Coyote and the Seven Sisters: the Stars that Fed Us

One day, after a tribal dance, Coyote and Raccoon spotted Squirrel’s hole.

Not only that, but they spotted a secret back door.

They conspired together: after all, Squirrel would make for a grand feast.

They decided that Raccoon would come through the front, while Coyote, always sly, would paw his way through the secret door, barring Squirrel’s only escape.

Raccoon was the first to grab Squirrel.

Squirrel begged for his life, and the life of his children.

Raccoon was not often moved to mercy; however, as the tears welled up in Squirrel’s eyes, he decided to release him.

Squirrel wasted no time in scampering over Raccoon’s back, away from Coyote’s paws, which had broken through the escape door.

Raccoon turned around to see that Squirrel was safe; as he did, Coyote grabbed his arm.

“Ouch! Damn it, Coyote, it’s me!”

But Coyote was unable, or unwilling, to listen. He dug his claws deep into Raccoon’s forearm, and pulled, and pulled.

And pulled again.

And then, Coyote, with all his force, yanked out his prize.

He did not find Squirrel in his paw.

Instead, he held the severed arm of his friend, Raccoon.

*

By the time he went to other side of the tree, Raccoon had bled to death.

It’s possible that Coyote grieved for a moment.

Still, Coyote was never one to let a good meal go to waste…

And so, he brought home dinner.

And it was a feast!

*

Yes, it was a grand Raccoon feast!

Well, for most of Coyote’s family, that is.

Apparently, all of Coyote’s children came to the great meal, and everyone was well-served.

Everyone, except Little Coyote, the youngest of the litter.

Poor Little Coyote didn’t receive a morsel of flesh.

Not a scrap of skin.

Not a shaving of bone.

Not even a hint of marrow.

By time his elders had sated their bellies, Little Coyote was left with nothing,

besides a general hunger in his belly

and a distinct thirst for revenge in his heart.

*

Little Coyote went to the home of his father’s dead friend, Raccoon.

There, he found Raccoon’s seven daughters.

He told them his truth:

“My father has betrayed yours; he has killed him, and dined on his flesh. What will you do?”

The Raccoon sisters thanked Little Coyote, and told him to wait until the next night, promising him that whatever vengeance they extracted, he would be spared.

*

That evening, Coyote went on the hunt, knowing that his children were safe at home.

As he lurked for prey, the Raccoon sisters snuck into his home. If the Coyotes had been awake, the Raccoons would have faced a fight; but no, they were sleeping.

One by one, they brutally murdered Coyote’s children.

All, save one: Little Coyote.

*

When Coyote returned home and found the carnage, he bolted to Raccoon’s home in a blind fury, ready to shred the sisters to pieces.

He broke down the door, and found all seven of Raccoon’s daughters.

All seven, plus one:

His own son, Little Coyote.

“Traitor!” he screamed as lunged at all of them, but most fiercely at his own child.

But before he could pounce on them, they floated out of a window…

Out a window, and up into the heavens.

And if you look up, depending on the season, you can still see them.

The Seven Sisters, and besides them, if your vision is still young and clear…

An eight, dim star.

And that star is Little Coyote.

*

Facts Worth Noting:

This tale comes from the Shasta people of Northern California.

The Seven Sisters, also known as the Pleiades, are a Winter constellation (assuming you’re in the Northern Hemisphere).

So if you see them, you won’t see raccoons.

Raccoons tend to come out at night during the summer, when the Seven Sisters are nowhere to be seen.

*

So why did the native peoples of North America care about the Pleiades?

This tale is one of many, many differing narratives about origins of the Seven Sisters.

The answer is straightforward: when you’re an agricultural people, clocks are useful.

And the Pleiades are just that: a perfect, agricultural clock:

*

When they first rise in the night sky: reap your crops.

As they trace their way across the heavens, and the days are cold, huddle up, and be patient.

And when they set on the horizon, plant next year’s crops.

*

Then wait, with patience, once more,

for the stars that feed us

to rise yet again.

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