“My mother’s punitive God was the enemy of Coyote,” writers Rebecca Solnit in the December 22 & 29 issue of The New Yorker. She goes on to praise the “prankish…Coyote…the unpredictable creators of the world in Native American stories,” which she contrasts to biblical religion, wherein “redemption was required, because perfection was the standard by which everything would be measured, and against which everything would fall short.”
I agree with this author about the spiritual potency of the Coyote tradition. She is also correct about one strand of classical Christianity. For me, however, Coyote has served as a mentor and tough love therapist ever since I first discovered Native American lore. For me, Coyote is just another way that the Incarnate Word of God shows up in the world, just another icon of Christ…
Coyote is a trickster who teaches the people by fooling them, and revealing their own absurdity to them. This is pretty much as what Jesus does to the imperial powers and powerful priests when he provokes them into killing him. It is pretty much what Mary of Nazareth was doing when she predicted that, all appearances to the contrary, “all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48). The elusive and strangely persistent reappearance of the dead Jesus has all the earmarks of Coyote-style trickery. The “Blessed Virgin” Mary continues to enjoy the irony of her blessedness while the names of her detractors are long forgotten. It seems that not even centuries of scolding by the institutional church can prevent people from getting the joke and becoming free.
In the last day of 2012 I wrote the following…
As I stood beside a thinly-restored, strip mined Alabama landscape, I heard a vast coyote chorus insanely yapping at the setting sun, like demented choirboys mocking the efforts of a damaged earth to heal.
But coyotes do not mock the earth. These, after all, were heyoka tricksters of the Spirit, who only seem to lie,
And to ally
Themselves with what is most bleak and dry
Within the self.
In time, I come to see that they have drawn me out
Beyond my customary hunting-place,
To where I can hear their voices differently,
And now I see
The one that they were laughing at