Coyote's Story : Encountering Death

by Sheila Griffin



Look to the circle, the spiral,

and you will understand life and death.




Grandfather Coyote was a brave and determined fella moving swiftly through the forests near Lyons, a small, unpretentious town close to the foothills of the great Rocky Mountains north-west of Denver. For many years he lived, mated, had children and grandchildren, avoiding the deadly hunter and man's traffic on the roads nearby. He was a great hunter himself, bringing bountiful kills to his family. At leisure times he stretched his long, angular body on the earth and watched his family feast and grow, the small ones frolicking, rolling and tumbling in the grass. As his offspring became independent, Coyote moved on, becoming a loner. He could then hunt for himself only and rest when he chose. He was strong, clear sighted and fast on his feet. Then Coyote grew old, he was not as fast, not as strong and began to go blind in one eye. He no longer could elude the hunter and sometimes found himself near busy highways.

On a cold, gray day in late winter Grandfather Coyote took his last breath. He came to the highway and could not see as clearly, became confused, and in his wavering, came too close. He was struck, this old man Coyote, on his right side. His shoulder blade broken, he desperately tried to make it back to the safety of his homeland. He stumbled, faltered, his old body struggling to move on, the sound of traffic ringing in his ears, his strong heart that served him so well thumping hard against his chest. His days had been long and well spent. He now lay on the white bed of snow, his chest rising and falling, his breath labored. Light was turning to dark. He could hear the hoot of the owl from the direction of the forest as the human sounds began to fade. The chill of the wind ruffled his fur, and his eyes took on a glassy appearance. Sounds of the leaves dancing comforted him, and Moon Woman shined brightly above in the cold night sky. One paw inched forward, his body shifted. He laid his chin down into the blanket of whiteness, resting. A moment passed. Then, with one final lunge, his old body, coat still lovely with shades of brown and streaks of white, his long, fluffy tail trailing, lay still on the snow bank, all energy expended, all breath gone. Days passed. Grandfather Coyote, frozen in the snow, covered with ice crystals, waited.

After settling in Boulder, Colorado, I met a Native American woman who became a catalyst for me to explore new ways of using my own gifts of intuition and power. Her name is Raven. She exemplified the image of femininity with her curved body and ample hips. Her bluish-black hair hung loosely down her back, streaks of whit running through it from her temples. Her eyes were piercing, yet there was a softness about her.

On this day, I walked around to the back yard of Raven's house. She was there sitting on a large piece of clear plastic, head bent, busy at work with the "road kill." She had been wanting some coyote medicine when a friend brought Grandfather Coyote to her. Having been partially frozen, the coyote was well preserved. By the time I arrived, Raven had already removed the skin and laid it aside, working now to remove the flesh from the head and face. She would later boil the head to remove the remaining pieces of flesh and hang the skull in a tree to dry. Raven then planned to use it on a shield she was in the process of making. She used a small scalpel, cutting away bits of flesh being careful not to damage the bony structure. The feet had already been removed and were laid to one side. The scent of blood and other fluids filled my senses, and my stomach began to feel weak. My lesson today evidently was just to watch as I could not get my hands into the old coyote this time. Raven laughed at my squeamish ways and teased me with one of the eyeballs, saying it would make good medicine for me. I did not see the humor and was tempted to turn and go but knew there was a reason for my being summoned and decided to stick it out a little longer. I was definitely a city girl and had never seen a sight like this before!

As Raven worked, she dug out many small pellets of buckshot the old coyote had taken from the humans. I wondered how long he had carried them and if he had been in pain. Raven turned the carcass over and used a hand saw to open the chest and remove the heart. She cut the heart from its supporting arteries and held it up in her hand. It was beautiful, a work of art, with a rich deep, red color and darker purple/red veins moving up and branching out giving the resemblance of a tree.

"What will you do with the heart?" I asked, still keeping my distance but inquisitive at the same time.

"I will dry the heart, cut it up and give it to those who want coyote medicine for their medicine bag," she said, laying it gently to one side next to the coyote legs. "I'll use the brain to tan the hide," she continued. After keeping all of the coyote she could use, Raven took the rest of the carcass up to a mountain and laid it in offering to the wild animals. It is the Native American way to use all of the animal. In this way, old Grandfather Coyote is honored and thanked, and his medicine lives on.

The medicine lives on...what a beautiful thought. The coyote lived his life, lived his death and still lives on. Why is it that I and most of society have such fear of death? The more advances we make in science, the more we fear and deny the reality of death. We make the dead look as if they are asleep and keep the brain dead on life support when there is nothing more that can be done. I remember seeing my father in the hospital the night before he died. I could feel that his spirit was still present, and we had the opportunity to impart love to each other for the last time. The next morning I returned to his room to see an empty shell lying in the bed. I knew that it was not him. My sisters and I were grateful to his doctor who told us that he did not try to revive my father when his heart stopped as he knew that dad would not have wanted it. I was thankful that he was allowed to die.

One evening a few months after my father's death, my sister, Barbara, and I decided to do a hypnotherapy session to contact the spirit of my father and that of my mother who had died two years earlier. In the inner world my parents talked with me. Before I came out of the session my father told me that I would see him and my mother in the deer. When my eyes opened, I was looking at two large brass deer that had been a gift to them from me and were now sitting on my hearth. One deer was in an alert stance, his head raised to the sky and antlers majestically pointing upward. The doe looked serene as her head was lowered toward the earth. Sitting on my couch in a daze, feeling the warmth of the cozy living room and enthralled with the sight before me, I felt a calling to go up into the foothills near my home even though it was rather late and the night air was very cold.

My sister indulged me, and we both dressed warmly and hiked around the lake and up the hillside. We were running out of breath, yet I felt we had to go higher. At last, we came to a spot where we laid down on the ground and gazed at the stars in the heavens. She pointed out the Pleiades. We sat up and looked at the lights of the city below. I wondered why I had the need to be there after being with my parents. It occurred to me that I needed to view life from a higher perspective--from between heaven and earth. The deer were telling me the same thing. I could look down on the small cars, houses and landscape and know that there is more. I could look up into the heavens and feel that there is more. From my vantage point on the hill I could connect my spirit with theirs. The only thing that separated me from my parents was that our energy was now expressed in different forms. I began to see death as a transformation from energy and matter to another form of energy and matter.

We are literally being born and dying in every moment. Nothing is static--there is nothing steady that continues from one year to the next or from one moment to the next. Our bodies are constantly changing as cells die and are regenerated. We are never the same person from one moment to the next. We are made up of energy that never dies.

What we call death marks the end of the present experience. We came into the earth plane to learn and grow, and we only have a certain amount of time to accomplish our tasks in one lifetime. Moving from a state of life in the physical body to a state of pure energy is the ultimate in letting go. We leave behind the past which allows us to move into the spirit realm and to our next experience.

©1998, Sheila Griffin. Reprinted by permission from Ride on the Wing of the Eagle...Viewing Life from a Higher Perspective.

Sheila Griffin lives in Tucson. She is a licensed therapist/hypnotherapist and a writer. She has a masters degree in Transpersonal Psychology from the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado and spends much of her time traveling and facilitating workshops. Sheila has worked in the mental health field for fifteen years contributing to the journey of adolescents and adults.

For more information, you can contact Sheila at:

Her book, Ride on the Wing of the Eagle, can be found in the Shamanism category of the New Vision Bookshelf.

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