Archive for the ‘Raven’ Category

31 Days of Lunasa: Day 3 — Ravens



Part of the point of this series is to put in a period of steady writing. As a spiritual practice, it has much to recommend it. The commitment gets things into words that wouldn’t otherwise arrive there. And if you’re a Druid on top of that, you naturally get at least some things that are Druidic into words, too.

The theme I thought would jump-start me was berrying. But all day, nothing was stirring. I found myself avoiding this blog altogether. (Just day three and he’s dead in the water, mutters the inner censor.) Yes, I probably could have gone out to our half-wild blackberry bushes in the back yard, taken a picture, and found in that interaction at least my triggering subject. Poet Richard Hugo writes in his delightful 1979 book The Triggering Town:

A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or “causes” the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is generated or discovered in the poem during the writing. That’s not quite right because it suggests that the poet recognizes the real subject. The poet may not be aware of what the real subject is but only have some instinctive feeling that the poem is done.

Young poets find it difficult to free themselves from the initiating subject. The poet puts down the title: “Autumn Rain.” He finds two or three good lines about Autumn Rain. Then things start to break down. He cannot find anything more to say about Autumn Rain so he starts making up things, he strains, he goes abstract, he starts telling us the meaning of what he has already said. The mistake he is making, of course, is that he feels obligated to go on talking about Autumn Rain, because that, he feels, is the subject. Well, it isn’t the subject. You don’t know what the subject is, and the moment you run out of things to say about Autumn Rain start talking about something else. In fact, it’s a good idea to talk about something else before you run out of things to say about Autumn Rain.

As with so many human crafts and skills, each has much that wise observers learn they can transfer — or maybe transpose — to living a life. The equation isn’t always one-to-one. We’ve become accustomed in the last century to photographs. We point to an image of ourselves frozen on a a flat phone screen or hard-copy print-out and declare “that’s me” without thinking much about how strange such a statement is. I can be both “here” and “there”, in the same way that human beings in the Hebrew Bible are made in the “image of God”, both divine and not at all. The image both is and isn’t the same as the thing it images. The triggering subject often works similarly, pointing us beyond. I start a blogpost about berrying and I know at this point that the title and possibly some ghosts of ideas will linger in the draft folder on WordPress. That idea got me onto my blog. A starting point, a seed crystal. A prompt. But that’s not the current title.

My wife and I were sitting out back eating diner an hour ago when we heard a series of gronks emanating from the front yard. She hadn’t paid much attention to such calls before, though I know she’s heard them, and she couldn’t identify the creature making them. What IS that? she said. As the calls became more insistent, I knew that Raven was asking for my focus. One call probably wouldn’t have been enough to break through. But a series of them did. What made the conversation even more interesting and significant is that we’d just been talking about ravens, among the other birds that frequent our hilltop, including waxwings as they migrate north and south, bluebirds that occasionally nest here, and an assortment of woodpeckers.

As a bird with world-wide associations and symbolism, the Raven naturally lends itself to varied interpretation. While we needn’t discount such ready hints and clues, we don’t need to ascribe to them invariant significance either. Google “the name raven” and you’ll dredge a surprisingly muddled set of potential meanings and mis-meanings suitable for any bias. Your best friend means something quite different to you than to his parents, children, co-workers, the pedestrian he or she cut off in traffic, and so on. An actual being interacts with so many others, and picks up meanings and interpretations like carrion attracts flies. The simile is intentional — the Raven is a messenger or guide between realms in very many cultures, including the realm of the dead. But as Hamlet quips to his mother, “Tis not alone my inky cloak … that can denote me truly”. Meanings can be slippery things. Check it out before you check it in.

This particular raven was going about his own business. While simultaneity put us both in proximity and brought my wife and me to hear his cries, the raven doesn’t have to “mean something” to have profound significance. What did my conversation with my wife “mean” to him? Is he now divining in a book of Raven Wisdom to learn what his recent interaction with two humans meant? (Maybe he is!) We were brief interactions in a cosmos stuffed with them every instant. Wisdom can help us learn from our interactions.

