Four Worlds

Hopi legend tells that the current earth is the Fourth World to be inhabited by Tawa’s creations. The story essentially states that in each previous world, the people, though originally happy, became disobedient and lived contrary to Tawa’s plan; they engaged in sexual promiscuity, fought one another and would not live in harmony. Thus, the most obedient were led (usually by Spider Woman) to the next higher world, with physical changes occurring both in the people in the course of their journey, and in the environment of the next world. In some stories, these former worlds were then destroyed along with their wicked inhabitants, whereas in others the good people were simply led away from the chaos which had been created by their actions.

Entrance into the Fourth World

A Hopi petroglyph in Mesa Verde National Park. The boxy spiral shape near the center of the photo likely represents the sipapu, the place where the Hopi emerged from the earth in their creation story.

Two main versions exist as to the Hopi’s emergence into the present Fourth World. The more prevalent is that Spider Grandmother caused a hollow reed (or bamboo) to grow into the sky, and it emerged in the Fourth World at the sipapu. The people then climbed up the reed into this world, emerging from the sipapu. The location of the sipapu is given as in the Grand Canyon.

The other version (mainly told in Oraibi) has it Tawa destroyed the Third World in a great flood. Before the destruction, Spider Grandmother sealed the more righteous people into hollow reeds which were used as boats. Upon arriving on a small piece of dry land, the people saw nothing around them but more water, even after planting a large bamboo shoot, climbing to the top, and looking about. Spider Woman then told the people to make boats out of more reeds, and using island “stepping-stones” along the way, the people sailed east until they eventually arrived on the mountainous coasts of the Fourth World.

While it may not be possible to positively ascertain which is the original or “more correct” story, Harold Courlander writes, at least in Oraibi (the oldest of the Hopi villages), little children are often told the story of the sipapu, and the story of an ocean voyage is related to them when they are older.[18] He states that even the name of the Hopi Water Clan (Patkinyamu) literally means “A Dwelling-on-Water” or “Houseboat”. However, he notes the sipapu story is centered on Walpi and is more accepted among Hopis generally.[18]