Coyote of Navajo Mythology

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Coyote's perversity is noted; "It will avail nothing to be angry with Coyote, wrathy words and loud commands will not influence him." Pg. 80

It should be noted that in the total body of Navajo Mythology Coyote appears not only as a trickster but also as a beneficent figure, particularly at the time of emergence when he takes initiative in establishing the natural phenomena of the world. This aspect of his character is expressed in the first portion of the shooting way story when he takes a helpful and directing hand in events. In his character the hostile elements in aggression become blended with the positive, as we have similarly seen in the analysis of chantway hero's character. Pg. 80

Trickery, suspicion and deceit. Pg. 83

Coyote is powerful since he is directed by his "meanness" by First Man and Woman. Pg. 84

Games and contests lead to hard feelings and anger, and trickery is freely employed in them.



Navajo Chantway Myths, 1957; Katherine Spencer.

Another came and also had the form of a man, but he wore a hairy coat, lined with white fur, that fell to his knees and was belted in at the waist. His name was First Angry or Coyote. He said to the three: "You beleive that you were the first persons. You are mistaken. I was living when you were formed." Pg. 3

7- Informants Note: Some medicine men claim that witchcraft came with First Man and First Woman, others insist that devil conception or witchcraft originated with the Coyote called First Angry. Pg. 3

Then First Man called another chief. "Come here, old man," he said. When this being came, First Man said that he should be named ma'i, the coyote. But the coyote got angry and said: " Such a name!" And he declared that he would not have it; and that he would leave; but First Man called him back and told him that he would also be known as Atse'hashke', First Angry. After that the coyote felt better. He thought that the had a great name given him, and he went happily away, for he was told that he would know all the happenings on the face of the earth. Pg. 34

The Dine': Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians, 1956; Aileen O' Bryan.

October was called Gahnji, meaning Half-Winter-and -Half-Summer, and its star is Sontso-dohn-doh-zeedi, meaning North-Star-Stands-There. Pg.59
The Coyote claimed one month which was October, and Begochiddy made a prayer stick of Lukatso (bamboo), half yellow and half white, representing summer and winter, and gave it to him in answer to his claim. October is the mixed-up or changing month and is so known to all the Indians. Pgs. 65,66

From Navajo Creation Myth; The Story of the Emergence: By Hasteen Klah, Recorded by Mary Wheelwright. (Navajo Religion Series, volume 1)

One day soon thereafter, while the elders were having a ceremony for a boy and a girl who had both come of age, the people saw the sky swooping down. It seemed to want to embrace the earth. And they saw the earth likewise looming up as if to meet the sky. For a moment they came in contact. The sky touched the earth and the earth touched the sky. And just then, at exactly the spot where the sky and the earth had met, Ma'ii the Coyote sprung out of the ground. And Nahashch'id the Badger sprung out of the ground. It is our belief that Ma'ii the Coyote and Nahashch'id the Badger are children of the sky. Coyote came forth first, which leads us to suppose that he is Badger's older brother. Nahashch'id the Badger began sniffing around the top of the hole that led down to the lower world. He finally disappeared into it and was not seen again for a long time. Ma'ii the Coyote chose to stay among the Surface People.

From Din`e bahane`: The Navajo Creation Story; By Paul G. Zolbrod Other references also include The book of the Navajo; By Raymond Friday Locke, Pg. 67

One of the most controversial characters among the Navajo is Coyote, prince of chaos, who is also the most notable catalyst. Transformer, troublemaker, trickster, deity Coyote is all of these, and more. He stole the stars laid out by First Man and scattered them, willy nilly, across the heavens. Yet, from Coyote's unruly behavior, changes came about that made life better. From Coyote's foolishness, mortals gained wisdom, learned what, and what not, to do. Coyote, as the forerunner of change, created ways of doing things so that customs new moral codes, ceremonies, designs for living came into being. Coyote's selfish acts thus clarified the boundaries of human and animal conduct. Acting as the wise fool, Coyote is able to speak and act as others of the holy pantheon, due to inherent decorum, cannot. His role was, and is, a large one. In the literary sense, he is a court jester, moral chorus, and commentator. Indirectly, by unleashing chaos on the world. Pgs. 21, 22

According to Navajo lore, it is not Coyote's unusual atomic structure that gives him his regenerative gift (like Wily Coyote in the popular cartoon, he is virtually impossible to kill), rather it is his ability to hide his vital parts from harm by storing them in the tip of his tail. Coyote imparts a message which has a positive value for mortal beings: how to protect oneself from physical danger. Pg. 45

