(kî · ó · tee or kí
· oht or koy · ó · tày ) , noun;
1. The wild dog of North and Central
America, Canis latrans, also known as the Prairie Wolf, Brush Wolf, and
Song Dog, among other things; distinguished from the wolf by its smaller,
slender frame, large ears, bushy tail, and slim pointed muzzle.
2. Slang. A contemptible
person, especially a greedy or deceitful one.
3. Slang. A
person who smuggles Mexican nationals across the border into the U.S. for a
fee. (Often used disparagingly.)
4. Southwest Native American
legend. A culture hero, trickster, or shapeshifter who is described as a
buffoon, clown, or less frequently, a dangerous sorcerer and cannibal.
5. Coy-o-te, tying, ted,
verb. To steal, pilfer, take, or acquire by devious or deceitful means.
[Coyote is derived from Mexican Spanish coyote, which originated
from the Nahuatl word, coyotl. Nahuatl is a group of Uto-Aztecan
languages spoken in Central America.]
Coyote, one small musical word that means
so many things a wild dog, a clown, a despicable person, a thief, vermin
to be eradicated, anything worthless, someone cunning, pirated works, a
romantic twilight voice on the wind, a sorcerer.
To add to the myriad
meanings and entities of the coyote, animal biologists, obsessed with
classifying minute details, have identified as many as nineteen subspecies of
the animal, from the petite and lanky plains coyote (Canis latrans
latrans), to the stunning and luxuriant mountain creature, (Canis
In pre-Columbian timelessness, the
coyote inhabited only the west-central portion of
North and Central America. With the advancing tide of European settlement
across the continent, the coyote and its cousin, the wolf, were seen as a
threat to livestock, crops, and human life, and were summarily persecuted, with
bullets, traps, clubs, poison, and bad press. The wolf declined, and eventually
required re-introduction to his old haunts. But the coyote
increased, spreading his joyful song beyond the old possibilities, right into
the noise of the urban world.
What is Coyote's trickery? What is his
wisdom? How has he outwitted death? A keen adaptability isn't the only key to
survival. Coyote has something more, much more. In many southwestern cultures
Coyote is supreme over the wolf, some describing the wolf as a big
coyote, instead of coyote as a little wolf. Coyote's adaptability,
ingenuity, and intelligence are renowned and celebrated, not just among modern
biologists, but throughout prehistory. His ability to endure is unparalleled.
Yet this alone didn't make Coyote sacred. His engaging personality, comic
playfulness, exuberant celebration, boundless joy, and extraordinary cunning
marked him as something from the spirit world.
Many primordial tribal tales provide a
glimpse of Coyote's mystical power. In most, Coyote isn't merely a wild dog,
but divine, an immortal spirit that brought his universal magic and good
medicine to the First People. The Crow tribe describes him as the Creator of
the world and all it holds, the First Artist, the First Worker.
brought the gift of storytelling and music to some. He stole fire and gave it
to the Apaches. He licked the wounds of dying Kiowa warriors and healed them.
He lay beside beautiful women and made them pregnant. Called God's
Dog by the Navaho, who see him as originator of death and bringer of
dreams, Coyote is both trickster and wise counselor. When Fire God was placing
stars in the sky, Coyote stole Fire God's pouch of stars, placed his own Coyote
Star in the heavens and scattered all the rest. This Trickster can breathe
sickness and dark sorcery into his victims, who then require the cleansing of
the Coyote Way Ceremony.
Coyote was a
symbol or totem of the Hopi Coyote Clan and Water Coyote Clan. Hopis used his
name to indicate a Two-heart Coyote Man, istaqa
a person who practiced magic... and tangled in the old magic are deep,
forbidden whispers of cannibalism. Coyote conferred with Maasaw, Guardian of
the Dead. Coyote knew the path to those in the spirit world. He had the power
to see into the past and out of the future, the power to call down lightning,
the power to heal.
coyote derives from the Nahuatl language of the Aztec: coyotl; and
Mayan: koyotl. In the Aztec pantheon, Huehuecoyotl or Old Man
Coyote (Huehue = old man), was an ancient and sacred shapeshifting
god of merriment, music, pranks, and passion. He taught special songs and
dances and stories. And his dark side was full of the shadows of mischief,
sometimes brutal and bloody, his laughter often cruel. He also was a party
animal whose sexual preference was neither genderdefined nor
speciesdefined which might be a clue why the coyote met with
contempt. Perhaps scorn for him came from the influence of the first Spanish
padres a fear of his magic, of his ability to use darkness and windsong,
and revulsion of his uninhibited sexual appetites.
