How Coyote Imitated Snake

Coyote was loping through the grass one day when she heard a voice off in the distance. “Ah, me!” it said. “Ah, me!” Being a curious sort, Coyote decided it was her duty to investigate this voice on the wind. So she trotted off toward it.

Soon she came to a tiny clearing in the grass, barely round enough for her to plant all four paws. In the center of this clearing she saw Snake. Snake was not looking well; she was pale and coated in dust, her eyes were cloudy, and she writhed about as though she had lost all control of herself. She wound around the bunches of grass and scattered stones, all the while calling out “Ah, me!”

whiteyote4Coyote was taken aback by this sight, and she moved to help Snake. But Snake struck out at her with her sharp fangs, and Coyote skittered back into the grass to save herself a snout full of venom. Still, she couldn’t quell her curiosity, and so she cautiously peeked back out into the clearing, where Snake was continuing her strange rolling and twisting struggle.

Just when Coyote was prepared to brave Snake’s fangs once again to either give aid or claim a midday snack, Snake let out a particularly loud cry. As she did so, the skin on her back split wide open, all the way from her head to her tail. The skin fell away and beneath it Snake was covered in the most beautiful shining scales in a thousand colors, from the red of sandstone cliffs to the turquoise of the perfect sky. She shone so much Coyote thought the Sun might strike her down in envy.

Snake curled up in her new skin, and she spied Coyote watching. Before Coyote could run away, Snake wound herself around Coyote’s leg as fast as lightning. She raised her head and the twin forks of her tongue pointed at her visitor. “Did you wish to devour me, Coyote? Is that why I had to break my dance in order to show you my fangs? Know that you have witnessed something very few are privileged enough to observe. I should strike you down now for it.”

Coyote thought for a moment, but then decided that such a magical creature must know the truth. “For a moment I did think to eat you, but now that I gaze upon your beauty after having come to life again, I now know I must have been mistaken.” Snake preened at Coyote’s words, and twitched the end of her tail in excitement. But still she held on to Coyote’s leg.

For another day and night Coyote told Snake how lovely she was, how many colors were in her scales, and every beautiful thing each scale reminded her of. She praised Snake’s ability to be reborn, and said her powers must be great indeed.

At the next sunrise, Snake finally spoke again. “You have lavished many kind words upon me, and you have suspected my great power over death. Therefore I will share a piece of it with you. You have watched my dance and heard my cry. You have seen me split my skin and come forth from it. I do these things to renew myself. Once every three moons this happens, and I cast off my old self. I discover who I will be these next three moons. If I ever miss this dance, I will die.”

“Forgive me, Snake, but I cannot split my skin, for I know I would die then. What do I do?” Snake replied, “In order to create yourself anew, you must first have something to shed. You must have your offering to death ready before you cheat it.” Before Coyote could speak again, Snake unwound herself and glided wordlessly into the grass, not to be found again.

whiteyote2Coyote felt even more confusion than before, and wished just a little that Snake had bitten her to relieve her of her not-knowing. But looking at Snake’s old skin in the dust, she came upon a grand idea. She ran across the grassland and into the forest and up into the hills until she came to her den. She ran inside and sniffed around until she found a pile of old clothing she had meant to throw out. She put it on, and remembered all the things she had done while wearing it, and who she had been at those times.

Then she ran back to the clearing where Snake had been. She began to writhe and tumble as Snake had done, but something wasn’t quite right. Where Snake’s skin had crackled dry and crinkly, the clothing merely swooshed and flopped. So Coyote grabbed some of the dry grass and stuck it in her clothing and it crackled and crinkled just like Snake’s old skin.

So Coyote danced like Snake. She wrapped herself around the bunches of grass and she bruised herself on the stones. She rolled in the dust until her coat was as pale as the moonlight. And she cried out “Ah, me!” every time she hit the ground, or whenever the mood to cry out took her. She danced and stretched and crawled until the old clothing tore apart into strips that hung about her like moss. She had grass in her toes and burrs on her tail. She was rather a shambles. And she still had no idea what Snake had been up to at all.

Frustrated, she howled at the sky, teeth bared and tongue red. The Sun, who just happened to be passing by then, looked down and asked “What on Earth are you wailing about, Coyote? Is it your matted pelt that’s more wounded than your pride?”

Coyote glared at the Sun, though only for a moment (even Coyote has the sense to not stare at the Sun). “Surely you have seen Snake rebirth herself. Surely you know the power she has over death. She almost killed me, and that made me want to not die. So I tried to dance like her, and it did nothing. I even started off by thinking about who I used to be, and who I am now, and I made my own skin and everything! What did I do wrong?”

“Silly dog,” the Sun said. “I watch Snake and her kin do this dance all the time. They die, too, after a while. Snake was just telling you stories, like you know she does. Snake sheds death with her skin no more than you shed it with your fur every spring. She needs to grow bigger, and you need to be cool for the summer. There’s no magic in it, just the normal things you animals do each year.”

