The Snake Dance is held for 16 days in August or the early part of September, every two years, and is a ceremony to worship ancestors and to help bring rain, very important for the peaceful and humble farmers which are the Hopi people. It seams that it was originally a water ceremony, because the snakes were considered the guardians of springs. The Hopi regard snakes as their "brothers" and rely on them to carry their prayers for rain to the underworld (where they believe the gods and spirits of their ancestors live).
The dance is performed by members of the Snake and Antelope clans from all three of the mesas in Arizona, where the Hopis live, and is the grand finale of the 16-days and the start of the Niman Katchina. On the last two mornings of the celebration, foot races are held. The runners streak across the plain and up the steep slope of the mesa just before sunrise in a symbolic gesture that represents rain-gods brining water to the village. At one time, these runners were naked with their hair loose to imitate falling rain.
On the day the dance is held, the snakes (that have been caught by the Snake clan) are washed in a large jar filled with water and herbs and then thrown on a bed of clean sand. Then they are gathered up in a huge bag, are carried to the village plaza and placed in a kisi or snake-shrine. The big highlight of the Snake Dance Ceremony is when the Snake priests reach into the kisi and grab a snake. They carry the snake first in their hands and then in their mouths.
Each priest is accompanied by an attendant who uses the snake whip to prevent the snake from coiling. As the Snake priest and his assistant dance around the plaza, each is followed by a third man called the "gatherer" whose responsibility is to make sure that when the time comes for the dancer to drop the snake, it doesn't go into the crowd. So, at just the right moment, the gatherer touches the snake with his feathered wand, drops meal on it and catches it behind the head.
As many as 50 or 60 small whip-snakes, long bull-snakes, and even rattlesnakes can often be seen curling around the gatherers' arms and necks. Once the bag of snakes is empty, one of the Snake priests makes a large circle of meal on the ground. The gatherers throw all of their snakes into the circle, while the women and girls scatter meal on the wriggling pile of snakes. Then the Snake priests hurry in quickly and scoop up armfuls of snakes and then dash out of the plaza.
The Snake priests carry the snakes off to special shrines where they are released so they can carry the prayers for rain from the mouths of the priests to the underworld (where the rain gods live). The dance ends with the drinking of an emetic, which makes the dancers vomit and this is believed to purge them of any dangerous snake-charms. With a little luck, dark clouds will form later in the day and rain will come.
About the stamps
The stamps are part of the series Views of Our Planets, designed by Antonio Alcalá and issued on May 31, 2016. The eight Forever stamps depict the planets of our solar system. Some show the planet's "true" color - what we might see with our own eyes if traveling through space. Others use colors to represent and visualize certain features of a planet based on imaging data. Still others use the near-infrared spectrum to show things that cannot be seen by the human eye in visible light. Verso text explains what these images reveal and identifies the spacecrafts and powerful telescopes that helped obtain them.
• Mercury - It's on the postcard 2707
• Venus - It's on the postcard 2707
• Earth - It's on the postcard 2707
• Mars - It's on the postcard 2651
• Jupiter - It's on the postcard 2651
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• Neptune - It's on the postcard 2463-2
The History of the Hopi Snake Dance - Brownielocks and The 3 Bears
Sent from Greenvale (New York / United States), on 11.06.2016
Photo: Fred Harvey