Archive for November, 2013
Hermon Atkins MacNeil (1866-1947) – “Hopi” (Obverse) and “Prayer for Rain” (Reverse) Society of Medallists (SOM), Issue #3 of 1931, was based on MacNeil’s “Moqui (Hopi) Runner” statue of 1897. This was the only SOM issue that MacNeil would ever sculpt. Yet nearly fifty years later (1943), he vividly described these images of his 1895 travels to the Hopi (Moqui) Mesa in his Autobiographical Sketches.
MacNeil’s brief artists intro accompanying the medal is as follows:
“The two incidents of the Hopi Prayer for Rain on the mesas of northeastern Arizona depicted on this medal are chosen by your sculptor because of the extraordinary vital enthusiasm and power that the Indians throw into this ceremony. Having witnessed it and been thrilled by the intensity of their emotion and on further study by the complicated and perfectly natural development of this drama, I cannot help feel that in it we find a basic note underlying all religions. All these Southwest Indians, living as they do in an arid region, have developed their religion along the lines of their greatest need –water.”
In the documentation accompanying each medal, MacNeil offered the following additional narrative of his witnessing of this ritual nearly 36 years earlier while on his 1895 venture to the Southwest with Hamlin Garland and Charles F. Browne:
“This is one of their greatest and most important ceremonies. Occurring in August, it is filled with ritualism for nine days and in their kiva, an underground chamber, they have ceremonies with these snakes that have been gathered by the antelope and snake clans of their tribe for six days, from the north, east, south and west, also from above and below, therefore from all the directions of the universe. These snakes, so far as our best authority goes, although a portion of them are poisonous varieties, are not tampered with but are handled freely by the Indians, both during their underground ceremonies, and later on the last day above ground, in their public ceremony. During the last day ceremony they dance two and two, one with the snakes in his mouth, sometimes two at a time, while the other, accompanying him, wards off the head of the snake from the face of his companion with an eagle feather. It will be remembered that the eagle preys on the snake in nature and the smell of the eagle feather is supposed to frighten the snake with the intention of preventing him from biting. This ceremony was so intense and apparently so vital to them that although I myself saw two Indians bitten, they seem to be so completely under the control of the spirit that although I watched for further developments, yet there seemed to be no swelling or poisonous effects from the bites.
Even though the dancing takes place after the participants have taken hardly any food during the nine days, yet immediately after the public ceremony, which is performed in a circular action around the sacred stone on the mesa at Waslpi, they each take an emetic. After circling twice around the sacred rock, the one bearing snakes in his mouth emits them and a third follower immediately grabs the snake from the ground and carries it back to a little improvised enclosure of cottonwood boughs. After all the snakes have been used on this manner each Indian grabs into the bunch and with his hands filled with the snakes, each one starts running down the trail off the mesa onto the plains as shown on the reverse side of the medal and figuratively deposits the snakes again in their underground abodes.
Behind the heads of the dancers on the obverse is shown the sand picture drawn by the Indians themselves with colored earths on the floor of their kiva or underground chamber, about which they performed sacred ceremonials previous to the public dance. On this side of the medal the attempt is also made to show the apparent basic reason for the use of the snake in this prayer for water. This reason or theory seems to have evolved from the similarity in action between the snake on the earth and the lightning in the sky. The Indian, however, has evolved the theory of a kind of cousinship through these angular moving reptiles with the still more angular movement of the lightning to jar the rain clouds for rain, thus making their chief need their strongest prayer. Curiously enough, although there had been no sign of rain for weeks, the day following the remarkable ceremony, a little cloud appeared in the sky and the next day it rained copiously.”
[ SOURCE: Society of Medalists documentation accompanying the medals; reproduced at “Medals4Trade” ]