Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Fascination with Crows and Ravens

St. Luke 12:24: Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them; how much more are ye better than the fowls? (From The Bible, St. James Version. 1958)

My Dad loved to bake bread, but sometimes the raw dough went wrong (sometimes, I think, on purpose), and he would put it in the backyard where the crows would come and eat it. He would watch their antics, claiming sometimes they became drunk because yeast dough forms alcohol as it ages. Moreover, one ‘boss’ crow seemed to have charge over the other crows. Somehow its mannerisms reminded him of his father, so he called that crow Jake (for Jacobs). The crow crew became Jake and the boys. Dad was known as Jake, too, so when in died on Halloween in 1995, at his funeral someone sent flowers with tiny paper crows in it, indicating he was now with Jake and the boys.

I’ve always found crows and ravens interesting birds. Ravens are largest, the size of hawks; and crows are the size of pigeons, still large birds. When seeing them in flight you can tell the difference in their tails. Raven tail feathers take on an ovate shape, crows more of a fan shape. The raven also has a rounded, ‘Roman,’ nose, and perhaps look a little scruffier. Most are a glossy black, making them look very dramatic in the daylight. They are two different species of the genus Corvus, which in Latin means raven, but are often considered interchangeable in lore and mythology.

Some societies believe them signs of bad luck, others as bringers of goodwill and wisdom. The call of the raven, that deep, gravely, cras-cras sound? It means tomorrow in Latin (crās). So if an ancient Roman were walking and pondering looming events and heard a raven’s call predicting tomorrow, and perchance his thoughts came true, then the legend would arise that ravens were oracles or message carriers from the gods, which is part of the lore.

That glossy black color? When tied to its scavenging nature, it led to some nefarious associations with witchcraft, demonism, and the devil in some societies. We associate the color black with many evil connotations. Maybe because the blackness of night diminishes our vision and is just naturally scary. Therefore, for some, crows and ravens became evil spirits. Yet for others, they thwart evil spirits. Many North American Native American tribes believed the raven was the bringer of light and the world's creator. Isn’t it strange that Lucifer was also a bringer of light before his fall?

The fact that Corvus eat carrion, including human bodies, probably led to their becoming associated with death. Since they most likely settled down to eat after the chaos of battle had finished, they became signs that danger was over, but they also became associated with death. This death affinity might have led to their becoming known as carriers of souls to the spiritual world. For some, if crows and ravens could carry souls to the spiritual world, then they could return with messages from the same realm.

It’s not too far a leap from battle to murder, or for the soul carrier to become the soul, so in some societies, their association extended to murdered persons with the raven becoming the ghost of the murdered person. In any event, ancient warriors didn’t want to see a crow or raven before a battle, as it might predict imminent demise. It also gives an interesting take on Odin’s ravens Huginn and Maninn. Could they have represented mythical Valkyries carrying warriors to Valhalla?

Could this have also led to how they are represented at the Tower of London in England? “The guardians of the Tower: ‘If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall…’ Ravens have contradictory lore messages. From the amount of mythology and folklore, it seems these birds have interested humans forever. Perhaps through the eons, humans noticed their intelligence. In recent years, tests for intelligence have proven raven's innate ability to solve simple problems, even that the test birds were capable of using a tool to achieve their aims. Perhaps ancients saw this intelligent bird perform a thoughtful feat to get to some food and named him the trickster believing them some god in disguise.

The Roman gods Athena and Apollo both had raven companions, as did the Norse god Odin. As mentioned, Odin’s ravens were Huginn, meaning thought, and Maninn, with some thinking it meant memory, and others who thought it meant desire. Ravens have respectable roles in the Christain Bible, too. Consider what God told Elijah the Tishbite from Gilead: I Kings 17: (4) And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. (5) So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith that is before Jordan. (6) And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. (From the Bible, St. James Version. 1958.)

All in all, crows and ravens are just other inhabitants of our world, living according to their own rules with nary a thought for what humans think of them. That's how it should be. Whatever symbolic signs we accord them belong to us, not them.

