I saw my first Hopi Kachina dolls on a shelf in Albuquerque, New Mexico back in 1977. I stood mesmerized, a glass counter between me and the objects of my fascination. I had the same feeling I got standing in ancient cathedrals in Europe — that uncanny, unsettling sensation of the numinous near at hand.
But I did not own any kachina dolls until about 1996. When I finally bought one it was in Leavenworth, Washington – a peculiarly intentional Bavarian village themed town aimed at tourists. Imagine my surprise to find a shop full of things from the American Southwest! I was suddenly transfixed in front of one doll, the simple legend read “Crow Mother” and it was carved by a Hopi woman named Esther Jackson. She was a member of a kachina carving family, though I did not know that then.
I bought the doll and drove back home over the Cascade Mountains in the dark, in a drenching downpour. Shadows seemed to stalk my little white car, the night felt momentous in a fashion that was so oddly frighteningly encompassing that even the children fell silent in the back seat! When I studied the story of my kachina, I found she was in charge of the initiation of Hopi children. In the years to come, I found myself looking to this literally graven image when I felt my life was giving me yet another initiation!
So it was, in late fall of 2011, as my husband entered his PTSD crisis and I fled to the secondary dwelling on our property to try maintaining my own sanity, I took Crow Mother with me. She stood on the top shelf of my computer desk there, with a pretty pottery bowl in a wooden cradle next to her. Incense was set to burn in the sand in that bowl on occasion. I looked at her often, likely with more of an imploring expression than any proper humanist should claim. I was sure my life was undergoing an initiatory change and it was painful and frightening; so looking at the mistress of such educational moments reaffirmed to me my own deep belief that life IS change, that it is an endless series of initiations to be accepted.
But late one night in 2013, as I entered my third year of marital exile, I was awakened by a horrific clatter and crash in the darkness. When I put the lights on, I found the pottery bowl’s three legged wooden cradle had apparently collapsed, dumping the heavy sand filled bowl towards Crow Mother in her dish of blue cornmeal – toppling her from the shelf. The bowl itself fell to the desk below and broke another piece of treasured pottery – a vase with antlers. Crow Mother was on the floor, very broken — her wings were busted, the little plate she held (in lieu of the traditional yucca whips) was snapped in two and nowhere in sight. One leg was broken as well. I felt almost as shattered myself. Sand covered everything – the desk, the keyboard, the broken bits. I swept up the mess into a bag and put it outdoors on the porch and then went back to bed to cry in the dark.
My husband was more calm. He repaired the broken kachina, all save the missing plate that I never found. I gave the doll to him, quite superstitiously concluding that “she” didn’t want to be mine any more! And perhaps I hoped she had something to teach to him! In 2014, I still lived in what I called my Haven, but Crow Mother had taken up residence upon the Minotaur’s desk. We prepared for my move back into my marital home by rebuilding the kitchen, re-painting several rooms, and refinishing much furniture. In late August, 2014, I moved back to my home and my eldest son resumed his life with his pets in the Haven/”Batchelor’s Quarters.” (A month later, my runaway youngest son returned home after 15 years absence, to the joy of us all. Both men now spend time in their refuge away from us parental units.)
This year, browsing online to buy a kachina (the “Bear” kachina – Hon)for my husband’s birthday; I saw another Crow Mother. This one was by a Navaho artist named Burt Jones, and it was carved more like many Hopi kachinas. Sadly, this one was also very broken — wingless and sans yucca whips. It called to mind the latest incarnation of “Maleficent” with a powerful female figure deprived of the sky by a damaged male. Yes, I looked at that broken kachina doll and had a right proper little drama queen moment for myself! I bought the broken doll.
I thought that repairing her might be a good symbol for the repair of myself. There she stands, side by side with her Hopi-made sister. We ordered cottonwood root wood with which to make repairs, you see it between the two Crow Mothers and in slabs I had cut off to work on making wings and yucca whips for her hands to hold. I decided I would use no power tools. I have never carved or even whittled wood before, so this was a bit brave for me since I am no artist at all!
As I sat drawing wings and taking my old Buck pocket knife to work upon them, I thought how symbolic it was that the little gift-like plate of the Hopi doll had broken away and vanished. This occurred at the low point of my self-exile, when I myself had literally nothing left to offer to my marriage. My Minotaur husband has vowed to carve a replacement for his Initiatrix.
Wood carving did not come easily to me. Cottonwood root is really very soft, so I thought it would be easier. Yet I broke preliminary wing after wing. But each failure taught me something. I stopped working on the wings and took the long slender shavings and carved the yucca whips first. It is these leaves from the wild yucca plants with which Crow Mother can administer educational smacks to the children/initiated ones, you see? Perhaps that was the best approach, because after that I did seem to catch on more rapidly!
Today, on my Monday off and a full moon, I sat down to work again. Although the yucca whips were not painted yet, I jammed them into the sockets in her hands. I drew a paper pattern of wings and transferred it to the last flat plate of wood I had cut off the round root.
Today, I succeeded. Two wings are roughed out and sanded smoothly! I still have to put the feathering marks on them and paint them before gluing them back into the grooves I prepared by chipping out the remnants of the busted wings. But there she stands, ready to be symbolically recharged — re-winged! I don’t deceive myself about my carving abilities. I am awaiting the repair of my wood burning tool to etch the feather details onto the wings before painting and affixing them.
At last, perhaps with each archetypal element applied to the repair – the knife (like Airy tarot swords) to carve, sand paper like Earth, like sandstone used by Native artisans, Fire to burn-etch the feathery details, and Watery paints to complete the details, I will be able to feel myself properly initiated at last into a real marriage. The one that has struggled stubbornly against the wind of PTSD for almost four decades before had fallen to ashes and has been re-kindled by the joint efforts of my husband and myself. He has taken the lead since shortly after that bitter night in 2013. Perhaps we both found our initiation?