Alternative Moralities. Part 1, Mankind Made From a Monster. (Native American)
In this series of essays, I intend to consider a range of ancient or lesser known ethical ideas. It is my opinion that the modern world has very little space for the Dualist morality that has been dominant in the west for the last malienia, but a great deal of space for ancient ethics. The main focus will be on ‘universal ethics’: ideas which seem to be shared by all ancient cultures or ideas which are self-evident to an open mind.
Coyote and the Monster.
A creation story from the Nez Perce people.
We will begin with a short summary of the story of Coyote and the Monster. There are many variations of this story, due to it being passed down through oral tradition. Below is a simple account with most of the common elements.
Long ago, before humans lived on the earth. A huge monster walked upon the land, eating all the animals — except for the cunning Coyote. Coyote could not find any other animals and was angry that his friends and cousins were gone.He needed to save the animals for the monster.
First he cleaned himself, so he would not taste bad. Then he gathered flint knives and firewood. Then he climbed the tallest mountain and attached himself to the top with rope. Coyote called upon the monster, challenging it to try to eat him. The monster sucked in the air, hoping to pull in Coyote with its powerful breath, but the ropes were too strong. Then the monster tried many other ways to blow Coyote off the mountain, but it failed..Coyote laughed at the monster and challenged it again.
Realizing that Coyote was sly and clever, the monster thought of a new plan. It would make friends with Coyote and invite him to stay in its home. Coyote agreed, but before the visit began, Coyote said that he wanted to visit his friends and asked if he could enter the monster’s stomach to see them.The monster allowed this, and Coyote went down the monster’s mouth, into its stomach. Once inside, he cut out its heart and set fire to its guts. His friends were set free.
Then Coyote decided to make a new animal. He cut the monster into pieces and threw pieces of the monster in all four directions. New tribes of humans were created where the pieces fell.
The first thing a theologian or historian might notice is the massive contrast between this and the monotheistic myths of ‘something made from nothing’ and ‘man in the image of God’, with all the angels and shiny stuff. Instead, humans are made by an animal, from the corpse of a monster. The second thing they might notice is the slight similarity with the Norse creation myth, where the world is made by odin from the corpse of a giant, but more on that in Part 2.
Another thing which is immediately clear is that it is not a story that is intended to be taken literally, but rather a fable which expresses ideas through metaphor.
Let’s break down the story.
First, Coyote, sometimes known as Trotting Coyote. He is a central character in many stories. Coyote contributes to the creation of the universe in several ways, including spilling stars randomly across the sky. He often tricks other animals to get what he wants, for example when he pretends to be dead to catch rabbits and prairie dogs. Coyote is a greedy and lustful creature, but not unlikable as he is also capable of bravery and kindness, as seen in the.monster story. He is cousin to all other animals, and in direct communication with the Earth Mother
Coyote is the archetypal Trickster.
The most important thing to recognise about Coyote is that he represents human nature. We too are cunning, greedy and lustful, and we too are capable of doing good. .Although the Native American people believe in good and evil, they do not believe that humans are innately good or evil, but rather that we are a “five fingered creature” just another part of the natural world. It is believed that humans should choose to “walk in beauty” and choose actions which improve themselves, their community and their environment, but it is also accepted that we, like all the over animals, have weaknesses and instinctive desires.
Secondly, the monster. It is a massive, formless beast, its only feature being its huge mouth with which it eats, speaks, blows and inhales, but mostly eats. It is relentlessly hungry and devours almost every creature on earth. It has a little cunning, but this is used only to further its goal of eating everything. It is stupid enough to let its enemy inside it.
The monster could be seen as representing humanity at our most basic level, where we are dominated by only the desire to consume. When the base and greedy monster is slain, the true humans can be created.
Thirdly, the act of kindness. Coyote frees the animals, not from a noble sentiment, but simply because he misses his friends (who are often referred to as his cousins). First, he prepares himself, then when he is ready he puts himself in great danger and uses his cunning to outwit the monster. The monster attempts to outwit Coyote, but is hopelessly outmatched: Coyote has planned ahead, but the monster is driven only by its immediate hunger. Coyote gets inside the monster and brutally destroys it to save his friends.
It is this act of kindness ( but a kind act carried out with careful planning, cunning and brutality) that creates the first humans. It is easy to see the metaphor of the combination of kindness and cunner transforming the beast to the human.. Through logical thought, caring for fellow creatures and courage, Coyote slays the monster, and the monster is ‘reborn’ as the first humans.
It is worth noting the symbology used. Coyote in the belly of the beast, almost like a baby in the womb. The cutting of the greedy heart. The monster’s body destroyed in fire. The setting free of the animal cousins.
To conclude, this is one view of human nature: a creature which was transformed from a monster, which was killed by a trickster. .