Kachina Gods

kachina (also spelled katchinakatcina, or katsina; plural katsinim) is a spirit being in the religious beliefs of the Pueblo peoples, Native American cultures located in the south-western part of the United States.

In the Pueblo cultures, kachina rites are practiced by the Hopi, Hopi-Tewa and Zuni peoples and certain Keresan tribes, as well as in most Pueblo tribes in New Mexico.

Although some archaeological investigations have taken place, they have not been able to clarify which tribe, Zuni or Hopi, developed the Kachina Cult first.

The kachina concept has three different aspects: the supernatural being, the kachina dancers, and kachina dolls (small dolls carved in the likeness of the kachina).

Katsina Origins

There are two different accounts in Hopi beliefs for the origins of kachinas. According to one version, the kachinas were good-natured spirit-beings who came with the Hopis from the underworld.

The kachinas wandered with the Hopis over the world until they arrived at Casa Grande, where both the Hopis and the kachinas settled. With their powerful ceremonies, the kachinas were of much help and comfort, for example bringing rain for the crops.

However, all of the kachinas were killed when the Hopis were attacked and the kachinas’ souls returned to the underworld.

Since the sacred paraphernalia of the kachinas were left behind, the Hopis began impersonating the kachinas, wearing their masks and costumes, and imitating their ceremonies in order to bring rain, good crops, and life’s happiness.

Another account says that the Hopis came to take the kachinas for granted, losing all respect and reverence for them, so the kachinas returned to the underworld.

However, before they left, the kachinas taught some of their ceremonies to a few faithful young men and showed them how to make the masks and costumes.

When the other Hopi realized their mistake, they remorsefully turned to the kachinas’ human substitutes, and the ceremonies have continued since then.

Kachina Spirits

Kachinas are spirits or personifications of things in the real world. These spirits are believed to visit the Hopi villages during the first half of the year. The local pantheon of kachinas varies from pueblo community to community.

A kachina can represent anything in the natural world or cosmos, from a revered ancestor to an element, a location, a quality, a natural phenomenon, or a concept. There may be kachinas for the sun, stars, thunderstorms, wind, corn, insects, as well as many other concepts.

Kachinas are understood as having human-like relationships: families such as parents and siblings, as well as marrying and having children.

Although not worshipped, each is viewed as a powerful being who, if given veneration and respect, can use his particular power for human good, bringing rainfall, healing, fertility, or protection, for example.

The central theme of kachina beliefs and practices is the presence of life in all objects that fill the universe. Everything has an essence or a life force, and humans must interact with these or fail to survive.

Hopi Kachinas

The most important Hopi kachinas are known as wuya. In Hopi, the term wuya often refers to the spiritual beings themselves (said to be connected with the Fifth World, Taalawsohu), the dolls, or the people who dress as kachinas for ceremonial dances.

These are all understood to embody all aspects of the same belief system. Some of the wuyas include:

  • Ahöla — Ahola, also known as Ahul, opens the mid-winter Powamu ceremony.
  • Ahöl Maana — She is a maiden spirit, who goes with Ahöla during the Powamu ceremony as he visits various kivas and ceremonial houses. On these visits Ahöl Mana carries a tray with various kinds of seeds.
  • Aholi — Aholi is a kachina spirit. He is a friend of Eototo and is very handsome, Aholi wears a colorful cloak with a picture of Muyingwa and is the patron kachina of the Pikya clan. Aholi once allowed his throat to be slit so that Eototo could escape. They eventually met again. Aholi, a chief kachina on Third Mesa, appears with Eototo. Both are principal kachinas appearing in the Powamu and other sacred rituals.
  • Ahul — See  Ahola
  • Ahulani
  • Akush
  • Alosaka — Alosaka is another katchina responsible for growth of crops, and possibly an alternate name or alternate aspect of Muyingwa. Alosaka also refers to two wooden idols called the Alosaka. These idols or kachinas (or katsinam) were part of a shrine at the village of Awatobi, situated south of Keams Canyon on the eastern edge of the Hopi reservation. Awatobi was destroyed around 1700, however the shrine was used for at least another 200 years by the priests from the second mesa village of Mishungnovi (Mishoninovi).
  • Angak  — Angak is originally from the Zuni Pueblo. The goal of the Angak spirit is to bring rain and flowers to the Hopi villages. Angak sings sweet songs to bring rain. He also represents a healing and protective figure.
  • Angwushahai-i
  • Angwusnasomtaka
  • Eototo
  • Hahay-i Wuhti
  • He-e-e
  • Horo or Yohozro Wuhti
  • Hu
  • Huruing Wuhti
  • Kalavi
  • Kaletaka
  • Ketowa Visena
  • Kötsav
  • Kököle
  • Kokopelli
  • Kokosori
  • Kokyang Wuhti
  • Koshari or Koyaala
  • Kwasai Taka
  • Lemowa
  • Masau’u
  • Mastop
  • Maswik
  • Mong
  • Muyingwa
  • Nakiatsop
  • Nataska
  • Ongtsomo
  • Pahlikmana or Polik-mana
  • Patsava Hú
  • Patung
  • Pöqangwhoya
  • Pohaha or Pahana
  • Saviki
  • Shalako Taka
  • Shalako Mana
  • Söhönasomtaka
  • Soyal
  • Tanik’tsina
  • Tawa
  • Tiwenu
  • Toho
  • Tokoch
  • Tsaveyo
  • Tsa’kwayna
  • Tsimon Maana
  • Tsitot
  • Tsiwap
  • Tsowilawu
  • Tukwinong
  • Tukwinong Mana
  • Tumas
  • Tumuala
  • Tungwup
  • Ursisimu
  • We-u-u
  • Wiharu
  • Wukoqala
  • Wupa-ala
  • Wupamo
  • Wuyak-kuyta

