Tag Archives: Native American

Iktome and the Ducks

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Hi everyone we got off to a slow start on this final May Trickster story, but then working with this guy is never easy.  Trickster will trick you one way or another whenever he is invoked.  When Michelle and I decided to give a shadow workshop using Coyote as our guide, I spent a long time figuring out how to as call him in safely as possible.  My research uncovered the fact that he is a very good father so when I called in the directions and welcomed him in from the south, I asked him to treat us as his pups with gentle tricks and small lessons.  Which, he did.  It’s very important to honor these powerful spirits and treat them with careful respect because they come both as clown and creator.

Iktome the Spider man belongs mostly to the folk of the plains, particularly the Dakota.  If you’ve read the story, you know that Iktomi the shape-shifter likes to dress like a Dakota in the paint and deerskin leggings and beaded tunic of a brave.  Nevertheless, my collage uses a totem pole from a northwestern tribe – it portrays Raven, our other Trickster, but the bill reminded me of a duckbill and the face beneath the bird seemed to be painted as a spider.  Originally, I planted a big teepee where the totem pole now sits.  I painted it with black encircled eyes, red and yellow stripes and filled the corners with spider webs.  However, while searching my files for duck pictures I came across this other image and regrouped.  I wanted to show that the Earth gives birth to and is home to gods and guides as well as spiders, ravens, rabbits, coyotes and humans.

One of the things Trickster stories teach us is to be flexible and try alternative ways to solve our problems.  The stories don’t necessarily say this directly instead they show us trickery is a never-ending part of life.   Whatever we do, as ducks or Trickster, something will happen to change our circumstances suddenly and unexpectedly whether or not we are minding our own business, being “good”or “bad.”

These teaching stories are difficult to figure out and often carry multiple meanings – they remind me of Buddhist koans.  A koan is a short anecdote, usually recording an encounter between student and teacher.  It poses a question requiring more than intellect to figure out (i.e.  “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”)  The idea is to arouse the student to a state of exaggerated inquiry or “Great Doubt”.  A koan builds up “strong internal pressure (gidan), never stopping knocking from within at the door of [the] mind, demanding to be resolved.”

Trickster stories do the same thing,  Why does the tree catch hold of Iktome?  The ducks are prey animals anyway.  Is it so bad to go in an ecstatic dance?  Does the story warn us about the dangers of using trance without the proper ritual?   Why does Iktomi act so stupid in the presence of the wolves?  His behavior makes no sense, especially when he repeats his “mistake”.  We know that repetition in a story, poem or song points to something important, but I still haven’t figured it out and it won’t “stop knocking.”

Usually the point of a koan is to teach the concept of non-duality.  I think Native American stories also center on the connection of all things and our common existence as parts of Great Spirit.  Perhaps the wolves need feeding for some larger purpose we are not privy too.  Sounds too much like blind faith to me, but what if it’s something about our own wolf nature, which needs feeding?  That rings more true.  At least it’s a starting place…

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Coyote as Trickster

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Coyote says, “RUN!”

In this story of Coyote, we discover that he does not understand the cultural rules about gift giving. When he returns and demands the Rock, Iya, give his blanket back Coyote has disregarded the cultural belief that what is given is given forever.  He is reminded that the blanket is no longer his by Iktome who says, “It is Iya’s blanket now!” Coyote still thinks of the blanket as being his.

When Iya tells Coyote “NO” because he likes having the blanket.” Coyote explains that it is cold out and he needs HIS blanket back. He tells Iya he doesn’t want to catch a cold.  Yet,  Iya still says “NO!” This makes Coyote angry. Coyote just takes the blanket and leaves.  Iya warns him that it is not over.

There have been times in my life when I have not understood the rules or the person I’m dealing with seems to have a different set of rules that I don’t understand.  The whole idea of etiquette or manners is to make social interchanges comfortable and pleasant.

The newspaper columnist Dear Abby or the writer Emily Post are often asked about what manners and/or etiquette rules apply in very specific social situations. Not all rules are written down. In addition, as our society becomes more and more complex new rules have to be established.

My collage this week shows the Rock chasing Iktome and Coyote through the river. Coyote has his blanket flapping behind him. The over all collage depicts a patchwork broader suggesting that the entire piece is a blanket. The reason for the dispute.

Despite the fact that rocks don’t need blankets and Coyote did make the mistake of giving his away, Coyote cannot be an “Indian Giver”.  He cannot expect the Rock to give the blanket back. As the Rock explained, “What is given, is given.”

Coyote’s Blanket

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Coyote's blanket

Coyote’s blanket

One of the best things for me about my friendship with Michelle is how differently we view things.   Over the years we have both benefited from an expansion of vision, learning from each other how to see from a different perspective.  We’ve learned to trust each other’s vision and follow along even  when we don’t “get it” right away.

Last week, I was utterly swamped, enmired in a project with a deadline I was having trouble meeting, so when Michelle offered to pick the story and present it, I was delighted.  We’d agreed earlier that we wanted to work with a Native American tale and Trickster Coyote is an old favorite of ours.  We created a workshop around him several years ago, using collage to do shadow work.  Coyote loves to dance with the shadow and he proved a perfect mentor for those workshops.  Still, when Michelle picked this blanket story it left me at a bit of a loss.  It’s a teaching story, so it must be teaching something, but what?  It seemed way too elaborate a set-up to say something so obvious.

It wasn’t until I finished my collage that I realized what a big part landscape plays in this story.  First of all Coyote’s antagonist is a rock!  It’s one thing to see a biological creature as a character in a story but a talking stone that feels cold…?  Then there’s that detailed description of all the places Coyote runs through with the rock chasing him – hills, thick forest, a river, prairie.

As it happens the project I’d been working on was a talk and slide show about pilgrimage.  It’s my contention that our human habit of going on pilgrimage is a direct result of the nomadic lifestyle practiced by all Homo sapiens for at least 40,000 years.  I won’t repeat my reasoning here, suffice it to say my theory has to do with the importance of landmarks.

In part this story seems to talk about the importance of maintaining and honoring an intimate relationship with one’s geography.  The intimacy is underlined by the symbol of the blanket.  In many Native American traditions blankets are strongly associated with the bonds of kinship.  When publically given, a blanket acknowledges those ties to the whole community. In this story we see Coyote giving the rock the blanket in front of Iktome.  He makes a point of the gift, proclaiming the change of ownership in front of a witness.  His failure to respect his relationship with the land (symbolized by the rock – think basics, bedrock, bones of Earth, foundation) has dire consequences from which he barely recovers; just as our failure to maintain a relationship with the land results in floods, landslides, and dust storms that flatten us.

You see how my faith in Michelle’s vision is justified?  This story contains a powerful teaching for me.  Not only as a concept but also more immediately; I spent all last week hunched over my computer.  I did manage to walk every morning, but I walk with a friend and we talk the whole time, so I haven’t really been outside and present for days.  This collage made me long to be out alone under the sky, tiny as distant Coyote in my picture. – I think I’ll take tomorrow off and go wrap the landscape around me like a blanket…