Apocalypse Prophecies: Native End of the World Teachings
“In the Hopi teachings,” he began, “we are told that toward the end of the world, Spider Woman will come back and she will weave her web across the landscape. Everywhere you will see her web. That’s how we will know that we are coming to the end of this world, when we see her web everywhere. I believe I have just seen her web.”
That was Thomas Banyacya’s reaction to seeing the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, which sends electricity from the Niagara Falls generating plant throughout Western New York. Banyacya is a Hopi traditionalist interpreter and that passage is from Thinking In Indian: A John Mohawk Reader (Fulcrum 2010).
With the world crying Mayan apocalypse tomorrow, December 21, it seemed prudent to explore other end of the world teachings. Even though the Mayans weren’t actually predicting the end of the world, we’ll play along anyway.
Other Hopi teachings refer to the nine signs. The first sign said the white-skinned men would come, the second said: “Our lands will see the coming of spinning wheels filled with voices. In his youth, my father saw this prophecy come true with his eyes—the white men bringing their families in wagons across the prairies.”
The rest of the signs are typically listed as follows:
“This is the Third Sign: A strange beast like a buffalo but with great long horns, will overrun the land in large numbers. These White Feather saw with his eyes—the coming of the white men’s cattle.”
“This is the Fourth Sign: The land will be crossed by snakes of iron.”
“This is the Fifth Sign: The land shall be criss-crossed by a giant spider’s web.”
“This is the Sixth Sign: The land shall be criss-crossed with rivers of stone that make pictures in the sun.”
“This is the Seventh Sign: You will hear of the sea turning black, and many living things dying because of it.”
“This is the Eighth Sign: You will see many youth, who wear their hair long like my people, come and join the tribal nations, to learn their ways and wisdom.
“And this is the Ninth and Last Sign: You will hear of a dwelling-place in the heavens, above the earth, that shall fall with a great crash. It will appear as a blue star. Very soon after this, the ceremonies of my people will cease.”
The Hopi aren’t alone when it comes to prophecies about how the world will end either.
Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac pointed to Handsome Lake, a 19th century Seneca prophet whose predictions are presented by anthropologist Arthur Parker in The Code of Handsome Lake, the Seneca Prophet, published in 1913. Handsome Lake predicted the world would end by fire in the year 2100.
“Now we think that when the end comes the earth will be destroyed by fire and not one upon it will escape for all the earth will be enveloped in flames and all those who refuse to believe in Gai’wiio’ will be in it,” reads section 77 from The Code of Handsome Lake.
He also predicted the destruction of the environment, famines and war. One of his predictions, in section 93 of Parker’s book, even seems to predict the destruction of the ozone layer:
“So then they proceeded on their journey but had not gone far when they stopped.
Then the messengers said, ‘Watch,’ and pointed to a certain spot toward the setting sun.
“So he watched and saw a large object revolving. It was white and moving slowly.
“Then said the four messengers, ‘What did you see?’
“He answered, ‘I saw a large object revolving. It was white and moving slowly.’
“Then said the messengers, ‘It is true. The thing is that which regulates the air over the earth. It is that which we call the Odä’eo (the veil over all). It is said that it would bring great calamity should it revolve too fast. Should it turn faster it would injure mankind. Now we are the regulators and watchers of the veil over all.’”
“Among our Abenaki nations it is often said that after Gluskonba (or Gluskabe or Glooskap) left the people and went to an island far out in the Big Water,” Bruchac told ICTMN. “There he sits in his wigwam, making arrowheads. And when his lodge is filled with them, he will return and make use of them to destroy the enemies of the Native people.”
The Northern Paiute had Wovoka, a religious leader who was born around 1856 and predicted the coming of a new world. He was also the leader of the Ghost Dance movement, which was danced to help prepare for the new world.