Zuni Kachinas

Religious ceremonies are central to the Zuni agrarian society. They revolve around the winter and summer solstices, incorporate the importance of weather, especially rain, and ensure successful crops.

The Zuni believe that the kachinas live in the Lake of the Dead, a mythical lake which is reached through Listening Spring Lake. This is located at the junction of the Zuni River and the Little Colorado River.

Both Zuni and Hopi kachinas are different from each other but have certain similarities and features. In addition, both Zuni and Hopi kachinas are highly featured and detailed, while the kachinas of the Rio Grande Pueblos look more primitive in feature. 

The Hopis have built their religion into a more elaborate rite, and seem to have a greater sense of drama and artistry than the Zunis. On the other hand, the latter have developed a more sizable folklore concerning their kachinas.

The list of Zuni kachinas includes:

  • A’Hute
  • Ainawua
  • Ainshekoko
  • Anahoho
  • A’thlanna
  • Atoshle Otshi
  • Awan Pekwin
  • Awan Pithlashiwanni
  • Awan Tatchu
  • Awek Suwa Hanona
  • Bitsitsi
  • Chakwaina
  • Chakwaina Okya
  • Chathlashi
  • Chilili
  • Eshotsi
  • Hainawi
  • Hehea
  • Hehe’a
  • Hemokatsiki
  • Hemushikiwe
  • Hetsululu
  • Hilili Kohana
  • Hututu
  • Ishan Atsan Atshi
  • Itetsona
  • Itsepasha
  • Kakali
  • Kalutsi
  • Kanatshu
  • Kanilona
  • Kiaklo
  • Kianakwe
  • Kianakwe Mosona
  • Kokokshi
  • Kokothlanna
  • Kokwele
  • Komokatsiki
  • Kothlamana
  • Koyemshi
  • Kwamumu
  • Kwamumu Okya
  • Kwelele
  • Lapilawe
  • Mahedinasha
  • Mitotasha
  • Mitsinapa
  • Mókwala
  • Mukikwe
  • Mukikw’ Okya
  • Muluktaka
  • Muyapona
  • Nahalisho
  • Nahalish Awan Mosona
  • Nahalish Okya
  • Nalashi
  • Na’le
  • Na’le Okya
  • Na’le Otshi
  • Natashku
  • Natshimomo
  • Nawisho
  • Neneka
  • Nepaiyatemu
  • Ohapa
  • Oky’enawe (Girls)
  • Ololowishkia
  • Owiwi
  • Paiyatamu
  • Pakoko
  • Pakok’Okya
  • Pasikiapa
  • Pautiwa
  • Posuki
  • Potsikish
  • Saiyapa
  • Saiyatasha
  • Saiyathlia
  • Salimopia Itapanahnan’ona
  • Salimopia Kohan’ona
  • Salimopia Shelow’ona
  • Salimopia Shikan’ona
  • Salimopia Thlian’ona
  • Salimopia Thluptsin’ono
  • Sate’tshi E’lashokti
  • Shalako (6)
  • Shalako Anuthlona
  • Shi-tsukia
  • Shulawitsi
  • Shulawitsi An Tatchu
  • Shulawitsi Kohanna
  • Shumaikoli
  • Siwolo
  • Suyuki
  • Temtemshi
  • Thlelashoktipona
  • Thlewekwe
  • Thlewekwe Okya
  • Tomtsinapa
  • Tsathlashi
  • Upikaiapona
  • Upo’yona
  • Wahaha
  • Wakashi
  • Wamuwe
  • Wilatsukwe
  • Wilatsukw’ Okya
  • Wo’latana
  • Yamuhakto
  • Yeibichai

Kachina Dancers

Many Pueblo Indians, particularly the Hopi and Zuni, have ceremonies in which masked men, called kachinas, play an important role. Masked members of the tribe dress up as kachinas for religious ceremonies that take place many times throughout the year.

