A Coyote Way of Knowing

A rambling discussion concerning a particular point of view and a few notes about what the Thornish tradition is…and is not.

 By Jack Wolf

“I have no faith; I have confidence.”

  • Thornish saying

“In answer to those people’s questions I gave them three yesses and three nos. I said: Yes we are Thornish and Thornish people are unquestionably pagan. Yes, I was one of the people who created this particular tradition and yes indeed some parts of the tradition we made up.  This was done out of necessity to accommodate our needs and desires of the time. All traditions in their infancy had parts that were made up. Necessity is the mother of invention, remember?

I also said that no, we were not an ancient tradition, no we don’t wield great mystical powers and no…we don’t particularly care what anyone thinks about our ways. Our ways work for us. End of story.”

  • Ari Torinsson

In my tradition one’s connection with the deep Earth is strongly emphasized. So too is a connection that one gains over time through the knowledge of one’s Vörd, or primary guardian animal spirit. In the Thornwood one has very little difficulty in identifying the animal-spirit-connection in any particular individual: They exude it; they embrace the connection – celebrate it in fact – for it is a very sacred gift.

My particular Vörd, in case this was not eminently evident by now, to those who know me or have read my work –  is Coyote.  Now, when I am speaking thus you will notice that I say Coyote and not coyotes. This is because when I am talking about my Vörd I am talking about an aspect of Coyote himself – Coyote who is the spiritual representative; the primal root if you will, of all coyotes.  Sometimes this concept is difficult to explain to outsiders – especially those who do not already enjoy a tribal mindset.

I try to explain to these curious folk that while there are many different kinds of animal-guardian spirit and indeed a single person may gather a good number of plant, animal and other kinds of spirits as helpers – in the Thornish view of things we only have one Vörd. We view the Vörd as having been with a person at birth (probably before birth) and usually staying with a person throughout their life in this world. It is believed that without the assistance, guidance and protection of one’s Vörd it is unlikely that a person will have survived childhood.

Someone said to me: “Hey Jack if you honor the old ways of the north how can you be connected with Coyote? Why not Raven or Wolf?”


Well the answer to that is that the Thornish way is something that while it has some of its influences from northern Europe (and indeed some of its founders were from there) it is a tradition born on North American soil and nurtured not only by European influences – but also by Native American ones. Let’s add to this that Coyote chose me. One does not choose their guardian helper – it chooses them – long before they are born.

Having spoken on these kinds of subjects to some Heathen friends recently, one of them then asked: “This sounds very tribal and primal, but how does it fit in with being a Heathen?”

To which I explained (as I have many times before) that the Way of the Thornwood is a unique expression of what some might  loosely call Heathenry – in that while we do pay deep reverence to the ancestral spirits and Elder Kin of the north, we have always sought the deeper connections that go back in time much further than those which most modern day Pagan folk are content to live with. We look for the things in deepest time which are the roots of what we see today. As a result of this you see a tradition which was once humorously referred to as Paleo-Heathenry.  While amusing, this was quite off the mark, as the Way of the Thornwood is a place where primal animism, aboriginal North American and European-sourced polytheism (among other things) meet.

Thornish people in general, do not consider themselves to be heathen in the sense that most modern day people consider it to be. If you think about the word ‘Heathen’ in the old way – as describing  people of the  heath, as in people of the countryside, the woods – wild folk – then  this would be an apt description. However as most people today think of heathenry: Asátrú, Forn sed, Théodism, Odinism, etc., this is not a match in description for those of us who walk the Thornish path.

Despite this explanation some folks don’t seem to get it. They want us to fit into a box that will never be built.

Someone once asked me rather sarcastically, how the Old Gods of the north, such as Odin or Thor for instance, could possibly be a part of the worship in the Thornwood. To this my response came in two forms:

  • Thornish folk worship no one. Get your facts straight about us before you criticize. We honor many beings with whom we have contact. Some of these are beings which certain folk have called Gods. Others, not so much. Thornish people do not believe in Gods in the omniscient sense; we believe that everything is interconnected and interrelated and nothing is all powerful and all knowing.
  • Seek out and understand the known literature and the archaeological record as well as the oral traditions. Odin, for example, is one of the original holy-men dancing around fires so far in the past that people were dwelling in caves and the constellations in the night sky were very different from the way they are today. The same goes for his kin and for many other ancient ones who come to us out of the fathomless spaces: They are very old – beyond the understanding of most people today. These hale folk are our ancestors from the time of the primal knowledge and THAT is how we acknowledge them.
  • Thornish people believe that much has been lost, as far as our understanding of the old Ones (or Elder Kin as we like to think of them) is concerned. The advance of Christianity in northern lands swept much of the old lore and temples away in a giant genocidal sweep that erased much from the face of history – and speaking of history, only a fool would think that what we currently hold as history has not been warped and twisted to suit the needs of the invading culture. As such we take the available lore and sagas only so far because we know it has been tainted.  We seek to establish our own links to the Old Ones just as it was done in primal times: DIRECTLY – with no intervention; no middlemen; no lofty interpretations by any priestly types. In the Thornwood personally gained knowledge of the spirit world is highly respected and it carries significant weight with us as we find our way back.

