You may not know his name but if you have ever been to the southwestern United States, then you know Kokopelli’s image. He is ubiquitous throughout the southwest region called the Four Corners, encompassing parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Kokopelli may be among the most commodified of all spirits: his image has become a virtual emblem of the southwest. It appears in advertising; on food packages; as trail markers for hikers. Wrought-iron Kokopellis replace garden gnomes or lawn jockeys in the southwest. It can be easy to forget that his origins lie in sacred mysteries.

Kokopelli’s image scratched, pecked, painted and carved on canyon rocks and walls appears with greater frequency than any other identifiable figure amidst the pictographs and petroglyphs near sites inhabited by the Anasazi, the mysterious ancestors of the Pueblo Indians. Kokopelli appears in modern Hopi ceremonials, too. There is scholarly speculation that he may be among the most primeval of all southwestern deities.

Who is Kokopelli? Good question. Either no one is entirely sure or there are a lot of opposing theories. Kokopelli is a trickster spirit and he may take pleasure in sowing confusion among those who attempt to interpret his image. He is a sacred mystery.

The standard Kokopelli image is a hunchbacked stick figure blowing a vertical flute. Old images frequently depict him with a big, erect penis; newer images tend to be neutered. There are variations amongst the images:

• Sometimes he has a clubfoot as well as a hump

• He may have antennae or feathers on his head

• He may lead a flock of mountain sheep

As best as can be made out, the name used to describe this image is a compound derived from two unrelated languages:

• Koko, a Zuni word, indicates a kind of spirit

• Peli is Hopi for “hump”

Kokopelli’s image tends to revolve around his capacity to bring or to enhance: he brings gifts, rain, babies, prey animals, especially those mountain sheep. He is interpreted as a fertility spirit, a musician, hunter, warrior or trader. He may not actually be hunchbacked; the hump on his back may be a big bag, so heavy he must bend over. Kokopelli’s image may resemble ancient traders who wandered between Mex ico and the Anasazi carrying their packs on their backs. Some feel very strongly that he’s an insect; very likely a locust although other identifications are made, too. (Hopi mythology features flute-playing sacred locust spirits although the Hopi do not identify them as Kokopelli.)

Look around. You may already have an image of Kokopelli. If not, he’s easy to find; not an endangered spirit at all. (The first time I ever encountered Kokopelli was in a catalog selling southwestern-style furnishings.) Ask him to do more than just be a souvenir. Kokopelli can bring fun, magic, fertility, conception, abundance and joy


Flute; staff; (the flute might sometimes be a blow gun)


Ganaskidi; Gobbo; Kachina; Koko; Tanuki


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.

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