These ceremonies are social occasions for the village, where friends and relatives are able to come from neighboring towns to see the dance and partake in the feasts that are always prepared.

When a man places a mask upon his head and wears the appropriate costume and body paint, his personal identity is lost and the spirit of the kachina he is supposed to represent takes its place.

Besides the male kachinas are many female kachinas called kachin-manas, but women never take the part of male or female kachinas.

The most widely publicised of Hopi kachina rites is the “Snake Dance,” an annual event during which the performers danced while handling live snakes. 


Clowns are a special kind of Kachina that play dual roles. Their prominent role is to amuse the audience during the extended periods of the outdoor celebrations, where they perform as jesters or circus clowns.

The clowns play an important role-embodying wrong social behavior, they are soon put in their place by the katsinam for all to see. The presence of clowns in the morality play makes people more receptive to the messages of proper social convention and encourages a crucial human trait: a keen sense of humor.

The Hopi have four groups of clowns, some of which are sacred. Adding to the difficulty in identifying and classifying these groups, there are a number of kachinas whose actions are identified as clown antics.

The clown’s more subtle and sacred role is in the ritual performances. The sacred functions of the clowns are relatively private, if not held secret, and as a result have received less public exposure.

Kachina Ceremonies

In many ways the Kachina rites are the most important ceremonial observances in the Hopi religious calendar.

The kachinas are said to live on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona. To the Hopis, kachinas are supernatural beings who visit the villages to help the Hopis with everyday activities and act as a link between Gods and mortals.

These spirits are then impersonated by male dancers wearing costumes and masks for ceremonies during the first half of the year.

The first ceremony of the year, the Powamu, occurs in February and is associated with the bean planting, the growing season, and coming of age. The last katsina ceremony, Niman, occurs in July and is associated with the harvest, after which the katsinam return to their home in the San Francisco Peaks.

Kachina Dolls

Kachina dolls are small brightly painted wooden “dolls” which are miniature representations of the masked impersonators. These figurines are given to children not as toys, but as objects to be treasured and studied so that the young Hopis may become familiar with the appearance of the kachinas as part of their religious training.

During Kachina ceremonies, each child receives their own doll. The dolls are then taken home and hung up on the walls or from the rafters of the house, so that they can be constantly seen by the children.

The purpose of this is to help the children learn to know what the different kachinas look like. It is said that the Hopi recognize over 200 kachinas and many more were invented in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Kachina dolls are traditionally carved by the maternal uncles and given to uninitiated girls at the Bean Dance (Spring Bean Planting Ceremony) and Home Dance Ceremony in the summer.

These dolls are very difficult to classify not only because the different tribes have a vague idea about their appearance and function, but also because these ideas differ from mesa to mesa and pueblo to pueblo.

Kachinas in the Tourist Trade

Beginning around 1900, there was a great deal of interest in the Kachina figurines, especially among tourists, and the dolls became sought-after collectibles. For this reason, many Hopi began making the figurines commercially to make a living.

Hopi kachina dolls, tihü, are ceremonial objects with religious meaning. Hopi carvers alter these, removing their religious meaning, to meet the demand for decorative commercial objects sought by non-Hopi.







Article Index:

Ahöla Kachina, also known as Ahul, opens the mid-winter Powamu ceremony

The Ahöla Kachina, also known as Ahul, is a spirit being, embodied by a man, in Hopi religion.

Ahöla is one of the important chief katsinam for First and Second Mesas because he opens the mid-winter Powamu ceremony, sometimes called the Bean Planting Festival, officially beginning Katsina season.

Angak, Hopi rain kachina
Hopi Kachina Dolls (Katsina) or Tihu and the katsina society ceremonial dances

Hopi kachinas or katsinas.. KEYWORDS: hopi kachina hopi katsina kachinas hopi ceremonial dolls hopi spirit dolls hopi religious dolls kachina dance

Hopi kachinas (or katsinas as the Hopi people call them) are supernatural beings who live among the evergreens of the San Francisco Peaks south of the Hopi Mesas, and at the Spring of the Shadows to the east. From these cloud homes, they travel to the villages several times a year and appear in many elaborate kachina dances.