Coyote sat for a full quarter hour silently, something she almost never did. Then, as the Sun looked on, she shook off the old fabric and the grass and the dust. She left them in a pile around the old snake skin. Then she said, “Well, I know one thing about myself, and that is that I am not Snake. And I know another thing about myself and that is that I am less foolish than I was yesterday. And if that older, more foolish self has passed away, then that is enough death for me today”.

And with that, Coyote shook herself one more time and bounded out into the sunny grass toward home.


My Writing Process; Or, How Lupa Makes This Blog Happen

Over the years I’ve had people ask me about my writing process, since I’m fairly prolific and have a few books under my belt. I’m not a writing coach and this isn’t intended as advice, so just take this as my own personal experience presented for curiosity’s sake.

A little background: I grew up in a household of people with excellent English skills. Both my parents are incredibly intelligent, as is my sister, and conversation was a big thing in our home. We ate supper at the dining room table every night instead of in front of a television, so I got used to having a time of day to connect with everyone through words. And my extended family is that way, too; family gatherings were mostly hours and hours of people chatting and even debating over assorted and sundry topics.

Moreover, I got a good education in how to write, and it all started with reading. Back when I was still a toddler in a crib my parents would put books in there with me. Sure, at first I’d just tear the pages out because hey–it sounded cool! But they also read to me a lot, and pointed out each word as they said it. By the time I was in preschool I was a book ahead of everyone else in our language skills module. Later on, from first through eighth grade I was put in a small private Catholic school that focused more on a solid education than on indoctrinating religion (though there were certainly religion classes, and Mass on Fridays). There was a very big emphasis on reading and writing as core skills, and the small class sizes helped, too. Plus when I went home at night my parents would check my homework and point out errors and how to correct them. So I was very, very fortunate in that I got a pretty good head start in basic language skills, and I can’t overemphasize that fact.

So that’s the background I came out of. What about my process itself? Well, first of all, I percolate–a lot. I can sit with a general idea for weeks, months, or even years before I finally let it out onto the page. When I’m out walking, or working out, or curling up to sleep at night, I’m often thinking about things I want to create, to include writing projects. It varies, of course, as to how long it takes me to get to the point where I feel ready to write about something. On the one hand, my totem stories usually come to me as I’m working with particular art projects, and as soon as the seed for the story appears, I put down the project and sit and write the whole thing out. At the other end of the spectrum, my totemic work can take years to develop before I feel it’s ready to share. I started working with animal magic in the mid-1990s, but didn’t start writing Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone until late 2004. And while I’ve only been writing about the plant and fungus totems for a year and change, I’ve been working with them to one degree or another since I moved to Portland in 2007. Part of why I haven’t written about that work as much is because it tends to be more subtle, and like the plants in my environment I’ve sometimes taken it for granted. But it’s also because, like the animal totems, I needed a few years of work before I felt comfortable writing with any authority.

There’s no set amount of time, of course, between when I think of or observe something and when I’m ready to write about it. But I am really lucky in that all that percolation makes it easier to write when it does come time to pick up the keyboard. Some people write multiple drafts on paper and in word processors, and that’s how they make the words happen. For me, all that percolation may not necessarily give me a set of words ready to go, but it does give me a whole image of what I want to express–it’s as pretty right-brained way of preparing to write, really. I percolate over impressions and ideas, and I visualize things quite a bit. Even if I imagine trying to explain something to an audience, in my imagination I’m showing rather than telling. This all means that when I start writing, I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to write, and at that point it’s mostly a matter of choosing specific words and organization.

One other thing I’m very, very grateful for is that when I do write something, I can usually get most of what I wanted onto the page on the first try. I don’t remember ever having removed entire pages from something I wrote, and if you were to compare a first draft of one of my books with the final product, you’d probably recognize a lot of that first draft in it. I generally only do one full revision/editing session before I turn in a manuscript (or post to the blog here), because I’m generally pretty happy with what I’ve written. I do admit that I’m not as Type-A about my blog posts as I am about my books; I rarely have someone else look over something I write here, partly because it’s more personal, informal writing, but also because it’s not going to go too far beyond here–and no one else’s job is involved with it. With a book going to a publisher, I’m more than happy to play catch with the manuscript with my editor, though even then my book manuscripts have historically not needed too much back and forth. A lot of that is having had really good editors who make a LOT of good suggestions the first time through, so by the time we’ve both gone over the manuscript thoroughly, once is usually enough for all but some small details. I know some writers feel really antagonistic toward editors because some writers tend to be very protective of their baby manuscripts, but a good editor is there to help make your writing better, and even as happy as I am with my initial drafts I’m always happier with the post-editing version.

Setting’s also important. It’s easier for me to write when it’s quiet, and I get really easily distracted if there’s a movie with dialogue going on in the background or if someone keeps interrupting me. On the other hand, I can be happy at a busy coffee shop where there are several different conversations going on at once, none of which involve me. I don’t need music or tea or aromatherapy, but I absolutely have to have a computer–ever since I got my first typewriter in the 1980s hand-writing just became too slow, and it’s easier to process my thoughts with a laptop now.

