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Orionís Invisibility:
the Hopi Agricultural and Ceremonial Cycle

by Gary A. David
Copyright © 2004 by Gary A. David.



During the latter part of April, all of May and June, and about half of July, Orionís influence is significant by virtue of either its departure or its total absence from the sky. At present Rigel is approximately 15 degrees above the western horizon on April 20 at 8:00 p.m., an hour after sunset, and by 9:15 in the evening it is just touching the horizon. Orion is last seen on the western horizon in early May, and by mid-May it is blotted out altogether in the sunís glare, which is called its heliacal setting. After that it will not reappear until about July 21st, its heliacal rising in the east. However, some nine centuries earlier when the first villages on the Hopi Mesas of Arizona were being settled, Rigel touched the western horizon on April 20 at 8:00 p.m., again an hour after sunset, and by early May achieved its heliacal setting. At this same time (circa A.D. 1100) it was not seen again until about the second week of July, its heliacal rising coinciding with the annual arrival of the monsoons. Much like the flooding of the Nile in Egypt, monsoon rain fulfills the agricultural and ceremonial cycle.

But what is the meaning of all these star positions? If the Anasazi (ancestral Hopi) and modern Hopi planting schedules coincide, then sweet corn, whose symbolic direction is designated as Below, was planted in late April when Orion was departing for his two-month sojourn in the Underworld. The importance of sweet corn is reflected primarily in its customary harvest at the Niman Ceremony in July and its use as a gift from the Hemis kachinas (masked intercessory spirits) to the children. The remainder of the corn was planted from late May until the summer solstice when Orion was inhabiting his subterranean abode.

His influence possibly causes the spirits of the corn to rise from the Underworld and enter into the sown seeds, acting as a catalyst for germination. Orion is planted in the Underworld at the same time as all the various types of corn, thereby assuring their germination and quickening growth during the lengthening days of the year. During this part of the seasonal cycle a minor agricultural rite of planting is performed in the fields. This is actually a sort of native Passion play involving Masauíu, the Hopi god of earth, death and the Underworld. (He is the counterpart of the Egyptian god Osiris.) ď...Masauíu strikes down his challengers and strips them of their clothes, until in the end he also falls down as if dead. Then he rises to accept prayers and gifts. On one level this is a mime depicting the life cycle of the corn plant; the ear is stripped from the plant, the cob is stripped of its seeds, and some of these are buried... but he, as a corn symbol, rises again and accepts the thanks of the people.Ē (Hamilton A. Tyler, Pueblo Gods and Myths (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964), p. 33.) Thus, Masauíu/Orion functions as not only as symbol of resurrection imitated by farmers assisting the forces of nature, but also as a manifestation of the corn itself, which is planted in the spring and returns after a few months to provide the people with its bounty.

Domesticated in Mesoamerica circa 5000 B.C., corn is undoubtedly the most sacred and ritualized of all Hopi foodstuffs. The symbolic color directions for each type of corn are as follows: yellow for Northwest, blue for Southwest, red for Southeast, and white for Northeast. This encompasses the terrestrial (horizontal) plane of Masauíuís domain. In addition, black (or purple) corn, known as kokoma, or Masauíuís corn, symbolically representing the direction of Above, is planted in May for the fall harvest. When Masauíuís dark corn of the zenith is brought down and placed in the dark earth together with Orion, then no major ceremonies can be held. The resumption of the ceremonial cycle will have to wait until Orion once again rises in the east just before dawn in July, when the ripening sweet corn reaches its full maturity and the life-giving monsoon rains begin.

We have seen here a direct relationship between the perceived absence of Orion and the vernal sowing of corn. The placement of seeds in the soil at the very time Orion in the chthonic realm is urging the life force forward and upward into the light must have seemed to the ancient Hopi as a cosmically ordained synergy. Fettered by the paradigms of science, we moderns rarely have the opportunity to witness a synchronistic magic of such magnitude.



an excerpt from The Orion Zone: Ancient Star Cities of the American Southwest
Copyright © 2004 by Gary A. David. All rights reserved
Any use of text without the author's prior consent is expressly forbidden.

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