The kachina is among the Pueblo Native Americans of the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico, a supernatural being or spirit of the ancestral dead who is an intermediary to the gods. “Kachina” (a Hopi term) means “spirit father,” “life” or “spirit.” Spirit fathers are associated with the dead. Kachinas bring rain and perform other mostly benefi cial functions.
According to myth, the kachinas live in the sacred San Francisco Mountains. In a distant time, they periodically descended to visit the villages, where they danced and performed their ministrations to the living. The people asked them to take the souls of the newly dead back with them to the mountains. This became so onerous that the kachinas ceased their visitations. Instead, they declared that they should be impersonated. The cult of kachinas came into being, comprised of men who, at the appointed times, dress in elaborate costumes and masks and perform the kachinas’ dances.
Most kachinas are perceived as benevolent beings who, in addition to bringing rain, will entertain and discipline children. There are evil kachinas who attack and kill.
The Hopi dead go to the sacred mountains, where they become kachinas and are transformed into clouds. The living ask them to bring rain.
The Zuñi call their kachinas koko, the spirits of men who come in the form of ducks to bring rain and supervise hunts. Like Hopi kachinas, some koko live in mountains. Most, however, live in a great village at the bottom of the mythical Lake of the Dead, which exists in Listening Spring Lake at the junction of the Zuñi and Little Colorado rivers. Offerings of food are thrown into the rivers to be carried to the Lake of the Dead. There the koko have happy lives and dress beautifully. They visit the living as clouds.
In Zuñi myth, the original koko were children who died by drowning after the emergence of people from the underworld (the Zuñi creation myth), and people who died and returned to the underworld. Koko also include persons who have recently died, and who may or may not make rain, and ancestors who have been long dead and who can bestow health, rain and good corn crops. As for the newly dead, only those men who were initiated into the cult of koko during life can become koko after death. Women apparently may join their husbands, but spirits of children are turned into uwanammi, or water monsters (also empowered to bring rain).
Kachina dolls are not idols, but are made for the education of children, or as fertility charms for women.
- Fewkes, Jesse Walter. Hopi Kachinas. New York: Dover Publications, 1985. First published 1903.
- Hultkranz, Ake. Native Religions of North America. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.
- Tyler, Hamilton A. Pueblo Gods and Myths. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.
Kachina In North American Indian mythology (Hopi and other Pueblo Indians), the spiritual, inner form of reality manifested by masked dancers. The term kachina is also used for small painted wooden dolls. Kachinas may be understood as spirits of the dead. Two kinds of kachinas are recognized: Mon kachinas never dance in groups, while ordinary kachinas do.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante
Also known as:
The Kachinas are benevolent spirits of the Pueblo peoples of the southwestern United States. They are mediators, messengers from other realms: they bring rain, clouds, moisture and blessings in a dry habitat where survival is dependent on adequate precipitation. Kachinas ensure plant, animal and human fertility.
In English, Kachina is also commonly used to refer to dolls created in the image of Kachina spirits or the masked dancers who channel them. In Indian languages, distinct words may be used to distinguish the dolls from the spirits. Although crafted by human hands, from the traditional Native American perspective, these dolls are gifts from the spirits. Many modern Kachina dolls, however, are crafted specifically for the tourist trade and for collectors who value them for their intricacy, beauty and monetary worth as investment art. Kachinas are among the most commodified of spirits; their images used to market products with a southwestern theme including things like potato chips, soft drinks and snack foods much to the displeasure and despair of those for whom they are holy.
Archaeological evidence links Kachinas to all the Pueblo peoples including Hopis, Zunis and the various Rio Grande Pueblos although each may possess different pantheons of Kachinas. Kachina spirits live among people from approximately the winter solstice to late July when they return to their own realm. The Kachinas taught people how to make masks depicting them and transmitting their power and how to channel them through rituals including dance. Masked, ritually initiated men are able to transmit the blessings of the Kachinas to people; heal illness; reinforce order; deliver prophesies; bring rain and serve as shamanic bridges between people and the spirits.
There are hundreds of distinct Kachina spirits each with its own distinct identity, function and appearance. There is no single consistent number of Kachinas. This is a living tradition: new Kachinas appear and old ones fade from view, sometimes reappearing decades later.
Kachinas appear in an extremely wide variety of forms (including ducks). Many books variously oriented towards spiritual seekers, anthropology students and/or art collectors display their images.
Rituals: Kachina rituals occur privately within subterranean kivas at night, (especially from January to March) and also outdoors in Pueblo plazas during the daytime (especially from March to July). Some ceremonies are open to outsiders; others are not. Websites belonging to the various Pueblos will advise.
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by :Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.