Finally, I have to time bigger writing projects carefully. If I’m on a roll I can type out a couple of good articles in an evening, but books are obviously more complicated than that. And when I do get into a longer writing project, I want to be able to focus all my spare time on it in one big block with as few distractions as possible. Because I’m self-employed my schedule has both more flexibility and more variability than it did when I had a regular 8-5 day job. But I also put in more time each week on “work” than I used to; 70 hour weeks aren’t uncommon for me, especially at the height of the festival season. And while I still love to write, my artwork is a big part of my income so I can only afford to take so much time away from it. So I basically have to orchestrate big blocks of time where I can get away without making art and focus only on the writing. (This also isn’t factoring in things like cooking, housework, errands, taking time off to keep from going crazier than I already am, etc.)

When I do make this time, though, I’m a marathon writer. It’s kind of an awesome thing to experience. You know the concept of Flow? It’s like that. Everything boils down to that project, and I can spend literally weeks tunnel-visioned on it. To be very honest, it’s one of those things that I live for, and when I get to have it, it’s one of the most blissful states I can achieve. I wake up in the morning with my ideas waiting to turn into words, and I go to bed that night knowing that I get to do it all over again the next day.

So there you have it–the amazing secrets of how I write! You’re welcome to ask me any questions; as I said, I’m not much of a writing coach so I don’t know how much I can help you with your writing, but I’m happy to share more about my process if you have questions.

How Bobcat Got Married

Now Bobcat, she was always a tough one. She knew her own mind, and she wasn’t about to let anyone change it—not without her permission, anyway. Her range wasn’t the biggest, not like her cousin Lynx’s, but she defended it fiercely. And she knew it well. Nobody stepped onto Bobcat’s doorstep without her knowing about it. Not much escaped her when it came to prey, either. She was sleek, well-fed, and came out of every Winter with a shiny coat and a smile on her lips.

She never hurt for suitors, and why should she? Why, a fine huntress like Bobcat would be an admirable mate, and the beauty of her spotted coat and well-tended whiskers didn’t go unnoticed, either.

paintingdetailBut she chose not a single one of them. Not Coyote, with whom she had hunted on more than one occasion, and who told her he’d never seen such sharp, deadly claws on any creature smaller than a bear. Not Wolf, either, who invited her into her family pack despite Bobcat’s solitary nature. Nor did she choose River Otter, though her playful antics amused the feline huntress on more than one occasion. She even refused the attentions of mighty Grizzly Bear, himself a rather blustery and forceful sort, but good-natured when well-fed.

And yet they continued to visit her, and one day the four of them arrived at the same river where Bobcat preferred to drink, all at once. They soon began to fight for who would gain Bobcat’s love first. It started first as a friendly rivalry, but then Coyote said something quite rude about Bear’s hunting prowess, which then turned into Otter making a snide remark about Coyote’s other talents, and Wolf declaring that the lot of them were all off in their heads if they thought Bobcat would choose such contentious suitors. The commotion they raised in Bobcat’s back yard was so great that they woke the cat from her nap, and she silently stalked to the river to see what the fuss was all about.

When she arrived the four suitors were taking turns tearing into one another, until finally Bobcat had to hiss and growl to get their attention. Coyote flicked his torn ear, Wolf licked at a scratch on her leg, Otter pawed at a bump on her nose, and Bear grumped about the bite that someone had unceremoniously delivered to his short little tail. But they all sat at attention when Bobcat approached.

“Why do you bring this noise, this arguing, into my very home? Whatever did I do to you to deserve this cacophony? Do you think this will attract me? Is this how the fine folk of the forest propose love to their intended?” Her eyes glowed bright amber, and the tips of her whiskers trembled furiously. She sat and groomed herself into calm again.

“Dear Bobcat,” Wolf said, “we only wished to each come to you with our intentions”. “Yes,” continued Coyote, “we had not planned to all be here at once”. Otter added, “We would each want to have our time with you, without the rest here”. “Is there anything we can do to make it up to you, anything at all?” Bear implored.

Then they set about begging and pleading with her to allow them to do something to make up for their trespass that she finally cried out “Enough! All of you, that’s well enough! If you must do something, then bring me the following: the hide of a deer, the feathers of a pheasant, the bones of a buffalo, and the clay from the river that flows at the southernmost edge of our forest.” And then to keep them from fighting about that, she told Wolf to bring her the deer hide, Coyote the pheasant feathers, Bear the bones, and Otter the clay.

bobcat2It took the suitors three days and three nights, but on the fourth morning they each returned with their offerings. They laid them before her so that she could not refuse them without being impolite, and immediately began to quarrel over whose gift was the finest, and which one Bobcat had wanted the most, and to whom she would give her love. To escape their fighting, but so as to not make the arguing worse, she carefully took up the gifts, and silently ran away to the deepest part of her range.

It took three days for the suitors to stop fighting and notice she was gone. It took another three days for them to find her in the tangled underbrush of her range. And on the morning of the seventh day, she came forth from her hiding place.

She had taken the deer hides and created a veil and belt which she wore. She had decorated them with the feathers and the bones, and with the clay she had painted both images of her suitors’ follies, and her own victories. She walked toward them, while they looked upon her power and beauty in awe.

