Monday, June 10, 2013

Where My Girls At? Searching For Coyote Woman

Coyote saunters across the myths, legends, and stories of the American west making mischief wherever he goes. In Din`e bahane`: The Navajo Creation Story, Paul G. Zolbrod explains that, "One of the most controversial characters among the Navajo is Coyote, prince of chaos, who is also the most notable catalyst. Transformer, troublemaker, trickster, deity Coyote is all of these, and more. He stole the stars laid out by First Man and scattered them, willy nilly, across the heavens. Yet, from Coyote's unruly behavior, changes came about that made life better. From Coyote's foolishness, mortals gained wisdom, learned what, and what not, to do. Coyote, as the forerunner of change, created ways of doing things so that customs new moral codes, ceremonies, designs for living came into being." Coyote shakes up the status quo to either make change or reaffirm the importance of tradition.

You can browse online and find pages of stories about how Coyote tampered with the stars, fell in love with a star, helped a young boy become a warrior, or established boundaries between life and death. However, you'll quickly notice that these are Old Man Coyote stories or stories about a sexually rambunctious Coyote whose dick is so long it frightens women away. Coyote loves women. He chases women. In some stories he helps them and in others tricks them into having sex.

One Blackfoot legend describes how Coyote created women from leftover buffalo bones.  The story ends with the declaration that, "And even to this day, if you have one group of men, and another of women, the men will want to sit by the fire and smoke. But the women talk. And whether it is because they were made out of the left-over bones that clicked and rattled, or whether it is because A-pe'si, the Coyote --who is a noisy creature himself--had a part in their making, no one can say." All women carry a bit of Coyote magic in their blood.

"Coyote Woman Dreaming" by Susan Seddon-Boulet
However, Franchot Ballinger  observes that stories about Coyote (and Trickster figures as a whole) almost invariably cast the protagonist as male. As a sexual creature, an object of satire, and a transgressor of social structures, Coyote occupied a traditionally male space. Even today, our social imagination typically casts men as the rovers, the wise fools, and shamans.

Coyote-Woman steps into this vacuum carrying a slightly different kind of medicine in the pockets of her crochet coat. Like Old Man Coyote, she is an Outsider. She saunters back and forth between wilderness and civilization learning the lessons that both worlds have to offer. She plays the fool, capering, clowning, and joking with the best. She is often called a fool because she rages against boundaries and breaks the rules that "only a fool would break". However, in reality, her foolishness is clever, wild, and irreverent.  As Ina Woolcott explains, "Coyote's medicine includes understanding that all things are sacred and that yet nothing is sacred."

This is Coyote-Woman's brilliant power. She sees the world as sacred, but not untouchable. She builds no churches and believes that old, mysterious, and holy objects belong to the world, not on high shelves and museum cases. She honors tradition and history as a living thread that is continually rewoven into new forms.

In fact, she is a new form herself. Coyote-Woman reclaims that traditionally male mythological space as she teaches women to reinvent themselves, test their limitations, discern worthwhile risks from danger, and sing ideas into being.

If First Mother gave women corn and men tobacco, it was Coyote Woman who evened out the deal later. 

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