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Kokopelli is an interesting symbol, featuring a hunchbacked flute player. The first images of Kokopelli appeared on Hohokam pottery over 1000 years ago. Sometimes he is illustrated with a sack slung on his back. But what is the significance of this symbol and what does it mean in modern times? Let’s explore the intriguing world of Kokopelli.
Kokopelli – A Native American Deity
Kokopelli is a Native American Deity, revered by certain Native American groups in the Southwestern region of the United States. It’s a highly symbolic figure and is associated with fertility, music, merrymaking and good luck.
While Kokopelli is commonly associated with Native Americans, it’s believed that he may have originated as a representation of Aztec traders, who would journey with a sack on their back, carrying the wares they were wanting to trade.
1. Symbol of Fertility
Within some native American tribes in the Southwestern United States, Kokopelli is seen as a fertility god, connected with childbirth and agriculture. He’s connection to fertility is clear with the following associations:
- Some traditional beliefs claim that the sack that Kokopelli bears on his back is full of seeds which would be planted and ensure an abundant harvest. When he is shown to be only a hunchback, the hunch is taken to indicate the sack that is included in other images of Kokopelli.
- Another tradition, referring to the flute that he is portrayed playing in some images, suggests that it was used to court women and help them become fertile.
- Within some tribes, it is claimed that the snow would melt when Kokopelli played his flute. This marked the end of winter and the start of spring in which flowers and crops would start to grow again. This carries on the idea of Kokopelli symbolising growth and abundance.
2. Symbol of Music
Kokopelli became associated with the idea of fun and appreciating all the life had to offer, as the flute that Kokopelli carries symbolizes joy and music. It carries the idea of merriment and laughter during feasts. The image of Kokopelli could be seen as a reminder to enjoy ourselves. Also, Kokopelli can be considered as a muse to inspire creative individuals to produce songs, poems and literature.
3. Symbol of Happiness
Beyond carrying seeds on his sack, some believe that the sack contained colorful rainbows, an idea that has inspired a rainbow-colored version of Kokopelli. As “Rainbow Kokopelli”, he symbolizes happiness, joy and hope for a brighter future, with a life filled with blessings. For the Yei people, this representation of Kokopelli reflects the idea of the beauty in cordial relationships.
4. Symbol of Unity
The concept of Kokopelli symbolising unity is also suggested by Dennis Slifer in his book Kokopelli: The Magic, Mirth, and Mischief of an Ancient Symbol where, as the god of fertility, Kokopelli is seen to supply rain, seeds, the ability to reproduce, at the level of animals and humans as well. We are all joined in this life, we share a unity and connectedness and Kokopelli is merely the symbol that illustrates this.
5. Symbol of Luck
In the traditional Native Indian practice of passing the pipe around, it was believed that if Kokpelli appeared to you while you smoked the pipe, it was a symbol of good luck and that you would have a successful future. This association strengthens Kokopelli as a good luck symbol.
The Darker Side of Kokopelli
Though there is a lot to admire in the symbol of Kokopelli, there is a sinister side to the icon. Kokopelli can be seen to be a bit of a joker and a swindler, and some native Indians perceive him to be a trickster god.
Sometimes crops fail. Sometimes couples fail to have children no matter how hard they try. Sometimes plans fall apart and success slips away.
When these things happen, it’s easy to blame Kokopelli as the trickster, who failed to deliver. In such cases, Kokopelli becomes a symbol of potential promises and hopes that fail to eventuate. The sack on his back fails to deliver.
Kokopelli can also represent the chaos behind creation. He can be seen as a reminder of the struggles we all face in life. He plays his flute and woos us into serenity and then he moves on, leaving us dazed in his wake.
Contemporary View of Kokopelli
As we have seen, Kokopelli has taken on many meanings and interpretations. In the 20th century, Kokopelli was given a new image and meaning by those within the hippie culture. Nowadays, Kokopelli has a cooler image with dreadlocked hair. He appears as a musician leaning over his instrument, rather than a man carrying a load on his back.
Kokopelli can now be found gracing clothing, music festival posters, tattoos and as jewelry. With this new spirit of Kokopelli, he is now seen to symbolize the free spirit that hippies promote and embrace – a spirit that is unbound and open to explore and create, to learn and grow.
Rounding Up the Kokopelli Symbol
Even amongst the traditional Indian tribes that recorded Kokopelli’s image on stone, in caves and on pottery, had various opinions about what he symbolized. Blessed crops, fertile females, and a successful future were standard interpretations of Kokopelli. Yet a darker side of him as a divine trickster can be seen to indicate that life isn’t smooth sailing.
Contemporary culture had seen a resurgence in popularity of this symbol where it is now taken to indicate an unrestrained spirit.