Circles of Connection in Hopi and Navajo Spirit-Scapes

Earth Spirit Ways, Hopi, Independent Travel Journey, Navajo, Spirit Journey

Much of the Colorado Plateau is the ancestor homeland of Hopi and Navajo people.   Their own sacred geography grounds these cultures to the land.

Ancient rhythms pulsate in the canyons, cliffs, rock art, ruins, and living descendants of those who came long before us.  Infinite possibilities seem within reach in these striking landscapes and big sky horizons.

Navajo hogan with 3 red rock spires behind it speak of Navajo people being at home out on the wide open landscapes of the Colorado Plateau

Navajo traditional female hogan by Rusty Albertson

The sinuous, sensuous red and white canyon-scapes of the uplifted Colorado Plateau region of the American Southwest are a primordial force of crystal-specked sandstone rock layers embedded with prayers from many millennia of humans honoring this sacred earth.

Since my youth, these lands have called me to explore and renew my strong sense of being at home here on Mother Earth.  I also bring visitors to enter these lands in an informed, respectful way and invite learning by osmosis from the land itself and wise Hopi and Navajo hosts.

In this article, I share some Hopi and Navajo perspectives on spirit of place and some of my observations from sharing many circles of connection here for more than three decades.

Navajo Spirit-Scapes

To the Navajo, these landscapes are the physical manifestation of events that occurred during the creation of the Navajo people and of the earth itself.

Navajo boy reading under a juniper tree out on open red rock landscape of Navajoland. Artist portraying himself as a youth feeling connected and at home on the Colorado Plateau.

Shepherd painting by Shonto Begay from memories of childhood in Navajo land.

Navajo artist/writer Shonto Begay speaks of his perspective of the circle of the horizon in a storied Navajo landscape:  

“From where I sit, I look into the sanctuary of my childhood. In my earliest recollections, my environment was just as far as my eyes could see. My world was the circular line of the horizon. This was the place that harbored the ancient gods and animal beings that are so alive in our legends. . . . The land is scarred with erosions of rain, yet the corn stands tall, offering yellow pollen for another year.” (from“The View From the Mesa”)

Navajo painting of of a man out on Navajoland doing dawn prayers under the Milky Way. Navajo people they know the patterns in the stars.

That Which Awaits Dawn (Milky Way) by Melvin Brainbridge

In my explorations around Navajo land, I see how the Dine people are  so at home on the land. Challenges are met with dynamic confidence, resilience, humor and strength.

Patterns in the stars were guideposts in thousands of years of migrations.

Traditional Navajo hogan and sheep--historic image.

Navajo traditional hogan and sheep camp historical image. They are very at home out on the lands of the Colorado Plateau region.

When the Dine came into this region 700 or more years ago, they encountered the powerful Ancestral Puebloan villages and  traded with and learned from them.  Highly adaptable people, the Dine borrowed from other cultures, but always made it uniquely their own.

The Dine claimed their own homeland on the Plateau with guidance of the Holy Ones and emergence stories in this, their 4th world of creation. Navajo philosophy centers on the concept of Hozho or balance between opposing tensions — they try to come into balance with what is presented to them.  Seasonal cycles of healing ceremonies occur throughout the year.

1938 painting of a Navajo Fire Dance with families gathered watching. Ceremonies are an important part of the Navajo connection to their homeland.

Navajo Fire Dance by Armstrong Sperry, 1938.

Immersed within the curving, sculpted red walls of Canyon de Chelly, the words of a wise Navajo friend ring true for me: “this is a place where the Holy Ones communicate with humans.”

Sandstone formations of red-walled Canyon de Chelly, one of Navajo places to connect with their Holy Ones.

Canyon de Chelly exquisite sandstone formations by Jackie Klieger

“I can’t go near you without feeling the earth sing through you.”
Eloquent poetry of Laura Tohe.

Hopi Spirit-Scapes

For the Hopi, the spirit of the Hisat’sinom (ancestors)–and the history of their hardships and accomplishments, is embedded in the compelling landscapes of the Colorado Plateau based on more than 13,000 years of habitation of the region.

Mummy Cave Puebloan Ancestor site more than 2,000 years in Canyon de Chelly.

Hopi ancestral site on Navajo land by Sandra Cosentino–I see the eyes of Mother Earth looking out. This site has more than 2,000 years of habitation by Ancestral Puebloans–was abandoned by 1300 AD.

“Ancestral villages that have fallen into ruin are not dead places whose only meaning comes from scientific values.  The Hopi ancestors who lived in these villages still spiritually occupy these places, and these ancestors play an integral role in the contemporary Hopi ceremonies that bring rain fertility, and other blessings for the Hopi people and their neighbors throughout the world.  “Itaakuku” —footprints—are thus a part of the living legacy of the ancestors, and they play a vital role in the religious activities essential to the perpetuation of Hopi society.” (Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, Director of Hopi Cultural Preservation Office)

Hopi ancestor cliff trail below a village with 2 men walking with Hopi woman guide and child.

Walking a cliff trail with Hopi guide.

The Hopi people today live in old cliff edge villages and below the mesas in more modern homes.  Oraibi, founded in 1,100 A.D. is the oldest continuously inhabited village in North America.  Each time I go to Hopi, I sense I am entering a field of energy from the centuries of prayerful connection to Source energies.  The vibration from these time out of time experiences affect me for days, or weeks afterward.

