Get to Know a God: Coyote

Coyote is watching you.
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Coyote is that most entertaining of gods, the trickster. Like Bugs Bunny and Groucho Marx, Coyote takes the traditional role, beloved by Shakespeare, of the “wise fool” who uses his wits to gain the upper hand. (indeed, he invented the role.) Sometimes he uses his gifts for his own enrichment, but often he finds delight in handing out sweet justice, most especially by visiting disaster on people who have it coming. Coyote can often be found puncturing the self-important, destroying the greedy, humiliating the vain.

He often uses his cunning on behalf of mere mortals, but more often trips himself up, finding that he’s not always as smart as he thinks he is.

There are dozens of trickster gods in the various pantheons, ranging from the mostly-good-hearted Anansi to the more malicious Loki, but Coyote is a pretty good example of the middle of that spectrum. Most often, Coyote’s efforts involve subverting the status quo in order to gain an advantage, sometimes for himself, but often on behalf of man, whom he seems to like and care for. In the most common story, Coyote, like Prometheus, is involved with the creation of humans, and steals fire from the Great Creator in order to give it to man. Unlike Prometheus, Coyote is not punished for his act.

Common to the myths of most of the Native tribes of the American Southwest, Coyote sometimes serves the role of court jester, with other gods (and man) being alternately entertained or irritated by his stunts, especially the self-serving ones. When he’s provoking the other gods, it’s usually meant to oppose some injustice toward humans, such as taking water from the Frog People, or stealing the sun from the gods and sharing it with man. At other times, he plays the clown who falls victim to his own schemes, as illustrated by his famous descendant, Wile E. Coyote.

Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.
Curses! Foiled again!
Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner are © and TM Warner Brothers. Used here under the Fair Use Doctrine for educational and journalistic purposes.

In some parts of North America, Coyote may take the form of a rabbit, a fox, a crow or raven, and many of his stories bear striking similarities to African and European characters like Anansi the Spider and Reynard the Fox.

Coyote is on a mission.

Some Native traditions hold that laughter is essential to any contact with the sacred; According to Byrd Gibbens, Professor of English at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, people could not pray until they had laughed, because laughter opens and frees from rigid preconception. Humans had to have tricksters within the most sacred ceremonies for fear that they forget the sacred comes through upset, reversal, surprise. The trickster in most native traditions is essential to creation, to birth.

For the beginning god, Coyote offers several tips:

1. The best way to defeat someone stronger is to trick them into messing up their own plans.
2. It’s fun to be a smartass.
3. Be careful that you’re not actually fooling yourself.

Get to Know a God: Zeus

Zeus of Otricoli”. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from the 4th century. From the villa of Cassius near Tivoli.Zeus, the Greek god of the sky and thunder (in Rome he was called Jupiter), is proof that being a god does not require any sort of moral center or principles, because boy howdy, this guy’s a piece of work. He could probably blame it on bad parenting; his dad went to extreme measures to avoid fatherhood, because he assumed his kids would be as rotten to him as he was to his old man.

Zeus’ pop was Kronos the Titan. Kronos’ dad was Uranus, ruler of the universe, who was kind of a jerk. When Uranus’ wife/mother, Gaia, gave birth to some weird ugly kids, he packed them off to the underworld so he wouldn’t have to look at them. This ticked off Gaia enough that she asked her son Kronos to get involved. Kronos used a sickle to castrate Uranus the next time he showed up at Gaia’s place for a booty call.

Later, after Kronos took up with his sister Rhea, Gaia told him that his kid would take him out the way he took out Uranus, so Kronos decided that the best way to prevent that was just to swallow every kid his wife/sister delivered. Rhea was a bit put out by this, so when kid #6 (Zeus) arrived, she gave birth in secret, hid the kid, wrapped up a rock in a blanket, and handed it over. Kronos swallowed the rock and was none the wiser. Rhea had Zeus raised on the island of Crete, either by his grandma Gaia, or by a nymph named Adamanthea, or a goat named Amalthea (reports vary). If he was raised by a goat, that would explain his later romantic exploits.