After my dad’s funeral, my family flew back to Missouri. Arriving home, I stood in the driveway and looked at a large black silhouette in the leafless, old sycamore tree towering over the house from the backyard. For the first time ever I saw a crow in this suburban area, a rare event. One sat at the very top branch of the tree. I knew he was Jake, and have treasured both crows and ravens ever since.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Benevolent and Violent Spirits

While I love the images of paranormal beings, I do not believe they exist in the physical world; not angels, demons, dragons, ghosts, ghouls, phoenix, mermaids, unicorns, werewolves, vampires, or zombies. If something doesn’t have a chemical identity, i.e. no subatomic particles are involved in a thing’s makeup, then it cannot exist in this universe. Yet, while I do not believe they exist in reality (a whole other kettle of strange concepts), I must also admit in some ways, maybe they do. I think they exist in our imagination, hopping between the brain’s neurons and synapses. Humans seem to need them, and the imagination can be a very powerful and insistent tool. Does that make them real or unreal?

Sometimes these images become so firmly entrenched in a mind that the person believes them real. Certainly, many people believe in them, especially when they are tied to faith. With the changing understanding of the universe by quantum physicists with their theories about how sub-atomic particles operate, with theories of space-time, and with the possibility of multiple universes, an infinitesimal probability exists for their physical reality.

Another interesting link to this idea is that we often identify some people by the characteristics we associate with these beings. Those who suck the life out of their associates are called vampires, or bloodsuckers. Those who are inevitably caring and giving, we know as angels. Those we've loved and have passed will always haunt our memories. Are they any less real to us? These human angels, spirits, ghosts, and demons I definitely believe in. People have done things far beyond angelic and far worse than demonic.

The image of an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other isn’t about these beings' existence, but about a choice an individual must make and then how they bear the consequences of their choice, which dresses these beings with a moral cloth. Other paranormal characters also deliver messages about choices: dragons are protective or destructive, phoenixes tell us to ascend from failure, zombies tell us to change our lifestyle, werewolves about our changeable nature, and ghouls remind us to be wary. Therein lies the story.

Why do these symbolic personas continue to intrigue us?

Probably because their characteristics are so human, and because they relate such fascinating stories and lessons. Another reason might be that the human imagination is such a resilient and compelling feature of human identity. Minds are capable of creating spiritual voices and internal personages, both good and evil. And if we can imagine our own individual phantom presences, we can certainly identify with those paranormal beings entrenched in history since we have not essentially changed from those long-ago folk. Soul, spirit, inner being, self, heart, or psyche, whatever we want to call it, our insistent inner voices understand these powerful allegorical beings. Each identity symbolizes a message about being human; therefore, I enjoy reading and writing about them while trying to understand their purpose and message.

Please visit these other blogs participating in this round-robin topic:

Marci Baun
Margaret Fieland
Diane Bator
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire
Fiona McGier
Heather Haven
Bob Rich
Anne Stenhouse
Helena Fairfax
Hollie Glover
Rachael Kosinski
Connie Vines
Skye Taylor

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Confederate Flag in Michigan?

I pass your home every day as I go and return from work and always think: You’re flying a Confederate flag in Michigan. Really?

While I respect your right to free speech, and I presume flying this flag is a form of free speech, I wonder at your purpose.

Are you trying to say you are a rebel at heart? Perhaps you are proclaiming your Southern roots, which have been relocated north? Are you voicing a determination for states’ rights? Or perhaps you are proclaiming your racial beliefs?

You do know you are in Michigan, right? A Union state. A state that sent seven regiments of soldiers to fight under the red, white, and blue as represented in the stars and stripes of our National Flag. So many soldiers that Lincoln is claimed to have said, “Thank God for Michigan.” Between 14 and 15 thousand of those soldiers died of battle wounds or disease and never returned home. That’s about one out of every six who went; so, many Michiganders died fighting the crossbars of the Confederate flag you fly.

Since then, many more men and women from Michigan have served the stars and stripes. They fought for you to keep the right of free speech and expression, even for you to fly the flag that would have denied the same rights to so many of our citizens. Maybe you're trying to say their efforts were, and continue to be, in vain? They weren't and aren't. You're flying the losers flag. May we not subvert the flag that represents our Constitution, the flag that represents our rights, the flag of the United States of America. Let us hope it continues to represent all citizens' rights for millennia to come.