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Coyote (mythology)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Coyote is a mythological character common to many Native American cultures, based on the coyote (Canis latrans) animal. This character is usually male and is generally anthropomorphic although he may have some coyote-like physical features such as fur, pointed ears, yellow eyes, tail and claws. The myths and legends which include Coyote vary widely from culture to culture.
Coyote shares many traits with the mythological figure Raven

Coyote in mythology

Coyote often plays the role of trickster, god of tricks, although in some stories he is a buffoon and the butt of jokes and in a few is outright evil. His positive traits include humor and sometimes cleverness. His negative traits are usually greed or desire, recklessness, impulsiveness and jealousy. Coyote is often the antagonist of his brother Wolf, who is wise and good natured but prone to giving in to Coyote’s incessant demands.
Among the Northwest tribes, coyote stories were often highly sexualized.[1] White settlers may have known, but been too timid to recirculate these stories; there is evidence that tellings by native writers have been sanitized. These myths seem to have been edited out of history by the more sexually conservative European-Americans, and are now difficult to find. There is reference to the sexual myths of the coyotes though in original sources from the era, where an Indian Agency administrator might refer to the myths and then primly refuse to tell the tales. Some examples include Recollections from the Colville Indian Agency 1886-1889 by Major Richard D. Gwydir and Coyote Stories by Mourning Dove.[2]

The creator

Coyote figures prominently in several creation myths. In one myth, Coyote creates the first people by kicking a ball of mud (sometimes a bit of feces) until it formed into the first man. In another myth Coyote is able to successfully impregnate an evil woman who has killed off all the other men in the world during the sexual act.
Coyote is also commonly a character in etiological myths, in which he tries to hunt prey or compete with other predators. In the process phenomena such as why rabbits have long ears are explained.

The culture hero

Coyote also plays the role of a hero, or even a culture hero, in some stories. In these stories, he proves to be helpful (and sometimes genuinely heroic).

By culture

The coyote (Canis latrans), the animal on which the myths are based

Coyote is a figure in the following cultural areas of the Americas, as commonly defined by ethnographers:

California

Coyote is featured in the culture of the following groups who live in the area covered by the state of California: the Karuk [3], the Tongva of Southern California, the Ohlone mythology of Northern California, the Miwok mythology of Northern California, and the Pomo mythology of Northern California

Great Plains

Coyote is seen in the cultural heritage of these people of the Great Plains area: the Crow mythology (Crow Nation), the Ho-Chunk mythology (Ho-Chunk, Winnebago), and the Menominee.

Plateau

Myths and stories of Coyote are also found in the cultures of the Plateau area: the Chinookan (including the Wishram people and the Multnomah) [4], the Flathead [5], the Nez Perce [6], the Nlaka’pamux, the Secwepemc, the St’at’imc, the Tsilhqot’in, and the Yakama.[7]

Homologues

Coyote has been compared to both the Scandinavian Loki, and also Prometheus, who shared with Coyote the trick of having stolen fire from the gods as a gift for mankind, and Anansi, a mythological culture hero from Western African mythology. Similarities can also be drawn with another trickster, the Polynesian demigod Māui, who also stole fire for mankind and introduced death to the world.
Claude Lévi-Strauss, French anthropologist proposed a structuralist theory that suggests that Coyote and Crow obtained mythic status because they are mediator animals between life and death.[8]

Coyote in the modern world

Coyote figures prominently in current efforts to educate young people about Western Native American languages and cultures. For example, the Secwepemc people of the Kamloops Indian Band in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, have designated their recently opened native elementary school the Sk’elep (Coyote) School of Excellence, while educational websites such as one co-sponsored by the Neskonlith Indian Band of Chase, British Columbia prominently feature stories about Sk’elep.[9].
Peter Blue Cloud (Aroniawenrate) is a member of the Turtle clan of the Mohawk Nation. His books include two collections of contemporary Coyote tales, Elderberry Flute Song and The Other Side of Nowhere, which place Coyote in a number of different guises—showing Coyote to be funny, wise, sad, and sexual. William Bright’s collection, A Coyote Reader, also shows the continuing importance of Coyote in today’s world.

Coyote in popular culture

The coyote is a popular figure in folklore and popular culture. Modern references may invoke either the animal or the mythological figure. Traits commonly described in pop culture appearances include inventiveness, mischievousness, and evasiveness.
Coyote makes an appearance in the Gargoyles episode “Cloud Fathers”. Coyote is also the name of a series of robots in the series, version 4.0 is designed to capture magical creatures and battles the trickster.
Wile E. Coyote could be considered an instance of the buffoon version of the Coyote myth.
Coyote is also one of the main characters in the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court.
Coyote’s mythological role as a trickster is the basis for American sex workers’ modern adoption of the coyote in service to advocacy[citation needed] in their industry – “COYOTE” (“Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics”) is the name of a group established in 1973 in San Francisco to advocate for sex workers in political issues and to help prostitutes who want to leave the business.

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