"I know you are mad at me because of the way I've behaved, but I will be the one to call for rain. And even if you do not like me, you will still need me for many things." Pg. 91

And it happened that Coyote did not like the new name given to him by First Man: First Angry. So he tried to steal the name of a mountain and then The People named him He Who Moves Everything That Grows. For a while, he was content. Coyote started raising a fuss again; this time he wanted more duties. So First Man gave him control of wind, rain, and a part of childbirth, and for a while he was content. Pg. 92

Coyote: Coyote is the inimitable trickster common to legend in most Native American tribes. Both sacred and profane, Coyote gives birth to mischief and promise, he is a deciever, but also a deliverer of good. Through his actions, change becomes possible; and change, through good and bad, brings newness and breaks conformity. Pg. 192

The Gift of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman.

If Coyote crosses your path, turn back and do not continue your journey. Something terrible will happen to you you will have an accident be hurt or killed. Pg. 53

Don't bother a coyote that takes the first-born goat or lamb. It is his keeps order in the world. If he is given the first-born freely, he hopefully will leave the rest in peace. Pg. 55

Navajo Taboos; 1991, Ernie Bulow.

While they were making the sheep, Coyote wanted to make a sheep too. They said no but finally they gave him some mud because they were afraid of him. He knew Sorcery. Then Coyote tried but he couldn't roll it out right. He tried four times but failed. Then he put the mud in his mouth and swallowed it. "That's what I'll do to any sheep I find," he said. Pg. 21

Navajo Witchcraft; 1944, Clyde Kluckhohn

Throughout Navajo mythology, Mah-ih the Coyote, is a figure of central importance. In the last part of the myth of the Great Star Chant, when the sacred company are journeying for power, they go first to Coyote. It is Coyote, the manifestation of animal vitality, who separated Younger Brother from his family and caused him to go to the sky where he learned Star wisdom and finally became one of the Holy People through a long process of testing and instruction. Mah-ih was one of the first powers to emerge in the beginning of things. In the black world, the first and lowest in the order of creation, he brought fire to men. Characteristically, he stole it from the Fire God. Later in the creation myth Coyote endangered the world by stealing the child of Teoltsodi, the water monster. As the avenging floods rose, the people were forced to climb to safety in the present white world through a long hollow reed. But the waters followed and would have flooded this world as well if Coyote's trickery had not been found out. He was forced to give back the child and the floods receded. Though Coyote is tricky, his power is great.
In the Emergence Myth collected by Father Berard (Navajo Religion Series, Vol., III) he curbs the sun and understands the process of creation. He has much of the quality of Prometheus, or of Maui in New Zealand mythology. Like Loki, he is mischievous but useful. He bears a striking resemblance to the fox spirit of Japan and Korea and, in fact, the fox figure in mythology and folklore all across the Old World. Everywhere he is tricky, troublesome, hard to control, but, sometimes, helpful to man. Every conception of his character combines mischief and rebellion with wisdom. In the Navajo Etsosi, or Feather Myth, he symbolizes uninhibited lust in the lower world, but becomes more controlled and useful when he emerges into the present world and is given control of rain. It is characteristic of Navajo myths that when the stories leave the magic period of creation and a hero is chosen and trained to be the transmitter of ceremonial knowledge and power, Coyote has a special role in this training. He is there to act as frustrator and goad to the hero if the latter shows signs of weakness or vacillation. Mah-ih can triumph over the strong, but when he is vain, arrogant, greedy, libidinous, he is foiled, often killed. But he comes to life again, irrepressible, and unchanged. As the Great Star tells the hero in the Star Myth, we must accept the fact that there will always be different kinds of people in the world, and among them there will always be Coyote People. Coyote often represents the power of sex in its trouble-making ungovernable aspect. Pgs. 102-103

The Great Star Chant; 1956, Mary C. Wheelwright.

