The Real, True, Totally Authentic &c

February 6, 2015


From Invoking Animal Magic:

In the Pagan view the wolf is simply another creature with whom we share the world – not a separate world, but the same world. She has at times been a poor neighbor, but then again, so have we. She shares our devotion to family and our ability to survive in challenging environments. She is a part of our history and, for better or worse, we are a part of hers. The wolf mother says to us, stop trying to make me what you fear me to be, what you want me to be or what you need me to be. Become like me, temporarily, and let me show you who I am.

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Coyote Magic

February 8, 2013

Western Coyote. Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth
Western Coyote. Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth

There are many sounds of night that lend a sense of order to the world: a train whistle in the distance, a chorus of peepers, the music of coyotes. Some find coyote ruckus eerie, but for me it’s like traveling between the worlds. I’m convinced that these scraggly canines are making their obeisance in song to the Divine Mother.

Since coyotes are native to North America there is no specific Euro-shamanic belief about this animal. There is quite a bit of folklore about the wolf, of course, and coyotes are in many ways like little wolves, so wolf mythology could be transferred to the coyote. Native American mythology and folklore about the coyote could be absorbed, although there are challenges to this approach involving understanding and respecting the tribal culture in which they arise. Ideas about the coyote can differ significantly among tribes, so there is also the question of which attitude to adopt. Another possibility is to place the coyote in the context of Euro-shamanism by carefully studying the animal.

Coyotes like wolves often live and hunt cooperatively in extended family groups. This gives the coyote significance in divination, ritual and spellcasting involving family and community relationships. Like wolves they are shy, but coyotes are willing to hunt in more open areas, such as over ice. At the same time they are self protective, preferring to den in hilly areas with a view of approaching creatures. Coyotes, like wolves, are very smart, but unlike wolves they are inclined to hang around human habitations, albeit in low profile. Their ability to adapt and figure out new situations makes them a potential magical resource for problem solving. They are remarkably adept at learning how to prey on pets, chickens, and domestic rabbits, and I’ve seen them circumvent some complicated latch systems. For some reason they like to devour most of the animal but leave the face behind, a kind of calling card or a testament about the animal’s demise. (Oh, were you looking for Fluffy?) Coyotes cannot or will not be controlled, which is a factor to consider when calling on their magic. Are you secure about the absolute rightness of your actions, and are you prepared to have the spell turn out differently than intended?

Many have tried to eradicate both the wolf and the coyote without success, and the coyote population has actually increased in numbers and in territory since farmers and ranchers declared an all out war. The much-maligned coyote is a survivor and cannot be gotten rid of. It would be more productive to learn how to live with the animal, but doing this would require accepting that, despite best efforts, the thieving coyote is sometimes going to win a round. Learning to gracefully accept a loss – any loss – is a lesson that eludes many people, but the coyote keeps trying.

The coyote is a master at hiding. Chances are there are more coyotes in your town than you realize. At first glance coyote tracks look the same as dog’s, but with just a bit of study you can learn the difference. If you live in a suburban area where there is snowfall, check for coyote tracks and you will be surprised.

Eastern Coyote. Photo by Christopher Bruno.
Eastern Coyote. Photo by Christopher Bruno.
The Western Coyote is a scraggly-looking animal, no matter how healthy. She has that disheveled, half-starved look that skinny children can have no matter how well taken care of they are at home. Appearances can be deceiving. Animals associated with deception are used in the occult to unravel truth.

The Eastern Coyote is a more handsome and robust animal. The Eastern Coyote is believed to be a hybrid of coyote and wolf, and people disagree on how much of this animal is coyote and how much is wolf. This makes the Eastern Coyote “neither one thing nor the other,” a mark of transformative power in Celtic and Germanic belief.


Chapman, William K. with Dennis Aprill. Mammals of the Adirondacks: A Field Guide. Utica, NY: North Country Press, 1991.

Rezendes, Paul. Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign, 2nd ed. New York: Harper, 1999.

The Divine Woodpecker

February 10, 2012

Gilded Flicker
Gilded Flicker. Photo by Glenn Seplak.

