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Masauwu : God of the Dead

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At a glance

Description
Origin Hopi Mythology
Classification Gods
Family Members Tawa (Father)
Region United States of America
Associated With Dead, Underworld, Fire

Masauwu

Introduction

In Hopi mythology, the figure known as Skeleton Man or Masauwu holds the title of Lord of the Dead. In a significant tale, he emerges as a cultural hero imparting crucial lessons about agriculture to the people. Simultaneously, he embodies the archetype of a trickster, known for playfully pursuing women.

Despite the potentially unsettling nature of his appearance, the skeleton man has become an intriguing character due to a collection of scandalous and humorous stories surrounding him. Contrary to initial impressions, he is considered a benevolent companion to humans, entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding the Hopi people in their afterlife.

Physical Traits

Masauwu, characterized as both hideous and endowed with favorable attributes, stands as a testament to the diverse myths that abound among the Hopi people. Depictions of Masauwu range from a fearsome creature to a handsome man concealed beneath his mask.

Family

In some stories, Tawa the Sun God is considered to be the father of Masauwu.

Other names

Masauwu is also known as the Skeleton Man, Masau’u, Maasawi, Masawu, Maasaw, Masaaw, Masauwu, Masaw, Masao or Mosau’u.

Powers and Abilities

Masauwu, a formidable entity, serves as the guardian of fire and the Spirit of Death, holding dominion over the Upper World and aiding the virtuous in escaping the malevolent Third World. As the ruler of Earth’s surface, he commands authority over the underworld, fire, and death. Legend has it that Masauwu played a pivotal role in establishing the Hopi at the ancient city of Oraibi, and he bears the responsibility of shielding the people from the impending arrival of the Lost White Brother.

Both the Hopi world and the underworld are under Masauwu’s domain. He presents a fearsome figure donning a bloody, bald mask, preventing direct gazes upon his face. According to Hopi beliefs, beneath the mask lies a handsome man with long black hair and a dark complexion, further enhancing his stature as a formidable giant.

In the underworld, Masauwu’s footprints serve as an ominous sign for the Hopi, signaling that something is amiss. Now, instead of walking at night, he brandishes a flaming torch during his rounds. Continuously circling the world, Masauwu carries the burning torch, perpetually illuminating his path.

Modern Day Influence

The figure known as the skeleton man, or Maasaw, imparted lessons to the Hopi people on leading a simple life. Demonstrating virtue, he frequently presented symbolic items like seeds, water, a gourd, and a cloak. By committing to proper agricultural practices, the people were assured by Masauwu a smooth transition into the afterlife.

At the core of Hopi traditions is a focus on kindness and assistance toward others. Masauwu, often perceived as an imposing force, serves as a positive example for living a lengthy and contented life. Aligned with the Hopi belief that death is essential for survival, akin to the role of hunters, it also involves the safeguarding of animal spirits. During times of war and illness, Masauwu is invoked to aid in transporting the spirits of the departed to and from the fourth world.

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