“You fight over me as though I am a prize to be won and owned. You gave me these gifts as recompense for that insult, and then the giving became yet another argument of ownership. So I took the fruits of your conflict, and I created something beautiful.

“And today I am to be married—but not to you. I am marrying myself, with my sharp claws and my solitary home, my laughter and my hunting prowess. For no matter who I am with, I am always with myself, at the beginning and the end, and today I honor that love.”

“Shall we no longer be able to court you?” the suitors asked. “We apologize for fighting so much. We were so busy arguing we forgot about you. Will we never be able to visit you again?”

Bobcat sat in her veil and her belt, and she thought. Then she went up to each of them and touched their noses with hers. “You each wish to marry me for your own reasons. Coyote admires my success in hunting, and Otter loves to make me laugh. Wolf wishes to make me part of her family, and Bear wants to share food with me. These are no small things, but they are not all that I am. If you so desire, you may join me as you will to learn of all that I am. Perhaps I will someday marry one of you, or even all of you. But today, I marry myself, and you are welcome to join in that celebration.”

And so they did celebrate Bobcat’s wedding, all together in the forest. And then each of them, Coyote and Bear, Otter and Wolf, visited Bobcat in her range, and no longer did they fight. Perhaps they were married after all; only the forest knows for sure, and the forest keeps its secrets well.


How Wolf Fed the Scavengers

Once, when this place was still new, a great famine struck the land. The sun broiled the earth, and the plants were so thirsty in the drought that they could barely keep their stems and trunks straight, never mind grow enough fruits and leaves for everyone to eat. The plant-eaters were always hungry and they grew thin, and the meat-eaters could barely find anything other than bones to gnaw on, their prey was so wasted away. All the animals grew desperate, and fell to fighting each other more than they ever had before.

So it was decided that the animals needed a king. This king would decide who got how much to eat. The plant eaters argued that because they were the closest to the plants, that they knew them better and should get to have control over who got what. The meat eaters opposed them, saying that as they were at the top of the food chain, they had a better view of the situation. Those who ate both plants and meat were split right down the middle, some siding with the plant eaters, and some with the meat eaters.

Bone stag wall hanging by Lupa, 2010

The arguing lasted for three days and three nights, until at the end Whitetail Deer was made the king. All the animals brought forth all the plants that were ready to eat. “Since I am king,” he said, “I will take the first portion since I need my wits about me to keep an eye on our food supply. Then the rest will be divided up among the plant eaters according to size. But the meat eaters may only eat those animals who die of starvation and disease; from now on, hunting will be banned.” This caused much dismay among the meat-eaters, but what could they do? He was their king, too, and he said these words while shaking his mighty antlers with their sharp points.

So the plant eaters were able to leave the meeting with as much food as they were able to get, and all the animals were to collect more plants as they were ready to harvest, even the smallest berry or seed. Each day the food would be brought to Deer’s home, where he would divide it up, and send the plant eaters home with food while the meat eaters only had a scant few bony carcasses to squabble over.

Then it was decided that the meat eaters were not even allowed to be at the food collection except to bring what they had gathered and pick at the bones of the starved, and the plant eaters began to venture out of Deer’s home only to bring the collected food in, protected by their king’s antlers. The only ones who stayed out were the dead, who were left on the edge of Deer’s home, and over time there were fewer and fewer carcasses left out each day.

Wolf totem headdress by Lupa, 2012

Soon the meat eaters began to hoard what food they could. The bigger ones, by bullying and stealing food from others, ended up with the most and stayed strongest, while the little scavengers grew more and more hungry over time. Only Timber Wolf did not participate in this; she only took enough to feed herself, her mate, and her pups, and often ate the least of all her family. She grew sadder as she saw how the animals fought each other over so little.

The little scavengers noticed that of all the big meat eaters, she was the only one to let them have their own food. So they sent Raven, who was the bravest of them, to go speak with Wolf and ask her for help, since she was a great hunter, swifter than all the other meat eaters, and perhaps she would know what to do. She was given the last of the scraps to take to Wolf as an offering.

Raven flew to Wolf’s home as quickly as her weakened wings would carry her. She landed at the front of Wolf’s den, and croaked to her, “Lady Wolf, great huntress, brave warrioress, I am here on behalf of all the little scavengers, those of us who are too small to hunt big game. We are hungry, and we are too weak to steal our food back from the other big meat-eaters. You have the greatest hunting skills, and you are powerful. Will you help us to get food so that we may not starve to death and all become food ourselves? Soon none of us will be left!”

Wolf, curled with her mate and pups in her den, heard Raven’s pleas, and it was enough for her. She was tired of seeing the little scavengers creeping around and crying. Her hackles raised, she stalked out of the den, and met Raven there.

“Yes, I will help you. Let us go to our king, and ask him why we are unable to hunt. Let us ask him why we are not allowed to be at the food collection any more, other than to bring what we spend our days collecting in the hopes that we will be given bones to gnaw. My young cry for food, and your young barely live. It is too much.”

