FOLKLORE-L Archives

Archiver > FOLKLORE > 2000-12 > 0977303906


From: Kath <>
Subject: [FOLKLORE] The moon spirit and Coyote Woman
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 2000 01:18:26 -0800


The moon spirit and Coyote Woman

(Why coyotes howl at the moon)

(A sort of modern folk myth in the Tanais the Fox series written by
Clive Grace)

It was midnight and Tanais the fox was walking alone, deep in thought.
It was a beautiful night, a full moon shone high in the sky and he could
hear waves crashing against the distant shoreline. He felt a need to
look out at the sea, so he decided to walk by himself in the moonlight
for a while and maybe smoke his pipe a little. He didn't know why he
felt this need to be alone, only that he needed it every now and then.
Hoping he would feel a lot happier with the sound of waves and the smell
of salt, he sniffed expectantly at the sea air to catch his bearings and
started on his journey.

Leaving a long trail of paw prints behind him, Tanais walked the entire
length of the beach occasionally puffing on his pipe. At one point he
came across a walking stick tossed upon the sand. It was actually a
short length of tree branch or a thick twig that had been discarded by
the ocean; a few tiny barnacles had attached themselves to one end and
it was still quite damp from floating in the sea, but it would dry out
eventually, so he picked it up, brushed some seaweed off of it and
continued on his journey, propping the stick on one shoulder.

Tanais especially liked to walk along the shoreline and watch the waves
as they crashed against the rocks in the distance. It wasa strangely
magical night; at one point he thought he heard the sound of fluttering
wings somewhere deep in the darkness.
Stopping to look around, he saw no-one, so he shrugged - snuggling
deeper into a scarf he had brought along for the night -
continuing on his midnight walk.

Eventually he came upon a rocky cove; it was a favourite haunt of his
and he found it ideal as a place of quiet contemplation -
a place where he could get some thinking done at times like this.

Finding his favourite spot in the cove, Tanais stared for a long while
at the moon reflecting off the surface of the sea and felt a pang of
loneliness. He felt this every now and then and indeed had come to live
with it and accept it. He knew that the life of a wanderer is sometimes
like that, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

The fox sat down on a smooth rock jutting out over a shallow pool of
water; every now and then he puffed on his pipe, sending plumes of smoke
into the cold air. Apart from the occasional crash of waves in the
distance, all was quiet around him.

Watching the shadows of rocks made by the moon's reflection, Tanais
quietly pondered how different everything looked at night; in the
daytime the pool was home to tiny sea creatures caught in the low tide,
but at night it became something quite different and enchanting. Tanais
watched the water in the pool as it caught the moon's reflection,
bathing nearby rocks and stones in a shimmering silver light. It was
one of the most beautiful places Tanais knew of and he would often
return there when he felt sad, lonely or just a little thoughtful.

As he puffed on his pipe Tanais remembered a story he had been told as a
cub, a story about the moon and the sea and many other things besides.
The moment was perfect for the telling of this particular tale, but
there was no one around to hear it! So he sat with his head resting in
both paws and looked out at the sea and at the moon's reflection,
pondering what to do with the story.

After a while, Tanais shrugged a little and looked thoughtfully at the
moon. Try as hard as he might he couldn't get the tale out of his
head. Suddenly an idea crossed his mind and he paused for a few
moments, pondered quietly on his idea before turning his muzzle skywards
where he addressed the moon with a smile. "Then I think I shall tell it
to you, my friend. You know, I've never told a story to the moon before
- I hope you like it." Shifting into a more comfortable position, Tanais
paused only to push his scarf a little higher onto his shoulders and he
began his tale:

"This story happened years ago," began Tanais a little uncertainly. "It
happened many years before I, or anyone I know was born - at a time when
this land was still quite young and when there were many places filled
with wild magic."

Tanais reached for the stick he had found on the beach and started to
draw shapes in the sand in front of him. "Of all the creatures, the
most popular, and certainly the most prolific was the coyote." he said,
his sketching rapidly turning into the outline of a coyote.

