Weekly Deity: Kokopelli


Since the Native American post last week was very popular, I decided to continue the theme this week.

Kokopelli is a Native American deity worshiped primarily in the Southwestern United States among the Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo, and Hohokam tribes at least as far back as A.D. 1000.  He is a fertility and trickster god who is also linked to music.  The figure of the Kokopelli is a common art symbol in Southwestern culture.

Attributes

Kokopelli is pictured as a dancing male, often shown humpbacked.  He plays the flute and is also shown with antennae-type protrusions from his head (I always thought this was spiky hair, and I still consider it spiky hair).  At times Kokopelli is also shown with a huge phallus or feathers.  His original representation did include a large phallus, but this was omitted either due to the influence Spanish missionaries or to make the popular image easier on the public eye.  The most common depiction of Kokopelli today is shown above.

Mythology

The god Kokopelli has at least three different aspects of his personality: trickster, fertility god, and nature god.

Kokopelli is said to chase away the Winter and summon the Spring with his flute playing and some tribes also associate him with rains.  In this aspect, he is a nature god of agriculture.

In terms of fertility, Kokopelli presides over both human and animal births and children as well as a fertile and abundant harvest.  This differs somewhat with the classical view in which animal fertility and human fertility were usually presided over by different gods.  Kokopelli supervises the reproduction of game animals such as deer and rams.  Other animals that are commonly linked with him are snakes, lizards, and various insects.  It’s possible that originally Kokopelli’s flute wasn’t a flute, but a blowgun that he used to shoot darts at the animals.

The Hopi say that Kokopelli carried unborn children on his back and distributed them to women.  Young girls had cause to fear him because of this–they didn’t want Kokopelli to come and bring them a child.  He also presided over marriage rites and ceremonies, and both the Hopi and Hohokam peoples said he had a consort named Kokopelmana.

Because of the flute he came to carry (as opposed to the blowgun) he is also associated with music and is sometimes considered to be the spirit of music as well as his other duties.

Light Side

For the most part Kokopelli seems quite benevolent.  He brings the Spring, which many people consider to be the best season of the year because of the longer days and warmth, and the possibility of a good harvest.  Kokopelli also brings children to both humans and animals and supervises marriage ceremonies.  Any tricks he may play do not seem to take precedence, nor does his status as a trickster god seem to overshadow his status as a fertility/nature/music god.  This leads me to believe that he is seen as a benevolent god for the most part, one that is a natural part of the workings of nature and one that is supposed to bring joy through his workings (babies, spring, warmth, etc.)

Dark Side

However, Kokopelli is considered a trickster, and pranks can be harmful, especially to those who don’t find them amusing.  It seems that there is some fear generated by the fact that he brings women the unborn children he carries with him, and if the woman is too young or doesn’t want a child, this can be a negative.  I can only suppose that a part of his trickster aspect is in giving these kinds of women a child, perhaps when he wasn’t supposed to or saw they didn’t want the child.  He could also withold fertility–meaning he could affect human conception, animal conception, and the bounty of the harvest or even delay Spring.

An informative website I found in my research: Site.

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One response to “Weekly Deity: Kokopelli

  1. Very interesting and very well written. I have to say the fear of “having an unborn child brought to you” is still very much alive today in certain age groups. I find it interesting that he was viewed as a trickster god yet also a fertility God, when in eastern religions these are often times very separated aspects.

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