The Hopi religious system is a complex system of inter-related concepts and responsibilities that initiated men, women and youth participate in at specific times of year. Each of the twelve villages has the autonomy to carry our their practices independently.  Through positive concepts and processes, the Hopi seek the assistance of supernatural beings to promote and achieve unity with everything in the Universe and be caretakers of Mother Earth.

We believe Black Mesa is the final destination of our migrating ancestors.  Here, on the fingertips of Black Mesa, our ancestors met Masaw and agreed to help steward the land in return for permission to remain are.  We believe Black Mesa represents the earth center.

Historic photo of Hopi women filling water jugs. Hopis believe all waters are sacred and that humankind is a participant in water-life.

Historic image of Hopi women getting water from a spring. There are no flowing streams on their land.

“We believe all waters: the aquifers, the springs, the lakes, the rivers, the oceans, the rain the snow are joined together.  All work in harmony to sustain life. We believe humankind is a participant in water-life.  How we behave influences rain, snow and hence the hydraulic cycle of balance.” (Vernon Maseyesva is Director of a Hopi conservation group, Black Mesa Trust).




Hopi tour, spirit journey, corn is life, ceremonial cycle, villages, authentic

Hopi dry farmed field by Sandra Cosentino. Hopis grow corn, beans and squash without irrigation using heirloom seeds adapted to this dry high desert and ancestral farming techniques.

Growing corn in the arid high elevation Hopi lands is an act of faith and hard work.  The ceremonial cycle of the year is centered on bringing the needed moisture for growing crops.

Double rainbow photo over the open brown Hopi landscape is a positive sign of moisture.

Rainbow over Hopi land a positive sign in this arid land and invokes a moment of awe. Photo by Sandra Cosentino

Circles of Sharing

In my recent 4-day journey to Hopi and Navajo lands with an attentive, open-hearted group from Australia, we shared personal circles with our Native hosts.  Songs, stories, blessings, lifeway understandings and laughter flowed.  As we walked the land, observed, and absorbed the stark beauty and energies, we became immersed in a sense of timeless connection.

Photo below is of a sunset circle at Canyon de Chelly with our Navajo host doing a small, single element, sandpainting demonstration. This lovely evening began with a cook-out dinner and ended with a fire ceremony and sharing Navajo song and dance.

Personal circle of sharing at Canyon de Chelly with visitors seated in chairs and our Native host doing a sandpainting demonstration in center..

Navajo sandpainting demonstration and spiritual circle with a group of absorbed, respectful visitors.  Photo by Sandra Cosentino

Navajo sandpainting design element on an art board gives a feeling of they style used in this ancestral healing ceremony.

Stylized portrayal of an element from a sandpainting ceremony made on an artboard.

During the traditional 9-day winter ceremonials, a series of complex sandpaintings are prepared in the hogan by a medicine man or woman and helpers as part of a sacred healing ritual and are not open to the public.

“The performative power of sandpainting creation and ritual use reestablish the proper, orderly placement of the forces of life, thus restoring correct relations between the patient and those forces upon which the patient’s spiritual and physical health depend. The sandpainting works its healing power by reestablishing the patient’s sense of connectedness to all of life ( Griffin-Pierce 1991:66).”

In the early 1900’s Navajo medicine people authorized making single element sandpaintings on art board to be sold to visitors (see example above)–however, these do not convey the complete details of the ceremonial paintings (same is true of our sandpainting demonstration).

Some fond memories of Navajo circles:

I have many fond memories of Hopi circles out on the land and in homes.  Often, there were people from many states and other countries and other tribes, but always present is a heart-centered feeling of oneness that we are all are part of this great circle of life.

Hopi guide describing Puebloan Ancestor rock art meanings to our visitor group during a Hopi Spirit Journey.

Visiting Hopi backcountry ancestral rock art site with knowledgable Hopi guide. Photo by Sandra Cosentino

I sense an energy as I look at these drawings left by the ancestors.  Hopi people become very animated as they engage with the meaning the images convey.

Rock art images establish an identity with place and make place meaningful…Petroglyphs and rock paintings were made in the context of a cultural landscape, in which topographic features have acquired broad symbolic connotations within the framework of the Pueblo cosmos. As a highly visible and relatively permanent “message” from the past, rock art constitutes a means of maintaining identity with the land, continuity with the ancestors, and ongoing communication wi the spirit realm.  As rock art collapses mythic space and time into the present, it imbues the landscape with power and meaning.” (Polly Schaafsma)

A few of many fond memories of circles of sharing with Hopi people:

I close with this wisdom and goal expressed by 2nd Mesa Hopi religious society participants recently: 

“The bridges of life forces just be rebuilt and maintained.  The Spirit of the Natural Worlds must once again reach the hearts of the peoples of the Earth.”

Hopi Social Dance historic painting by Fred Kabotie. These dances are usually open to visitors.

Hopi Social Dance historic painting by Fred Kabotie. These are usually performed by youth in January and again in the fall. Photos of ceremonies are not allowed.

Related Articles

  • Native Infusion article
  • Captivated by the Spell of the Southwest article
  • Hopi Water and Black Mesa Trust article
  • Weaving Life in the Dine World article

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article published June 9, 2017