A Hopi Hero’s Journey: How the Snake Clan Came to Arizona

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Front row, Snake dancers near foot-drum, Oraibi village, Third Mesa, 1898, next row Antelope dancers, one with cottonwood wreath, medicine bowl, and water-sprinkler. Kisi (leaves of “snake house”) in the background.

Front row, Snake dancers near foot-drum, Oraibi village, Third Mesa, 1898, next row Antelope dancers, one with cottonwood wreath, medicine bowl, and water-sprinkler. Kisi (leaves of “snake house”) in the background. ( Public Domain )

Palulukang (Horned Water Serpent) emerging from pottery jar, wrestling with a Koyemsi, or Mudhead kachina clown, Hopi drawing. Kachinas are spirit messengers. (Public Domain)

Palulukang (Horned Water Serpent) emerging from pottery jar, wrestling with a Koyemsi, or Mudhead kachina clown, Hopi drawing. Kachinas are spirit messengers. (Public Domain)

Maiden and Crone, Hard Beings Woman

In other versions of the myth, Tiyo visits the island kiva of Hurúing’wúuti (Hard Beings Woman). During the day while Tawa (the sun) is aloft, she appears as a withered crone.

Tawa, the sun spirit and creator in Hopi mythology.

Tawa, the sun spirit and creator in Hopi mythology. ( Public Domain )

But at night when he returns to this western house, she transforms into a beautiful woman. Alternate versions describe Tiyo spending the night with the lovely Hurúing’wúuti in order to win her favor, thereby receiving many coveted turquoise beads, red coral, and seashells. In the morning, however, she (as in the previous variant) reverts to a repulsive hag. “Hurúing Wuhti owned the moon, the stars, and all the hard substances, such as beads, corals, shells, etc.” This statement demonstrates that the western goddess is related not only to marine shells and coral but also to lunar and sidereal “hard objects.” Hopi scholar Harold Courlander believes that Hard Beings Woman and Spider Grandmother are merely variations of the same archetype, namely, Mother Earth. He goes on, however, to identify the special role of the former deity in the early maritime history of the Hopi: “Huruing Wuhti is associated with the myth that the Hopis came to their present world by a voyage across the sea rather than through the sipapuni.” By some accounts the subterranean Sipapuni is the Hopi “Place of Emergence” from the previous Third World (or epoch) to the current Fourth World. Located at the bottom of Grand Canyon on the Little Colorado River, it is actually a geological feature called a travertine dome. This circular limestone structure gradually deposited by mineral waters measures about 75 feet (23 meters) in diameter and can be seen on Google Earth.

Map of travertine dome at Grand Canyon. (Source: Google Earth, 2017)

Map of travertine dome at Grand Canyon. (Source: Google Earth, 2017)

The Hero Returns

Tiyo eventually returned with his snake mana (maiden) to Toko’navi. “At that time only the Divided or Separated Spring (Bátki) clan [also spelled Patki, or Water Clan] and the Póna (a certain cactus) lived at that place, but with the arrival of this young couple a new clan, the Snake clan, had come to the village.” After the couple’s return, Tiyo’s wife gave birth to a brood of snakes, which began to bite so many Hopi children that he was forced to return to the Snake People in order to proffer them his herpetological offspring. Thereafter the woman bore only human children.

Two Hopi Indian kachina dolls (male and female), ca.1900.

Two Hopi Indian kachina dolls (male and female), ca.1900. ( Public Domain )

Later the Snake Clan migrated to Kawestima, which are the cliff dwellings known as Betatakin and Keet Seel located in the Navajo National Monument in northern Arizona. Incidentally, the name of this national monument is actually a misnomer because the Navajo neither built the two villages nor ever inhabited them. Instead the ruins belong to the ancestral Hopi known as the Hisatsinom, or Ancient Ones. Subsequently the Snake Clan moved to the village of Walpi on First Mesa, where they reside to this day.

This legendary oceanic voyage that led to the origin of the Snake Clan clearly exemplifies the essential monomyth of the “hero’s journey” about which Joseph Campbell has extensively written. The fact that its first two members, Tiyo and his anonymous serpent-wife, joined the Water Clan at Toko’navi village merely emphasizes their common maritime tradition. Two other names for the Water Clan are the Houseboat Clan and the Dwelling-on-Water Clan. It is interesting to note that the so-called “serpent effigies” of the god Palulukang, the Horned or Feathered Serpent, are kept by these two clans. At Walpi, the Snake Clan was responsible; at Sichomovi also on First Mesa, the Water Clan was responsible. The Hopi Palulukang is analogous to the Mayan Kukulkán and the Aztecan Quetzalcóatl.

Right: Moqui (Hopi) Snake Dance, Hualpi (Walpi) plaza, 1899. Photo by Ben Wittick. Note observers standing on top of “snake rock.” Upper-left: Walpi village in the distance, First Mesa. Lower-left: Hopi maiden with butterfly whorl hairstyle and pot.

Right: Moqui (Hopi) Snake Dance, Hualpi (Walpi) plaza, 1899. Photo by Ben Wittick. Note observers standing on top of “snake rock.” Upper-left: Walpi village in the distance, First Mesa. Lower-left: Hopi maiden with butterfly whorl hairstyle and pot.

Serpent Seafarers

In addition to Hopi legends of sailing eastward on reed rafts across the Pacific Ocean from the previous Third World, which was destroyed by a deluge, to the current Fourth World, many cultural and linguistic similarities exist between the peoples of the South Pacific and those of the American Southwest. I will leave you with just one example. The Samoan word sua and the Hopi word tsu’a both mean “snake.” The sound and the sense are the same. Contrary to the mainstream academic paradigm, it was the collective ingenuity of the peoples of both North and South America together with the peoples of Oceania that allowed them to make landfall on distant shores in very early times. The astronomical and navigational skills possessed by these globally dispersed serpent seafarers (sometimes called the Nagas) must have been the common currency of the day.

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