For countless centuries, certain Hopi priests have made prayer feathers during the dark and bitter cold winters. They are an integral part of the winter ceremonies to bring back the sun. The feathers are ritually collected and certain feathers are used for each small bundle, depending on the characteristics of each species of bird. Some birds represent strength, others protect for health. The feathers are tied together with cotton string, in old times the threads were spun from cotton grown in Hopi fields. The feathers are given with blessings, some tied on a reed are to protect a home and keep all who dwell there protected from harm and sickness. A few small feathers are to be worn or kept in a pocket for personal protection. And today, there are even prayer feathers created to hang from a car mirror. These prayer feathers ensure blessings that the occupants can proceed on their journeys in safety, and will be watched over until there is a safe arrival.
It is bitter cold here on Second Mesa, winds slice right through all the layers of coats and vests and sweaters, patches of snow and ice dot the ground. Stars in the black sky are barely visible, even the crescent moon seems fainter and more distant in the heavens. The villages are silent, few people are outside, just a boy chopping wood, a woman hurrying down a lane. But in the kivas there are prayers and winter ceremonies, and soon there will be a time of renewal, the sun will come back and Hopi farmers will prepare their fields, and, with more prayers, there will be another harvest. It is an ancient cycle here.
When my friend gave me prayer feathers he said prayers in English and Hopi, and he explained that the feathers represented prayers for personal health and safety, and blessings for my house, my car--and travels. He laid his hands on my head and over my heart as he spoke. But Hopis also say these prayers for all of humanity. They are sending blessings across the country, and around the world. This is part of an ancient rite to bring harmony to the world--to the universe. In some ways, the Hopi blessings have "brought back the sun" for all living people, since time began.