Term Paper: Functions of Myth

Pages: 6 (2362 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology  ·  Buy for $19.77


[. . .] If the dance is performed correctly, the Hopis believe it will bring rain (O'Kane 196-205). The Snake Dance is an excellent example of myth in its purest form, as it is the physical acting out of only one of the most important and vital Hopi myths. The myth relates directly to the health and well being of the community, and celebrates the wonder of the rain and the snakes and their relationship to the natural (and unnatural) world. It is their belief the snakes can communicate with the spirits who will send the rain, and to make the spirits happy, they must use just the right snakes, and then send them home (their release in the desert) to carry their message. Here is a myth which has been handed down from generation to generation, and is still celebrated in Hope tradition. It has stood the test of time, it represents cultural and social perpetuation, and it celebrates the wonderment of the world, giving up control to someone more powerful and masterful. While Campbell did not specifically mention the Hopis in his treatise on myth, he certainly realizes how important Native American myths are in the study of legends and tales, and his recognition is especially relative to the Hopis and their vivid myths and legends. As Campbell notes early in "The Power of Myth," "Myth helps you to put your mind in touch with this experience of being alive. It tells you what the experience is" (Campbell 5). Certainly, viewing the Snake Dance, and seeing the writhing snakes in the priest's mouths, is a vivid experience of being alive, and the myth perpetuates this aliveness and wonder at the world around us.

Another myth of the Hopi concerns the witch boy and Coyote Boy who are running a race. Coyote Boy is the swiftest runner, but witch boy can turn himself into a nighthawk, flying onward to the next stop in the race.

The witch boy tried to keep up with Coyote Boy, but he soon realized that he would not catch up with him. So, when the Coyote Boy was far ahead, the witch boy changed into the nighthawk again and resumed his pursuit. Coyote Boy, who was exceedingly fast, was already far gone. But even though, at some point, witch boy passed him flying over his head. Coyote Boy kept looking over his shoulders. At first, his pursuer was nowhere to be seen, but then somewhere the hawk flew past him. Being a creature with wings, he soon disappeared from view. "There he goes again, not using his legs," he thought, speeding along in pursuit (Lomatuway'Ma, Lomatuway'Ma and Namingha 133).

Eventually, Coyote Boy wins the race with help from his "uncles" who tell him how to shoot witch boy when he is a hawk, use a magic gourd to fly faster than the hawk, and the uncles send rain to waterlog witch boy's feathers, forcing him to run rather than fly. The myth is a delightful example of how the Hopi use the world around them to perpetuate their culture and history. The animals of the high desert form an integral part of their myths - from the snake to the coyote, the eagle, and the raven, each animal is an important part of myth, or has their own special myth revolving around their contribution to the tribe. Hopi tribes are divided into clans also named for animals, such as the Antelope and Snake clans, and each have their own myths which relate to their specific clans. Thus, there entire social society is based on myth and how it relates to their natural world. As Campbell notes, these people are not looking for their meaning of life, they are experiencing truly being at one with their universe, and this is the ultimate goal of the four functions of myth.

The Hopis have lived in their ancient cities longer than any other surviving tribe in the desert Southwest. One of the reasons for their longevity is their ability to live in harmony with the natural world, and to perpetuate their culture and beliefs. The Hopis of Northern Arizona epitomize the four functions of myth in their culture and society. Their society is based on myth, religion, and spiritual celebration, and they have held on to these myths when many other tribes have turned away from their spiritual and mythical past. The Hopis myths relate to the earth, the natural world surrounding them, and their dependence on this natural world for their survival. They understand the importance of myth in a healthy society, and because of this, they have one of the longest-lived Native societies in the desert Southwest.


Campbell, Joseph, with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor, 1991.

Lomatuway'Ma, Michael, Lorena Lomatuway'Ma, and Sidney Namingha. Hopi Ruin Legends = Kiqeotutuwutsi. Trans. Malotki, Ekkehart. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Murray, Henry A., ed. Myth and Mythmaking. New York: B. Braziller, 1960.

O'Kane, Walter… [END OF PREVIEW]

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