Hopi Snake Dance -
The most widely publicized of
Hopi rituals was the Snake Dance, held
annually in late August, during which the performers dance with live
snakes in their mouths. The dance is thought to have originated as a water
ceremony because snakes were the traditional guardians of springs. Today,
it is primarily a rain ceremony and to honor Hopi ancestors. The tribe
regards snakes as their "brothers" and rely on them to carry their prayers
for rain to the gods and spirits of their ancestors.
Snake Dance requires two weeks of ritual preparation, during which time
the snakes are gathered and watched over by children until time for the
dance. On the last day of the 16-day celebration, the dance is performed.
By percentage of the local snake population most are rattlesnakes, but all
are handled freely.
Before the dance begins the participants take an emetic (probably a
sedative herb) which is not an anti-venom and then dance with the snakes
in their mouths. There is usually an Antelope Priest in attendance who
helps with the dance, sometimes stroking the snakes with a feather or
supporting their weight. The dance includes swaying, rattles, a guttural
chant and circling of the plaza with snakes. After the dance the snakes
are released in the four directions to carry the prayers of the
dancers. Although part of the Snake Dance is performed for the tribe, this
is only a portion of a lengthy ceremony, most of which is conducted
privately in kivas.
Hopi Snake Dance
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Though the dance was once open to the public, it is now open to only
tribal members due to illegal photography and a lack of respect for the
traditions and ceremonial practices of the Hopi.
Rain Dance - This ceremonial dance is performed by numerous agricultural peoples,
especially in the southwest, where summers can be extremely dry. The
ceremony was performed to ask the spirits or gods to send rain for the
tribes ' crops. The dance usually takes place during the spring planting
season and before crops are harvested. However, it was also performed in
times when rain was desperately needed.
thing that makes rain dances unique from some other ceremonial
that both men and women participate in the ceremony. The dance varies from
tribe to tribe, each having their own unique rituals and costumes. Some
tribes wear large headdresses while others wear masks. Accessories often
include paint on the body, beads, animal skins, horse and goat hair,
feathers, embroidered aprons, and jewelry made of leather, silver, and
turquoise. Feathers and the color blue are often found in dress and
accessories, symbolizing the wind and rain, respectively. These special
clothes and accessories which were worn during the rain dance, were
generally not worn at other times of the year, but rather, were stored for
this specific ceremony. Dance steps usually involve moving in a zigzag
pattern as opposed to other ceremonial dances that involve standing in a
Stories of the origins of ceremonial
dances have been passed from
generation to generation orally. When the
Americans were relocated in the 19th century, the United
States government banned certain tribal ceremonial dances. In some regions
tribal members would tell federal authorities that they were performing a
"rain dance" rather than disclosing the fact they were actually performing
one of the banned ceremonies.