The Coyote now said: "Give me some dirt out of which you are making mountains!" But they refused, saying: "You are not clever enough to make mountains." He said: "Yes, I am clever enough." He asked this four times, and finally the gods gave him some of the earth which was left after making so many kinds of mountains, and the Coyote took it and made a peak in the south and decorated it with aloe. He said: "This will be called my mountain." It took shape of his paws and it has that shape now, and is called Pagosa Peak. Pg. 65

While the gods were gone on the journey to the cave, the Coyote made some little coyotes of his own, a white one from the east, a yellow one from the west which was female, a blue one from the south which was a male, and a black coyote from the north which was a female, and each pair stood nose to nose; and he also made a dog which stood with the female black coyote. The names of these coyotes were: the east, Ki-othkath-tee-ni-gosai, which means Turning-in-the-Daybreak; west, Nahotsoi-nah-go-sai, which means Turning-in-the-Afterglow; south, Cahdidoth-dani-gosai, which means Turning-in-the-Darkness; and the name of the dog was Dobinny-des-daha, or Trailing Dog. Etsay-hashkeh also made some crazy coyotes. If one of these should bite a human being, he would probably go mad. And also he made some mad dogs whose bites would bring madness. Etsay-hashkeh made these creatures because he did not know how to behave, and no one was there to know what he was doing. And though Begochiddy knew what the Coyote was doing he was willing that these animals should be made. Pg. 105

The Coyote, Etsay-hashkeh, said: "I will take some of the last people made, Anlthtahn-nah-olyah, and a dog, and we will go north." So he went north with a man, a woman, and two dogs. And these people never came back. They are now called Dinneh-nahoo-lonai (Eskimo). Pg. 108

Navajo Creation Myth, The Story of the Emergence; 1942, Mary C. Wheelwright.

Coyote is present here as the eternal trickster and trouble-causer. But his mischief has a dual effect. It brings the dangerous and negative reaction of the flood, but also, because of the flood, forces the people up into a more complex and promising world. Pg. 60

Sitting on the Blue-Eyed Bear, Navajo Myths and Legends; 1975, Gerald Hausman.

Coyote, exponent of irresponsibility and lack of direction, seems to be an uncontrolled aspect of either Sun himself or his child. Coyote, as a child of Sky, represents lust on earth, matching Sun's promiscuity as a celestial being. Coyote, however, observes no rules. Sun, though reluctant and protesting, assumes responsibility for his children; Coyote sates his desire and leaves confusion or worse behind him. Any good that Coyote accomplished is fortuitous; Sun's good deeds, though forced, result in control. Coyote does all the daring things Sun would like to do - in fact, once did; Sun secretly gloats over them, but of necessity appears to disapprove.

In Coyote many aspects of evil power are embodied - he is active, with unlimited ability to interfere with people's affairs; his potentiality for turning up unexpectedly is enormous. He has a life principle that may be laid aside, so that any injury done to his body affects his life only temporarily and he may even recover from apparent death. He possesses an incredible fund of evil knowledge which man must match and, as he may appear in any form, he is the werewolf of Navajo witchcraft.

Coyote was allied with the First Pair as Crow was with Turkey Buzzard, in the capacity of spy. As First Man and First Woman went to their permanent home in the Northeast, where evil and danger originate, First woman threatened, "When I think, something bad will happen. People will become ill. Coyote will know (and presumably carry out) all my thoughts."

Some evils, fortunately few, the residue of unbelievable cruelty, refused to submit to any kind of control.

Navajo Religion, Vol I; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950

Then there was a day when Coyote was very hungry indeed and stole some young green corn out of the patch which belonged to Horned Toad. Horned Toad saw him doing this, and he told Coyote he liked people to ask him for his corn and not to steal it. Coyote just laughed at the little toad, and said he'd like some more corn. Horned Toad cooked some for him three times, but when Coyote asked for corn the fourth time Horned Toad was tired of his begging and refused. Coyote just swallowed Horned Toad, and then walked all around the cornfield telling the birds he met that it was his cornfield. After a while he went to the shelter of Horned Toad and went to sleep. Soon after this Horned Toad got his strength back and began to stir about in Coyote's stomach. Coyote thought the young green corn was giving him a stomach ache. But when Horned Toad mad a loud hissing noise inside Coyote he waked up and was frightened. He thought that this was the noise spirits made when someone was going to die. But Horned Toad began to laugh and laugh and to call out to Coyote. "Where am I, where am I? It is very dark in here," he said.
"Ouch, that's my stomach. Stop hurting me," Coyote called back.
"Now I know you are sorry you ate my young green corn. Where am I now?" sang out Horned Toad, giving Coyote another kick.
"Stop hurting me and come out. The place where you are now is in my bowels,"said Coyote.
"Where am I now?" yelled Horned Toad as he kept crawling along.
"Get out of there. That's my windpipe," said Coyote, feeling almost choked.
But by this time Horned Toad was in Coyote's heart, and he just cut a cross on it, and Coyote jumped four times into the air and fell back dead. Then Horned Toad crawled out of the anus of Coyote and went back to his work in the field. Pg. 48, 49.

The Pollen Path, Margaret Schevill Link, 1998

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