Coyote, Black God and the First Starry Night

The following tale is from the Navajo, or more precisely, the Diné people. Among their extensive traditional lands is Monument Valley, along the Utah/Arizona border, where the picture above was taken (courtesy NASA [APOD]).

*

There was a time when there were no stars in the night sky…

In the Hogan of Creation, the Sacred House of Beginning, sat the Holy People: First Man, First Woman and Salt Woman waited with the other Creators for Black God, the God of Fire, to join them.

Black God, who was fathered by Fire, and suckled by a Comet.

After much waiting, Black God arrived. His skin was dark, His face was concealed in a buckskin mask covered in charcoal and white paint. On His ankle were seven jewels, strung together in a pattern. In the middle of His forehead was a crescent moon, and where His mouth should have been there was a full moon. In one hand he held a bag, while in the other He waved His fire-drill menacingly. He made His way uneasily into the Hogan, for even though the world was still young, He was already old. On His left ankle were seven beautiful jewels.

He noticed that among those not present was Grandfather Coyote.

Coyote the Trickster…

That, thought Black God, was a good sign.

Once inside the Hogan, He stomped His feet furiously. To the surprise of the Holy People, the seven jewels on His ankle jumped up to His knees. Seeing their shock, He turned to face the next cardinal direction, and stomped His feet again.

Once again, the seven jewels jumped, this time to His hip. The Holy People gasped, amazed.

He turned again, and repeated the process; this time, the seven jewels made their way to His shoulder, glistening in sharp contrast against the darkness of Black God’s skin.

With one more turn, and one more stomp, the  seven jewels moved to His left temple, shining beside the crescent moon on His forehead.

“What do you call those jewels?” asked one of the Holy People.

“These,” he motioned to His temple, “are Dilyehé, the Sparkling Formation.” Black God spoke, smiling to himself. “And they, they are mine.”

He tapped his fingers below Dilyehé.

[These seven stars are the Pleiades; for a different Indigenous American take on that constellation, see Coyote and the Seven Sisters]

Reaching into His bag of jewels, Black God set about crafting the constellations. He started by placing North Fire, which we now call the North Star (Polaris) to serve as a guide for travelers at night. Next He took out seven crystals and placed them in orbit around North Fire, naming them Revolving Male, which we now call the Big Dipper. The next constellation He cast was Revolving Women, which we now know as Cassiopeia.

Several other constellations followed: Man with Feet Spread Apart, First Big One and the Rabbit Tracks, Horned Rattler, Bear and Thunder.

Finally He arranged thousands of stars in a band, and named it That Which Awaits the Dawn, which we now call the Milky Way.

After all of this was accomplished, and all of the constellations were named, He took a break to admire His handiwork.

At this point, trickster Coyote barged into the Hogan.

“What exactly is the meaning of this, grandchildren?” He demanded of the First People.

Black God responded to Coyote. “Look for yourself, Grandfather. Can you not see what a  beautiful sky I have created?”

“I preferred the darkness” muttered Coyote, unimpressed.

“I have given the Holy People stars to guide them, to know when to plant, and when to harvest, to know when the nights will grow cold, and when the days will grow warmer. I have given them the North Fire to find their way safely home at night. They will no longer fear the Upper Dark, but will look to it for wise council.”

Coyote was nonplussed.

Black God was offended.

“When was the last time you gave something to the Holy People, Coyote?”

Coyote paused for moment, and scratched his chin, as if he was considering the question. Then feigning hurt, he turned his eyes downward.

In that moment, Black God felt guilty. He started to sit down, cross legged, as He often did, and extended a hand to Coyote.

As He did, Coyote snatched the bag of jewel-stars from Black God’s other hand, and ran in circles around the Hogan, wildly flinging the jewels into the Upper Dark.

Soon, there were stars everywhere; too many for the Holy People to count, let alone name…

Black God shrieked, while Coyote gleefully laughed as he bolted towards the entry-way.

Turning around right before exiting the Hogan, he addressed Black God:

“Last, but not least,” he pulled out the final jewel; it glittered brighter than any of the others. “I will call this the Monthless Star, So’ Tsoh,” [the Morning Star]

He placed the last jewel in the Upper Dark.

“the Coyote Star.” he smiled contentedly. “Now,” he paused and looked squarely at Black God, “the skies are beautiful!” and having said that, Coyote ran off into the very first starry night.

black_god1
Traditional Diné Ceremonial Black God Mask
black_god2
Black God Glyph; note Dilyehé on His left temple

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