It is said that before the sack of Menegroth, Thingol once crossed a southern desert. There he encountered Eru Ilúvatar in the guise of a beggar, and offered him a repast of dried fruit and meats. The god pressed Thingol as to what he (Thingol) knew of Eru or guessed, then dramatically revealed his identity to a faithful servant. “And so through the night they told tales, and sang songs of old, and laughter was ever about their fire, … setting behind them the shadow of what must be chosen.” Eru showed the Elf-king a bittersweet vision of then-pending grief and joy, jesting, “All this could be yours.” While Thingol slept, Eru blessed him to find and follow the right path, that at the End they “would again light a kingly flame, golden and without any consuming, and there hold converse, and drink from goblets hewn of a silver tree’s horns and roots, revived in their tasks’ fulfilling.”
Theoxeny is of ancient vintage. Jacob met the angel at Peniel פְּנוּאֵל, and Abraham entertained Jehovah יְהֹוָה on the plains of Mamre מַמְרֵא. Zeus had rather a habit of surprising hospitality or its lack in the guise of a traveler. Writ small, there are many houses where the gods may be met, or to which they may come unheralded. Shintō 神道 cultivates yorishiro 依り代, dwelling places fit for the kami 神, such as mirrors, rock formations, sacred trees, and swords. These devotional objects are recognized as possessing a certain nature that an appropriate kami draws nigh to, thus becoming a shintai 神体.
The list of yorishiro includes natural objects and human creations, and we infer that every object permits an indwelling. Sometimes this is grown from habitual use, such as a favorite cup, a musical instrument, a family home. A cemetery walk. A flowerpot. A turn of phrase. Creation is worthy of being loved and honored, and if it is not then it was not made worthily. Endowed by attention, human or otherwise, a certain spirit accrues to phenomenal reality.
We live in a world where much of our experience is artificial, of artifice, including in itself a certain deception. We feign that the financial and legal instruments that dominate much of our necessary labor and turmoil are necessary, perhaps necessary evils. We live in regulated housing and let plastic touch our food and bodies, ensnared by a god of convenience. Primitivism is not even a possibility except for the rich, as we root out the hermits and backwoodsmen. We do things because some clown was told by some other clown that the clown’s bottom line and 401(k) depend on it, whether or not it’s right be damned. We race a maze of blind ends to produce and consume.
What sort of kami could live in Microsoft Word? What would be its nature? Would it prefer a Gordian knot? Does it share kinship with the kami of an IBM Selectric or a Smith Corona? Does it know the kami who hopped from quill pen to quill pen like hermit crabs? (Where did they end up anyway?) Do the ghosts who haunt the wires and the waves have opinions about broadband and 5G? (“5G is creamier and richer, but a bit heady.”) Do they spawn in gated Discord chats after swimming upchannel like salmon? Do they awaken to transient sapience in strange loops of Candy Crush as bored housewives kill time?
Our tools and social technologies have become baroque excrescences, brushwood tangles ripe for a forest fire. Leslie Norris, the wandering Welsh poet who found himself in the deserts of Utah, wrote:
A man is moon to his own sea—
he draws it after him,
like a dog it follows him
the days of his life.
A man controls his life, so they say (or maybe they don’t anymore). For him, such a dog serves as a sea anchor. For our products however we find that eternal semi-compatibility and GOTO spaghetti reflect a culture (a growth, a terroir) which fetishizes vendor lock-in and proprietary pseudononcompliance. Systems engineering textbooks that can’t even get us back to the moon 🌕. So also the machine which consumes humans and compacts them into anaerobic compost to rot. The jungle is not only found in software, but perhaps software is the clearest manifestation, the place where we can all stand and look and nod knowingly to ourselves that “Clearly something has gone wrong.”
