged to create a new world, Sotuknang told these few that they would be spared to start a new race if they followed their inner knowing, the "wisdom from the center at the top of their heads." Hearing this, these few from all parts of the earth set out to find a place of safety. Guided by innate wisdom they eventually came to a mound of the Ant People, where they were welcomed and taken underground. To the mystical minds of the desert-dwelling Indians, an air-tight, underground, amply-supplied chamber was undoubtedly as appropriate a symbol for the place where the seeds of life were to be preserved as was Noah's ark.

Meanwhile, everything on the land, in the waters, and in the air was incinerated. Nothing remained of the previous world's corruption. When a new land was prepared and ready for life, the humans emerged into a lovely, larger Second World. Although they spread out in all directions, they were close in spirit and able to see and talk with one another by using their special powers. Unfortunately, they too succumbed to arguments and discord, and the few who had lived harmoniously were again guided underground, safe from the catastrophic destruction. This time the Twins were called away from their stations at the poles, and the earth "with no one to control it, teetered off balance, spun around crazily, then rolled over twice. Mountains lunged into seas with a great splash, seas and lakes sloshed over the land; and as the world spun through cold and lifeless space it froze into solid ice" (p. 16).

When the Twins returned to their posts and the ice melted, a new world was established. This time the people built great cities and fine civilizations, but discovered that the more they progressed, the more difficult it was to remember and follow the laws of the Creator. Many became greedy and wicked: some misused their newly acquired reproductive powers, others, their intelligence. This time the world was destroyed by water: "waves higher than mountains rolled in upon the land. Continents broke asunder and sank beneath the seas" (p. 18). The few good people rode out the flood in hollow reeds and rafts. Following their inner wisdom they came at last to the new world called Tuwaqachi, this name meaning "World Complete," implying not only that the earth had reached its ultimate manifested expression, but that human beings could, during this period, become "complete."

When they had emerged into Tuwaqachi, the Indians met Masaw, Giver of Fire and Guardian and Protector of the Fourth World. He told them it was time for them to participate in the Creator's universal plan by traveling to the sea northward, southward, east and west. Obediently, the clans set out, some going in one direction, others in another, but all returning to the Center before starting out in a new direction. This Center, located within the now and plateau were Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah come together was, in their minds, the magnetic and spiritual center of the cosmos, formed at the junction of the north-south and east-west world axis along which the Twins send their vibratory messages and control the rotation of the planet.

During these migrations the clans left signatures and messages on rocks or in mounds, many of which still remain. Not all made it back to the Center; some settled elsewhere and lost track of their origins and connections. Of those who did return, only a few understood the Creator's purpose of these travels — which was, spiritually speaking, a quest of purification, discovery, and attainment of the truth, beauty, and love that would enable them to help their people.

The Fire, the Flute, Snake, and Sun Clans started their migration together accompanied by two locust-like Insect People — a version of Humpback Flute Player, Kokopilau. Images of this figure have been found throughout the Americas, each different yet all having a hump or pack on its back to contain the gifts or seeds which, when planted, provide life and sustenance to all living beings. When danger or sickness threatened the tribesmen, the two Insect People played such tender melodies the danger was averted, sickness overcome, and the spirits of the people uplifted. When food was scarce, their music hastened the growth and ripened the seeds of corn, melons, and flowers they planted from the supply they carried on their backs.

The tribes who joined the Bear Clan were accompanied by other kachinas (Kokopilau is considered to be a kachina). Kachinas are spirits who assumed human form to help and guide these early migrations. Their function was similar to that of the manasaputras (sons of mind) of Hindu tradition, who guided, enlightened, and protected infant mankind. They are living symbols of the universal spirit which embodies all that we aspire to, all that we shall become.

Returning from the south some of the clans stopped on their way to build what Hopis refer to as the Great Red City of the South. Completely surrounded by a high wall, the city contained a huge four-leveled pyramid. On its lower floor kachinas instructed students in the history and meaning of the Four Worlds; at the second level, physiological and psychological instructions were given so that neophytes could understand the subtler powers of their minds and how the Great Spirit works within man; the third level instruction emphasized the medicinal uses of plants; and at the top level secrets were revealed to the most knowledgeable and trustworthy initiates regarding the effects celestial bodies have upon the earth's climate, crops, and living beings; secrets regarding the nine universes: their life cycle, inhabitants, and interconnection; the people's spiritual potential and the value of keeping open the "door at the top of their heads" so they could converse with their Creator.

When this Great Red City was abandoned the kachinas, having accomplished their mission, withdrew their visible presence, promising, however, to return should their help be needed. Popular tradition holds that they do descend every year from their homes at the summit of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona, in time for the winter solstice ceremonies, remain six months, and depart at the end of the summer solstice in late June. These invisible kachinas raise the consciousness of all who feel their nearness, enabling them to "emerge," if only for a brief time, into the Fifth World (or plane of Awareness).

Although chronologically we now live in the Fourth World or plane, according to Hopi elders, our consciousness remains in the Third until we recognize and assume spiritual responsibility. Doing this we shall "emerge" into higher worlds and become, one day, kachinas, "respected spirits," those who know themselves to be finite parts of the Infinite for we are closely connected. We and they have survived innumerable periods of innocence and corruption, repeated transformations and rebirths, each time emerging into a new and better physical and psychological environment with new faculties developing. As they, we shall, perhaps, return from our travels through the far-off worlds, planets, and stars, bringing back gifts to help our younger brothers on their evolutionary pathways. Our journey will take us, the Hopis say, through each of the seven universes, where we shall eventually complete the forty-nine states of our evolutionary development and ascend into an Eighth and Ninth World whose nature is beyond our present powers of comprehension.

The idea that there is a continuity of life through many worlds is not new to students of comparative religions: that earth is a multiform being, as we are with our various inner souls or "bodies"; and that the globe we live on is the 4th of seven earths — "it has its own sun, moon, and satellites, forming a little solar system of its own" (p. 165). Three we have lived on in the past, and three we shall live on in the future. Mystics of all ages have referred to the wonders beyond as earth's far "islands," "other mansions," and "wheels within wheels." The Aztec Codex Vaticanus mentions the four previous "worlds" and names the seven migrating clans that emerged from seven caves in Aztlan (op. cit., p. 117).

These teachings are imparted during sacred ceremonies within the Hopis' underground kivas (meaning "world below") where no outsider is admitted. There, in the womb of the earth, the history of mankind's creation and successive emergences is recreated. A small hole in the kiva's floor symbolizes the place of previous emergences, another in the roof provides participants a vision of universes yet to be known, where they will develop their higher potentials. Even now, they have been told, the emergence has begun. Seeds of the new life are sprouting within the souls of humble people the world over, and seeds of the same kind are being planted in the stars. Knowing this, understanding what it implies, is what constitutes emergence into the Fifth World.

What are these seeds, and the ones Kokopilau planted? Could they be the truths, the archetypal ideas that have inspired, nourished, and guided individuals and races since they were first planted in the human soul; truths that lie all about us — encased in the simplest of symbols?

(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1990; copyright © 1990 Theosophical University Press)

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