"Some legends say that the coyotes were the first of the creatures to be
made for the new land and that they were told by the creator to look
after the land whilst he went off and made the rest of us." Tanais
laughed a little. "Others say that the coyote was put here so that none
of us would have an easy life." The fox's laugh trailed off into a
wistful sigh. "I guess we shall never know exactly for sure," he said
as he continued drawing. "Back in those days, people just lived by the
fact that the sun always followed the moon and that Winter always
followed Summer. They didn't have any need for clocks or calendars,
choosing to sleep when they were tired and waking when the sun came up."
With a flourish, Tanais finished his drawing and stopped for a moment to
admire the likeness.

With a satisfied nod, Tanais looked back up at the moon. "This story is
about one tribe of coyotes in particular," he said. "The other coyote
tribes had dispersed throughout the land and had fallen into fights and
squabbles with each other - mainly over land or food, but this tribe was
different. Theirs was a peaceful tribe, working hard and quietly living
off the land in their own way."

Becoming more elaborate with his drawing, Tanais started to sketch out
some more coyotes in the sand; some were ploughing the land, others were
harvesting fields or pulling fishing nets in small boats on the sea.
Dotted around his picture were small tepee-like tents - out of which
poked the faces and noses of coyote mothers with their cubs.

As Tanais drew each coyote he explained to the moon what each one was
doing. "None of them were warriors. They lived a peaceful life in
spite of their warring cousins," he concluded as he put the stick down.
"Some were farmers, others herded cattle or rode horses, whereas a few
would catch fish in the ocean."

Tanais brushed some sand off of his paws. "The other tribes lived far
away and would fight and squabble amongst each other, fouling and
spoiling wherever they went. The tribe by the sea was, by contrast, the
smallest of all the coyote tribes and their peacefulness didn't interest
the others. As they never went attacking or plundering anyone, they
never got attacked themselves.
After a while they had been all but completely forgotten by the other
tribes."

Tanais picked up the stick again and started to very carefully adapt the
picture of the first coyote he drew. "Not very far away from the tribe
lived a coyote woman," Tanais said. "She was very beautiful and wore a
green and purple cape and the feather necklace of a medicine woman.
Known only as Why-ay-looh', or `Coyote Woman', she loved to take long
walks by herself in the plains, searching for herbs and roots that she
would later turn into powerful medicines.

"One of her favourite places was a rocky cove; called Medicine Cove, it
was shielded on all three sides by a sheer wall of rocks, accessible by
a secret path that only she knew about. Coyote Woman would often spend
many hours sitting in her cove, looking at the moon as it rose over the
ocean. Sometimes she would sing to herself or devise new magic and
medicine, sometimes she would braid colourful beads into her long golden
fur or prepare her herbs. In the centre of the cove was a pool of water
that she would often use to look into and think about things when she
wanted to be by herself and not be disturbed.

"One night, Coyote Woman went to her cove and sat on an outcropping of
rocks that looked over the pool. As she sat, braiding beads into her
hair and humming a song to herself, she looked into the pool and saw to
her surprise what looked like a face smiling up at her in the reflection
of the moon. With a startled yelp, she jumped back and looked up at the
moon shining high in the sky but saw nothing unusual there. Shaking her
head, she looked back at the pool and stared into the water."

Tanais looked down into the pool and saw his reflection looking up at
him. The reflection of the moon had slid a little further into the pool
and shone behind him, lighting the outline of his ears with an eerie
glow. He thought about playing with his reflection using the stick he
had just been drawing with, but he thought better of it. He paused to
remember where he was in the story, then continued.

"At first she thought it must have been some sort of illusion - that the
reflection in the moon was her own face looking up at herself from the
pool - so she peered a little closer. Although the face was indistinct
and shimmered slightly as it rippled in the water, Coyote Woman found
that if she squinted her eyes as she looked into the pool, she could
quite clearly see the image of a pure white coyote staring up at her
with his deep blue eyes.

