Kachina DanceReader’s note:  This post became much longer than I anticipated.  No pictures or videos are allowed to be taken of the ceremonies.  I enjoyed drawing the details of my experience from my memory into words and I hope you’ll enjoy it as well.  PS-There are quick links at the bottom of this post if you’d rather see/hear my other Sedona experiences so far….

I had the utmost privilege to spend the day yesterday witnessing three Kachina dances at three different Hopi Villages.  These dances are a part of the Hopi’s religious ceremonies and – at this time of year – are primarily dedicated to thanking the creator for the rain that will come and nourish their crops.  These dances were/are not ‘put on for the public’ – they are a part of the ongoing dance cycle of the Hopi as part of their religious ceremonies.

There are hundreds of kachinas that represent animals, qualities, food, and more.  Here is a brief explanation of kachinas (traditionally called katsinas) and a look at some kachina ‘dolls’:  http://www.hopikachina.com/  Kachina dolls are not playthings, but teaching tools for the children.

Sandra, our co-guide from Crossing Worlds Journeys and Retreats, explained that it is highly unusual that three kachina dances were being held on the same day.  She further explained these dances most typically take place during the month of June.  When I asked why so many so early, she responded that she did not know – she could only speculate that the Hopi felt led by Spirit to do them now.  I speculated whether they were sensing a sense of urgency about the need for rain this season.

Though I had heard of Hopi Indians, I had thought of them as a tribe – like Navajo or Cherokee or Apachi.  I hadn’t before understood that Hopi is a religion that is their way of life.  Over the course of the day, I found myself profoundly impacted by the depth of their faith and the breadth of inclusion of all people.

Hopi chose to settle on the desolate lands of Arizona because they believed it would keep their people rooted in their religious beliefs.  Hopi are traditionally farmers and do not irrigate their crops.  They firmly believe The Creator will provide for them by bringing the rain needed for their crops.

During our outing, we stopped at the Hopi Cultural center, located on Second Mesa:


We also stopped at a true trading post and met Joe, featured in this 2006 NPR article:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6662251

No documentation of these ceremonies are allowed, as the Hopi have grown wary of the ways of we white people – most of whom view the dances as a spectacle to be documented (and act void of respect) instead of a religious ceremony to be honored & experienced.  As a result, I’d like to share my experience with you in words, infused with feeling and emotion – so that you can imagine what it was I saw.   [see Hopi village events with Sandra of Crossing Worlds Journeys and Retreats, Sedona, Arizona]


Our co-guide, Roanna “Ro” Jackson, is a Hopi traditional spiritual woman who is a leader in her woman’s healing society.  She lives at First Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in northeast Arizona.  Ro is from the Lizard clan – she described to me that her clan was ‘born’ by crawling up from the waters on the shoots of bamboo and coming into the fourth world in this way.

As Ro brought us near the sound of drum beats, we climbed a homemade ladder onto the roof of a home in her village.  My breath caught in my throat when I saw close to 100 colorfully dressed kachinas formed in a circle in the plaza of her village and dancing together rhythmically.  kachinas are the religious figures, played by inducted village men, and wear masks and costumes:  bells, sashes, rattles, headdresses.  In ceremony, Hopi believe that the spirit of the kachinas infuse the dancers – it is not just a role they are playing.  The children do not know their fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins are the kachinas dancing in front of them – we were instructed not to say ‘masks’ in front of the children because their belief is that the figures ARE kachinas.

Tears welled up in my eyes with emotion – that we were experiencing this ceremony along with their village.  The plaza was packed with village members as well as visiting villagers, all watching and holding the space for the kachina dance for rain.  Held in rhythm by a solitary drummer/drum beat, there was a definitive cycle to their dance and to the rhythm of the dance.  After a while, I was able to sense when the changes in the rhythm/cycle were coming by the sounds and the movements.  They were very precise and orderly in their structure and movements.  Their masks were very similar in design and included a painted face, with neutral colors (white, gray, brown) and a spray of feathers on the left and right sides of the mask.

We were blessed to witness one full ’round’ of the dance, which was close to an hour in duration – AND during a hot day with high winds and dust blasts.  Yet none of the kachina ever looked anything other than fully in their practice.  When the dance ended for a lunch period, Ro took us for a brief tour….

On First Mesa, there are three villages, each with their own plaza.  Only Ro’s village was holding a kachina dance that day, so she walked us through the other two villages – they were ghost towns because everyone was at her village for the dance.  One village still has no electricity or running water; the second just got running water within the past year; her village has had running water and electricity for several years now.  The feel of the villages, especially the first two, was very primitive.  The houses were no bigger than 400 sq. ft. and were made of rock and mortar.

There were ‘out houses’ built onto the side of the mesas and large piles of trash waiting to be carted down.  Ro’s village had many homes, including hers, that were build from cinder block instead of stone – the original homes on First Mesa date back to the 1600’s.  Each village has a sacred kiva, a below-ground chamber used for dance preparation and meditation by the kachinas.  Kachinas are all men, even when playing a female kachina.  Women visit the kivas only to clean or bring food.