So they shared the scraps so Raven could recoup her strength from her flight, and Wolf could be ready for the trip. Raven perched on Wolf’s back, and they went to Deer’s home. When they got there, all the plant-eaters were inside, and no one was guarding the door since all the meat eaters were so weak that no one thought they could get in.

But Wolf got in, and Raven with her, and before anyone could speak or stop them, Wolf strode straight to where Deer sat, one antler shed and lying on the ground, the other shaking on top of his head. He was surrounded by all manner of food. The stores were piled from the floor to the ceiling; there were enough plant eaters that had died that even the small amount the famine-stricken plants could produce was more than what they could all eat. She looked at Deer, and all the plant eaters around him, and noticed how fat all of them were. And she grew enraged.

“How dare you?” she cried. “How dare you leave us out here to starve? You threw out all of those who nibbled at the edges of your leavings, and you only gave us your dead. Now that so many of you have died and you have more than enough food for all who remain, you keep it locked away here! You are no fit king!” And with this she fell upon them all, with bared teeth and fiery eyes.

She slew a tenth of the rabbits, and a tenth of the wild sheep, and a tenth of the elk. She hunted and killed a tenth of all the plant eaters, and the smell of the blood brought all the meat eaters together to feed. Then Deer himself, huge and fat and no longer so fierce without his antlers, got up and ran away, and Wolf chased him, with the little scavengers in their wake.

She chased him through the forest, and she tore away his toe, and the weasels fed upon it. Then she chased him through the mountains, and in a clearing she tore away his tail, and all the ravens came to take a piece of it. Then she chased him through the desert, and she tore away his remaining antler, and all the mice came and chewed at it.

Detail from wolf totem headdress by Lupa, 2012

And finally they circled back around to the mountains, where Wolf chased Deer all the way to the top of the highest peak, and there she overtook him and slew him. And his coppery blood rushed down the mountain in all directions, and he had grown so big that there were great, gushing rivers of it. The blood flooded all the land, from the mountains to the desert to the forest, and such was its power that it brought an end to the famine, and the plants thrived again.

And when Wolf came down from the mountain she brought Deer with her. She fed her young and her mate and herself and she tore what was left of Deer to pieces and gave all the little scavengers enough to feed themselves and their families.

Then she addressed all the animals, “I have killed our king, which makes me queen. I have only one decree—that we all go back to the way things were before the famine so that plant-eaters eat only what plants they gather, and meat-eaters eat only what meat they hunt or find.” And so it was.

But all the little scavengers followed Wolf around from that day on, for whenever she made a kill, she remembered their plight and how their food had been stolen from them, and always left them something to eat. And for her part in bringing back balance, Raven and her children were allowed to eat with Wolf and her kin for the rest of time.

The Foxes of the Four Seasons

A long time ago, the world was a lot different than it is now. There were no seasons, no changes in the weather. If you wanted snow, you had to go to one part of the world. If you wanted sun, you had to go to another. And everybody had to bring back rain from the only place in the world that had it, though it got enough for everybody. Since the animals couldn’t only have rain or only sun, there was a lot of moving around, and you didn’t have so many animals who stayed in one place. Some animals hardly ever saw another of their kind, but others would organize reunions every so often so as to not get lonely.

So it was that every seven years, all the foxes of the world would come together in one place for one great conclave. Long-separated friends caught up with each other, families introduced their youngest kits, disputes were addressed and resolved, and at night there was much celebration to be had. It was all rather a busy affair, as one might imagine would happen with that many foxes in one place.

It just so happened that one year, there was a contest over which fox was most beloved by the Earth, who gave the foxes’ paws somewhere to go. Finally, it came down to White Fox from the North, Black Fox from the East, Red Fox from the South, and Gray Fox from the West. Everyone agreed that these were the very best, cleverest, swiftest and strongest foxes of them all. They spent an entire day debating who was going to be elected the best fox when the Earth would make her presence known that night. They had heard that the very best fox would receive a special gift from the Earth, and they each wanted to prove they deserved it.

“She’ll choose me,” White Fox said, “because I am the only one who holds the cold snow and ice with my tall, proud mountains!” And everyone agreed that his mountains were indeed quite impressive.

“Nobody likes being cold, silly thing,” said Black Fox. “She’ll choose me, because I carry the soft, warm winds that help new seedlings to grow.” And all the foxes assembled thought she made a very good point.

“Ha! Just a little warmth? I’ll give you all the warmth you need with all the sunshine you could ever want!” declared Red Fox. “That’s why I’ll be chosen!” There was a good deal of agreement with that, as basking in the sun was a favorite activity of foxes all over.

“Surely we cannot have any snow or plants or cooling off from the sun without rain,” said Gray Fox. “I have the most water, which means that I’m sure to be the one the Earth will choose.” And the other foxes licked their chops at the thought of cool, refreshing rain water to drink.

But who would be chosen? The four foxes fell to arguing amongst each other, and had almost come to blows when there was a great trembling beneath their paws, and the Earth made her spirit present as a great, glowing golden Fox. “Dear children, what are you doing?” she asked.

“We were trying to figure out who you were going to choose as your favorite fox, and we can’t all be your favorite!” the four foxes said.

