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.