In the American
Southwest, Coyote had more sexual prowess than Kokopelli (a fornicating
hunchback whose flute sometimes appeared to spring from his loins, making it
difficult to discern where the flute began and the phallus ended). An old Hopi
storyteller once told me Kokopelli wasn't actually deformed, but had a coyote
stitched under the skin on his back, and this is why he was so horny! Yet
Coyote himself had more magnificent, gigantic sexual adventures than Kokopelli
ever did, for Coyote was a shape-shifter, seducing women and men, gods, birds,
snakes, and other animals. And howling at it all with unabashed delight. Such a
god or spirit certainly would have rattled the piety of Spanish priests and
given them reason to condemn the lusty Coyote to sulfur and
Whatever started the censure,
gradually the power and magic, the humor and wisdom, the music and unrestrained
joy of Coyote was diminished. Today Coyote magic is spoken of as
evil, perhaps due to centuries of European beliefs of
witchcraft. Was it always this way in Puebloan culture? Most likely
not until the influence of the institutional Church of Rome painted anything
magic with a demonized brush. There was to be no more healing of
the sick or raising of the dead that was magic,
evil, the work of the dark spirits.
If something seemed unnatural, it was condemned as
witchery. Many tribal shamans were slain to stop their magic. In Europe, such
healers and those who saw things before they happened or who communicated with
the dead, were condemned as witches and tortured and burned and dismembered.
For a very long time those in power have been destroying the shamans (witches,
healers, magicians, whatever they label them) because their power is outside
the realm of political control. The industrial revolution stuffed such
creatures into the closet of fairytales or condemned them as madness and
delusion. The churches made them a thing of sin. Yeshua, Jesus, The
Christ, would have been burned at the stake for his powers had he come on
the scene in 16th century Europe. Indeed, he was slain for the same reasons
he was a threat to those in power.
And so, too, were the witches of the Southwest. The
Aztec and Mayan gods fell victim to invading Christianity and Huehuecoyotl fled
to the stars. Stories among the Puebloans describing Coyote as a powerful
spirit, were refashioned to make him an evil Two-heart, a powaqa (who
was invisible) or sorcerer with cannibalistic practices. Once condemned, he was
reshaped into a buffoon, to be laughed at and mocked. His deep sorcery,
inherited from the belly of the earth, became taboo, and Coyote staggered down
the road as nothing more than a drunken reprobate. Or worse: as a multicolored
decorative trinket with a bandana around his neck.
This is the picture we have of him today. His
supernatural power has been stripped away. He's just a bauble, or a pest, a
poultry killer, a sheep eater, a creature despised. Eradication of his ilk has
been a goal for more than a century. The going rate paid to bounty hunters for
proof of death - a pair of coyote ears - has been $7.50, and sometimes as high
Yet slaughter by air, by land, by poison; their bodies heaped
up and photographed, their reviled carcasses hung to rot on fences, and their
legs broken in traps, have all failed to silence the Song Dog. Years ago I saw
a coyote without ears, resurrected, hunting, laughing at the one who robbed
him. The more Coyote is persecuted, the more Coyote thrives. Once only a
creature of the West, Coyote is now living coast to coast, in Canada, Mexico,
Costa Rica, and Alaska; from cities to wilderness, their dominion expanded
because of something we failed to see: humans cannot destroy magic, cannot kill
spirit. His song keeps him in communion with the Four Worlds - the earth, the
sky, his mortal world, and the divine.
