Thursday, June 12, 2008



Gary Snyder, "Doctor Coyote When He Had a Problem," Danger on Peaks: Poems (Washington: Shoemaker Hoard, 2004), p. 59:
Doctor Coyote when he had a problem
took a dump. On the grass, asked his turds where they lay
what to do? They gave him good advice.

He'd say "that's just what I thought too"
And do it.        And go his way.
Snyder's source may have been Jay Miller's introduction to Mourning Dove, Coyote Stories (Caldwell: Caxton, 1933; rpt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), p. xii:
As he bestowed every one of the powers, the leader also gave out medicine powers. He would point to the center of a person's body, to the heart, which is the seat of thought and emotions, and proclaim what that power would be. Typically, Coyote misunderstood this gesture, assuming that the leader was pointing to his stomach. Thus, by virtue of the creative force granted to his thoughts, Coyote received a special power different from other beings. The representatives of his power lived in Coyote's intestines until he summoned their help. At that moment, they came out and took the form of five feces or, as polite Colvilles say, turds. Coyote called them his younger siblings and asked their advice, which they always gave wisely, although each encounter ended with Coyote, suddenly brilliant, claiming that their help was superfluous because, after all, he had known what to do all the time. If his younger siblings were slow or reluctant to offer advice, he bullied them into cooperation by threatening to cause a rainstorm which would melt them.
One could classify Coyote's method of asking advice as scatomancy, which the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines as "Divination or diagnosis based on the examination of the faeces." The OED gives the following quotations:
1569 J. SANDFORD tr. Agrippa's Van. Artes lxxxiii. 145b, For this cause Scatomancie, Oromancie, Drymimancie, be called the diuinations or Prognostications of Phisitians, gathered by ordures and vrines. 1861 READE Cloister & H. xxvi, I studied at Montpelier... There learned I Dririmancy, Scatomancy, Pathology [etc.]. 1897 in Syd. Soc. Lex.
The OED also has an entry for scatoscopy, defined as "Inspection of the faeces for the purpose of divination or diagnosis."

One of the other modes of divination mentioned by Agrippa, in the passage from his De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum atque artium cited, is "oromancie," i.e. uromancy, divination by urine. Samuel Butler, Hudibras 2.3.609-612, doesn't use the word, but obviously refers to the practice:
Your modern Indian magician
Makes but a hole in th' earth to piss in,
And straight resolves all questions by't,
And seldom fails to be i'th' right.
Related post: Matshishkapeu.

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