"Nothing like this had ever happened before! She had acknowledged long
ago that this was a very magical place but knowing about magic and
coming face to face with it are two very different things."

Tanais looked into the pool again. As he told the story he noticed that
the reflection of the moon had slid further into the centre of the pool,
bathing even more of the surroundings in its eerie light. This made the
rocks appear as if they were formed from glass and made the wet sand
glisten with an icy blue radiance as the waves crashed and then drew
back from the shoreline in a foaming silver-white carpet.

Although entranced by the beauty of the moment, Tanais remembered his
audience; hard as it might be, once a story is started, it should always
be finished. He took a refreshing gulp of sea air to bring him back to
his story and continued.

"If Coyote Woman was surprised at what she saw from within the pool she
was completely unprepared for what followed,"
said Tanais, looking around him. "The face in the pool became more real
and more solid with each passing moment until after a minute or so
Hah-ah' - a moon spirit - was shimmering in the pool, looking up at her
with his blue eyes."

Tanais paused for a moment; the hairs on the back of his neck and all
along his tail were bristling with excitement. The cool sea air had
suddenly become as sharp as a razor's edge and seemed to fill the cove
with an almost electrifying energy - like the moment just before a
thunderstorm. Tanais waited with bated breath for something to happen;
he half-expected the Coyote Woman or the spirit from the pool to appear
at any moment, but the moment passed and nothing appeared - so he
gathered his thoughts together and continued a little more cautiously,
his whiskers twitching and one ear cocked to catch the slightest change
around him.

"The story is a little unclear around this point..." said Tanais,
scratching at an ear as he observed the pattern of rocks shimmering and
glowing under the moon's light, "...but the version of the story I
prefer tells of the coyote woman and the moon spirit falling in love
with each other." Smiling, the fox continued. "You see, the moon spirit
loved to look down on this pool from where he lived on one of the moon's
highest mountains. When the moon was full and at her most powerful, the
moon coyote would shine down on the pool, spreading his magic into the
rocks and sand.

"Some say that magic attracts more magic and as the cove was one of the
few places still left where wild magic was still very much alive, he
naturally felt an affinity with the place. The fact that a beautiful
Coyote Woman also loved this place merely added to his insistence that
he should appear in front of her.

"Without a word, the moon spirit started to lift himself up out of the
pool. First a pink nose pushed through the water, followed by a muzzle
and then a pair of milky white ears. The moon coyote was pushing very
hard against something as he slowly heaved more and more of his body out
of the pool, pausing every now and then to catch his breath. Water
didn't drip off of him, rather the water seemed to solidify and become
part of him, drawing out into long strands of silver-white hair.

"Coyote Woman stood and watched breathless as Moon Coyote lifted more
and more of himself out of the pool. Fighting with all his might, he
strained against the water that seemed to cling to him. It was as if it
wanted to drag the moon coyote back down, but he continued, straining
and pulling with every muscle in his body until he finally leapt free of
the pool and stood triumphant in the moonlight.

"The next morning, Coyote Woman and Moon Coyote went into the village.
Seeing their medicine woman walking into the village with a stranger,
the tribe immediately stopped what they were doing and came rushing to
see who her strange new companion was. She padded to the chief of the
tribe's tent and knelt as the Chief of the tribe who was called
Le-ee'-oo came out to see what was going on.

"`Le-ee'-oo!' said Coyote Woman, holding her head down, `this is
Hah-ah'', pointing at Moon Coyote. `He came to me last night from out
of the pool in Medicine Cove. I wish to marry him,' she said rather
matter-of-factly. There was gasp from the villagers as she said this
because the medicine woman normally didn't marry and when they did, they
certainly didn't marry at such a young age.

"The Chief just nodded and looked at Moon Coyote as he slowly walked
around him. Every now and then he sniffed and prodded at Moon Coyote
and muttered to himself and exchanged words with his advisers. Everyone
fell silent as he did this until finally the Chief looked deeply into
the his eyes, snorted to himself and nodded again.

