Sunday, October 28, 2007

More Ramblings About Raven...

There are many different legends of Raven. This is simply one re-telling, and may not be totally historically accurate to any specific culture. My native heritage is decidedly lacking in Raven stories, as there are no Ravens in the Choctaw homelands. The closest equivalent was the crow, and it is simply seen as a malevolent, evil bird deserting mankind after the great flood. Raven is different. Raven is not a crow. Raven is found in similar (almost identical) stories worldwide. Here is the gist of the main Pacific Northwest American Raven legend.

Legend of Raven

Back in the days before there were men and the world, The spirits lived in a dark world of their own under the Great Chief. Raven was one of these spirits. There was no sun, moon, or stars in this world, and everyone bumped around in the dark. Raven had heard the Great Chief's daughter had some things called the Sun, Moon, and Stars locked away in cedar boxes. But was very jealous and guarded them very well. Raven decided to transform himself into a small hemlock needle and allowed himself to fall into her drinking cup. She drank him down and he became a baby inside her. He eventually was born as the Great Chief's grandchild.

The Great Chief loved Raven very much, thinking Raven was a normal child. Raven screamed and squawked so that he would be allowed to play with the contents of the cedar boxes. Eventually the Great Chief gave in, as all Grandfathers do, and allowed the child to play with the contents of the biggest box. Raven transformed himself back into his normal form and caught the ball of light it contained in his beak. He flew up the smoke-hole of the Chief's lodge, burning and blackening his feathers in the process.

Raven was so distracted by the light he was carrying, and the way the world looked at first sight, that he did not see the Great Chief transform into an eagle and fly after him. This caused him to drop the light and part of it shattered, bouncing back up into the heavens to become the sun, moon, and stars. The sudden light in the world frightened man, causing him to flee to the far corners of the earth, but in the end brought him great knowledge. This allowed man to come into his own and become great, developing the great societies and cultures we now have.

Raven is shown to be the prototypical "Trickster" deity, similar to Loki, Lugh, Prometheus, and even Jesus Christ. He is the also hero-saviour to man born of virgin birth. Joseph Campbell called his sort the "Hero of 1000 Faces" and he can be found in virtually all human cultures, though he is not always represented as a Raven figure. He is the bringer of knowledge (often forbidden) to man, and a saviour who often sacrifices himself or a part of himself in the process.

It is also startling co-incidental (or is it really?) that the Pacific Coast and Alaska peoples celebrate his birthday at Christmas .

This leads me to a a few quotes I think are worth mentioning:

In the later stages of many mythologies, the key images hide like needles in great haystacks of secondary anecdote and rationalization; for when a civilization has passed from a mythological to a secular point of view, the older images are no longer felt . . .

Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. . . . temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives is dissolved. (Joseph Campbell)

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