Many villagers, like Ro, do not own a car and walk everywhere they need to go – she described her walk to the convenience store the prior day when she ran out of flour during food preparations for dance day.  She took us to the edge of the mesa and showed us the trail she walked down the side of the mesa and across the highway – my guess would be about a 2 mile round trip.  My observation of Ro, as we walked throughout the day, is that she seemed like a human mountain goat because she was so surefooted – I kept slipping and sliding on the sand until I observed how her feet seemed to find the rocks in the path.  ah, ha!  I’m a quick study!

Ro then brought us to her home for lunch – her sister was there as well as her niece and her niece’s children.  The table was filled with food they had made by hand:  bean & beef soup, soft-shell tacos, & potato salad.  We had brought food to contribute to the meal and they used what I brought:  the tomatoes were in the tacos; the organic potatoes made up the potato salad; and the grilled chicken I had made and sliced was placed on the table as well.  Dessert was watermelon that the villagers grow themselves – it’s odd to think of the desert birthing watermelons.  One of my fellow “bahana” (white people) tourists asked Ro how they grow watermelon in the desert.  She said simply, “we plant the seeds and pray for rain.”

During lunch, Ro’s sister, Edna, explained to us that when villagers or guests visit the villages for dance ceremony, they are likely to be invited in to a villager’s home to share a meal with them – whether they know you or not.  In somewhat broken english, she said that you might be inclined to turn them down because you don’t know them – but that you should say yes and join them for the meal.  It is the way.


As we climbed our second ladder of the day onto a rooftop at the next village, the formation of the kachina and the sound of the drum impacted me the same as the first:  with outbreath of awe and amazement.  Here, 60 very colorful kachinas were dancing in different garb and to a different rhythm than at the first dance.  This dance was focused on abundance for ‘all people’ – Hopi have a very cosmic view of the world and bring thoughts of non-Hopi into their ceremonies to bless them as well.

Each mask had its mouth protruding out, like a kiss but more cylinder-like.  Some of the mouths had tongues hanging out, some had buck teeth, some had a full set of teeth and some had none – these masks had a comical feel to them.  They were colorful, with white and red-painted faces – and the mouths were painted red as well.  These kachinas had an intriguing rattle attached to the back of their right knee:  it was made of a turtle shell and deer claws – as they stomped their feet in rhythm, this rattle was activated.  (I bought a smaller childs version at the trading post.)

I was also intrigued by the hand gestures used in this dance.  Ro explained to us that they are telling the story of the crops and the rain and to notice the gestures to see if we could tell the story being told.  The kachinas slowly and gracefully moved their hands up together, like they were holding a bowl, then brought them down, then one hand came up and pointed to the sky and then came down again.  There was such a softness and gentleness to the hands, no abruptness or shaking of any kind.  I believe the graceful movements stood out for me because the kachina are all men – the softness felt in contrast to the masculinity.

The formation of the kachinas was ‘looser’ than at the first village.  The eye slits in their masks didn’t allow for easy vision, so the formation had large gaps between kachinas.  The leader was motioning to them to get closer together, but some couldn’t see him because of their mask.  So another kachina went up to the other from behind, grabbed onto his hips and pulled him backwards to close the gap.  The problem with that method was that then there was another gap and the kachina that got pulled back now had to go back up to the kachina in front of him and do the same!


We enjoyed another roof-top view of the third kachina dance…. When we arrived, the round of dancing was over and the kachina ‘clowns’ were at work:

We were warned of the clowns:  that they are known to pull people from the crowd and ‘make fun’ of them.  We “bahanas” (white people) are common targets.  Our guides suggested that if we encountered a clown that we should not make eye contact with them as they will then pull you out into the plaza.  The purpose of the clown kachina is to teach the children ‘what not to do’ during a kachina dance.  The clowns make fun of people, cause a ruckus, don’t pay attention – all actions that draw much laughter from the villagers watching.  Eventually, other kachinas enter the plaza and put the kachina clowns in their place by reprimanding them for the behavior.

I was sooooooo glad that we were on the rooftop and away from eye-contact with the kachina clowns!  They did not have masks on and their skin was painted white with black facial features (eyes, mouth).  they wore shorts with a white kerchief tied at their waist.  An unfortunate (?) bystander had been led into the plaza center and asked to sit in a chair.  The clowns were making fun of the bystander (not a bahana, by the way) – and gathering in circle, conspiring for the next victim.  They then began making fun of the kachinas that were still lined up in their circle formation.

Eventually, the kachinas exited the plaza and the clowns made a bed and awaited their aunties to bring them their food.  [the aunties are played by women, while even female kachinas are played by men.]  One of the clowns had many aunties and, at first, was the only clown who had received food – lots of it!  The other clowns began complaining loudly that they had no food and he had much.  Finally, their aunties began coming out with food as well….. but for one unfortunate clown!  Out of 6 clowns, he was now the only one without any food – he also began antics and complaining that caused much laughter in the plaza.  His aunties then came out all at once, about six of them, carrying his food – but they approached him from behind, so he didn’t see them coming.  This, also, caused great laughter because he was carrying on so with his complaining, yet didn’t see his food was on the way.