The Earth thought a moment and looked at each of the little foxes at her feet, each one so strong and talented in her or his own way. Then she smiled.

“Of course you can all be my favorites. Why choose one among you when all four of you have so much to offer?

My lovely Black Fox, you are the deep, rich soil which allows all the plants to grow healthy and strong. You take what has died and rebirth it as new living things. Your warm winds help to bring life to the land. Therefore, I will give you the first part of the year, when my friend the Sun is on his journey back here.

And you, bright Red Fox, you give the Sun a place to show us his strength the best. You allow him a place to set down the burden of rays on his back, and unwrap them so that all of us may see them and enjoy their warmth. To you, I give the second part of the year so the Sun may share with us every year.

Dear Gray Fox, your rains are invaluable to us all; without water we would be parched. I give you the third part of the year, where your rains may be the tears that bid farewell to the Sun as he leaves again, and your bright colors will be reflected in the leaves of the trees as they wear their finery to see him off.

Oh, beautiful White Fox, I haven’t forgotten you! Your cold climate cries out to the Sun for what warmth he will give, and your snows reflect his rays so that he can see this land no matter where he goes. To you, I give the final part of the year, to remind the Sun of us when he is at the farthest part of his travels, while we await his return here.”

And so it was that every year after that, all the places of the world received the gifts of the four foxes, each one in turn. Of course, each Fox had her or his own favorite places where they might tarry a little longer. But the animals no longer had to travel so far just to get sunshine or rain, or to get out of the cold or the heat. And so all but the most adventurous were able to settle down and create nests and dens, and allow the seasons to come to them.

Fox drum, acrylic on deerskin with fox tails, by Lupa, 2011

Art, storytelling, and shamanism my path

I have some half-formed thoughts about the recent integration of storytelling with my artwork, as well as the very deep, significant spiritual elements of the acts of creation. Yes, the coyote and wolverine are the most recent and obvious syntheses, given that each has a “new” myth to talk about its origin. But Anput was also a spiritual story, albeit one in which I featured as a main character, and which was not just a story that I created in my mind, but something that happened to me in working with that Goddess. Even Lady Red Riding Hood was story, rewriting the tale to better fit modern parameters, though maintaining its “once upon a time” feel.

I’ve long been a spirit-worker, evoking and invoking totems, animal spirits, deities and others. And the spirits have often spoken through my art, and not just the skin spirits that are in the remains themselves. I’ve even created numerous ritual tools and costumery over the years that could mesh with certain beings or energies in ritual.

However, this feels bigger. I feel like I’m adding to mythology, if that makes sense. The process of creation is simply the vehicle thereof. Perhaps it’s hubristic to say so, but it feels as though I am *adding to* these beings, with their consent and even invitation. Along with transforming the animal remains and their spirits, I feel I am also making a bigger transformation than before to the bigger beings, the totems and deities. If a totem, for example, is “made of” the natural history of the physical animal, its relationships with all other species, and the human observations as translated into legend, lore, and mythology, then I feel like I am making a bigger contribution to the ongoing, ever-developing mythology.

Like when I make a small pouch out of recycled rabbit fur, I am transforming the fur into something new, and I am rejuvenating the spirit with a new purpose–or releasing it from its container if it so wishes. But Domestic Rabbit stays largely the same; the pouch may be used to connect to Rabbit, but the change is only on this end. However, I look at my experiences creating the Anput headdress, and it definitely feels *bigger*. If you give me the generous allowance that my UPG is more than just something in my head, then I have been shown an element of this Goddess that may have been previously unknown, perhaps by even the ancient Egyptians. I don’t feel I’ve so much added something that wasn’t a part of her before, so much as I helped to shed light on it.

I’m not the only person to do this sort of thing; Ravenari has long been creating these inspired works. Her As Totems series largely comes from the individual totems pressing her into making portraits for them, or asking others to commission her (as with me and Steller’s Jay). She also learns more about the totems in the process of creating these works, hence her creating about the only totem animal dictionary I give any credence to. I give it more weight because I am aware of her process as well as her general familiarity with the animals and her shamanic skills, and I know how much effort goes into the contact with each. Whether she changes the totems, adds to them, or simply enhances the focus on certain parts, I can’t say. But it is very impressive to watch.

And it’s incredibly fascinating to be going through this process; the exchange of energy and ideas that I’m sharing with the deities and totems and spirits in this is beyond what I’ve done before. Whether you see me as connecting with independent beings, or being able to better access these archetypes and channel them through my work, I would appreciate your constructive feedback on what I’m trying to describe here. Anyone else been here?

How Wolverine Devoured the Sun

Wolverine was the fiercest animal in the forest. Even great Grizzly Bear ran away when Wolverine was angry. Wolverine was also the hungriest animal in the forest. He ate everything he could find that wouldn’t bite him back, and even most of the ones that would. All the animals of the forest told their young to stay away from Wolverine, lest he gobble them up for breakfast.

After a while, everyone learned to stay far away, and he found it harder and harder to find food to eat. One day, there was an enormous rumbling in his stomach, and he knew that if he did not eat soon his stomach might just try to eat him! So he left his den to go out and see whether some animal or another might be close enough for at least a snack.