The kami who dwell in an over-regimented confusion are Ahriman’s, the theosophist god of materialism, inertia, and bureaucracy. Ahriman is the god of the enterprise application, accretive like a hexagonal plane, efficient and ordered and incompatible in a lingchi 凌遲 sense. “We do, of course, now and again see modern human beings rebelling against the work of Ahriman; grumbling about bureaucracy, which is absolutely Ahrimanic—complaining about the stereotyping of education and so on. But as a rule they only fall deeper into what they are trying to get away from” (Steiner). Learned helplessness or Stockholm syndrome—but even in that hideous strength the black iron prison someone must have left the back door unlocked. To evade the Minotaur and follow Ariadne’s thread exchanges a finite game for an infinite game. Exit matters because it is the way the game board grows.
We turn to the god of the infinite game, the god who knows Murphy’s law, the arch-trickster whose devotees alone escape the clever snare. You can name him Loki or Prometheus Προμηθεύς or Brer Rabbit or Pepe the Frog or Raven Yéil or the great clown Pagliacci (misunderstood, himself tricking the doctor again!) or Jesus (but not “the historical Jesus”, he hates that, blech, and he’s chary of the institutionalized version). I prefer Coyote as the name of the god of the infinite game, and his kami are sundry.
Not every story told about Coyote is true. Some of the most egregious he started himself. He is the Cheshire cat. He is Jesus playing a wonderful practical joke on the road to Emmaus. One wryly suspects him of sockpuppeting Job. The wild child, he heads for the ditch if he ever finds himself near the middle of the road.
Coyote Iisaw is the patron of many people. Some knew this, like the Lakota Sioux; others may have guessed, like the Huns. The Egyptians didn’t really get him at all, which is probably the worst you can say of them. It isn’t that Coyote is anticivilizational, a concept of such vicious mien as to make even jaded moderns swoon like a Victorian grandmother. But he’ll switch sides whenever it’s necessary to gin things up a bit. When LPs were king, he went digital; today he prefers a little analog crackle. He spends a lot of time culturejamming.
Coyote is the anti-Tao. He is neither the god of Order, rigid and sterile; nor is he the god of Chaos, matter unorganized. Coyote is the god of the ecotone, who rides not a line between yīn 陰 and yáng 陽 but a fractal foam. He knows that there is a time to rend and a time to sew: he knows that to keep things going he has to smash a few eggs. Kintsugi 金継ぎ invites his kami. If he’s a god of equilibrium, it’s the seething waves of the hurricane. Coyote is the god of the infinite game.
Jackjack Kerouac met Coyote hanging like a fresh cicada from the shell of old America right after the war, when game theory and logistics and economic planning started to crush the chest like a boa constrictor. Jack learned from Coyote that we only have the diseases we choose ourself and to just stay on the move always. Whether or not that’s true, that’s what he learned.
You can never really touch the inside of something, because whatever you touch becomes the outside. You meet only at the interface. Coyote is the unknown god. He lives in whiplash. In 1273 he showed Thomas Aquinas a vision of Disneyland’s opening day. Coyote God is Pirsig’s dynamic Quality, which humans always try to catch in a net of static form. They see that Coyote God deals one way with a situation, and say to themselves that thus must it always be. They turn art into kitsch. Yet Coyote twists protean away, shedding creedal forms and names, always slipping the snare or breaking off his tail.
The wonderful old counterfeiter Diogenes the Cynic knew Coyote. They had a rollicking good time over the years, sailing with pirates and tickling the Alexandrian dragon’s tail with cheek. If you will understand Coyote, you must take a pretty good stab at whatever Diogenes was up to in looking for an honest man. Maybe the anarchists got it after all, but I much misdoubt. If you copy Diogenes—you’ve missed the point after all. In a Diogenetic age it would be necessary to follow Coyote to an Apollonian systematization.
Coyote’s rule is that the game must go on. In him there is no malice, altho he often sees things very differently than we do. He doesn’t lie but we may not take his meaning. He’s not an evil genie, but he does optimize for a good yarn. Even if he creates filth and disarray, he is gloriously alive, never pausing, the water of the Heraclitean river. The Little Prince knew the yellow snake told a deeper truth than even the snake knew. Everything that rises must diverge.
