Wily Coyotes In Native American Folklore
Coyote howling. (Photo by Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
In many folk tales of Native American tribes, the coyote symbolizes wisdom and death. Just like cartoon caricatures of the animal, coyotes are said to be clever, cunning, and deceitful. Some myths have the coyote emerge as the hero, but others cast him in the role of the villain. Let’s look at the wily coyote through the eyes of ancient Native Americans.
Coyote as the Helper to Humans
Among the Pueblo, Zuni, and Hopi tribes of the southwest, the coyote was a benevolent animal. Coyotes helped to ensure a successful hunt, and hunting parties that saw a coyote believed it was a sign that their hunt would be successful. The Zuni people even made stone statues of coyotes to bring them luck on the hunt.
Coyotes Are Wise
Some tribes of the southwest believed that coyotes had the wisdom to offer to humans. The trick was getting the coyote to reveal its wisdom. Approaching a coyote with respect and compassion and the animal may bestow his knowledge on you. If the animal was confronted with suspicious, skepticism, and contempt, the coyote would not be eager to share his knowledge and, in fact, maybe purposefully deceitful. The coyote can make humans feel fearful or erased their fears, depending upon the animal’s mood.
The Coyote Bestowed Gifts on Mankind
Some Native American lore claims that the coyote killed off the terrible monsters that threatened humans. Other stories say it was the coyote that stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity. Coyotes are even credited with creating waterfalls.
Coyotes were Tricksters
Crafty and cunning, the coyote was often viewed as the trickster of the animal realm. He delighted in causing mischief and chaos. For many tribes, like the Maidu of northern California, the stories of the greedy and deceitful coyote was used as a warning about the problems that could occur if people acted in reckless, thoughtless ways.
The Foolishness of the Coyote was a Lesson
Coyotes were often shown as prideful, impulsive, and foolish. Like the cartoon coyote, the Native American stories of the coyote often end in the animal being hurt or killed by his own stupidity. In the myths, the coyote could return to life after his misstep, but humans are not as fortunate. Reckless behavior can be extremely dangerous.
The Coyote Made Human Death Permanent
Some Native American death origin stories involve the coyote. The myths state that humans would die, but return to life. It was the coyote that made death permanent for humans. In one story, a great whirlwind approached a village’s hut and the wind was to bring a fallen warrior back to life. But the coyote closed the door to the hut so the whirlwind could not get inside to revive the warrior, making his death permanent. In the Nez Perce mythology, the actions of the coyote broke the bonds between humans and the spirit world, forever separating the death from their living relatives.
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