This is going to be a short post. My computer has been in crisis mode with a failed battery, and I haven’t the strength to write much. But here is what I thought I should add to my discussion of roots and the past, and modern art and the future.
Artists in traditional societies, like the Indian tribes of the Southwest, or some Mexican communities, produce art according to age-old formulae, repeating certain patterns and symbols on every pot,basket, wall and blanket. The art is religious in nature, and the time is circular, that is eternal, never-ending like the loop of the circle where the beginning and the end are joined. The snake with its tail in its mouth.
Some of the symbols are characters who have become favorites in and out of the traditional world where they were born. Kachinas are dancing spirits and the legends about them are many. The word often refers to kachina dancers, masked members of a tribe who dress up as kachinas for religious ceremonies. There are also wooden kachina dolls for children (and people who love Indian art.).
Then there’s Kokopelli—a 3,000 year old fertility god, prankster, healer and story-teller. He’s to be found in abundance in Arizona and New Mexico. My sister, the archaeologist, has several figures of Kokopelli and I recently gave her two more for her birthday.
Legend is that his flute playing symbolizes the transition of winter to spring and his music is to be heard in the spring breeze. It is said that everyone in the village would sing and dance the night long when they heard Kokopelli play his flute. The next morning, every young woman there would be pregnant.
Compare that to the myth of the blue Hindu god, Krishna, who also plays a flute, and dances among the cows with the dairy maids so that every one of them believes that she and she alone has been honored by the god. (When I read about fair Krishna, there was no mass pregnancy, but clearly the god had made love to every one of the gopis.)
All of which makes me wonder about musical instruments in legend and mythology. The flute was a favorite instrument of Orpheus, though the lyre was his first choice. In folklore the violin frequently belongs to the devil. Harps, of course, will forever belong to the angels.
Many contemporary artists have seized on Kokopelli and made him part of their own landscape. The fellow with the flute and the great sense of rhythm bestrides the world. Our modern world, where the aesthetic instinct is usually put in service to the future, where only the novel is appreciated, is improved with the presence of deities and gods, repeated in great numbers, giving us a peek at the eternal in the midst of the secular. See my most recent posts for the fallen Navajo warrior, Lance Corporal Alejandro J. Yazzie—his life and death made the stuff of legends on a truck. For Georgia O’Keefe’s crosses stretching across the land.