Our day was drawing to a close and we had to leave before the clowns were reprimanded by the kachinas that we saw were on their way into the plaza.  I felt glad that we were able to witness the clowns we had heard so much about and even more glad that we weren’t the objects of the ridicule!


* For each of the mesas, we brought gifts of food, which is blessed and then tossed into the crowd by the kachinas during their dances.  I believe that each dance has four rounds of dancing throughout the day.  It was only at First Mesa that we witnessed food being tossed into the crowd.  We brought baskets to fill with an assortment of food and we also brought some kids toys for the baskets.  All of these items would be taken to the kachinas so they could bless it and share it with the villagers during a round of dance.  We were told that Ro’s grandson was participating in his first kachina dance as a newly inducted kachina – and would take one of the baskets and give it to his sister (though she wouldn’t likely know that it was him).

* In addition, we brought gifts of food for Ro’s household, not only to share for lunch but also for them to eat later.  Hopi have a principle of reciprocity, so as we were leaving First Mesa, and as she was entering the van with us, Ro offered us a gift of her artwork:  a colorfully painted butterfly and a small piece of pottery.  Besides guide fees, Ro’s main source of income is selling her art – so these gifts were especially significant because she made them herself and she was giving up potential income.  Sandra said that a Hopi would give the last thing they owned in order to satisfy their belief of reciprocity.

* Hopi men do not ‘automatically’ become kachinas:  it is a choice that they make.  The responsibility and time to be a kachina is very great and some Hopi men choose not to become one.  If they do, there are many years of training that starts as a young boy.  Once a young man has successfully progressed through the training, he then must be ‘inducted’ by the other kachinas as a kachina.  It is viewed as a great honor to carry the role of a kachina, by the village and by the family.

* It was only three years ago or so that Hopi culture began to be taught in the schools on the reservation.  The Hopi language being taught in the home has not stayed as prevalent, so there is a renewed attention to that by the Hopi people.  Sandra shared with us that alcohol and processed foods have made their way into the Hopi villages and impacts their bodies differently than us.  We saw many very large bellies on the kachinas in the dances, perhaps evidence of this trend.  Alcohol is such a big problem that it is not sold on (or allowed to be brought onto) the reservation.

* It’s been documented that missionaries who have come through and attempted to convert Hopi were sorely unsuccessful because of the Hopi committment to their religion.  We did see churches on the reservation:  Church of the Nazarene and a Presbyterian Church.  Sandra indicated there is also a Native American church, but that the majority of Hopi do not practice outside of Hopi religion; the churches we saw were primarily attended by the Navajo, many of whom practice both their native and adopted beliefs.


As I read what I have written, it feels as if it falls way short of sharing the feeling I experienced this day.  I can say that I went from dance to dance, experience to experience, doing my best to honor the moment.  At times I felt worried that I would forget a rule or practice, and at others I felt totally at one with the Hopi.  The entire time I felt truly honored and grateful that I ‘got to’ experience ceremonies that are a part of the Hopi religion.  I did not feel conspicuous and it didn’t seem as if the villagers at any of the mesas we visited felt we were an intrusion.

I feel great respect of the Hopi because of how strongly they stand in their faith and practices – especially that of dedicating themselves to living on such desolate land.  It feels as if they’ve dedicated themselves to a life filled with struggle grounded in faith that The Creator will provide.  I admire the strength of their faith, their openness and their dedication – their wilfulness around preserving their beliefs even in this modernized era and even with our government that often interferes.  I believe that the emotion that arose within me at the first two dances was my sensitive self feeling the energy the kachinas manifested with their ceremony – healing, fruitful, manifested-rain energy, all generated from the depth of their belief.

My experience with the Hopi will forever be ingrained in my senses and in my being.  I reflect on my own faith and beliefs and can see how I would like to bring forth mySelf in a renewed way.  Like my Hopi experience did for me, I know that how I bring mySelf to the world is what people see and how I can teach.  ‘Role Model’ seems like such a cliché term – yet those who Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk are those who are in greatest alignment with their beliefs and come forth in the world in their authenticity.  These are the people who become the grassroots leaders within communities – those, who when interviewed or asked, seem surprised that they have people following them.

A wise teacher once told me that people are more swayed by your strength of conviction than they are by logic or reason.  Strength of conviction is based in belief.  Even though the Hopi continue to face challenges in maintaining their way of life, their belief holds them strong.  I move forward from this experience with a renewed sense of my beliefs; and understanding & honoring of the influence I have by bringing my authenticity and integrity into the way that I live every day.  That practice is true empowerment.


My photo albums on Facebook (I’m told you CAN view them, even if you aren’t on Facebook):


My video journals on my YouTube channel (most are 1-2 minutes long):


Crossing Worlds Journeys and Retreats (Sandra Cosentino):