If we listen, he teaches us to do the same: not to lose
touch with the Four Worlds. When we are in balance, then we can heal one
another, trace our names in the stars, and teach peace to our children. Coyote
has taught me how to keep a wild heart, whether in the darkness of a prison or
the freedom of wilderness. He has taught me that at times I must walk in
silence to stay alive, and other times I must celebrate with abandon. Wild is
the unfettered landscape that is critical for human survival, but like Coyote,
if I find myself surrounded by too much glass and steel, with hard pavement
chafing my soul, I can rely on Earth to find me.
Coyote has shown me
that I can put myself in the presence of Being without fear. He has told me
that Ancient Magic can't be destroyed. The stories can be silenced or made
taboo. The creature can be recreated as something pious, or when that utterly
fails, as in the case of Coyote, robbed of power by stripping it to the least
dangerous elements the laughter. But who's laughing?
Coyote has lost no power. He sings and laughs and
celebrates Being every twilight. And my spirit is with
The Kiva is the center of ceremonial life in Puebloan culture
in the Southwest. It is a circular room, built underground or partially
underground. It is a place to pass on stories, to learn old songs, and to learn
Earth ways. The spirits who communicate with the elders and shamans are brought
forth in the kiva; it is a place of connection to the other worlds.
Wrapped in legend and silenced secrets, Coyote Kiva
Iskiva near Oraibi at Hopi once belonged to the Coyote Clan.
From this we derive our name, honoring the People, the Earth, the Sky, and
Here in the
cyberspace of Coyote Kiva, Coyote is restored to his ancient place among the
stars. His image, with the Maasaw or a shaman, is traced on the kiva wall. He
is honored for his magic, not feared; respected for his wisdom, not ridiculed.
He is a symbol of expectation, of endurance, of a renewal and healing of Earth.
He is a symbol of music, dance, exuberance and joy. Storytelling and poetry are
his gifts. Coyote Kiva celebrates these gifts, celebrates life, and in
celebration there is healing.
As First Artist, First Worker, Coyote is a
powerful indestructible symbol of those who labor. His is the voice of freedom,
of dignity in work. So much of our
labor history has been left untold, untaught to our children,
us without a real identity, except as
consumers. The taxonomy of consumer was molded by the
industrialist in order to make greater profits. With profit as the cornerstone,
the worker is reduced to nothing more than a slave to it.
the worker has struggled to keep a human identity, a human face. Yet the
industrial revolution made the worker part of the machinery. Production was the
only goal. When workers joined in solidarity to demand what was rightfully
theirs human dignity the industrialists turned them against
themselves, propagandized them, and left them blind to their own power. This
mirrors Coyote's story.
Labor heroes of that time were lynched,
incarcerated, persecuted, ridiculed, and slandered for their words and ideas,
for crying out against injustice, for demanding an end to child labor.
One such man,
Vincent St. John, gave his all for his brothers and
sisters. He began as a miner in the West, eventually becoming a labor organizer
and the General Secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World. The Pinkerton
Detectives (spies and cutthroats hired by the industrialists), feared his power
to bring workers together, men and women of every ethnic group, and thus they
attempted to destroy him by whatever means possible.
telegram was the fastest means of reporting the movements and activities of
labor leaders, the Pinkertons invented code names for these men and women, as
not to give the telegraph operator a clue to what they were up to. All the code
names representing the union leaders were vile animals (in the minds of the
Pinkertons), such as Viper, Jackal, Scorpion, etc. They dubbed Vincent St. John
Coyote. The blind persecutors stumbled into a truth!
St. John's Coyote was astute, indestructible, always
bouncing back after they bound him and tossed him in a cell. They put a price
on his head, they shot him, they locked him away without due process
still he came back singing the justice song of the worker. St. John was
determined to bring about social revolution or die trying. He believed in the
power of the worker, the power of education, the power of example, the power of
unflinching peaceful protest. He is Coyote, Labor's Coyote, a symbol for all
who seek justice in an unjust, unbalanced world.
These are the entities that make up the
fabric of Coyote Kiva - the symbols of those who dare to speak out against
injustice, those who refuse to be silenced by lies, those who dare to heal,
dare to dream a better world, those who are willing to call down lightning when
it is needed.
Welcome to Coyote
Compassion, Understanding, Respect