Hopi Winter Solstice (Soyal): December 22

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The Hopi Indians, who have lived in the highlands of northern Arizona for over a thousand years, divide their calendar into 12 months with different ceremonies in each month. December is the month where the katsinas or kachinas, the spirits that guard over the Hopi, come down from their world at the winter solstice or Soyal (also referred to as Soyaluna and Soyalangwu). They remain with the people for the first half of the Wheel of the Year until the summer solstice, when they return to their home in the mountains. The kachinas are benevolent anthropomorphic beings, who can be male or female, and represent a host of animals, plants and natural phenomena. They are greatly celebrated and revered and their presence is associated with rain, crops and healing the sick.
During Soyal, which lasts nine days, sacred rituals are performed in chambers, called kivas, and many ceremonies involving dancing and singing take place; the kachinas may even bring gifts to the children. Soyal time is when stories are passed down to children from the elders and children are taught pivotal lessons like respecting others. The prayers and rituals help the Hopi to turn the sun toward its summer home and begin giving strength to all life for the growing season ahead. The Hopi, meaning the peaceful ones, believe that everything that will occur during the year is arranged at Soyal.
In preparation for the kachinas’ arrival, the Hopi make prayer sticks to bless the community, including their homes, animals and plants. Children are given replicas of the kachinas, intricately carved and dressed like the dancers, to help them learn about the hundreds of kachina spirits. Sixteen days before the winter solstice, one of the chief kachinas enters the Pueblo. He appears like a tired, old man who has just awakened from a deep slumber, teetering and on the verge of losing his balance. People follow his every move. He typically staggers over to the dance plaza where with great exaggeration, he dances and sings in a very low voice a song that is regarded as too sacred for the public to hear.
In many Native American ceremonies, the celebrations are sacred and inaccessible to outsiders. This creates limited and conflicting information about the ceremonies and rituals, so that discerning accurate details on the Soyal ceremony was equally challenging. We welcome feedback and commentary from anyone familiar with the traditions to round out our presentation.

4 COMMENTS

  1. […] Soyal (or Soyalangwul) is a major winter solstice celebration and feast observed by the Native American Hopi and Zuni people of the Southwest. It starts on the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, which is usually between December 20th-22nd, and is marked by nine days of kiva rituals, communal meals, dances, and festivities. A major aspect of Soyal is the return of the Katsinam, or Kachinas, who “…remain with the people for the first half of the Wheel of the Year until the summer solstice, when they return to their home in the mountains. The kachinas are benevolent anthropomorphic beings, who can be male or female, and represent a host of animals, plants and natural phenomena. They are greatly celebrated and revered and their presence is associated with rain, crops and healing the sick.” In some traditions, the Kachinas arrive with gifts for the children in the community. […]

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