You have often heard me speak of an oracle or sign which comes to me ….this sign I have had ever since I was a child. Socrates, The Apology of Socrates.
I’ve called my blog Coyote Mother because the coyote is my big medicine.
She is my teacher, my advisor, and my guide. She is my confidant, my ally, and my familiar. In times of struggle and darkness, she moves in with command and certainty, to reassure me of who we are and remind me how we handle adversity. In times of harmony and light, she visits mischievous and frisk, to share in my laughter and encourage my fancies.
She is my totem animal, more prominent and articulated than all of the others. And she always shows up.
A totem is a sacred object, a spiritual being, an animal, a plant, or even a symbol used to represent a tribe, clan, family, or individual. The meaning of a totem is deeply symbolic. The anthropological study of religion has discovered that an animistic belief is common to almost every culture across the world and the high esteem of totems, while most commonly associated with primitive and shamanistic cultures, has actually been a part of all world religions. The only exception to this rule would be Gautama’s atheistic Buddhist teachings, but ordinary believers outside of monasteries certainly practiced a more animistic variation of the religion throughout Asia. I believe each one of us still has a totem or two that we could embrace, but many of us are increasingly separated from the natural and spiritual world…we just do not see them or hear them anymore.
Coyotes are a common sight for most of us, all across North America. They once lived primarily in desert and grassland habitats, but they have adapted excellently to the changing landscape and are now commonly found even in our forests, mountains, tundra, and urban habitats. Their adaptability is nearly unsurpassed, with current populations potentially at an all-time high despite habitat loss and reintroduction of other predators who may compete with them. With an animal so easily observed and often encountered, how did I come to recognize her as my totem?
It was when I found myself in the middle of another shocking and dramatic transition. Such are pieces of our lives, but I did not have the strength or courage to face it and I felt incredibly broken and alone. In fact, I was incredibly broken and alone. I wasn’t only feeling it. It was my reality! I had to work hard to regather the fallen pieces of my soul which had been stolen, lost, or otherwise injured. This time, the darkness and damage was more powerful than I could traverse on my own. So, I began working with a woman who was not a Shaman herself, but had spent many years of her own life apprenticing with various healers and medicine (wo)men.
We talked a lot about earth medicine, which the wild world offers each of us every day:
Medicine of the wind refreshing you and carrying off the burdens from your heart.
Medicine of the rain drenching you and washing you clean of your regrets.
Medicine of the giant trees who know how to bend, but not break.
Medicine of the gentle flowers who know how to blossom and adorn.
Medicine of the lively river who so easily moves from trickle to flood, stimulating an existence all along its shores.
Medicine of the ocean keeping her balance between turmoil and peace, but always with her belly full of nourishment and life.
And we talked of animal medicine. You have animal medicine too! Spirit animals. Totem animals. You have many of them, all around you. Mammals, insects, birds, fish, and reptiles! Every one has a meaning to represent and a medicine to share. And you have your most beloved totem, the one who most treasures you, the one who will never renounce or surrender you, even despite yourself…that one is your Big Medicine.
My friend sent me back into the high desert on a quest to commune with mine, if I could discover her. I packed the minimal requirements for myself, my horse, and my few dogs. My guideline was to remain open for the messages the natural world might deliver to me, but there was not any specific instructions or rituals to follow. My mornings were spent exploring the land on the back of my faithful and charitable horse, with my nights spent staring into the fire beside my protective and dedicated hounds.
And I waited.
It is true that our time is never wasted when we spend it in nature, but after an entire week in the wilderness, I returned to town somewhat discouraged by the lack of anything spectacular. I reported to my friend,
“It was quiet and uneventful, the entire week. My horse rode sound and my hounds all handled well, there were no surprises, wrecks, or losses. Thankfully, I didn’t have to come across any other people and I had the land utterly to myself…but the damn coyotes! Just everywhere! So constant was their stalking, that even my dogs became accustomed to their presence and ignored them entirely after a few days. Healthy coyotes. But they were annoying me! They never would exactly spook off from us, just there and then gone and then back there again. And one night, I awoke from where I was sleeping beside the campfire and there was a female coyote right there yapping at me! Just whining and barking and carrying on! I got up and she stopped to cock her head at me, but she didn’t make any move and was not afraid. I could have easily touched her face, but of course I didn’t try. My dogs were in the cabin of the horse trailer, but surprisingly they didn’t move to confront her. I just walked to them and left her out there by the fire, staring at me. I slept with the dogs. It was just bizarre…”
My friend laughed liberally at my tale of woe.
