For Sunday Scribblings #232 Treatment
The Crow and His Shadow
They say, long ago
that the crow
was a creature
but so filled with pride
he refused to stride
except at high noon
so he wouldn’t
have to share room
with anything so dull
as his own deep shadow.
peck, peck, pecking
at his dark-formed
until, in rage
that same darkness
rose up to swallow him.
And that they say,
is how strutting rainbow crow
came to be so very black
This poem, written many years ago, and revised several times, is based in a Native American myth about the crow. There are many others, including one about how the Rainbow Crow brought fire to earth to warm the life that must exist in winter climbs. In transporting the burning brand from the heaven’s to earth, the beautiful bird burnt all its feathers and again, became black all over.
Black is the color of the unknown. It is an amalgamation, a merging and blending of all other colors. When a crow walks in sunlight, it flashes back some of those colors, reminding us that at one ‘time’ he was a beautifully rainbow hued creature. And one who had a wondrous voice for singing. But, because of the smoke and fire, his voice was reduced to nothing more than an irritating caw. It is also said that the crow doesn’t cast a shadow.
That’s because he is one. We humans have a shadow, both inside and out. A reminder of our solidity, but also our reality that much of our person is hidden inside, out of view, and might not be known even to ourselves.
The Crow, like his much larger cousin, the Raven, is a shape-shifter, an illusionist. Able to take different forms that allow him/her to move more freely, gather needed information, and not be recognized. And we humans can also shift the shape of our reality through the process of change, whether that be in attitude or simple habits of behavior. We can shift our perspective, allow it to broaden or widen, but also become narrow or even rigid due to circumstances or past experiences.
Because of all of these things, the Crow has, for many, become a symbol for ‘Higher Law’. Higher than man’s law, higher than the laws that govern the world we live in. It is spiritual law and not to be confused with religious rules or practice. After all, those are interpreted by and for humankind. Spiritual law is meant to bring balance and growth to all of life, not any particular segment of it. It always calls us to be better than we have been and to see a much wider picture than we often allow ourselves to perceive.
Every myth has a lesson within its telling. The two myths I have mentioned here are both elements of that spiritual law of which I speak. The first is about our treatment of our own person, the second is about our treatment of others.
Walt Whitman, in his Song of Myself, sums up the first message better than any other I have read.
I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.
This, to me, is what is necessary for each of us, so that we do not end up like the Crow who pecked away at his shadow until it rose up and swallowed him. There are pieces and parts of our being, kept in the shadows for all kinds of reasons. But, if we don’t take the time to learn and explore what these pieces and parts are, and how they came to be hidden, even excluded, we can never find the balance necessary to learn or participate in that second message.
We need to do more than accept and possess those hidden parts, we need to respect them and how they came to be. How can we truly love another if we have not learned to love ourselves? And yes, I know that often in the act of loving another, we find ourselves. But, love must grow just as all things living must grow, or tempt stagnation.
The second message is also summed up in the first one. If we truly respect ourselves we will respect all others we come in contact with. The Rainbow Crow gave up all that he was, his glorious plumage, his beautitul voice, that life could be warmed and continued. Self-sacrifice becomes a natural impulse when all of life is loved and respected.
The Rainbow Crow was rewarded for his sacrifice in many ways. The Creator of All told him that because he could no longer sing, he would never be caged, would always know freedom. And because his plumage was now dull black, he would no longer be hunted for his glorious feathers, need no longer fear for his own preservation. And because the smoke of the fire became a very part of his being, he would never have to fear being killed for his meat, which now carried the taste of that smoke and was no longer palatable.
He would be forever common and therefore able to move freely to do what was his to do without interference. He could now shift his presence to where it would do the most good and gain him the most knowledge and wisdom. He could love himself for his own uniqueness and love the world and all that was life within it. He was free in body and mind, but also in spirit.