Kokopelli Story page 7
Kokopelli (or Kokopilau): The Flute Player Kokopelli is a figure
commonly found in petroglyphs and pottery throughout the southwest. Since
the first petroglyhs were carved around 3,000 years ago, he predates even
Oraibi, the oldest continuous settlement in North America.
He Is regarded as the universal symbol of fertility for all life,
be it crops, hopes, dreams, or love.
Some legends suggest that Kokopelli was an ancient toltec trader
who traveled routes between Mexico, the west coast, the southwest, and
possibly even as far as the eastern areas of the U.S. Documented finds
lend truth to these legends as dentalium shells, which are only found
in certain coastal areas, and macaw feathers from Mexico have been unearthed
here in northern new mexico and arizona. Kokopelli was said to play a
flute as he traveled to pronounce his arrival to the villagers and it
was considered the greatest of honors to be the women he chose to be his
"dreamtime companion" for his duration of time in the village
as many of these women apparently bore children from these unions. About
Hopi legend tells us that upon their entrance onto this, the fourth
world, the Hopi people were met by an Eagle who shot an arrow into the
two "mahus," insects which carried the power of heat. They immediately
began playing such uplifting melodies on their flutes that they healed
their own pierced bodies. The Hopi then began their separate migrations
and each "mahu" would scatter seeds of fruits and vegetables
onto the barren land. Over them, each played his flute to bring warmth
and make the seeds grow. His name -- KOKO for wood and Pilau for hump
(which was the bag of seeds he always carried)-- was given to him on this
long journey. It is said that he draws that heat from the center of the
Earth. He has come down to us as the loving spirit of fertility -- of
the Earth and humanity. His invisible presence is felt whenever life come
forth from seed -- plants or animals.
A search of the web reveals the extent
of the commercialization of the Kokopelli image -- you name it ... jewellry,
sculpture, t-shirts, artwork ... and you'll find him . Thus, I suppose
he qualifies as one of the universal symbols that Carl Jung talked about.
Casanova of the Ancient Ones
Of the multitude of miscellaneous drawings, paintings and scratching
on the rocks and in the caves of the pre-Columbian people of the Southwest,
only one anthropomorphic subject can claim both an identity and a proper
Kokopelli's frequent and widespread appearance on pottery and in
pictography suggests that he was a well traveled and universally recognized
A personality, an individual, the personification of a legend,
a beneficent god to some and a confounded nuisance to others, such is
Kokopelli, the famous hunchbacked flute player, the Kilroy of the Hohokam,
thousands of years old but figuratively speaking very much in the present.
The reason Kokopelli has a name is fairly simple. The Hopi people
of Central Arizona, aptly called "archaeology on the hoof",
make a variety of kachina dolls to sell to tourists. Among the dolls is
one they call Kokopelli, and his "wife" is called Kokopelli-mana.
Koko is hunchbacked and play a flute.
It is among the present-day Pueblo people of New Mexico and Arizona
that the bulk of the Kokopelli legends were still current until fairly
recent times. At San Ildefonso, he was known as a wandering minstrel with
a sack of songs on his back. In the Aladdin tradition, he traded new songs
for old and was greeted as a harbinger of fertility and a god of the harvest.
The real origin of Kokopelli, like other relics of the arcane Indian
world, may be futile to seek in 20th century Anglo-Saxon terms and modes
of thought. Perhaps there really was a hunchbacked minstrel, whose memory
has come down through the ages like that of the Wandering Jew. Or perhaps
the same legend sprang up simultaneously among desperate people with no
contact, although this seems unlikely. In any case, the notion of a footloose
and hunchbacked flute player with the gift of fertility and harvest must
have satisfied some deep yearning of the ancient people or they would
not have nurtured the legend all the way down to the present day.
A very popular figure found at Petroglyph sites throughout the
southwest. His frequent and widespread appearance suggests he was well
traveled and universally recognized deity of considerable potency. Kokopelli's
likeness varies as much as the legends about him, but by and large he
is hunchbacked and nearly always playing a flute. The Kokopelli figure
has been found in ruins of pithouse people dating as early as 200 A.D.
