Kachinas and Chapter Breaks

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.  ~Pro 16:9

I’ve been thinking lately about my unrealistic expectations as to what I should “accomplish” in a day. Some days are just… ornery. A day when things skew out of control and you don’t even know why. Where you spill the coffee, track in mud, end up doing things you had no inkling you were going to do.

Like today, where I read some entries in a book called The Multi-Cultural Southwest that my son left here when he moved out . The entry that had most interested me was one written by the Hopi mentor of my old college boyfriend. It was called “Hopi Indian Ceremonies.” And in light of my recent Bible lessons on how the kingdom of darkness deceives, it was fascinating.

It had to do with how attitudes toward a culture or belief are developed in a child and was illustrated by the author’s own remembrances.

The Hopi religion involves kachinas, which are… well, even having read the article I’m not exactly sure what they think they are. Spirit beings that the men dress up and dance in ceremonies as, and somehow become the Spirit they are representing during the time of their dancing… That’s about the best I can do. Maybe it will be better if I quote the source.

Indoctrination begins in childhood where

“In Hopi practice the kachina is represented as a real being. From the time children are able to understand and to verbalize, until they are eight or ten years old, they are taught that the kachina is real. There are a variety of ways in which the Hopis attempt to demonstrate this realism to the child. The kachina is all goodness and kindness. The kachina also gives gifts to children in all of its appearances.  Thus it is rather difficult for me to agree with the descriptions of the kachina that often appear in literature. The kachina is frequently described as being grotesque, but the Hopi child does not perceive the kachina as grotesque.”

Here are a couple of pictures of my mother’s kachinas. You can decide if you think they are grotesque or not…

I think they look pretty scary, but I’m not Hopi.

As the child grows up, his fantasies all involve the kachina. He goes about emulating the kachina, enacting his feelings about it, and singing and dancing like one.  The author says,

“At an early age, [the children] begin to feel the sense of projection into spiritual reality. When the child is initiated and becomes eligible to participate as a kachina[in the adult ceremonies], it is not difficult to fantasize now as a participant in the real kachina ceremony, and that is the essence of the kachina ceremony. The fantasizing continues then, in spite of the initiation which seems to have the effect of revealing to the child that this is just a plaything, that now we are grown up and we don’t believe.

“The idea of make-believe continues with the Hopi man and woman as they mature, and …must continue throughout life. For the kachina ceremonies require that a person project oneself into the spirit world, into the world of fantasy, or the world of make-believe. Unless one can do this, spiritual experience cannot be achieved.”

He goes on to say that the mask in the kachina ceremony helps with this projection, since the man who dances behind it loses his identity and “actually becomes what he is representing.”  In fact, “the spiritual fulfillment of a man depends on how he is able to project himself into the spiritual world as he performs.”

I’ve read this several times and I’m still not sure what this means, since my concept of spiritual world and the writer’s concept seem to be two different things. The author’s subsequent development of what he’s saying above didn’t help much, either, explaining that while performing the man isn’t doing it for anyone “but himself, trying to express to himself his own conceptions about the spiritual ideals he sees in the kachina.” What those ideals are beyond “good and kind” isn’t elaborated upon.

But I can’t help wondering why concepts of goodness and kindness need to be represented by dressing up in scary masks with teeth, or black faces biting snakes.  I know there is a great deal more to the kachinas than what was presented here — there are so many different varieties — but the author seemed more intent on talking about how he couldn’t explain or give concrete answers as to what’s going on in all this —  it was just part of the Hopi way, elements of culture that didn’t fit with the “dominant culture” — than he was in explaining.

 Then again, maybe it’s not the Hopi way to explain things or to need them explain.  The attitude expressed in this article seemed to be more that they just “are” without any need of explaining or understanding why or even of trying to change any of it.

So, I read all that. Why? Well, for one I wanted to make more room on my bookshelf and so if I would just read that one article I could get the book out of my house. It turned out to be more interesting than I expected. But I’m not sure how, or quite why. I’ll have to ruminate on this.

In any case,  that’s part of what I did today. I also avoided writing for most of the day… again… but when I finally made myself go into the office, I reminded myself that it’s hard and complicated when I have sooo many decisions to make as I do right now, and that maybe I just need to make some and quit worrying about whether they’re right or wrong.  So I looked over what I’ve done, and decided that I’m going to stop ch 1 on p 17 and move the remaining pages 18 through 23 into ch 2. With additions and alterations.

But that will be tomorrow’s work.

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2 Responses to “Kachinas and Chapter Breaks”


  1. 1 Gayle September 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Loved this, Karen. I have a few old Kachinas at my house. Some Navajo rugs on the floors…some Pima and Pago baskets and a tad of pottery. I like it and only think of these things as things. I never thought about the Hopi spiritual mysticism until years ago when we visited the Hopi reservation for a couple of days. It was enlightening. They really do buy into the mumble jumble. Same could be said for the Navajo tour guide that lead our group through the old Hubbell home. She was very anti white and anti Christian. After these visits..it was a motor home trip with my brother and his wife..we had lively discussions as to the native American’s plight. My brother fells strongly about the white’s miss treatment of the different tribes. Not me. I remember how the Colonel taught us that as the westward settlement advanced God would not preserve the heathen peoples. What do they represent? What do they feel behind the masks? What do they believe? Even into today’s world we see man going back to the worship of nature. As Dr. Barnhouse quoted…man is going back down to Egypt.


  1. 1 Halloween « Writing from the Edge 2 Trackback on October 30, 2011 at 6:07 pm

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