"Turning to Coyote Woman, he looked at her and said rather gruffly,
`Medicine woman, Hah-ah' is a spirit, a moon coyote, he is not from this
land. Why do you wish to marry him?'

"`Because I love him!' she said, still kneeling `...and because he loves
me'.

"Le-ee'-oo snorted again, but this seemed to be what he wanted to hear,
so he looked back at the moon coyote and asked, `...and do you love her
Hah-ah'? Will you stay with her for as long as you live?'

The moon coyote nodded and padded over to Coyote Woman and gently lifted
her up off the ground. `I do.' he said, `I will love your medicine
woman even after I die'.

"`Then let it be so', said the Chief. Turning to the villagers the
Chief proclaimed in a loud and very formal voice, `Our medicine woman
has a husband. He is Hah-ah' of the moon tribe. From now on he shall
be known as `Moon Coyote'. With a nod and a gentle smile at the couple,
Le-ee'-oo walked back into his tent, followed by his advisers. Coyote
Woman and Moon Coyote were married."

Tanais frowned a little to himself. Had he ended the story there, it
would have been a good place to stop, but even he would be the first to
admit that nothing much happened and there was more. "...And I suspect
you know there's more to the story don't you?" said Tanais, eyeing the
moon suspiciously as he sat down on his rock again. Looking at the
shoreline and noticing the water was slowly crawling up the beach
towards the pool, the fox reckoned that he would have just enough time
to finish telling his tale without getting trapped by the rising tide,
so settling down to finish the rest of his story, Tanais took one last
puff from his pipe and continued:

"Of course Coyote Woman and Moon Coyote were very happy together; they
went back to their home by the sea and watched the waves beating against
the shore. Throughout the day they were visited by villagers and
friends - bearing gifts and blessings for the newly-weds. Later in the
afternoon, they decided to explore the beach and the Coyote Woman showed
her husband the places she liked to go and things she liked to see.
Together they laughed and skipped in the sand, chasing each other up and
down the beach as they played games with each other.

"In the evening, Coyote Woman went down to the beach and took her beads
and herbs with her. Her husband had gone hunting with his new friends
and tribe members, so she thought it would be a good time to sit by
herself and contemplate how different her life had suddenly become. She
thought lovingly about her husband and soon her thoughts drifted towards
raising a family together."

Tanais sighed to himself as he pictured the image in his mind. "For the
first time in her life Coyote Woman was truly contented."

Tanais stopped and shrugged as he remembered the story. "Coyote Woman
was lost in her own dreams and braiding her hair when, all of a sudden,
she heard the distant sound of a yelp followed by a cry of pain.
Someone was hurt, and it wasn't far away by the sound of it. She rushed
to the top of a sandy hillock to see better and, to her horror, saw her
husband in the distance lying on the floor twitching."

"As he was the newest member of the tribe and because he had just been
married, it was agreed that the hunters were to go on an expedition and
that Moon Coyote was to have the first try at pulling down a bison."
explained Tanais, tapping the ashes from his pipe into the sand. "Moon
Coyote had never hunted one of these before - being something of a
rarity where he came from - and it came as no surprise that he had badly
miscalculated. As he chased after his prey, it swerved madly in front
of him, trampling him under its powerful hooves, lifting him into the
air with its short, but nonetheless lethal horns before dashing him on
the floor with a sickening crack of bones.

"Seeing her husband lying there, Coyote Woman didn't hesitate, she
grabbed her herbs and ran as fast as she could to his side.
By the time she arrived, Moon Coyote was barely alive. He was
unconscious and his breath was rasping - a thick pool of blood had
soaked into the sand and the rear half of his body lay twisted on the
floor. You didn't have to be a medicine woman to realise that his back
had been broken.

