Jenny Smedley has just returned from the holiday of a lifetime in Arizona. She shares with us the fascinating Native American folk stories she found so interesting while she was there.
Jenny is the author of Ripples, Come Back to Life and Past Life Angels, and writes articles on all things spiritual.
Kachina, (or Katsina) Dolls and Dancers, and Kokopelli
The Hopi people have always been regarded as peaceful and their name means good, peaceful, or wise. Their ancestors are the Anasazi, which in Hopi means ‘those who came before. They developed an intricate ceremonial calendar that has enabled them to survive and thrive in a place that did not seem to have enough reliable water to sustain life. The Kachinas, or spirits, were beings with great power to and were believed to come and help the Hopi care for their crops, teach them how to grow things and set their laws. An ancient Hopi Indian prophecy states, "When the Blue Star Kachina makes its appearance in the heavens, the Fifth World will emerge". The Blue Star Kachina is the Hopi name for Sirius.
When the ancient Hopi elders communed with the spirit world in their Kiva or ceremonial room, they would come back with messages for the tribes. The Kivas are underground chambers in the pueblo home, where sacred ceremonies and communication with ancestors and spirits take place. The Kivas can only be reached by climbing down a ladder from the room above. There is a fire-pit in the centre and a small hole in the floor at the north end, which represents the access to the spirit world below.
In order to clearly teach the children about these messages they started carving the Kachina (sometimes called Katsina) Dolls. Each doll demonstrated a different message, and today there are unknown hundreds or possibly thousands of different dolls. Today, each doll is a representation of a spirit of a person or animal or a being as esoteric as a cloud that has a specific purpose, which is always benevolent. The dolls are messengers from the spirit world, and it’s considered a great honour to be given one.
Many other tribes, such as the Navajo also carve their own Kachinas, but the Hopi say that these are imitations and that only the Hopi make the original and real dolls. The Hopi people live on a group of mesas in north eastern Arizona. Their religion and their environment mean that they are strongly bound together as a race. The Hopi believe that everything is made from the same energy (an aspect that western belief systems are now adopting with the Quantum Universe theory). They also say that every aspect of this energy can be embodied in a Kachina doll, whether it be animal, insect, plant, cloud, rain, ash, the sun, death or other peoples. In order to communicate with the spirit that has sent the Kachina message, the Hopi men dress up as the dolls, and in this way, partly become the spirit and take part in ceremonial dances. The Kivas only open from December until the end of July, and this is the only time when genuine Kachinas can be carved.
Nowadays there are two kinds of collectors of Kachinas, those who understand and respect the beliefs behind them, and those who have picked up the Kachina ‘craze’ and collect them just as someone else would collect cups or Barbie dolls. Every genuine Kachina doll is hand carved and has the initials of the artist, plus an authentication number one it. If you find or are offered a doll without these and it looks old and genuine, you need to have it assessed at a museum.
I’ve often admired Native American silver and turquoise jewellery, but never realised the significance of the little hunched flute player, Kokopelli, (pictured) who is often found dangling from the stone pendant. He can also be found painted on pottery (pictured) and I even found a key ring in his image! (pictured). The name Kokopelli has two possible meanings. Koko, means God, and pilau, means hump. Pelli could be a corruption of pilau, or the word pelli itself also means desert fly. Kokopelli does resemble an insect in some of the depictions, so either could be right.
The figure, which is charming in any case, represents a mythical roving minstrel of Native American folklore. The little hunchback has survived over 3000 years, having been first seen in wall carvings and paintings created by the Anasazi people. Anasazi means ancient stranger in the Navaho language, and refers to the pueblo dwellers that lived in the Four Corners area, which is where the States of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona meet. They were farmers, and so the hunch on Kokopelli’s back is thought to actually be a sack of corn, to ensure a good harvest, and that he played a flute to musically create fertility in all things. In the original legend Kokopelli was a wandering minstrel, and if you were lucky enough to have him visit your camp and play his flute, then by morning your corn would be four feet high, and all the young women would be pregnant. His flute playing was also meant to drive the winter away and bring the spring dancing across the fields, drawing the seeds up into plants.
His flute is also a phallic symbol, and for that reason he is often referred to as the Casanova of the Cliff Dwellers. His image has in fact been toned down from the ancient cave drawings, as they used to include his detachable penis. This change was possibly brought about by the Catholic Priests who tried to save the ‘savages’’ souls.
It was said that he would set his penis adrift on the river, and as it floated downstream it would impregnate all the maidens it encountered, whether they wanted it to or not. The seeds in his sack probably originally also represented semen.
Expanding trade routes meant that Mexicans who visited the tribes carried the legend further afield and Kokopelli has turned up in petroglyphs carved by the Hohokam, Mogollon, and Fremont cultures, and was also later adopted by the Hopi people. The Hopi call the Anasazi the Hisatsinom, or ‘the ones who came before.’ This was because the Hopi descended from the Hisatsinom. Today Kokopelli is still held by many races to be a symbol of fertility and creativity, but of a rather less physical nature. It’s said that if you are given one as a gift, you should understand that you need to plant some ‘new seeds’ that will blossom into your own creative ability, or, make you become pregnant.
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