“We don’t know exactly how he imagined the new world would occur but it’s clear that he taught that it would occur through some kind of cataclysmic event…maybe through a kind of earthquake…some sources suggest a great snow,” said Jeffrey Ostler, a historian at the University of Oregon who has written about Wovoka’s prophecies, during a show on Back Story Radio. “It [cataclysmic event] would destroy or remove European Americans and then after that there would be a renewed world where game would return, ancestors who had died would return to life and Indian people would be able to live well again.”
Ostler explained on the show titled, “Apocalypse Now & Then: A History of End-Times,” how during the Ghost Dance people would lose consciousness and have visions of the new world.
“You can read some of these visions, they’re quite remarkable where somebody says ‘I died or I lost consciousness and I was on horseback and the world was green and not like this dead world that I’m now living in, then I rode up over a hill and saw a figure coming toward me and it was my sister who had died recently,’” Ostler said on the show. Part of the Ghost Dance movement was a belief that ancestors would return from the spirit world once the new world began.
The Cherokee also had their own prophecies, visions and Ghost Dance movement, which was written about in The American Indian Quarterly by Michelene E. Pesantubbee in 1993.
One of those visions occurred in 1811 when a group of Indians appeared to Charlie, who was half Cherokee, and two women near Rocky Mountain in northwest Georgia. The leader of the group said:
“Don’t be afraid; we are your brothers and have been sent by God to speak with you. God is dissatisfied that you are receiving the white people in your land without any distinction. You yourselves see that your hunting is gone-you are planting the corn of the white people—go and sell that back to them and plant Indian corn and pound it in the manner of your forefathers; do away with the mills. The Mother of the Nation has forsaken you because all her bones are being broken through the grinding. She will return to you, however, if you put the white people out of the land and return to your former manner of life.”
Some believed Charlie and the women, others did not. Pesantubbee says in her writing that prophecies and visions among the Cherokee—both about the end of the world and the coming of a new one—for about 15 months.
According to Cherokee Ghost Dance: Essays on the Southeastern Indians, 1789-1861 by William G. McLoughlin, Moravian missionaries recorded the first prophecy about “imminent destruction” on February 23, 1812.
“Only a few details of this prophecy are given in the diary, but the missionaries said that the residents of one Cherokee town had heard a prediction that ‘hail stones the size of half bushels’ would fall ‘on a certain day,’ and when that day came they all fled to the nearby hills and hid themselves in caves or under stones,” McLoughlin, who was a historian at Brown University, wrote in his book of essays.
Another prophecy, recounted by McLoughlin, was recorded on March 8, 1812. This one told of an eclipse that would last for three days, “during which all the white people would be snatched away as well as all Indians who had any clothing or household articles of the white man’s kind, together with all their cattle.” When the prophecy would happen wasn’t mentioned, but the prophet did tell the Cherokee to “put aside everything that is similar to the white people and that which they had learned from them, so that in the darkness God might not mistake them and snatch them away with the former.”
Dave Courchene, Anishnaabe elder and the founder of Turtle Lodge, an institution that maintains the fires of traditional knowledge in Manitoba, Canada, says prophecies aren’t always negative. He told ICTMN that prophecies, to his people, offer hope and direction.
“We were given instructions on how to live and how to behave and we’ve strayed away from those original instructions,” he said. “What we’re finding in the world today, through the signs that nature is offering us is that we need to reflect on our behavior—on how we’re treating life and how we’re treating each other as human beings. It’s really parallel to the Mayan calendar when they talk of the new cycle that’s coming and then you hear so much talk about the end of the world.”
But he doesn’t see the end of the world as an ending, Courchene sees it as a beginning.
“The end of the world can also be understood that we’re being given an opportunity to put an end to our negative behaviors,” he said, noting that this new cycle will mean a return to indigenous values.
“These changes are going to be somewhat difficult for those that have lived the materialistic life because this new life the elders are talking about is a return to laying down values and principles that whatever we create in our life must be grounded with those values,” he said. “The principles of our understanding, of the survival of the people have always been based on peace, harmony and respect for all of life.”