"A Continual Beginning, and Then an Ending, and Then a Beginning Again": Hopi Apocalypticism in the New Age
Clements, William M., Journal of the Southwest
In January and February 1997, a series of press releases datelined "Hotevilla, AZ" and issued by the Hotevilla Priesthood Assembly took issue with "new-age interpretation and appropriation of Hopi religious practices." The assembly announced plans to restrict access to those practices so that only Hopis would be involved and to disassemble shrines that had been placed on Hotvela (to use the currently preferred spelling) lands by non-Hopis. The releases defined a Hopi as "one who has received the full religious instructions" and "whose mother is a Hopi" and noted that the only non-Hopis who would be welcome at ceremonies would be other Indians who had been initiated into Katsina societies and were in-laws of Hopis. The assembly described the situation that occasioned the restrictions in one of their releases: "Non-Hopis have come to Hotevilla in the past and have followed religious processions too closely, imitated Hopi religious/ceremonial activities, i.e., Paho [Prayer Feather] and shrine making, which shows disrespect for Hopi traditions and culture. Some non-Hopi have taken various religious items from Hopi shrines and illegally bought old Hopi artifacts, some of which had high religious significance." The releases identified several individuals responsible for encouraging non-Hopi involvement in Hopi religious affairs--especially Dan Evehema, one of two "self-appointed chiefs" who had led non-Hopis in defying the priesthood's ban on their participation, and two non-Hopis, Katherine Cheshire, founder of Touch the Earth Foundation, and author and Lutheran minister Thomas E. Mails. (1)
On one hand, we could treat these press releases as just another instance of the factionalism among the Hopi communities on Third Mesa in northeastern Arizona that led to the founding of Hotvela in 1906 (Whiteley 1988). But they are more than that, for the individuals cited by the assembly have been the most important and influential figures in popularizing Hopi religious teachings among participants in the so-called New Age movement, an eclectic alternative religious trend that emerged in the 1970s primarily among Europeans and Euro-Americans who adopted and adapted teachings and practices from outside their own cultures' mainline religions. The New Age movement has focused on Asian spirituality but embraces a range of alternative spiritual traditions. Always a prominent element of the New Age, reinterpreted American Indian religious beliefs and rituals became particularly significant among adherents of alternative spirituality in the 1990s. The component of Hopi religion that Thomas Mails, with the assistance of Dan Evehema and Katherine Cheshire, has foregrounded is the emergence mythology that lies at the spiritual core of Hopi life. Inherent in that mythology is the prophecy of an imminent and purifying conclusion to the world as we now know it, followed by a restoration of an Edenic existence similar to that known countless years ago. * Though Frank Waters may have exaggerated when he wrote, "No other world prophecy is said to be as well known as the prophecy of impending world destruction made by the Hopi Indians of Arizona" (Waters 1991, ix), it has exerted considerable appeal for New Age believers for a variety of reasons.
The earliest version of the Hopi emergence myth to be published is apparently the one Frank Hamilton Cushing recorded in 1882 (Cushing 1924). In his study of the myth, Armin Geertz (1994, 343-421) reprints the Cushing text, ten other previously published recordings narrated by Hopi "Hostiles and Traditionalists" (i.e., those who oppose compromise with Euro-American culture), and a version he recorded in 1982. In addition to these versions, Geertz (1994, 343-44) notes the existence of some half dozen other published texts. Richard O. Clemmer (1995, 52) notes several texts which Geertz does not mention. Both Geertz and Clemmer reject several additional texts as synthetic reworkings of the myth; (2) some of these, though, have had considerable influence on New Age believers interested in Hopi prophecy. …