settle back. Remember the cold. Remember the dark nights and
short days of time before time and when the Earth is at rest.
Sit closely together in the long nights of time and recall the
stories told and retold.
Winter stories from many tribes
on this Indian land. Our voices sustain us as we spin in the
universe as the seeds spin in gourd rattles. Stand closely
together, link arms and dance. Dance in our orbits of life
Circles of life are the round dance
in form and in respect the example of our celestial relations.
We are all made of star stuff. Dance our brother sun back
from these short days and cold nights. Our songs are a prayer
and the dance a testament to our spirituality. Dance, dance,
dance and let the stories fill your heart.
At the Winter Solstice, we honor
our children and dance to bring warmth, light and cheerfulness
into the dark time of the year. Winter Holidays such as these
have their origin as special days. They are the way human
beings have marked the sacred times in the yearly cycle of
winter solstice is the moment when the earth is at a point
in its orbit where one hemisphere is most inclined away from
the sun. This causes the sun to appear at its farthest below
the celestial equator when viewed from earth.
Solstice is a Latin borrowing and
means sun stand, referring to the appearance that
the suns noontime elevation change stops its progress,
either northerly or southerly. The day of the winter solstice
is the shortest day and the longest night of the year.
The sun image at left is from rock
paintings of the Chumash, who occupied coastal California
for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. Solstices
were tremendously important to them, and the winter solstice
celebration lasted several days.
Another winter dance is the Bear
Dance symbolizes putting the Great Bear to sleep for his winter
hibernation. First, the Bear appears (as a ghost) and walks
the area of the dance to clear it of all bad spirits that
may be present. When Bear is done clearing the area, the living
Indians start a log fire and begin the Bear Dance with song
or chant. As they dance, their ancestors join the dance in
spirit form. Slowly the Bear is lulled to sleep for the winter
and the dance is complete.
Another dance that usually follows
the Bear Dance is the Round Circle (or Cycle) of Life dance.
This dance begins with a log fire symbolizing the light and
warmth of the sun and continues until the light fades or dawn.
Before the Maya of Central America
built their arrow-straight roadways, the creative Hopewell
culture flourished in North Americas Midwest to rise
up monuments of earth that rivaled Englands Stonehenge
in their astronomical accuracy.
In the area that comprises Ohio,
Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, the Adena, Hopewell and Fort
Ancient peoples erected hundreds of astronomical circles,
octagons, rectangles (and later animal effigies) stretching
thousands of feet in length and reaching 15 feet in height.
The works served as incredibly precise in plotting and marking
the moons subtle rhythms.
The remarkable technical capacity
and culture of the Adena (who built cones and rings starting
from 600 BC), the Hopewell (who specialized in geometric enclosures
from 100 BC to AD 400), and later the Fort Ancient (building
animal shapes from 700-1200 AD) peoples are, at best, overlooked
even within the region where they concentrated their efforts,
erecting earthworks of astonishing size and precision.
Cherokee: In the beginning, there
was only darkness and people kept bumping into each other.
Fox said that people on the other side of the world had plenty
of light but were too greedy to share it. Possum went over
there to steal a little piece of the light. He found the Sun
hanging in a tree, lighting everything up. He took a tiny
piece of the Sun and hid it in the fur of his tail. The heat
burned the fur off his tail. That is why possums have bald
Buzzard tried next. He tried to
hide a piece of Sun in the feathers of his head. That is why
buzzards have baldheads.
Grandmother Spider tried next. She
made a clay bowl. Then she spun a web (Milky Way) across the
sky reaching to the other side of the world. She snatched
up the whole sun in the clay bowl and took it back home to
our side of the world.
Zuni story: Back when it was always
dark, it was also always summer. Coyote and Eagle went hunting.
Coyote was a poor hunter because of the dark. They came to
the Kachinas, a powerful people. The Kachinas had the Sun
and the Moon in a box.
After the people had gone to sleep,
the two animals stole the box.
At first Eagle carried the box but
Coyote convinced his friend to let him carry it. The curious
Coyote opened the box and the Sun and Moon escaped and flew
up to the sky. This gave light to the land but it also took
away much of the heat, thus we now have winter.