The Old Ones are quite real to us: As real as our guardian-animal helpers and our associated ancestors  and spirit helpers are.

But…I digress. We were speaking of the importance of the Vörd in Thornish tradition and how the relationship one forms with ones guardian is a form of symbiosis – in which both parties give and take in a lifelong sharing.

I was fortunate in that when I was a young person, seeking to understand the intricacies of my own spirit, that I had an excellent first mentor in such things. This was my adoptive Grandfather, Oliver, who showed me how to understand myself and my guardian helper far better than I ever would have on my own.  It was through him (also a person who walked with Coyote) that I learned how to get the most out of the sharing that my Vörd had to offer me.

Thus, for many years now, I have been conscious of a fusion of sorts between myself and Coyote. I have come to know him well and I will tell you that he generally has a bad rap among modern human beings that is sorely undeserved. I can’t recall how many times I have heard ignorant people refer to him as a vile character, a merciless trickster, a stupid blunderer, a bad guy, a trouble-maker and even once; evil.

Utter nonsense.

If you go and look at any educational material on coyotes you will come to understand that they are highly intelligent and capable omnivores that develop strong, lifelong ties to their mates and are caring parents. They are also crafty and wise in their way – assets which have been honed to razor sharpness by many generations of doing what coyotes do best: Surviving and remaining free.  Coyote the spirit guardian is no different from this other than in his spiritual form his intelligence is much greater than that of any human being, the same with his wisdom and insight.

Sure he can be a joker and a trickster – at home with viewing the lighter side of life – but it has been said that a complex sense of humor is directly related to high intelligence.

Coyote is also a wise teacher whose area of specialization (in my experience) is largely centered around the gifts of freedom and the ability to survive and thrive no matter what the circumstances. If you were to ask Coyote what the most important thing in the world is to him, he would tell you that it is freedom. Without freedom everything else is a grey haze of bare existence. Better to die free than to merely exist he would say – and has said – as a matter of fact.

Thornish people too are all about freedom, no matter what their individual spirit guardians might be.

Coyote of course has a dark side, just like anybody, and this often appears when Coyote is prevented from existing in his natural free and curious state. He can be ruthless and dangerous when necessary, yet this kind of thing most often occurs when he is cornered or feels he has no alternatives. This is not so different from just about anyone who will react in an aggressive or ruthless way in such circumstances, however with Coyote we are dealing with a very advanced and canny intelligence that can add considerably to his dark potential. He is quite literally hard-wired to think not only outside the box, but to think outside the room that the box is in. Woe be to those who seek to cross or restrain Coyote in any way because they will invariably pay for it in the end.

Since I was young I have walked what my Native Grandfather called the Coyote Road. The Coyote Road, like the concept of Coyote himself or about guardian-spirit-folk for that matter, is something which is more easily understood at the intuitive level than at the conscious verbally expressible level. Yet I can tell you that to me the Coyote Road is about embracing the delight of freedom and in enveloping oneself in an inextinguishable drive for knowledge and understanding. Curiosity is a hallmark of Coyote, just as it is for many of the teacher-folk of the spirit world. Indeed, I have more than once seen deep similarities between Coyote’s unquenchable thirst for knowing with that of Odin of Asgard. Coyote seeks knowledge and often makes sacrifices for such in his adventures. Also he is known to share his findings with others – just as Odin does. I have no doubt that there are instances where Odin and Coyote have shared the same road over the millennia. Simply because these tales are not written down as ‘canon’ in some book somewhere does not make it so.

I get asked how Coyote fits in to the founding of the Thornwood tradition. Well in the beginning times, when the Thornwood was formed, the Founders recognized the importance of the guardian-spirit-essence that was residing in each of them. As a result an understanding for all of the spirit-guardian-folk was developed, and in those founding days there was a mix of spirit-guardian-folk to be found; mostly wolves, ravens, foxes and bears. However crows and coyotes were also represented. As a result of this mix of personalities discussions took place to seek a balance in the ways of the Thornwood. This was achieved, so it is most certainly not all about Coyote, but rather that he is but one primal voice in the chorus.

So after having said all of this what exactly is the view from the Coyote Road?