The name Kokopelli may derive from Zuni and Hope names for a god (Koko)
and a desert "Robber fly " they call pelli. That predatory insect
has a hump on his back and a prominent proboscis.
Rich Variety of Legends
Popular legends include: Hohokam - Deity of Fertility
Hopi - Carries a sack of deerskin to barter for brides or a burden
of babies which he leaves with the young women. Played flute to announce
arrival in village.
San Ildefonso - Wandering minstrel with a sack of songs on his
Zuni - Rain Priest able to make it rain at will.
Navajo - God of harvest and plenty. Hump was believed to be made
of clouds filled with seeds or rainbows.
In ancient Indian legend, Kokopelli
the flute player was the symbol of happiness and joy. He talked
to the wind and the sky. His flute could be heard in the Spring
breeze, bringing warmth after the winter cold. He was also thought
of as a fertility god and traveling prankster. He would visit villages
playing his flute, carrying his songs on his back. Everyone would
sing and dance the night away. In the morning, when he left, the
crops were plentiful and all the women were pregnant. This engaging
mythical being is found in the southwest, carved and painted on rocks
and pottery. He has held our interests since the first petroglyhs
were carved around 3,000 years ago. He predates even Oraibi, the
oldest continuous settlement in North America.
Kokopelli, distinguished by his hunch-back, dancing pose, and flute,
is the only anthropomorphic petroglyph to have a name, an identity, and
an established gender. His name may have been derived from the Zuni name
for god ("Koko") and the Indian name for the Dessert Robber
Fly ("pelli"). His association with the Desert Robber Fly may
stem from the fact that this insect too, has a hump on his back and a
prominent proboscis. But, Kokopelli is known by other names, as well.
To the Hopi, he is known as "Kokopilau" - meaning "wood
hump". To others, he is known as Kokopele, Kokopetiyot, and Olowlowishkya.
He also bears a nickname - "Casanova of the Cliff Dwellers",
a tribute to his image and legend. Kokopelli’s lesser known female
counterpart is known as "Kokopelli Mana".
Kokopelli’s image varies as much as the legends about him,
but he is generally depicted as a hunch-back flute player in a dancing
pose with a festive crest on his head, and sometimes exhibiting male genitalia
of exaggerated size. Images painted on ceramics ten centuries ago by the
Hohokam (Arizona Pueblo) have become the prototype for modern representations.
Kokopelli’s hump is sometimes represented as an arc which
covers his entire back. Other times, it covers only the lower half of
his back. His arms are usually represented as a "V" shape with
his elbows pointing down toward the Earth. His forward leg is usually
represented as a continuation of the curved line which outlines his hump.
Likewise, his rear leg is usually represented as a continuation of the
front line of his body. The flute, which is actually a nose flute, is
usually represented as a straight line, or pair of straight lines. Sometimes,
however, it is curved. Often, it has a bulbous end - like the end of a
clarinet. An even number of crest elements are usually found on Kokopelli’s
head. In Pueblo culture, the festive crest represents the paired antennae
of the katydid (grasshopper), with which he is sometimes associated. When
being represented in the "Spirit World", he appears with feathers
on his head. In other depictions, the crest on his head represents rays
When present, Kokopelli’s phallus is unusually long and erect,
symbolizing the fertile seeds of human reproduction. It usually projects
upward from the lower body and is sometimes only represented as a single
line or arrow. His phallus is clearly depicted in a thousand year old
bowl displayed at Mesa Verde National Park. It is thought that Kokopelli’s
image was "cleaned up" over the years (his phallus depicted
less often) due, in part, to the influence of Catholic priests who worked
hard to Christianize the natives of the American Southwest. In the modern
genre, Kokopelli often wears a kilt and a sash.
Contemporary artists who have playfully portrayed Kokopelli as
a skier, scuba diver, golfer, and rock star can be found, for sure. But
there is no documentation to support the historical accuracy of any of
these representations, except perhaps, his portrayal as a rock star. He
certainly appears on many rocks in the Southwest!
