Old Man Coyote

“Coyote at the River,” original art by Jeff Thomson.

“Coyote at the River,” original art by Jeff Thomson.

¨Coyote is in the origin,” the great Native American poet Simon Ortiz once wrote. “And all the way through.”

Coyote waits on the bank inspecting the river surface, sniffing the cold air and listening to the sounds of the landscape in the dead of frozen winter. But Old Man Coyote waits in the heart of the dark forest, hidden and unseen. The Old Man is an archetype; this coyote waiting at the river is merely his emanation. He yips to be invited across. He yearns for the voodoo priestess to perform her dance, for the heyoka to bring him among us through funny actions, to share the blessings of the truth that comes from the Thunder Beings of the West.

Coyote is a shapeshifter. To impact the world he must work through sacred clowns, through alchemists, and sometimes—not very often—through performative critics.

To his work table he brings the tools and basic elements of all things: the sword of the mind; the wine chalice of deep feeling; the staff (tool of the farmer) of inspiration and laughter; the golden coins of nature and common sense. Then he raises his wand of power, and his work begins.

His work—among mournful barks and laughter—is the violation of boundaries and the liberation of petrified vitality. He is the Savior who freed souls from the Dungeon of Original Sin, and also the grim citoyen who stormed the Bastille to create a New Order. In his heart, possessed by the spirit, he howls like the father grieving the death of his son, and yells like the child when freed from school by summer days: “Burn this bitch down!”

We are terrified of chaos; horrified by the presence of divine ecstasy. Coyote’s alchemy is outlawed by those who treasure their fading power, and those who guard, like decaying medieval dragons, their pile of gold.

But Coyote—who is wild and often mangy—works with a pure heart, and knows the red rose of passion and the white lily of innocence. His purpose is that of life itself. He is the medium of the Holy Spirit in its evolutionary growth, and the clasp in his belt is that of Ouroboros.


"The Alchemist" by Andriaen Matham, circa 1590-1660.

“The Alchemist” by Andriaen Matham, circa 1590-1660.


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