The Coyote way of knowing is one where one sees, at every turn of the road, the fact that the humans in power are seeking to reduce the freedom of others. They are not simply looking to curtail the liberties of other humans either; they are destroying more and more wild lands every day in their insane thirst for resources and this is stealing freedom from the wild folk just as surely as putting them in a cage.

The Coyote way of knowing sees the efforts of the powers that be as they are being directed at reducing the intelligence of the human species. This is being done through the subtle manipulations of media, government propaganda and even in the poisons found in the diet of most people. As well people are relying more on machines for their knowledge than on their wits – and this too is taking its toll.

The Coyote way of knowing sees that there are subtle population reduction activities going on in the world. Whether it is the spike in toxins being placed in modern food, or the doubtful ingredients in many so-called ‘vaccines’, or even the mysterious chemicals being dumped from planes over many human communities, Coyote knows craft and subterfuge when he sees it: There is herd-population-control going on and while a person of coyote sensibilities sees the advantage in reducing the load on the Earth’s resources, it also does not want to get caught up in any of these sneaky practices either.

The Coyote way of knowing is something that tells its holder that not all is as it seems: It says “Don’t be labeled or pigeonholed down to a number.” It says” Don’t be a drone who obediently does what he is supposed to do rather than what he feels instinctively drawn to do.”  It says: “Seek freedom and understanding for YOURSELF before you accept it unquestioningly from anyone else – especially from those you don’t personally know.”

The Coyote way of knowing tells us to question everything. It wonders why people would think it was perfectly okay to waste one’s life in a cubicle working for a big Earth-killing company all of their life, then retiring, dying, being stuffed like a mannequin and placed in a box in the ground. The Coyote way of knowing asks why anyone would so easily give up the sacred gifts of life and freedom in such a way?

The Coyote way of knowing tells those who walk it that they should be ever vigilant and mindful of their personal freedom at all times. It advises that the barriers to freedom and understanding are falling into place all over and that one should have a plan in place at all times to avoid being trapped.

The Coyote way of knowing also warns us that the way of life that most human beings of our generation have enjoyed is very likely coming to an end soon. To this end all of those who walk this way should prepare themselves and their loved ones for a journey to the deeper places of the world; where a connection to the green might still be made. The reason for this is that many Elders have said that it is the folk closest to the Earth who will be spared the coming cleansing – and coyotes are master survivors. This is not, as some might suspect, a matter of running away; it is a matter of surviving so that what we are and what we can teach is not lost.

Finally, the Coyote way of knowing tells us that we must all seek to embrace the hale joys of life that are left to us and that by remaining close to our purpose; as stewards of the land, and seeking to reconnect with spirit, we can grow and thrive no matter what kinds of things befall those who are not awakened.

Whether you are a Coyote or a Bear or a Fox or a Hawk…or any of the other sacred animal spirits you should know that it is your destiny to awaken – and to awaken those worthy ones around you so that all you have learned and created is not lost in the time of the coming changes.

End of rambling rant


About Jack Wolf

Canadian author Jack Wolf has been a practicing Pagan for over 30 years, walking a path that encompasses both his Northern European and Native American heritage. He counts the late Heathen Goði and writer E. Max Hyatt, Professor Mark Mirabello, Dakota tribal Chief William Hoff and American author Allan Cole among his mentors. An avid outdoorsman, Jack has spent a considerable portion of his life exploring the deep wilds of British Columbia, a vast province on Canada’s west coast. He brings a great deal of his wilderness experience to his spiritual path. Over the past 15 years Jack has studied and written about a number of northern pagan traditions, having published for the most part independently or in small journals, blogs or websites. His recent works for Mandrake of Oxford Have certainly opened up his writing to a larger audience. Jack is also the author of several other books, including Circle of Bones (2012), The Way of the Odin Brotherhood (2013), Blood and Stone (2014) co-author of Tales from the Red Moon Lodge (2014) and co-editor of A Voice from the Thornwood (winter 2014). Forthcoming works include The Thornish Path, Ullr’s Road and The Urban Tribalist, all of which are planned for a mid-2015 and early 2016 release respectively. Spiritually, Jack identifies himself generally as a Deep Tribalist and more specifically as Thornish. He is a member of a primal pagan tradition whose spiritual path involves questing for the First Knowledge – that held by our most ancient ancestors whose hearts and spirits were deeply connected to the land. The Thornish path is the way of the warrior-steward; a Deep Tribal tradition which Jack has practiced since the late 1980’s Jack holds a degree in anthropology from the world renowned University of British Columbia and has long held an avid interest in history, tribal peoples, spirituality and the reawakening of pagan peoples worldwide. He currently resides with his wife and co-author Cassandra Wolf and their daughter, in Squamish, British Columbia.
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