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Katsinam (or “Kachinas”) are spirit beings. In Pueblo Indian religion, the katsinam serve as intermediaries between the people and their gods. There are hundreds of katsinam representing or expressing a great many things, including various beings, resources, lessons and concepts. Many are linked to agriculture and weather in some way, sending prayers for rain, bountiful harvests, and prosperous, healthy lives for all of humankind.
According to the Katsina myths, the Katsinam themselves first taught the people how to hunt, heal sickness, make tools and how to live off the land by planting crops and collecting plants. At some point in history, wars occurred and the Katsinam were killed off. Or, according to another version of the mythology, the Katsinam returned to the underworld when the people began to take them for granted. Before they left or were killed, they taught a select few men of great faith their ceremonies, complete with instructions on how to make the affiliated sacred masks and costumes.
There are three forms in which Katsinam exist: the spirit beings themselves, the masked dancers who represent them at religious ceremonies, and the carved cottonwood dolls that are available on the market. These dolls are teaching tools, carefully carved by the Pueblo men and gifted to young girls, two per year, until they are of marrying age. The boys are given bows and arrows and included in sacred Katsina ceremonies in the kivas, inaugurating them into the spiritual cult.
We offer a selection of traditional Hopi and Zuni Katsina dolls, as these are the two groups of people who allow their Katsinam to be sold. Some are identifiable to a specific carver, but most traditional pieces are of an age where the carver's name is not known. As with Pueblo pottery, contemporary styles have developed to suit the tastes of the market, and we offer these newer pieces as well.
Katsina Doll making at Hopi Pueblo, Arizona. Image Source: from postcard Published by Frashers, Inc., Pomona, Calif.