Yet the snow covered the land so thickly that not even the tiny field mice with their enormous families could be found. And because all the animals had hidden away while it snowed, there were no tracks to be found anywhere.

Wolverine looked all around him. There was only snow, that melted in his stomach and did no good. And there were trees and rocks, but even his formidable stomach would reject them. Finally he looked up, and saw the Sun in the sky.

And he thought to himself, “All life comes from the Sun. She feeds the plants, who feed the animals, who feed me. So if I eat the Sun, then I’ll never be hungry again!”

Sunburst, Lupa, 2011

Just then, the Sun was approaching the top of the highest mountain peak. So Wolverine ran as fast as he could, climbing the mountain with his sharp claws gouging gashes in the rocks, and shredding the boulders into rock slides. He destroyed the mountainside homes of the pikas, who to this day will still complain loudly and shrilly about it to anyone who comes near.

Right when the Sun was crossing over the tip of the mountain, Wolverine reached the summit. With a running leap, he opened his jaws just as wide as they would go—and he swallowed the Sun! The world was thrown into complete darkness, since the Moon was still slumbering on the other side of the world, and the Stars were too surprised to shine.

Down in the forest, the startled animals panicked, shoving their way through the cold and snow to see if their neighbors, too, had experienced this sudden nightfall. Some were lost in snowdrifts; others tripped over rocks or fell off cliffs or stumbled into rivers. The trees and other plants shook and wailed as their only source of food had disappeared. “We are lost!” they exclaimed.

Meanwhile, Wolverine attempted to pick his way down the mountain with a very round, very full, and very uncomfortable stomach. He was so busy trying to not roll down the mountain that he didn’t even stop to consider whether he was even hungry any more. And he certainly didn’t notice that he had, in his haste, swallowed the Sun quite alive.

For her part, the Sun had shaken off the indignity and inconvenience of having been eaten whole, and she began to look for a way out. First she looked up Wolverine’s throat, but she only saw his sharp teeth, and having avoided them once she did not wish to try her luck again. She then looked toward his tail, but she only saw his long, long tangle of intestines, and she did not wish to find herself lost in that maze. She even tapped at his ribs, but found the bones to make all too effective a cage.

Wolverine totem headdress, Lupa, 2011

So finally she decided she would stay right where she was and look for any possible way out. She began to roll around, testing every surface she touched for any sign of an opening. As the Sun pressed up against Wolverine’s insides, she burned him terribly. Wolverine, even so strong and stoic as he was, could not help but cry, and the pain was so great that he began to shed tears of blood that flowed down his body.

Finally, the Sun found a weak spot at the back of his belly. And she pushed, and she pushed, and Wolverine clawed the ground trying to keep her in, and his howls of fury and pain were so great that all the other creatures ran far away.

And then with a great tearing and rending, the Sun burst through Wolverine’s back. She scorched his fur as she escaped, and left an impression of her beams radiating out from the hole she created. She flew back up into the sky and brought the day to the land again.

As she looked down upon Wolverine, who lay dead upon the ground, she took pity on him. And lifting him up into the sky, she breathed life back into him, and knit together his torn form. And Wolverine stood up, as healthy—and hungry—as ever. But as he looked back to see whether the hole still remained in his back, he saw a ring of pale sunbeams on his fur.

“These are to remind you of the consequences of your gluttony,” the Sun said. “You were only so very hungry, my fearsome child, but you are a creature of the earth, not the sky, and there are many things for you to eat where you came from.” And so she placed him back down right by his den.

And from that day forward, no matter how hungry Wolverine was, and no matter how far he had to travel to find food even in the middle of Winter, he had only to look at the Sun’s touch upon his back to remind him of the folly of his past.

Wolverine Fur, Lupa, 2011

How Coyote Lost His Hearing

Coyote Fool Mask by Lupa, 2011

Now Coyote was a fine young man, if a little rough around the edges. And there came a day when he decided he was going to go courting, because no one had married him yet, and that was a rather sad state of affairs if he said so himself! So he went on down to the river, jumped in and swam around a while, came back out and shook himself dry in the sunshine. Then he put on his finest clothes, which were rather threadbare and shabby and a bit out of style, puffed his chest out, and went to go find someone to court.

Soon he ran into Rabbit, who was grazing in some clover at the edge of a buffalo wallow. “Look, there’s Rabbit! She’s not married, but she has a lot of children. I bet she’ll want to marry me!”

So Coyote sidled on up to Rabbit. “Why hallo there,” he said. “How might you be this lovely day?”

“I’m doing quite well, thank you! Would you care to join me for lunch? The clover here’s so luscious!” Rabbit replied. “This little patch right here is especially nice,” she said with a wink. So Coyote settled down next to Rabbit and began to mouth the clover, just to make Rabbit feel better and hopefully like him a little more.

But soon all that pretend eating made him hungry for real food. And Rabbit was looking mighty tasty. Of course, Rabbit had seen that look in Coyote’s eyes before. So before he could snap his teeth at her, she up and ran as fast as she could away from him. She even kicked a cloud of dust all over Coyote and his finery.

