A kachina (//; also katchina, katcina, or katsina; Hopi: katsina /kətˈsiːnə/, plural katsinim /kətˈsiːnɨm/) is a spirit being in western Pueblo religious beliefs. The western Pueblo, Native American cultures located in the southwestern United States, include Hopi, Zuni, Tewa Village (on the Hopi Reservation), Acoma Pueblo, and Laguna Pueblo. The kachina concept has three different aspects: the supernatural being, the kachina dancers, masked members of the community who represent kachinas at religious ceremonies, and kachina dolls, small dolls carved in the likeness of kachinas given as gifts to children. 
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. 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 are more than 400 different kachinas in Hopi and Pueblo culture. The local pantheon of kachinas varies in each pueblo community; there may be kachinas for the sun, stars, thunderstorms, wind, corn, insects, and many other concepts. Kachinas are understood as having humanlike relationships; they may have uncles, sisters, and grandmothers, and may marry and have 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. One observer has written:
The central theme of the kachina [religion] 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.
The exact origin of the kachinas is not completely known, but according to one version of Hopi belief, the kachinas were beneficent spirit-beings who came with the Hopis from the underworld. The underworld is a concept common to all the Pueblo Indians. It is a place where the spirits or shades live: the newly born come from there and the dead return there. The kachinas wandered with the Hopis over the world until they arrived at Casa Grande, where both the Hopis and the kachinas settled for a while. With their powerful ceremonies, the kachinas brought rain for the crops and were in general of much help and comfort. Unfortunately, all of the kachinas were killed when the Hopis were attacked by enemies (Mexicans) and their 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 version says that in an early period, the kachinas danced for the Hopis, bringing them rain and all the many blessings of life. But eventually, the Hopis came to take the kachinas for granted, losing all respect and reverence for them, so the kachinas finally left and 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 loss, they remorsefully turned to the human substitute of kachinas, and the ceremonies have continued since then. 
In many ways the Kachina Cult and its ritual are the most important ceremonial oberservances in the Hopi religious calendar. Within Hopi religion, the kachinas are said to live on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona. To the Hopis, the name primarily refers to the 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 men who dress up in costumes and masks to perform ceremonial dances throughout the year. Wooden carvings of these spirits are also made to give to the children to help them identify the many kachinas. Overall, the kachinas can generally be said to represent historical events and things in nature, and are used to educate children in the ways of life.
The most important Hopi kachinas are known as wuya. In Hopi, the word is often used to represent 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, which are understood to embody all aspects of the same belief system. These are some of the wuyas:
- Ahöl Mana
- Cimon Mana
- Dawa (kachina)
- Hahai-i Wuhti
- Huruing Wuhti
- Ketowa Bisena
- Kokyang Wuhti
- Kwasai Taka
- Pachava Hú
- Pohaha or Pahana
- Shalako Taka
- Shalako Mana
- Tukwinong Mana
The Hopi are not the only tribe to observe the Kachina Cult in its religious calendar. Almost all other Pueblo villages in the Southwest observe the kachina ritual in one way or another. The Zuni however, has the nearest resemblance to the Hopi kachinas, and in many ways the two coincide so closely as to indicate a close relationship in the past. 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. Although some archaeological investigations have taken place, they have not been able to clarify which tribe, Hopi or Zuni, was developed first. The Hopis have built their cult into a more elaborate ritual, 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. 
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. Among the Hopi, kachina dolls are traditionally carved by the 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 Hopis have a vague idea about their appearance and function, but also because these ideas differ from mesa to mesa and pueblo to pueblo. 
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 Hopi man places a mask upon his head and wears the appropriate costume and body paint, he believes that he has lost his personal identity and has received the spirit of the kachina he is supposed to represent. Besides the male kachinas are many female kachinas called kachin-manas, but women never take the part of male and female kachinas. 
Hopi clowns are an integral part of Hopi Kachina ceremonials where they participate in sacred rituals as well as unique clown performances—some with direct contact with the spectators. The clown's performance centers on humor and entertainment, but also they monitor the assembled crowd and provide policing activities over both the Kachina performers and the audience. Mockery is a tool used to warn spectators of non-Hopi behavior, and generally long remembered by the recipient of clown attention.
The clown personages play dual roles. Their prominent role is to amuse the audience during the extended periods of the outdoor celebrations and Kachina Dances where they perform as jesters or circus clowns. Their more subtle and sacred role is in the Hopis’ ritual performances. The sacred functions of the clowns are relatively private, if not held secret by the Hopi, and as a result have received less public exposure. When observing the preparations taking place in a Kiva of a number of ‘’Pai’yakyamu’’ clowns getting ready for their ceremonial performance, Alexander Stephen was told, “We Koyala [Koshari] are the fathers of all Kachina.”
The Hopi have four groups of clowns, some 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. Barton Wright’s Clowns of the Hopi identifies, classifies, and illustrates the extensive array of clown personages.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kachina.|
- Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology: Katsina
- The Heard Museum: Kachina
- The Museum of Anthropology — Kachinas
- Native paths: American Indian art from the collection of Charles and Valerie Diker, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on kachinas