The legend of Kokopelli is wonderfully rich and entertaining. Though,
his origin as a deity and the evolution of his role in Southwestern Indian
culture is difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct. Evidenced by
a huge number of ancient artifacts, it is clear that Kokopelli was important
to many Native American tribes. He is especially prominent in the ancient
Anasazi culture of the "Four Corners" area (Colorado, Arizona,
New Mexico, and Utah). Some have compared his importance to the Southwestern
Indians to that of Abraham to the Jews and that of Paul to the Christians.
Still revered by current descendants of Native Americans (including
the Hopi, Taos, and Acoma Pueblo peoples), he is truly one of the most
intriguing and widespread images to have survived from ancient Indian
mythology. His whimsical nature, charitable deeds, and vital spirit are
the primary reasons why he achieved such a prominent position in Native
American mysticism. He possessed a playful, carefree nature that seemed
to bring out the "good" in everyone. Kokopelli is so irresistibly
charismatic that he has been reinvented time and time again for thousands
of years by storytellers, artists, and craftsmen. Many people, like the
hosts of KokOasis.com, believe his magical properties still delight and
Known to some as a magician, to others he was a storyteller, teacher,
healer, trickster, trader, or god of the harvest. Some even credit Kokopelli
with being the "original" journalist. Almost universally however,
he was regarded as a harbinger of fertility, assuring success in hunting,
growing crops, and human conception. The Anasazi, who were first to claim
Kokopelli, were primarily farmers who grew corn, beans, and squash on
the Colorado Plateau. They regarded Kokopelli as a fertility symbol and
he was always welcomed during corn planting season. A visit from Kokopelli
insured that a good harvest was in store. According to Navajo legend,
Kokopelli was the God of Harvest and Plenty - a benign minor god who brought
abundant rain and food to people. The Zuni also regarded him as a Rain
Priest, able to make it rain at will.
Others regarded him as a Spiritual Priest with actual healing powers.
When Hopi women could not bear children, they would seek him out because
he was able to restore their childbearing powers. According to Hopi legend,
Kokopelli spent most of his time sewing seed and seducing the daughters
of the village while his wife, Kokopelli Mana, ran after the men! The
Winnebago believed Kokopelli was capable of detaching his penis (ouch)
and sending it down the river to "have his way" with the innocent
young maidens who were bathing in the stream.
The lore of southern Utah paints Kokopelli as a little man who
used to travel throughout the villages carrying a bag of corn seed on
his back, teaching the people how to plant as he traveled. He was also
said to have traded beads and shells for pieces of turquoise. Some speculate
that this image of Kokopelli may have been derived from traveling traders
of the time who announced their arrival by playing a flute as they approached
- a tradition that is still practiced in Central America.
Many different legends exist about what Kokopelli actually carried
in his sack. In Pueblo myths, he carried seeds, babies, and blankets to
offer the maidens he seduced. According to the Navajo, his hump was made
of clouds filled with seeds and rainbows. In the Hopi village of Oraibi,
they believe he carried deer skin shirts and moccasins which he used to
barter for brides or babies which he left with the young women. Others
believe that Kokopelli’s sack contained the seeds of all the plants
and flowers of the world, which he scattered every Spring.
According to San Ildefonso legend, Kokopelli
was a wandering minstrel who carried songs on his back, trading new songs
for old ones. According to this legend, Kokopelli brought good luck and
prosperity to anyone who listened to his songs. Kokopelli embodied everything
pure and spiritual about music. He and his magical flute traveled from
village to village bestowing gifts and spreading cheer to all whom he
visited. His flute was said to symbolize happiness and joy. When he played
his flute, the sun came out, the snow melted, grass began to grow, birds
began to sing, and all the animals gathered around to hear his songs.
His flute music soothed the Earth and made it ready to receive his seed.
The magic of his flute was also thought to stimulate creativity and help
good dreams come true.
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