Coyote, Prince of Chaos


Coyote is the inimitable trickster common to legend in most Native American tribes. Both sacred and profane, Coyote gives birth to mischief and promise, he is a deceiver, but also a deliverer of good. Through his actions, change becomes possible; and change, through good and bad, brings newness and breaks conformity.

And it happened that Coyote did not like the new name given to him by First Man: First Angry. So he tried to steal the name of a mountain and then The People named him He Who Moves Everything That Grows. For a while, he was content. Coyote started raising a fuss again; this time he wanted more duties. So First Man gave him control of wind, rain, and a part of childbirth, and for a while he was content.

“There’s a lot of coyote activity around the reservation, Katie.”

“More so in the past two generations. With the extermination of the Mexican Wolf in the early 1950s, the humans are the coyotes’ only predators. Now they are as plentiful as rodents. We miss the wolf. We call him ‘Máiitsoh.’ He is considered a messenger, and is honored by the Diné. Now only our dogs keep the coyotes away.”

“Your sheepdogs don’t seem very imposing or dominant or even protective, Katie.”

“They may be small, but they do their job well! Remember, although a coyote is brilliant, he is not very big.”

“Which means?”

“Which means that the coyote is not a gorilla-like, kamikaze-type creature that will tear up fences and rip our dogs to pieces to eat our sheep. He is too smart to put himself at risk. Some call him cowardly, others call him cagey,” Katie chuckled.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Coyote, we call him Mąʼiitoʼí Áłchíní, is a pain in the ass. However, the Diné have grown fond of the little shit because we use him as a scapegoat to explain why bad things happen. We even blame him for bringing death into the world.”

“How?”

“Long ago the Diné put an animal skin on a body of water. They agreed if it sank, there would be death in the world. If it stayed floating, no one would ever die. When the people turned their backs, Coyote came and threw pebbles on the hide until it sank. He told the people if there were no death, they would run out of places to live. That is why death comes for each one of us.”

“That’s a strong statement. It lays a lot of guilt onto one animal.”

“He deserves it, René. Let’s stop here.” The night was inky black with stars of amazing brightness.

“Do you see how bright the Milky Way is?”

“Please remember that the telling of Coyote Stories is restricted to the winter storytelling months, October through February.” — Navajo Sage

“Mhm.”

“Yet you can make out the regular constellations, right?”

“Mhm.”

“All of the stars are brighter because tonight is a new moon. The moon has gone to visit the sun, which helps me explain the mess coyote made of the stars. When you look at the constellations, they look deliberately placed. But the Milky Way is arranged haphazardly; the stars swirl into a mix without defined figures, that’s because of coyote, that loss of starry orderliness.”

“Really?”

“Yep,” she nodded. “Do you see that?”

“Mhm.”

“Well, the messy stars are there because of Coyote. Realizing the sky was too dark, First Man and First Woman put together the Navajo constellations, deciding more lights were needed up there for nighttime travelers, especially when the moon did not shine, like tonight. First Man sketched a design on the ground and gathered together fragments of rock-star mica. He would use these shiny pieces of rock for the stars.

“The first thing he put up was the North Star. Unlike the other constellations, the stationary Polaris became the guiding light for nighttime travelers. After setting the lodestar, First Man thought up more and more arrangements.”

“Just like some people so carefully place ornaments on their Christmas trees,” suggested René.

“I suppose so,” Katie smiled. “Anyway, while they were busy working on the stars, Coyote came up to them and asked, ‘What are you guys doing?’ The first three times they responded, ‘We’re not doing anything.’ The fourth time he asked they replied, ‘We’re busy with something very important. Leave us alone.’

“Hurt and offended, Coyote ran across a hill, and was gone for some time. However, he continued to watch becoming impatient because the star hanging was going so slowly….”

“As is this story, Katie.”

“Shh. Sit and listen! Finally, Coyote decided to do it his way. He ran in and grabbed the mica pieces First Man left on the ground, and threw them into the air; they stuck and remain in their mixed up positions. However, he didn’t throw all of them hard enough, and one star fell back to earth. Coyote picked it up, and put it up there with his hand, hanging it low on the southern horizon where it shines brightly early in the morning. He named it Ma’ii Bizò‘, the Coyote Star.”

“Can you show me?”