“It isn’t funny! None of this is funny and nothing I have tried is helping me at all.” I lamented.
She took my face in her hands, “but you are such a silly woman! That was her! And you did not see her for who she was! She was trying everything she could to reach you and speak with you…the coyote! She came right to your face and you still did not hear her, silly woman.”
I remember that it made me cry, to think of it all. My beautiful sister! She had been so determined and had trailed me constantly all week, making herself easily available for me when I most needed her, yet I foolishly saw her as a nuisance throughout my every day. She must have began to feel disrespected by the time she came to my campfire on that last night and woke me with her lecturing…how could I have been so wrapped up in myself, to let my mind so blind me?
I vowed to never mistake or ignore her again, of course. And now her coming around to see me, especially during my moments of struggle or sadness, has become so familiar and trustworthy, that I suppose I would be devastated if she ever chose to hide herself. But I never take her for granted and I never forget to acknowledge her presence.
There was the first night I spent in my new house, feeling enormously alone and uncertain of my future, standing in the front yard and staring into the night. I just felt so incredibly alone and it was so awfully silent. But a pack of coyotes came to stand in the field across from my gate and sing. They were just standing there singing to me! I remembered then that I was never alone and felt that I must be right where I should be, even if it didn’t feel like I was. Turned out, I was right. I stayed in that house of healing and protection for a very long time and became a much more powerful person because of it. It was my sanctuary. It was also a sanctuary for many animals. A very magical place…
There was the time I spent all morning in a heated debate with people about coyote management. Not that we cannot or should not manage their numbers, sometimes even quite forcefully, but that we should still treat them with respect and we should not create useless villains out of them because of our own frustrations and ego. If your environment is abundant and strong, with your predator-prey relationships healthy and balanced, it is not necessary to shoot every coyote on sight merely for existing as a part of the habitat’s ecology. It isn’t necessary to kill a nursing mother or slaughter a den of pups, only because you had the easy opportunity to do so. In fact, there is evidence that points to such careless management perhaps causing coyote numbers to explode even further. But I battled and battled people that were adamantly set against coyotes, out of habit. It was a frustrating morning for me and I left on a trip that afternoon, thinking about how awful a setup it is to be any animal that so many humans are so deeply bent on hating and destroying, just for being born as a clever and resilient predator. As humans, we expand and expand and expand, despising any animal that is in our way and despising them even more if we can’t easily extinguish them. As if the world would be a better place entirely void of coyotes? It certainly wouldn’t. And I was driving on the open highway, musing to myself about them, a large male started trotting casually across the lanes. There was not a lot of traffic and of course I gave room for the traveller to cross safely, but I could see two semi trucks heading in our direction and I thought, “damn it! They’ll hit him!” because the timing was matched perfectly. But he broke into his scamper just in the last seconds, as if he thought it an easy game to play. I remember it most vividly because he stopped proudly on the other side and stared directly at me. I got a clear impression of don’t worry about us, we’re coyotes, remember? You take life too seriously and you worry about things you shouldn’t feel you need to.
The summer I was pregnant with my son, single and quite apprehensive about this new journey I was beginning, a mother coyote raised her pups in a den in the woods just off of my yard. She would bring the pups out to the field often and I watched as they grew up, trying to copy their mother’s hunting techniques and digging up prairie dog holes. She reassured me of the beauty in motherhood and raising your young. She reminded me how fun it could be, as I watched her play with them and supervise all their little curiosities.
The winter I spent away from Arizona and the country that had become so intimate to me, when I felt like a stranger in an unrecognizable land, the coyote would find me.
The times where I have felt beaten or hurt by the world around me, destroyed by men who I thought I could love, the coyote would find me.
If I have reason to celebrate, she’ll trot past to let me know she sees.
If I have reason to contemplate, she’ll sit near to let me know she can relate.
Some will find my belief humorous, but she will always show up and it goes much too far beyond mere coincidence for me to pretend it is anything else except big medicine at work. It’s true, you’ll see your animal totem often enough on its own. If you spend a great deal of your time in the wilderness, you will come across much wildlife. And no, not every observation represents medicine. But you will know it, when it does! You get the impression. And you have to feel it. You have to trust your intuition and learn to recognize when a sighting of a coyote, or elk, or caribou, or raven means more than just a passing glimpse of an animal on its way. I do not always see a red-tailed hawk and feel encouraged that I am moving in the direction of my soul’s purpose, or spot a deer and feel reminded to be gentle to myself and those around me. However, it’s become intrinsic and effortless for me to recognize when there is intentional meaning for an animal to be seen…
For many of us, we were born with this natural ability before society worked to shame it away.