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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Spiritual Life



Spirit Realm

Visual representation of nature's laws

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The Ethic of Transformative Figures—No other figure is so identified with Aboriginal culture as the trickster…Almost all North American cultures have stories of this part-human/part-animal/part/greater-than human being. These tales are social tales, designed to bring to humans a lesson in life and decision-making. Their relationship to the sacred has always been difficult to ascertain because the stories do not carry the "holy" signature that many other aspects of First Nations narratives do. Nevertheless, the stories are about a figure that is able to transform into almost any kind of being, and in so doing reflects as much what the sacred is not as what it is. It also depends upon earthly, most times human interaction in order to carry out an educative purpose. Furthermore, the Trickster is never construed as idle…the stories are almost always adventurous and active…indicating that the figure embodies a boundless energy that must work its way out somehow in the doings of the world.

Situationally, in Aboriginal culture, Trickster figures carry the same weight as do tales about the great rabbis in Judaic tradition…cautionary and interpretive stories that teach truths about the true Law, often in very circuitous and fascinating ways. Yet cross-culturally, there are few themes that one could say are held in common among all Trickster figures. Each tribal tradition develops conceptions with a variety of imaginative scenarios. Consequently, the Trickster in North American Aboriginal culture is a distinctive expression of a sacred that cannot be defined by any of our usual list of descriptors, presenting us with the same dilemma we have in understanding Aboriginal law. Storyteller Terry Tafoya’s selection about Coyote indicates these many issues:

Long time ago, when mountains were the size of salmon eggs, Coyote was going along, and saw that Rabbit was doing something. Now, this Rabbit was a Twati, an Indian doctor, and as Coyote watched, Rabbit sang his spirit song, and the Rabbit’s eyes flew out of his head and perched on a tree branch. Rabbit called out, "Whee-num, come here," and his eyes returned to their empty sockets.

This greatly impressed Coyote, who immediately begged Rabbit to teach him how to do this.

The term "appropriate" raises critical questions: What is appropriate? When are appropriate times to tell a story? How and to whom should the story be told? How is appropriateness determined? Throughout this thesis, this term and these questions arise. The answers are not straight forward and not generalizable to all First Nations cultures. The answers are determined within a cultural context.

Rabbit said no. Coyote begged. Rabbit said no. "Oh, please," cried Coyote. "No," replied Rabbit.

"But it’s such a wonderful trick! Teach me."


"But I’ll do exactly as you say!"

"I will teach you," said Rabbit, "but you must never do this more than four times in one day, or something terrible will happen to you." And so Rabbit taught Coyote his spirit song, and soon Coyote’s eyes flew up and perched on a tree.

"Whee-num! Come here!" called Coyote, and his eyes returned to him. Now Rabbit left, and Coyote kept practicing. He sent his eyes back and forth to the tree four times. Then he thought, "I should show off this new trick to the Human People, instead of just doing it for myself."

So Coyote went to the nearest Indian village, and yelled out for all the people to gather around him. With his new audience, Coyote sang the Rabbit’s song, and the crowd was very impressed to see his eyes fly out of his head and perch on the branch of a tree.

"Whee-num!" Coyote called out. His eyes just sat on the tree and looked down at him. The Indian people started to laugh.

"Come here!" shouted Coyote. His eyes just looked at him.

"Whee-num!" Just then a crow flew by, and spotting the eyes, thought they were berries. The crow swooped down and ate them.

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