Navajo Indians of North America,
Tsohanoai is the Sun god. Everyday, he crosses the sky, carrying
the Sun on his back. At night, the Sun rests by hanging on
a peg in his house.
Tsohanoais two children Nayenezgani
(Killer of Enemies) and Tobadzistsini (Child of Water) were
separated from their father and lived with their mother in
the far West. Once they were older, they tried to find their
father, hoping he could help them fight the evil spirits tormenting
They met Spider Woman, who gave
them two feathers to keep them safe on their journey.
Finally, they found Tsohanoais
house, and he gave them magic arrows to fight off the evil
Northwest Coast: Tells us of the
time when the sky had no day. When the sky was clear there
was some light from the stars but when it was cloudy, it was
Raven had put fish in the rivers
and fruit trees in the land but he was saddened by the darkness.
A chief in the sky kept the Sun
at that time in a box.
The Raven came to a hole in the
sky and went through. He came to a spring where the chiefs
daughter would fetch water. He changed himself into a cedar
seed and floated on the water.
When the girl drank from spring,
she swallowed the seed without noticing and became pregnant.
A boy child was born which was raven.
As a toddler, he begged to play with the yellow ball, that
grandfather kept in a box. He was allowed to play with the
Sun and when the chief looked away, he turned back into Raven
and flew back through the hole in the sky.
The Tohono Oodham name for
December - moon of the backbone. This is because
the days are half dark and half light. Seems fitting for the
month of the winter solstice. Ofelia Zepeda tells of traveling
to Waw Giwulig, the most sacred mountain of the Tohono Oodham,
to ask for blessings-and forgiveness. She writes that one
should always bring music to the mountains, so they
are generous with the summer rains. And, still, the
scent of burning wood / holds the strongest memory. / Mesquite,
cedar, piñon, juniper, . . . / we catch the scent of
burning wood; / we are brought home. It is a joy to
see the world afresh through her eyes.
earlier Hohokam were concerned about their place in the universe
and, therefore, the observations and solstice/equinox markings
served to initiate and confirm ceremonial cycles important
to the Hohokam. Near Phoenix, Arizona the Shaw butte site
has indications that that Certain group rituals may have been
performed in the cleared areas inside the compound before,
during or after special solar or lunar events, as determined
by a sacred calendar maintained by Hohokam priests. For rest
of the year, an individual sun watcher may have been responsible
for maintaining the site and making observations. The Tohono
Oodham (Papago) Indians assigned sun and star watching
to a single individual, who reported his observations to the
village chief. Those observations established a seasonal ritual
The Hopi sun priests make use of
thirteen points on the horizon for the determination of ceremonial
dates. Their ritual year begins in November with a New Fire
ceremony, which is given in an elaborate and extended from
every fourth year, for it then includes the initiation of
novices into the fraternities. Other ceremonies are similarly
elaborated at these same times; while still other rites, as
the Snake- and Flute Dances, occur in alternate years. The
Hopi year is divided into two unequal seasons, the greater
festivals occurring in the longer season, which includes the
cold months. Five and nine days are the usual active periods
for the greater festivals, though the total duration from
the announcement to the final purification is in some instances
twenty days. Of the greater festivals, the Soyaluna follows
the New Fire ceremony of November at the winter solstice.
is which the germ god is supplicated and the return of the
sun, in the form of a bird, is dramatized; the Powamu, or
Bean-Planting. This time comes in February. The main object
being the renovation of the earth for the coming sowing and
the celebration of the return of the Kachinas, to be with
the people until their departure at Niman. Following the home
dance, summer solstice; the Snake Dance alternates with the
Flute-Dance in the month of August. Theseare only a few of
the annual festivals, a striking feature of which is the arrival
and departure of the Kachinas. The period during which these
beings remain among the Hopi is approximately from the winter
to the summer solstice. Also, found only in Kachina ceremonies,
is the presence of clowns or Mudheadsa curious
type of fun-maker whose presence in Zuni Cushing ascribes
to the ancient union of a Yuman tribe with the original Zunian
Spinning rattles in the night. Songs
calling the people to smile, cry, love and live in the life
our elders told and retold us. Rattles spin in time and call
to our relations of the past and celestial to shine.