"Nevertheless, Coyote Woman tried to help her husband; she applied her
strongest and most powerful medicines - but everything she did to try
and heal him was in vain. Moon Coyote's beautiful white coat was now a
dull grey and was caked with blood where the bison had tossed him into
the air. His deep blue eyes had started to mist over and his rasping
breath got fainter with every passing breath. Coyote Woman's instincts
told her that he was dying.

"She thought desperately of possible remedies and cures, but this was
far beyond her healing capabilities. Eventually, and with tear filled
eyes, she admitted defeat and turned away from her husband to howl a cry
so painful and so desperate that everyone for miles around stopped in
their tracks and listened with dread at the pain in Coyote Woman's
voice.

There was nothing else to do but to look on helpless as her Moon
Coyote's breath faded. She applied what little medicine she could to
ease the pain away and just sat, watching Moon Coyote slowly die - lit
by the moon as it rose slowly over the sea.
Never before had she felt so helpless, if only there was something she
could do!

"All of a sudden she had an idea! It was crazy and desperate, but then
she was desperate. Lifting Moon Coyote's dying body in her paws, she
ran down to Medicine Cove. The moon coyote was already so far gone that
he only moaned pitifully and his breath started to rasp and become more
ragged again.

"When she finally arrived, Coyote Woman spread her dying husband out in
the shallow pool. Propping his head gently on her robes, she watched
helpless as his life seemed to ebb from his body into the pool.

"Pointing her muzzle towards the moon, the Coyote Woman howled again, a
lonely, broken howl. Moon Coyote sagged as the life finally left his
body and he breathed his last. Coyote Woman looked on with baited
breath, waiting for something to happen, but the moon just carried on
its upward ascent into the night sky, shining down on the cove, the moon
coyote and his disconsolately sobbing widow."

Tanais stared into the pool and sniffed. "The Moon felt that Moon
Coyote's death was unfair and although she hadn't the power to bring
Coyote Woman's husband back to life, she was, nevertheless, an important
part of the wild magic - a magic that was in existence long before death
came into the world. She looked down sadly on the sobbing Coyote Woman
and decided to do something about it.

"After Coyote Woman had cried herself out, she looked miserably at where
her husband lay in the pool and saw, to her astonishment, the ghostly
apparition of her husband floating above his body. The moon's silver
light was shining down on the pool - stronger and brighter than it had
ever been before - and his body was still lying in the shallow pool, but
the huge ugly blood stain in his side had been washed away by the pool.
The spirit of her husband looked down on his body and sniffed at it
before looking at his wife and, to her amazement, smiled at her."

Tanais stopped. Picking up his stick, he looked at the moon and frowned
"No one really knows what happened as the story ends there. The next
day the other tribe members eventually found their way into Medicine
Cove and discovered Coyote Woman's drowned body laying next to her
husband in the pool.

"Some stories say that Coyote Woman died of a broken heart," Tanais
looked carefully at the rising tide, "others say that she had drowned -
too heartbroken to notice, or to care - I guess we shall never know,"
and he kicked a little at the sand. "But the stories all agree on one
thing however. On the night they died, a star appeared next to the
moon. It's one of the brightest stars in the sky and is the first to
come out in the summer evenings. If you look at it very carefully,
you'll see that it appears as if it is two stars joined closely
together.

Tanais picked up his hat and looked at his drawings in the sand as the
waves crawled closer up the shoreline. The cove was nearly filled with
water now and he would have to hurry in order to get out and not get his
paws wet. Soon his pictures would be gone - washed away as if they were
never there. "Nothing's permanent." muttered the fox as he quickly
gathered his belongings together and started on his journey home, his
spirit strangely lifted by the telling of such a sad story.

As he turned to walk home, he took one last look at the water rolling
relentlessly into the cove. The waves were much heavier now and the
water was much higher than before. Nodding his head and sniffing the
air one last time, Tanais raised his hat to the moon and walked off.

Had he been a little closer to the pool, Tanais would have seen the
faces of two shimmering Coyotes - one white, the other golden - holding
each other and looking at him as the water washed over them.

(C) 1995 Clive Grace. All rights reserved.

This thread: