Coyote Medicine

By Lewis Mehl-Madrona M.D.

A Book Review

By Barbara Janelle M.A.

First Published In Touch, Vol. X, no. 1, February 1998

When I read a book, I am looking for what it can teach me about myself, about my work and/or about my understanding of life. Lewis Mehl-Madrona addresses each of these questions in his book, Coyote Medicine (New York: Scribner, 1997).

Lewis Mehl-Madrona holds an MD from Stanford University and completed a postdoctoral program in clinical psychology there, as well. He is currently a research assistant professor in the Native American Research and Training Center at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson. In Coyote Medicine, he tells the story of his journey as a medical student, practising doctor and apprentice shaman and his exploration into health and spirituality.

Mehl-Madrona writes eloquently of his disillusionment with standard medical and psychological approaches to serious and chronic health disorders. But it is his studies of Native American spirituality and experiences with shamanistic healing that hold a fascination and truth for those involved in the spiritual aspects of healing. He speaks of healing as a journey of the soul in which one must answer three questions before healing can occur: Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you here? Once we believe that life actually has a purpose, we have it in our power to heal ourselves, he says.

Mehl-Madrona addresses the role of healer. “Before you can become a healer, you must make friends with chaos,” he says. “Healing is messy and confusing . . . there is commotion, disorder. But from this chaos comes new life, new being.” “True healers express and live out their heartfelt compassion.”

He describes Native American shamanistic healing understanding and ceremony, from the role of the sweat lodge participants to that of the patient who must make a firm decision to be well. Once this is so, the medicine person can step in and take seriously a vision of the sick person as healthy when no one else can or does. Together, the patient and the medicine person share a story of a mutual spirituality quest. Mehl-Madrona speaks a familiar truth, “True medicine men and women know that only the Creator and the spirits, or the patient can really take credit for a healing.”

Mehl-Madrona writes of illness, “I believe illnesses have spirits. The spirit of AIDS is one of despair . . . I am referring to the spirit of AIDS itself not the people it possesses.” “To really understand a culture, line up its unhealthy citizens and ask, ‘Who are these people? Where have they come from? Why are they here?’ Answer these questions and you will understand the soul of an age.”

For the individual, he says that a compromised spirit invites illness and infection. “Illness results from a relationship between the disease’s spirit and the person’s own. Illnesses can be symbolic though they aren’t always. They rarely mean the same thing for two different people.” “Feelings of spiritual emptiness, depression and doubt generate conditions that encourage internal cellular breakdown . . . Healing requires the soul’s participation.”

Relationship with self, with the earth and with spirit is the key to healing. Mehl-Madrona writes that in Native American medicine and in holistic medicine, healing grows out of a change in the patient’s relationships. He believes that relationship to self, to community and to spirit is more critical than any tool.

The title, Coyote Medicine, is taken from the role of coyote who challenges rules that have no meaning. With stories and personal accounts, Lewis Mehl-Madrona challenges the western medical system to recognise the roles of spirit and relationship in health and healing. The book offers exciting and inspiring insights into a truly holistic model of health. I highly recommend it to Therapeutic Touch practitioners for its valuable commentary on healing and healing practices.


Native American expertise in calling on the power and wisdom of all forms of consciousness offers profound understanding and assistance, if we will only explore this rich wisdom. I recommend Doug Boyd’s Rolling Thunder and Medicine Grizzly Bear Lake’s Native Healer too.

Recently I treated a woman recovering from surgery for Crone’s Disease. I asked for the assistance of an animal spirit to help clear the great congestion over the lower abdomen. A weasel appeared and burrowed its way through the congestion. The field changed dramatically. The next day, I asked again for help and saw a sheep take up residence in the woman’s heart–soft, trusting (trust is such an issue for people with Crone’s disease). In the third treatment, the sheep changed to a lamb, and in the final treatment, the lamb was frolicking to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The woman’s name was Mary, and her field was steady, clear and bright.

In another case, during the early stage of our hospital team’s work with a woman who was comatose with a severe head injury (she had been so for three months), I asked for the help of an animal spirit. As I stood at her feet, gently grounding the field, an eagle rose upward from her neck and head and out through the crown, carrying away a gray energetic caul. Within three days, she was responding to members of her family.

In neither case did I choose the animals. I simply asked for help and they came. –BJ 2/99


Boyd, Doug. Rolling Thunder. New York: Bantam, 1976.

Lake, Medicine Grizzly Bear. Native Healer. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1991.