The Jupiter de Smyrne, discovered in Smyrna in 1680.Eventually, Zeus grew up, came home, and made the old man barf up his two brothers (Hades and Poseidon) and three sisters (Hestia, Demeter, and Hera ). He then promptly married Hera. They became the parents of seven gods and goddesses (Angelos, Ares, Eilethyia, Enyo, Eris, Hebe, and Hephaestus), but Zeus fathered about a hundred other gods, demigods, nymphs, sylphs, and the occasional monster, with a few dozen random women, because the dude just can’t keep it in his toga. He also hooked up with at least one guy, Ganymede, who earned the distinction of being the only one of Zeus’ paramours to be granted immortality (today he’s the constellation Aquarius).

Naturally, Hera was more than a bit put out by Zeus’ side-action; she usually lashed out at the other women instead of blaming her errant husband. Depending on who’s telling the story, either Hera turned Io into a cow, or Zeus did, so as to hide her from Hera. There are a lot of these sort of interludes, with Zeus disguising himself as everything from a swan to his daughter Artemis in order to get close to some pretty girl. Somehow he always got away with it.

Zeus was a pretty popular god among the mortal set, mostly because he had a soft spot for humans. As the god of the sky, he was more often kindly-disposed toward people than one might expect from a guy who was also the god of thunder; there are surprisingly few accounts of him smiting folks with his thunderbolts, despite being frequently portrayed wielding them in paintings and statues, but there are many tales of him taking pity on weary travelers and those in need.

For you as an incipient god, the lessons to learn from Zeus might include:

1. Be nice to the peasants.

2. Don’t let toxic family relationships and bad upbringing set the course for your later life.

3. If you’re going to cheat on your wife, you have to be ready to support all those kids.

4. Use your godhood responsibly.

Get to Know a God: Bastet

Statue of Bast


BastetThe goddess Bastet (sometimes called Bast) is familiar to anyone who has ever lived with a cat; the cat-headed goddess of the eastern Nile Delta represents both the docile and the vicious, just like your own cat.

On the docile side, Bastet is protector of the home, hearth, women (particularly pregnant women), and children. She’s friendly and affectionate with those she loves. In her vicious aspect, her original persona as a lioness, she is a fierce fighter, the war goddess and protector of Egypt, a relentless predator who kills without mercy and takes delight in it. Just like your cat.

Also like a cat, she’s nocturnal, which connects to the moon. Her son, Khonsu, is god of the moon. In her lioness persona, she’s associated with sunlight, since she is the daughter of Ra, the sun god. Again, just like a cat, she spends her days lying in the sunshine and her nights hunting.

Statue of BastBastet doesn’t have a mother; Ra is seen as embodying both genders and is both mother and father to her and his other offspring. Sometimes Isis is identified as her mother, but this is because Bastet is said to be the personification of the soul of Isis.

The Egyptians weren’t really in the habit of telling epic tales about their deities the way the Greeks and Romans did, so the stories of Bastet’s exploits are relatively few; the best-known is her killing of the evil serpent-god Apep. Dude had it coming.

Bastet’s temple was in the city of Per-Bast (in Greek, Bubastis) on the eastern side of the Nile. Her spring festivals were a precursor to the parties you’ve seen in those “Girls Gone Wild” commercials. According to Herodotus,  during the Festival of Bast, “more wine is consumed than during the whole of the rest of the year.” Picture thousands of drunken crazy cat ladies (and the guys who are into that) having a party. Now imagine that going on for a few weeks as the world’s biggest Spring Break. We can see why Bastet was popular in Egypt.

Things we can learn from Bastet:

1. Gentle does not equal weak.

2. It’s possible to be playful and affectionate and a stone-cold killer.

3. Don’t blame yourself for the excesses and shenanigans of your followers.