For one thing, a raven close by could be a sign that the owl pair nesting up the hill from us hasn’t decimated the local bird population. For another, “Crows, ravens, magpies, and jays are not just feathered machines, rigidly programmed by their genetics. Instead, they are beings that, within the constraints of their molecular inheritance, make complex decisions and show every sign of enjoying a rich awareness”, notes the Wikipedia entry for common raven. My inclination, rooted in decades of practice, is to remain alert for future appearances, other coincidences, (dis)confirmation of speculations, and direct inquiry in meditation. Raven, what do you want to say to me?

Call this “Raven divination” if you want to. It’s also a form of creative play. The universe seems to play catch with meanings, tossing them towards us to see how many we’ll even notice, let alone return.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Of Bridges and Leaders, Part 2

[Part One here]

And so the tale unfolds, its apparent focus on the actions of men.  But what of Branwen, sister of Bran?  She is not merely passive, an unwitting pawn in the hands of her brother, her family.

In her story a second and hidden teaching lies in plain sight, so to speak.

“She tames a starling and teaches it human speech,” goes one version.  Such an innocent line.  Does she achieve this before her mistreatment begins at the hands of her new husband, Matholwch king of Ireland?  During?  In either case, her deed stands as a marvel.

The -wen affix in Welsh is one way to form feminine names: Branwen, no less than Bran, is a leader, a bridge. A Raven.  For if she tames the starling before she needs it so desperately, foresight and guidance are hers because she listened and acted on them.  And if after, to her belong inspiration and determination and a singular courage.  To win the trust of a wild creature, to teach it speech, even if it is mimicry, to impress on it the urgency of her plight, to teach or guide it where to fly to find Bran, and on finding him, to repeat the message — each is remarkable alone, to say nothing of all of them together, while being abused and degraded.  This is the power of the animal in us, of Raven wisdom.

I do a quick internet search for “raven wisdom” and through a marvel worthy of the story, within seconds “A Bit about the Raven” appears among the links.  What are some characteristics of Raven Wisdom, according to the site?

  • Rebirth without fear
  • Ability to tear down what needs to be rebuilt
  • Renewal
  • Ability to find light in darkness
  • Courage of self-reflection
  • Introspection
  • Comfort with self
  • Honoring ancestors
  • Connection to the Crone
  • Divination
  • Change in consciousness
  • New occurrences
  • Eloquence

Each of these is apt and fitting, without forcing the issue. Deserving of meditation. Fear would rule you if it could. In Branwen’s case, with abuse and pain and betrayal at the hands of your husband, trapped in another country, all your blood kin, except for your child, across the sea, out of reach. Raven brings rebirth without fear. Branwen realizes the gift of self-possession, and “possessing” the self, a kind of paradox, she — we — have all that is needed.

I’d take a good Black Ops team any day, or barring that, a revolver, you think. And in the short term, these advantages would serve. But how well would they serve?  Rescued, delivered, you return to your old life.  No change, no growth to speak of, only new sorrow, and harrowing memory.  A resolve not to be married off without your consent?  Maybe it started as a love match, not just a political marriage.  Who can say, from what the story itself offers?

raven2But if you “learn” from the experience, but do not also transform as a result, you learn not to trust your own judgment, not to trust the judgment of your family who supposedly love you, who launch you into such a disastrous marriage. Not to trust life to bring you home.

Raven offers more.  It asks us about our own consciousness, about our attitudes to kinds of wisdom we may not (yet) value, or which we may even disdain or abuse, but which remain as gifts given before we can see and claim them as ours.  Raven is nowadays ubiquitous as a Craft name, a Pagan nickname, or initiatory identity.  Raven was the first degree of initiation among the devotees of Mithras.  And Raven is the trickster and initiator par excellence among traditional peoples of many cultures.

For the story does not end merely in rescue …

Part Three coming soon.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image: Raven

%d bloggers like this: