Myth of the Day:
by Tamara Kazakova
The Coyote mythlore is one of the most popular among the Native American. Coyote is a ubiquitous being and can be categorized in many types. In creation myths, Coyote appears as the Creator himself; but he may at the same time be the messenger, the culture hero, the trickster, the fool. He has also the ability of the transformer: in some stories he is a handsome young man; in others he is an animal; yet others present him as just a power, a sacred one.
According to Crow (and other Plains) tradition, Old Man Coyote impersonates the Creator, “Old Man Coyote took up a handful of mud and out of it made people” 1. His creative power is also spread onto words, “Old Man Coyote named buffalo, deer, elk, antelopes, and bear. And all these came into being” 2. In such myths Coyote-Creator is never mentioned as an animal, more, he can meet his animal counterpart, the coyote: they address each other as “elder brother” and “younger brother”, and walk and talk together 3. According to A. Hultkranz, the impersonation of Coyote as Creator is a result of a taboo, a mythic substitute to the religious notion of the Great Spirit whose name was too dangerous and/or sacred to use apart from a special ceremony 4.
In Chelan myths, Coyote belongs to the animal people but he is at the same time “a power just like the Creator, the head of all the creatures” 5. Yet his being ‘just like the Creator’ does not really mean being ‘the Creator’: it is not seldom that Coyote-Just-Like-Creator is subject to the Creator, Great Chief Above, who can punish him, send him away, take powers away from him, etc. In the Pacific Northwest tradition, Coyote is mostly mentioned as a messenger, or minor power, “Coyote was sent to the camp of the chief of the Cold Wind tribe to deliver a challenge; Coyote traveled around to tell all the people in both tribes about the contest.” sup>6 As such, Coyote “was cruelly treated, and his work was never done.” 7.
As the culture hero, Coyote appears in various mythic traditions. His major heroic attributes are transformation, traveling, high deeds, power. He is engaged in changing the ways of rivers, standing of mountains, creating new landscapes and getting sacred things for people. Of mention is the tradition of Coyote fighting against monsters. According to Wasco tradition, Coyote was the hero to fight and kill Thunderbird, the killer of people, but he could do that not because of his personal power, but due to the help of the Spirit Chief; Coyote was trying his best, he was fighting hard, and he had to have fasted ten days before the fight, so advised by Spirit Chief 8. In many Wasco myths, Coyote rivals the Raven (Crow) about the same ordeal: in some stories, Multnomah Falls came to be by Coyote’s efforts; in others, it is done by Raven.
More often than not Coyote is a trickster, but he is always different. In some stories, he is a noble trickster, “Coyote takes water from the Frog people… because it is not right that one people have all the water.” 9. In others, he is mean, “Coyote determined to bring harm to Duck. He took Duck’s wife and children, whom he treated badly.” 10.