While he was sitting there in the dust, with his finest clothes filthy and his stomach growling, along came Scrub Jay. “What seems to be the problem?” Scrub Jay asked.

“I tried to court Rabbit so she’d think to marry me, but instead she ran away from me and left me here in the dirt!” Coyote complained.

Scrub Jay looked very grave. “Well, I see the problem here. You just don’t look enough like a rabbit. Now, we can’t very well shorten your tail, and we can’t round your nose off no matter how much you wiggle it, but we could make your ears fluffier, like hers are. Here, get some of this dandelion fluff and stuff it in your ears, just like so.” So Coyote tucked his ears full of fluff, and then went off in pursuit of Rabbit.

He never found where Rabbit went, but he soon ran into Crow, who was building her nest. “Well,” he thought to himself, “I don’t think Crow’s married either, and I think she’s just as nice as Rabbit, even if she is a gossip. I’ll court her instead!”

Coyote headed up to the tree where Crow was building her nest. “Good day!” he called to her, a little loudly since he was having a bit of trouble hearing himself, but everybody had that problem from time to time, didn’t they?

“Why, look, it’s Coyote—wait, what on earth do you have stuck in your ears?” Crow cawed.

“Oh, you won’t convince me of the worth of lucky hares—their feet never did me any good at cards anyway!” Coyote replied. “So, have you found any good carrion lately?”

Crow cocked her head to one side at him. “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you, you silly creature! I need to eat, and I don’t want you stealing my food!”

Coyote cocked his head right back at her, hoping maybe mimicking her would make her like him a little more, though he was also more than a little confused. “But my feet are just fine! Why do you think they had peeling grooves? Those cracks in the pads are natural-born, baby!”

“No! Not FEET! EAAAAAAAT!” Crow cawed as loud as she could. She flew down from her nest and flapped her wings in his face. “EAT! EAT! You fool, I said EAT! As in FOOD!”

Leather corvid wall hanging by Lupa, 2009

Coyote backed away from this mad black whirlwind, then turned tail and ran, feathers coating his dusty finery, leaving a trail of fluff in his wake. He eventually shook Crow off, and soon found himself in a panting heap right where he’d left Scrub Jay.

“How’s it going, Casanova?” Scrub Jay said. “You panting because Crow was just too much for you?”

“You could say that,” Coyote grumbled. “But she didn’t like the fluff! And I don’t think she’s going to marry me any time soon, either.”

“That’s because she doesn’t care about fluff, silly dog. She’s right in the middle of building a nest—and believe me, I know nests,” Scrub Jay bragged. “What you want to court her with is something pretty that she can decorate her nest with! In fact, I know just the thing! Follow me.”

So Scrub Jay and Coyote went east, and they went west, and maybe just a little north—but never south, not when courting. And they came to a place where humans lived, a little hut with fences all around it. By the door of the hut was a basket, and in the basket were many balls of brightly colored yarn.

“See that?’ Scrub Jay pointed to the basket. “That’s exactly what you need, right there! Crow would love that in her nest! Now, here’s what you do. You want her to definitely notice that you have yarn for her, even from a mile away, and maybe especially so since she’s all spooked now. So tuck some of that yarn into your ears so she can see it, and go find her! But you’d better put this fluff back in, too, because you might run into Rabbit instead, and then your problem will still be solved! I’ll just sit right here and keep an eye out for the humans.”

So Coyote stuffed the fluff back in his ears, then sneaked over to the house, grabbed some yarn, and went and hid in the back field by the pond while he tucked that in his ears, too. Just as he was finishing up, something big shoved him over onto his head! He turned around, and saw Cow, all black and white and surprised, looking down at him.

“Ohhhhhhh, my! What are you doing here? And what is that in your ears? Is that the new fashion, then?” she said.

“WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!!!!!” Coyote shouted at the top of his lungs.

“Ohhhhhhh, dear, now my husband will have heard you, and he’ll come and chase you away! You’d better run now, or else!” Cow looked around nervously.


Cow said again, “Ohhhhhhhh, goodness! My husband is coming! You’d better run away or he’ll get you!”

“I GIVE UP! YOU TALK TOO SOFTLY! I’M NOT COURTING YOU!” Coyote was about to turn and head home, when the ground began to shake, and Cow’s husband came barreling to a stop over him.

“WHO WERE YOU GOING TO COURT, LITTLE DOG?” Cow’s husband bellowed.

“WHO ARE YOU, AND WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU ALL SAYING?” Coyote shouted right in Cow’s husband’s face.



At which Cow’s husband snorted, caught Coyote and his finery and his fluff and his yarn and his dust and his feathers, and tossed it all into the pond with a mighty splash!

“Well, at least you’re clean again!” Scrub Jay shouted to poor Coyote, who still couldn’t hear anything anyone was saying as he dragged his muddy self to dry land.

And Scrub Jay flew away, laughing “Vweeeeet! Vweeeeet! Vweeeeet!”

Scrub Jay painted by Lupa, 2010