08 January 2006

(85) An introduction; who is that feathery part of myself?

I grew up by the river Elbe where people have settled for thousands and thousands of years ago. I grew up on the lowest part of the river in what was at the time West Germany or the Federal Republic of Germany. Long ago reindeer herders roamed the ice age plains, some 10 or 15 thousand years ago. They set up three poles and offered a young reindeer to the spirits. Long ago, some 7 to 3 thousand years ago or so, there were the megalithic peoples of the Old Norse Vanir spirits. Then, later, as recorded by the Roman Tacitus, there were the Myrgings, a Germanic tribe. My ancestors arrived in that place on my father's side from the Alsace-Lorraine, moving up the valley of the river Rhine to Hamburg. On my mother's side they came from along the Baltic. The line reaches toward Lithuania and now some of the names seem to be Jewish.

I am the dark cross of memory. I am Raven, black feathers glistening in the sun. My wings carry vision, imagination, they bring knowledge from afar.

Raven they call me, Rabe and hrafn, they call me gáranas. By many names I go, and many tales are told about me. I am known as Big-Raven, as Raven Man, as Yetl, Nankilslas, Txamsem, Kurkyl, Kutqu, and Quiknnaqu. The people of the northern part of this earth, they see me in multiple ways, as creator and transformer, as trickster, and as hero who brings new things into the world. Some talk of how I was white once, in the long-ago, and how I was blackened with smoke and soot. Other stories speak of the dark times when light was kept hidden away by possessive beings; so they tell how I liberated the light, they talk of my theft so that sun, moon and stars would shine again; and they tell tales of how I stole fresh waters so that there would be rivers and streams on earth. There are stories of how I tricked salmon and bear and cormorant, there are stories of how I changed from man into woman. My name is different in different places. So often I helped people with their far sight and visions, with divination, and a deeper knowing of the times.

I am the black one, as big as a hawk. “Kolk,” I croak, and “ruŋk,” I speak. I sound low and high, and my beak can peck into wakefulness what fearful humans would like to forget. I croak and croak until I get their attention. And I circle and scout to bring awareness and the arrow of intent. Huginn and Muninn are among my names, as Ravenmind I am known, and Ravenmemory also.

My adventures have been many. The Native American Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida, the Siberian Chukchi and Koryak recount them, and so do many others. I have been there at the times of the great deluge, I kicked the waters until they receded, I scouted for dry lands. And I have kept the company of the earthdiver, the loon, who brought up the lands from the water. I have served as totem for many. I have been a sign of lineage and relation. Gratefully I have received the offerings of those who honor my presence.

Many transformations have resulted from my flights. And I have been transformed by my human company -- what I was in ancient times I no longer am. Once I was creator, trickster of change, visionary ally, and power animal to the shamans of old. Then the Christian church arose and many would see my powers as evil. They would cast dispersions upon my name. In many lands they would hunt me close to extinction.

In the long-ago I would sit on the shoulders of the women and men of seeing. I was of the sun and the fire, of water and rain. I served as spirit guide and messenger to those who kept my relation in the proper way. I lived with the shamans, the healers, and visionaries. In those times I was honored as helper and in certain places even as supreme spirit and creator.

With Greek Apollo, Athena, and Hera; with Cuchulain, Bran, and Lug of Celtic traditions I flew; I kept the company of Nergal in Sumer, with Mithra I was in ancient Persia and beyond, and with so many others. The Celtic Mabinogion tells of me, and Horace sees me as rising sun and bringer of rain. Shakespeare wrote, Swift, swift, you dragons of the night, that dawning may bear the raven’s eye! There are so many stories, some short, some epic, that tell adventures of mine.

Some people, they don’t know the difference between my cousin crow and myself. To others this difference does not matter at all: Ravenbird, crowbird -- it is all the same to them.

As times changed, greed began to move voraciously across the earth from place to place. People now began to see me with different eyes. In the north of Europe my name turned bad and I was hunted as bird of ill omen. The village shaman had been pushed aside by jarls or earls or even kings of saga fame. Women were dishonored now, and, later, they were persecuted for their visionary sight, and for their healing powers. Now I was seen as sitting on the shoulders of Wotan or Odin, the grim master with one eye who had usurped what once was shaman’s privilege, the place of women and men of seeing. He was used to justify so many atrocities, hangings, drownings, and more. People no longer knew what it meant to be in good relation with all they are a part of and that is a part of them. And then there were those who did not follow the revolutionary impulse of the Jew Jesus, his original instructions. Instead, they created the Christian churches. These missionaries and priests, they saw my power of old, and called me evil. They did not want me as helper and midwife, as healer and messenger.

But even during these dark times, those who were practitioners of alchemical wisdom, they talked of ravenhead, the ground of conjunction, the nigredo and darkness whence comes the change of the ages and change in humans. They worked with dew, with salts and ashes, and other elements that kept memory of old.

So here I fly, dark cross of memory. I, aide-mémoire, scout for memory shards as I help this man see how he walked as a child in Germany, how he always walked with his ancestors, how he received calls from the far north, the arctic. He wants to see me, yet the veils of his culture have constricted his sight, have shrunken his imagination and vision. I was his company then, as I am now. He moved from Hamburg to Native American lands to learn the ways of balancing. He suffered his people’s memory losses, the denials of who I, Raven, can be; the ways in which they had made me an accomplice in the use of bad medicine, of evil; an accomplice in greed, death, and destruction. He gives away food in my honor, he fasts, and now he can see a little better; he discerns me past the distortions that have desecrated my name. Now he remembers his obligation to be present to me, to talk with bear and ancestors. He remembers his duty to purify the roots that have been abused to justify so much destruction. I help him remember his ties to a conversation that works to honor and nurture all beings about him. I watch him turn around, facing away from Native American traditions that had helped him out so many times, facing toward his own ancestors now, and the people they once traded with in a good way, the Sámit, the Lapps. That was in the long-ago, before Odin and church, before missionaries and willful taxation. As a child he had felt that call, that yearning for travel to Kirkenes in northernmost Norway, in Sápmi, to be with reindeer and plover, to be in the tundra. I am his company as he seeks the trade of old, as he works to be in the balancing mind of his ancestors of ancestors of ancestors. I help him drink the dark milk of daybreak and I carry his black cross of memory on my wings. I dunk him into his romanticism and the idealizations and betrayals it invites. I give him vision to walk on the Native American lands as a white man, now with some color in his face. I help him stand where different circles of memory and knowing meet inside him. With the persistence of memory, its force and persuasiveness today, and the desires and needs that modify memory, with all this I help him out.

What I was in ancient times I no longer am nor can be. But if truths are spoken, then the awareness I carry can arise from the knowledge of old, now richer for today, for the future.

I am raven and Raven, I am white feathered and black feathered, as much bird as a figure of speech, as much feathery flight as the twist of imagination.

I am the opener. Gently I unlatch the portal. It is made from lindenleaf. I work the soft spot on his back so that memory may enter, so that the story may be recounted. I, Ravenmemory, and my twin, Ravenmind, we help to lift the fateful words from the well.

Jürgen W. Kremer.