As a result, pictographs of the flute player range in shape and form. (Hundreds still exist in their original locations, as documented in Slifer’s 2007 book Kokopelli: The Magic, Mirth, and Mischief of an Ancient Symbol.) Some have hunched backs, while others stand tall. Some resemble insects with antennas; others, birds. Then there are those who look more human, complete with long instrument and manhood raised high.
All of these disparate figures represented fertility, in an overarching sense. According to most Native American tales, Kokopelli travelled from village to village, conjuring rain and a fruitful harvest with the sounds of his flute. His breath powered his instrument, but it also symbolized the wind, which was considered “an essential pathway for life forces from which rain, maize, and human life were derived,” Slifer wrote.
Kokopelli’s fertility powers extended beyond agriculture, too. The figure’s humpback not only represented sacks of seeds, but a way for him to carry the songs he used to attract women. His flute, in particular, symbolized the power to woo. Across many Native American tribes, such instruments were used to create “signals and serenades” that conjured “love magic,” according to Slifer. In some Kokopelli depictions, the god’s powerful libido was emphasized in blunter terms: through the addition of a visible, turgid penis.
It’s probably these primordial powers—to make babies and bring abundance—that have captivated Kokopelli fans through the ages. “There is something archetypal and universally appealing about the flute player character,” Slifer has written. “The widely held beliefs that he was a fertility symbol, roving minstrel or trader, rain priest, shaman, hunting magician, trickster, and seducer of maidens.” In other words, Kokopelli has something for everyone: those interested in music, magic, sustainability, and sex.