Coyote (and all Trickster energy) speaks to us in so many ways, at so many moments. Sometimes, Coyote speaks with words, sometimes with actions, sometimes through pure synchronicity.
I am a participant in the Mythic Imagination Community convened by Dr. Sharon Blackie, sharonblackie.net/ . It is a lively group & I have thoroughly enjoyed the many opportunities to hear, consider, and discuss stories from many sources. Last week I wrote to you about my falling out of right relationship with the materials, tools, and process with which I was engaged in weaving a new mask. Imagine my delight when, in an on-line gathering, the storyteller Audrey di Mola told a story that totally explained the dilemma into which I’d stumbled. Audrey does not pre-plan the stories she will tell, but listens & listens to hear which ones want to be told in that particular moment, to the particular ones who have gathered. So I found it stunning that she began with this Coyote tale. Like all stories, this one has traveled, but it probably originated [if stories really ever have a point of origin….?] among the Paiute who have traditionally lived in the Great Basin area of what is now the western U.S.
As always, I give gratitude to the first tellers and to all the tellers who have gone before me, keeping this story alive with their heart-felt breath. This is my telling for this moment, recognizing that writing is not the same as speaking but is still an act of homage to the story itself. And I don’t know if this is exactly how it happened, but I know it is true!
In that time that is before time and outside of time and right now, there was a village. And the people of that village gathered together in ceremonies where everyone offered their own gift of song to weave the community together. There were long songs, short songs, fast and slow songs — and each was beautiful and each was offered as a gift to all.
But in that village, there was one man who had no song to offer to the gatherings. He hung around the edges of the village, silent at the time of ceremony & offering, and the villagers named him No Song.
As time passed, No Song spent more hours, then days, then weeks away from the village, wandering in the great forest beyond. As he wandered, he began to learn the plants in all their kinds & the animals in all their different kinds. With respect for all the plant people, No Song wove a basket & began to gather herbs. With respect for all the animal people, he took up a bow and began to hunt. And his skills grew.
One day, No Song decided to make a stew of all the abundance he had gathered. He stirred and stirred, adding herbs and grains and meat to the pot in a skillful way, so that soon a wonderful aroma began to arise from this cooking and floated off through the forest.
After awhile, No Song looked up from his stirring. And who should he see leaning against a nearby tree, but that Old Man Coyote — and Coyote’s nose was twitching as he inhaled that delicious aroma.
“Oh,” said Coyote,”oh, that stew smells so good & I am so hungry. Please, will you give me the stew?”
No Song thought & Coyote watched him thinking. Finally, No Song said, “Yes, I can give you a bowl of stew.”
“Not enough!” replied Coyote. “I am so hungry & that stew smells so delicious — I want the whole thing!”
No Song thought & once again Coyote watched him thinking, and Coyote thought too. “I know,” said Coyote, “we will make a bargain. You give me all your stew & I will give you your heart’s desire.”
No Song’s eyes grew large. He felt hope swell in his heart. “Can you give me a beautiful song? a song I can offer in the village ceremonies? the most beautiful song?”
Coyote nodded. “No problem. I can give you the most beautiful song in the world. But,” he added as No Song began to jump for joy, “there is a 2nd part to the bargain. You must sing your song only at the right times, in the right places, in the right way — or I will take it away.”
No Song was so excited, he didn’t even need to stop & think. “Of course,” he said. “Of course, I would never ever think of singing my song at the wrong time, in the wrong place, in a wrong way! Never ever! I’m sure! Now the stew is all yours & you give me my Song!”
Coyote stepped forward and, with a huge slurp, he swallowed all the stew. Then Coyote stuck his head right into that pot and licked round & round. And as soon as that pot was was really and truly empty, Coyote vanished.
It all happened so fast, before No Song could say a word. No Song opened his mouth to call after Coyote — and out came a Song, an amazing song, a song that was as enchanting as the birds’ chorus on a spring dawn, that was a radiant as the rising sun & as lustrous as a full moon, that contained all the sounds of the forest on a gentle day, and even the roar of a stormy wind. It was, indeed, a beautiful song. And No Song started back toward the village.
When he arrived at last, No Song found that a ceremony had begun in the center of the village, a ceremony in which all the villagers were singing their songs for the weaving of community & the healing of the world. At first, No Song hung back at the edges as was his way. But as he listened to the songs rising and falling to bless the gathering & to bless all the Earth, his heart filled & he stepped forward and opened his mouth to sing.
Everyone turned. They could scarcely believe what they heard & saw — there was No Song singing a Song & not just any song, but a Song that seemed to gather together the hearts of all the villagers and of all the animal & plant & rock people in the surrounding forest. No Song sang & sang. “Again,” cried the villagers, and No Song sang again. And again.
And when the ceremony was completed, everyone gathered around No Song — talking all at once, telling him what a wonderful Song he had, asking him if he could sing it here, there, everywhere. They renamed him Sings Wonderfully. Overwhelmed by their attention, he promised to sing for them whenever they were having a family celebration or a feast or just to pass the hours of a long dark winter’s night. And so he did. He traveled around singing the Song, smiling at the praise.
Then, one night — when Sings Wonderfully was getting ready to sing for a rather rowdy party — he looked out at the crowd and saw, leaning against a tree just outside the circle of firelight, Old Man Coyote. “Hello,” cried Sings Wonderfully, “I’m so glad you came to hear me sing!” Coyote just shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “Well, I see you have forgotten…” Then Coyote melted away into the crowd, and when Sings Wonderfully opened his mouth to begin ….. the Song was gone.
Make of this telling what you will... Could it be that stories may not have either beginnings or endings? How does this story speak to you as you hear it now? And even more, as the storyteller Martin Shaw often asks his listeners, what will you do with it?
In the meantime, my dance with fiber & with Trickster continues. More than once I’ve wanted to make a dash to the yarn store to see if I could find a “perfect solution” to whatever issue of color or texture has arisen. But I decided at the start to use only the fibers & yarns I had on hand. That’s how Trickster works, incorporating whatever comes to hand in some marvelous feat of bricolage as he makes the world. And isn’t that how cosmological, geological, and biological evolution work, too — just trying out might be done with whatever is around in the circumstance of that moment?
The mask whose I showed you last week is now off the loom — still in need of some final shaping and the sewing in of yarn ends, etc., but already very much itself.
When I first began putting that warp on the loom, I was obsessed with hair, about the way the warp should provide lovely flowing hair to integrate the completed mask/being into the environment. Well, as soon as I took this mask off the loom and placed it on the still-evolving background/context, I saw right away that he was a masculine spirit with no interest at all in long hair. Instead, what he requested — politely but firmly — was a consort.
She is beginning to emerge.
And who knows what will happen to the environment/context once the 2 spirit beings begin to settle in…?!
I wanted to include a photo, but everything is in flux — both in this making & in my life in general as we prepare to sell the house. [The first showings are May 11, next Wednesday. I hope Cris will get back from his week-long bicycle ride on Saturday to help with last minute stuff, but the weather where he is in Maryland isn’t looking good…. He’s riding the C&O Canal trail with a guy he met on his ride to the Midwest a couple years ago. They’re having great fun.]
And so this story goes on….. Always evolving — weaving & un-weaving & re-weaving — each thing changing in response to changes in its companions, as the fibers & I continue to dance together. I am curious about where our dance, our story, will lead us — both in this individual making and, even more, in the larger, troubling story that engulfs us all in its movements today.
I find hope in Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poem Narrative theology #1 which concludes:
"The answer is in a story and the story isn't finished."