The Great Purification

Hopi elder Thomas Banyacya

My late friend, scholar Kurt von Meier, had the opportunity to sit down with Hopi elders during the early 1970s and discuss the state of human affairs. The Hopi people have been living in the same place since before Columbus arrived, and are keen observers of the natural world. With his portable tape recorder in tow, Kurt captured conversations with Thomas Banyacya, one of the few Hopis able and willing to explain Hopi philosophy and prophesies. (See:

I inherited Kurt’s tape recordings and transcripts of his meetings, and during this year of Covid-19, immense fires and social unrest, I have been struck by their relevance. The Hopis saw all this coming, when the natural world responds dramatically to the effects of human civilization, and called it the Great Purification.

The remarkable 1982 film, “Koyaanisqatsi,” presents a wordless view of the Great Purification through images and a musical score by Phillip Glass. Koyaanisqatsi is Hopi for “life out of balance.” The Hopis believe that when the natural system falls out of balance, nature corrects it; the more out of balance, the more dramatic the correction.

Hopi elders, and the word “Hopi” means “people of peace,” were saddened by the knowledge of what was to come, but their prophesies foretold the Great Purification many generations ago. Those prophesies predicted airplanes and geopolitical events long before they occured. When thoughtful people care for a particular region of earth for thousands of years, it offers a perspective about change that those of us new to this land can’t have.

Banyacya died in 1999, but his wisdom is still available to us. Hopi prophesies are not immutable and absolute, but simply a clear-headed vision of what happens when the natural world is ignored or deeply injured.

“It’s all dealing with nature….You mentioned clouds. They are watching us just like man, human beings; also they like rain and everything, they just take care of everything,” Banyacya explains, “The songs, most all the songs are for rain, for good health, and for good crops, and good fields, and happiness, and long life, so they always laugh about the white mans’ songs all talking about love and getting heart break and how they get hooked. And all that, that’s part of it, it’s all right but mainly it’s more to the rain and natural things first, and after that there’ll be happiness.”

Speaking of the future, Banyacya goes on, “And eventually it’s going to break down…they are disturbing all nature now around us, they are really digging into mother earth for everything and they’re creating something out of it and polluting the air and water and everything and disturbing things up above now…eventually, it’s going to destroy us….Like total destruction….Then the pro­phecy, of course, is merely knowing things that will happen, that if we warn you now you start doing this, this is what will happen and if your going towards that, the signs will be shown.”

“See, this is the goal towards which the Hopi is working for all people, all living things and birds, animals and trees–even they are watching us–and if they see that we are about to destroy ourselves, they be crying to us….And cry, the blade of grass will be crying too. Birds will cry; everybody begin to be aware that we are about to destroy ourselves.”

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