I’ve talked a bit on this blog about my fondness for adapting our practices– and the stories we tell– based on our locale. Many of us are not residents of the lands our gods were first known in; even those who are, the land has changed a great deal in some cases, developed or been otherwise disturbed.
One way I do this is in creating ‘modern myths,’ a vainglorious way of styling my short stories. I have a lot of them- some posted here (and scarcely ever read compared to my more ‘dramatic’ posts), others collected elsewhere (like my poorly edited, self-published book). My most recent piece is as much an exercise in fun as anything, but I figured I’d share it, mostly because it’s short and might be amusing.
Submitted for your entertainment: A story about a wily coyote.
There was a wild old Coyote named Sutekh, bent of brow, singed of ear and fur, who howled winter into the world, who called down the black soil from the great mountains and who challenged the sun. He wrestled the Lion, he dared the Hawk, and he swindled the Bison; he wilted the world and he brought life to the plains, and in his way, violent and wild, he served Ma’at.
Sutekh was difficult, as was his way; his order was true, but it had a way of wrinkling the world when he others might fold, of shaking the earth when others might hold it still. He was, for all the good he could do, about as much as the Gods could handle.
Unfortunately for the Gods, Sutekh’s urges were for creation as much as destruction, and he sired a son.
Wepwawet had his father’s wild eyes, he had mischief and scandal in his heart, and he was wont to romp and bound. His hunger was as that of Sobek, and his might was as that of Sutekh, but his speed—his speed was what inspired fear. While Sobek could lay in wait, and so his food must offer itself unto him, and where Sutekh could be distracted by appealing to his basest instincts, Wepwawet was boundless. He hungered, as any growing child, and he was fast as the lightning; he ranged from the Black lands to the Red, from the Rivers to the Peaks, and none could still him, for he was a Coyote made pure; lithe, streamlined, clever, and even moreso than his father, he was wily.
It happened that the plains were rich with game, but the rigid order of the prairie could brook little disturbance. And so as Wepwawet began to range alone, he first came upon the prairie squirrels. He managed to snare one in his mouth, quick as the arrow flies, and he found its meat sweet and pleasing. The squirrels learned to watch after him, and they would dart into their burrows, but Wepwawet was crafty. He learned to dig, and he dug after them, eating whole towns; soon only the quickest of the barking squirrels were left, and not nearly enough of them.
The prairies started to fade, and the Mesquite began to creep; its roots shot long and low, and nothing was left beneath the earth to impede its march. Wepwawet did not mind, for he could chase the hare and the lizards just as well within the woods of hoof and tooth as he could upon the open plain—no barrier can stay a Coyote, no change can deter him. And so Lion came into the woods, and she roared like the thunder, and Wepwawet fled; he was not so strong as his father, and so he had cause to fear her.
While he hid, Hathor and her herds strode down from the high plains; they uprooted the mesquite with their horns and drove it back, and Ibis flew north to work his magic with words, and he convinced the barking squirrels to return. But Wepwawet hungered again, and though he left the squirrels alone, he turned his attention to the snakes. He knew the vipers well, and avoided them; he set himself upon the ratsnakes and the grass snakes; even the coachwhips could not evade him. He devoured them all, every snake that did not kill with its bite, and the wood rats and the field mice flourished—those who did not find themselves in Wepwawet’s belly, that is—until the vipers began to foster their broods.
Without the other serpents to stay their advance, the vipers swarmed and writhed, thick on the ground; they ruled the cracks in the rocks first, and then the fallen wood of the ruined mesquites, and after a time they ruled the open ground, for even Wepwawet would not eat them, as he feared their venom.
Hathor’s herds came south again, and many of her children quailed and bellowed and fell and died as their hooves beat upon the ground and roused the vipers in their dens. The Great Mother lamented at her loss, and she beat her hooves upon the ground in such a fury that the whole earth shook, and the serpents swarmed from their dens. Her tears swept across the open plains and deserts, and the serpents were washed into the bogs and swamps to the south, and Sobek opened his mouth wide, for he could wait for his food to be offered unto him.
The Coyote shied from Hathor’s rage, terrible as was her wrath, fearsome as the Lion’s, and when Ibis convinced the grass snakes and the coachwhips to return, he did not eat them. He ranged into the rocky west, where the game was less, and he began to search. He caught the occasional tortoise or hare, but little else. As he began to stalk the temples of stone, he came upon ringtails, and he began to hunt them.
Lion, who was Sekhmet, came into those canyons, for she was given to a strange manner of sentimental nostalgia, and it was ever a mystery what might evoke her warmth without her fire, or what strange things might soften her sword-sharp heart. But as it was, she would often visit the temples of stone, and she would look upon the ringtails with fondness, but never hunt them.
When she found the bones of her wistly-kin, she lamented in the way she knew; her roar tore the sky into a fit of hot wind, her claws scarred the stone, and her eyes were as the white fire that lights a storm. She saw the marks of Coyote’s teeth upon the bones and she drew her fury within her heart, and the world cowered before her as she went forth.
With the sky screaming pain at Sekhmet’s roar, the sun-hawk looked down upon her and saw the things of the earth kneeling before her might, trembling at the possibility within her rage. He knew at once—for his eyes are sharp, and the full sight of the Sun is his—that the old war would rekindle, and so he called upon Ibis. Djehuty came and they conferred, for they could not let Sekhmet’s wrath fall upon Wepwawet, but neither could they allow the wily dust-wolf to visit more disarray upon the land.
They went far afield and found the Cuckoo; and they taught it how to laugh, knowing its laugh would mock Coyote’s own and incite him. They went to the Quail, and Ibis traded the cuckoo’s flight for Quail’s swift feet. Still, the Cuckoo was too heavy to outrun Coyote (and the Quail, alas, too plump for graceful flight). And so they went to Sobek, with all the caution that necessitated, and they spoke with him for a time. He agreed to their terms and opened his ever-hungry maw, and Ibis and Re fed the Cuckoo’s bulk to Sobek.
Looking upon the Cuckoo, fleet of foot, sleek and quick, with laughter in its breast, Re spoke to it:
“You must beleaguer Wepwawet; you must cajole him, entice him. Let him harry you; for I have made you swift. Let him chase you, for I have made you keen. Laugh at him, that he may pursue you, and do this evermore until he laughs with you.”
Djehuty—ever technical-minded—suggested that the Cuckoo should have a new name: Alternate Cuckoo: Modified for Entertainment. Re, for his part, suggested “Roadrunner,” and so it was.
They sent Roadrunner out from there and into the wilds. And when Coyote saw the strange bird, he looked curiously upon it; Runner laughed, and Wepwawet was wounded. He gave pursuit, and they ran and ran, until at last Wepwawet grew weary.
And as for Sekhmet’s wroth bloodlust, Re looked to Ibis, watching the Coyote pursue the Runner, hapless and ever-foiled. Nodding toward the red fruit of a nearby prickly pear, he asked the All-Knowing, “Do you remember the recipe for beer?”