Coyote Supernaturalism

Although it seems odd on the surface, coyotes play a major role in Native American ceremonies, mythology, legend, and cosmology.  Of all the magnificent animals from which they could choose — wolf, bear, bison, eagle — why the coyote?

Given that Native Americans were renowned for their knowledge of animal behaviors, one thing is certain: there is something about coyotes that fired the indigenous metaphysical imagination.  In some traditions, the coyote not only played the pervasive and all important role of Trickster, but also of Creator.

Insofar as I know, the book on this subject has yet to be written; in the meantime, we can learn something of coyotes and their remarkable repertoire from Carol Yoon’s recent article in the New York Times, Mysteries that Howl and Hunt.  Although her article covers several areas of coyote behavior and adaptations, she correctly notes the link to native traditions:

With a chorus of howls and yips wild enough to fill a vast night sky, the coyote has ignited the imagination of one culture after another. In many American Indian mythologies, it is celebrated as the Trickster, a figure by turns godlike, idiotic and astoundingly sexually perverse. In the Navajo tradition the coyote is revered as God’s dog.

Dr. DeStefano writes in his book [Coyote at the Kitchen Door] of the legends that coyotes are talking to us, that they can tell us things like where to find water, whether danger is approaching and whether today is the day that death will come, that the coyote has learned Comanche, Apache and many other languages, but not English.

Last week I was camping at Ft. Robinson State Park in Nebraska — site of Crazy Horse’s murder in 1877 and the Cheyenne imprisonment and massacre in 1879, and the coyotes in the area were singing and talking throughout the night.  It was simultaneously beautiful and tragic.

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2 thoughts on “Coyote Supernaturalism

  1. Andrew

    Of the list you provided – wolf, bear, bison, eagle, coyote – the coyote seems to be the most vocal. Maybe that auditory element is important?

    I would love to read that book you suggest needs to be written.

    Slightly related, do you know of anything that compares the role of the coyote in Native American cultures to the role of the dragon/sea monster in Euroasian cultures?

  2. Cris Post author

    I think this is probably a factor, along with behavioral patterns of coyotes, which are quite variable and innovative. They are “crafty,” sort of like humans and probably remind people of humans in this way.

    I’m not aware of any comparisons between coyotes and dragons, though there was a really nice piece on dragons over at Salon, which you can find here.

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