Friday, August 26, 2005

Seeing Kokopelli

A couple of days ago, I had another optical migraine. These are essentially harmless - well, I’m not quite sure what to call them, but I’ve been assured that they are harmless. They’re a bit more than an optical illusion, and less than a full-scale hallucination. This latest one was pretty typical: a C-shaped curve made up of tiny overlapping triangles that fizzed and shimmered like the fillament at the center of a light bulb. It was thicker at the top, thinner at the bottom; it hung in front of my eyes for about twenty minutes, then slowly drifted up and out of my field of vision.

The first time I had one of these, I was alone at a part time job. I stared at it for maybe a minute, admiring the Art Deco pattern of the little triangles, impressed by the shimmering, electric colors, and then realized that it wasn’t going away. In fact, it was getting bigger and brighter, and I couldn’t see my computer screen through it, so perhaps a call to the eye doctor was in order. Fortunately, she has experienced them herself, and was able, after a quick exam, to reassure me that this was nothing to worry about.

These days, in fact, I kind of look forward to them. Since they tend to appear at the end of periods of emotional stress, I think of them sort of as a reward for getting through whatever has been going on, and, as long as they don’t interfere with driving, I tend to bliss out and watch them float by.

However, I’m also a bit curious about the whole phenomenon. Right after the first one, I googled “optical migraine” and found a definition on an eye health site that showed a drawing that was practially identical to what I’d just seen. (There’s a lot out there, including this site,, which shows paintings done by various well-known artists that include images that could have come directly from an optical migraine. The one at the very bottom of the page is closest to the ones I see.) The more I read, the more it seemed that everyone sees something quite similar, and that it’s a biological manifestation rather than a mental one, so I immediately began to wonder how people had described it in previous periods. For example, to my modern eye, the shimmering colors look like an electric light; what would someone living before electricity compare them to? You’d have to call it some kind of supernatural vision - even knowing what they are, they feel weird, wonderful, and a bit otherworldly. Ezekiel’s chariot? Constantine’s crosses? Who knows?

But this last one.... As I stared at it, I realized that in shape it was very like the now-ubiquitous Kokopelli of Southwestern myth. The curve, the thickness at the upper end, the trailing edge that could suggest legs, even the way the shape breaks as it floats away, everything could be interpreted as being Kokopelli. Of course, I’m not arguing that this is the origin of the Kokopelli shape or myth, it’s just what the shape looked like to me.

And that’s what I saw, this time. The hunchback fluteplayer, drifting across my vision, calling attention to himself and to the things outside the norm. May I see many more!!