Navajo Traditions

5. The Coyote

Belief: Avoid having a coyote crossing your path ahead of you in the east direction. Also avoid having a coyote howling at you or near you where you can see the coyote facing toward you while it is howling.

Rationale: There's a disagreement on the reason for this belief. One belief is that the coyote represents a bad spirit that can only bring evil things on you or on your family. The second belief is that the coyote only foretells an unfortunate event or thing in your path or in the near future. So to deal with this belief, a Navajo tries not to let the coyote cross his path in the east directions. If the coyote does cross his path in the east direction, the Navajo can either use corn pollen and pray on the coyote footprints and go on ahead across the coyote's path or he can turn around and go home and never cross the coyote's path until the next day. The Navajo can also go ahead and cross the coyote's path without praying and take a chance on bad luck up ahead. In this case, whether bad luck occurs or not, when the Navajo gets home he gets a medicine man to pray for him and this costs more.

If the coyote crosses the path in any other direction than East, it is foretelling good luck. in this case, the Navajo prays with joy for the forthcoming good luck.

Recommendation: Although this belief is still strong with most Navajos, there seems to be no problem in talking about coyotes in class and no problem with field trips to the zoo. Avoid using real parts of a coyote or in taxidermic form in the classroom.


Rena Henry, Title VII Director

Researchers & Project Staff: Eddie H. Mike, Larry Bidtah, Vernice Thomas

Charlotte Joe, Illustrator