One of the most startling experiences for people new to the Sonora Desert is the loud metallic rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat that rattles the early mornings. It sounds like a machine gun. It’s made by Mars, the god of war, in his woodpecker form.

When I first moved to the desert, the earliest thought that would enter my drowsy morning brain was, “Those stupid woodpeckers. They don’t know the difference between a tree and a heating vent.” But when you decide people or animals are doing something because they’re stupid, it’s usually because you yourself are ignorant. Desert Gilded Woodpeckers love those aluminium roof vents because they make a loud noise. Mars is also the god of metal. And they’re not looking for battle; they’re showing off for the girls. Woodpeckers make noises to signal that they’re looking for a mate. Or they’re defining territory. Or they’re drumming for some other reason, but at any rate the whole purpose is to make the biggest racket possible. They think that’s really cool. In time the rattling becomes like the coyote chorus: one of those familiar comforting sounds of the desert.

Mars was not, originally, the god of war. He was the father-god who brought bread to the divine Roman twins while their wolf-mother nursed them. Male woodpeckers do most of the work scraping out the family home, and they help incubate eggs and care for the young. A woodpecker god would naturally be the archetype for the nurturing male.

Robert Graves agrees that Mars was not originally a war god, calling him a “Spring-Dionysus” figure. During the Greco-Roman era, Mars became conflated with the Greek Ares, who according to Graves was originally a Thracian god given the hateful “war god” moniker as a reflection of Athenian attitudes toward the Thracians. Classical Greeks had a more ambivalent attitude toward war than Romans of the early Common Era, viewing war as a threat to prosperity rather than a means of sustaining it.

Properly speaking, no deity is a war deity, or else they all are. When people go to war, they invoke their protective deity to aid them in the battle, be it Athena or Mars or Andraste. I’ve seen pictures of rebels with the Virgin Mary painted on their rifle butts, and we certainly wouldn’t call her a warrior goddess. In glossaries a good three-quarters of the Celtic goddesses are identified as warrior goddesses, but this mostly reflects the understanding of the Romans, who focused their studies on the behavior of their Celtic adversaries in war.

After Mars became conflated with Ares, he gained a great deal of prominence as a war deity in a culture that was by this time centered (and dependent) on military prowess. Still, Mars was also invoked as father and civic leader, reflecting an importance among the Latin tribes that long preceded Rome’s ascendance as a military power. That he was not necessarily seen as a war deity is reflected in the other gods he became conflated with, such as Mars Nodens (for the Celtic healing god Nodens) or Mars Silvanus (for the Roman–possibly Etruscan–god of the countryside).

The modern strict association of Mars with war has affected how we view the planet Mars, the astrological sign of Aries (ruled by Mars), and even the beginning of spring. Michael Jordan says that March is named for the god Mars because of “its violent weather.” We do think of March as violent, but is it really, compared to say, November, when harsh weather begins, or February, when bitter cold can claim toes and noses? Was the March weather violent in Italy 3,000 years ago? When we think of Mars as woodpecker rather than warrior, the association with the first month of spring doesn’t take a lot of thought or empirical data. This is when woodpeckers are dating–and making a lot of racket in the process.

We think of Aries people as combative, but are they really? Do people view Aries, and do Aries view themselves, as combative due to the warrior reputation of Mars? Comparing Aries to woodpeckers, would aggression be interpreted as defense of territory and protection of vulnerable dependents?

We think of the planet Mars as bloody, because it’s red, but is Mars stained with bloodshed or red like the throat, head or wings of the various woodpecker species?

Mars is now retrograde, a phenomenon that only happens every couple of years. For me, retrogrades are times when we review, reflect and re-examine things. Perhaps this is a good time to be rethinking Mars.


Robert Graves. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin Books, 1960.
Michael Jordan. Encyclopedia of Gods. New York: Facts on File, 1993.

For another unconventional look at Aries, see my post from 2009 from Yellow Birch School.

Why would anyone provide acoustic support for woodpeckers? The folks at this site have a blueprint if you’re interested.