Coyote (mythology)

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Coyote canoeing, in a traditional story

Coyote is a mythological character common to many cultures of the indigenous peoples of North America, based on the coyote (Canis latrans) animal. This character is usually male and is generally anthropomorphic although he may have some coyote-like physical features such as fur, pointed ears, yellow eyes, a tail and claws. The myths and legends which include Coyote vary widely from culture to culture.

Coyote shares many traits with the mythological figure Raven.


The word "coyote" was originally a Spanish corruption of the Nahuatl (Aztec) word for the animal, coyotl. Coyote mythlore is one of the most popular among Native American peoples.

Functional cognates[edit]

See also: Trickster

Coyote has been compared to both the Scandinavian Loki, and also Prometheus, who shared with Coyote the trick of having stolen fire from the gods as a gift for mankind, and Anansi, a mythological culture hero from Western African mythology. In Eurasia, rather than a coyote, a fox is often featured as a trickster hero, ranging from kitsune (fox) tales in Japan to the Reynard cycle in Western Europe.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, French anthropologist proposed a structuralist theory that suggests that Coyote and Crow obtained mythic status because they are mediator animals between life and death.[1]

By culture[edit]

The coyote (Canis latrans), the animal on which the myths are based

Coyote is a figure in the following cultural areas of the Americas, as commonly defined by ethnographers:


Coyote is featured in the culture of the following groups who live in the area covered by the state of California: the Karuk,[2] the Tongva of Southern California, the Ohlone mythology of Northern California, the Miwok mythology of Northern California, and the Pomo mythology of Northern California.

A creation myth of the Maidu of Northern California recounts that as the Creator God was fashioning various creatures out of clay, Coyote tried to do the same. But as he kept laughing, his efforts did not turn out well. Creator God told him that if he stopped laughing, he might do better. Coyote denied laughing. Thus, the first lie was told.[3]

Great Plains[edit]

Coyote is seen in the cultural heritage of these people of the Great Plains area: the Ho-Chunk mythology (Ho-Chunk, Winnebago), and the Menominee. According to Crow tradition, Old Man Coyote impersonates the Creator.


Myths and stories of Coyote are also found in the cultures of the Plateau area: the Chinookan (including the Wishram people and the Multnomah),[4] the Flathead,[5] the Nez Perce,[6] the Nlaka'pamux, the Syilx (Okanagan), the St'at'imc, the Tsilhqot'in, and the Yakama.[7]


Coyote also appears in the traditions of the Tohono O'odham people of Arizona, as an associate of the culture-hero Montezuma.

He also appears in a legend of the White Mountain Apache, "Coyote fights a lump of pitch" (a variant of the Tar-Baby theme), and in similar legends of the Zapotec and Popoluca of Mexico.

Coyote in the modern world[edit]

Coyote figures prominently in current efforts to educate young people about indigenous languages and cultures in North America. For example, the Secwepemc people of the Kamloops Indian Band in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, have designated their recently opened native elementary school the Sk'elep (Coyote) School of Excellence, while educational websites such as one co-sponsored by the Neskonlith Indian Band of Chase, British Columbia prominently feature stories about Sk'elep.[8] the Mobooks include two collections of contemporary Coyote tales, Elderberry Flute Song and The Other Side of Nowhere, which place Coyote in a number of different hawk Nation.

Coyote also features as a character in the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court, written by Tom Siddel, where he is portrayed with his trickster characteristics in full force and his status as a god and the implications not left forgotten.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]