The Sacred Fire Ceremony

Hopewell Culture, 200BC – AD500

Two thousand years ago on a cool, crisp April morning the sun rose over the remarkable earthen walls of Fort Ancient. As the sun rose seven individuals stood within the circle and performed a sacred fire ceremony to honor the life of a deceased loved one. Others from the village also came to honor him.

The entrance to the circle is to the east and opens to the north and south while the spirit world is to the west. That path is honored with cedar branches. Each of the seven people within the circle play an important role during the ceremony. A man and woman hold objects lovingly wrapped in animal pelts. They may contain objects belonging to the departed. They may also contain objects that symbolize great deeds he or she performed while living. The spiritual leader wears an antler-shaped copper headdress. His cloth garment, woven from plant fibers, is elaborately adorned with freshwater pearls. One woman holds a decorative bowl that contains tiny pieces from cedar trees. She reverently sprinkles them into the fire while another places cedar branches, sacred to all, on the path to the west. Two members of the deceased person’s family take turns smoking an effigy pipe. The man offers his pipe to the great spirits.

Atop one of the earthen walls a red fox looks on. It is thought that the Hopewells regarded animals as living in societies parallel to humans – able to grieve for dead relatives – accepting and receiving gifts and having souls that transcend death. Such animals could give themselves up as food only if they were treated with appropriate respect.

As we look at the few remaining artifacts from Hopewell culture it is easy to forget that these people were close to family and friends and experienced the same full spectrum of human interaction and emotion that we do today.

24 x 36 Oil