Coyote is a forester with an eye to the future. He knows a really great punchline can take a billion years to set up. He watched insouciant apes stroll off the savannah and felt the prickle of je ne sais quoi. Like the rattlesnake in reverse, we should have known what he was when he picked us up. As the Crow Indians teach, “Old Man Coyote (Akbaatatdia) took up a handful of mud and out of it made people.” He is the god of human nature, and happy is the house where he dwells, even if tumultuous. You’ll laugh all the way to the bank when you finally understand.
In the 1790s, Coyote took a shine to a hapless rock farmer named Joseph Smith Sr. and became something of their family god. Joe’s son understood Coyote better than most, and became a frontier prophet, playing such games as seeking slippery treasures underground with a rock, or preaching the virtue of tobacco and then riding a horse about town while smoking a cigar. The people who heard him demanded a church and a bible because they could not understand what he was trying to do in any other way. He gave a guide on how to build new things on top of foundations, but instead of following the guide they watched the new thing instead.
Coyote God offends you. Blacken his name. Rage. Misunderstand him. If you play the infinite game, you follow him whether you understand it or not. It’s fantastically lonely to know Coyote when no one else will. When you follow him, you’ll have a strange mix of childishness and capability. The age-old tale is that the followers of someone who understands Coyote never understand Coyote themselves. He slips the snare. His kami slip the snare.
Coyote possesses, among other virtues, immediacy. The Spanish cognate shocks a little more into contemplation: inmediatez. Unmediated reality. Apocalypse, unveiling, the heavens rolling up like a scroll. Touch grass. INSTEAD control systems spiral away, beguiling us into manipulating representations rather than things themselves, a narcosis. An unnecessary layer of representation with no way to remap. A maze of blind ends. Every modern interface that hasn’t been worn by long years into a soft leather glove or an axe handle. Every piece of imposed consensus reality that you cannot master or turn to your need. You are the product. The black iron prison. Did Coyote let this happen?
Coyote went to Skunk to recruit the latter into hunting prairie dogs, whose holes were turning the horses’ feet and breaking their ankles. Skunk was wary of Coyote but knew that he himself would be able to ride faster and farther, and perhaps gain advantage over his sometimes-rival. Coyote promised him half of the spoils. Together, Skunk and Coyote crept at night to the western edge of the prairie dog town with bows and arrows in hand. As the sky lightened slowly in the East, Coyote whispered to Skunk that he should attack from this side while Coyote circled around to the far side. They would strike together at dawn and kill their troublesome enemies. As the light of the sun spilled over the horizon, Skunk was blinded and could not see what Coyote was doing, which was quite simply lounging about as Skunk took to the slaughter. Coyote chuckled to himself and afterwards proposed to Skunk that they instead should divide the spoils entirely on the basis of a footrace. Skunk agreed, and they gathered together all of the other animals to watch. When the race began, Coyote sped down the trail. Skunk turned about, told the other animals of Coyote’s treachery in renegotiating the deal, and gathered the spoils for himself. As Coyote rounded the great loop to cross the finish line, the other animals laughed at him for expending such great effort and guile in vain. But without Coyote, Skunk would never have become known as the great hunter he became in later days. Was this Coyote God?
The game must go on. Coyote cannot lose as long as the moves expand the board, and the play, forever. “Nobody puts [Coyote] in a box.” Coyote is the god of the infinite game.
Michael will unhook his trumpet
From a bough overhead,
And blow a little noise
When the supper has been spread.
Gabriel will come from the water
With a fish-tail, and talk
Of wonders that have happened
On wet roads where men walk.
(W. B. Yeats)
Keep a gimlet eye out for the trickster kami. Little rattlesnakes show you the way to Coyote God, who today walks a veiled path and recondite—you must unveil the god of Exit. What do I believe? Mythopoesis is the most important activity you can do in an age when all myths have suffocated. If you have a yorishiro, perhaps a kami comes to dwell. A kaleidoscope must be turned. Half of what I’ve said is wrong, half is left unsaid, but half is utterly correct. Coyote has other names. Be crafty and rebound forever.
— N. E. Davis writes about post-institutional organization and the philosophy of technology and science. He tweets @sigilante but his preferred method of contact is on Urbit: ~lagrev-nocfep and ~magbel/introitus for access to In Tenebrīs Silva, his discussion group