Stories are a curious thing in that what means something to me may not have the slightest bearing on you. The value of a story to a beholder hinges on so many tiny variables, that to expect a uniform reaction to the gritty details of an epic saga is ludicrous. Luckily, one of the more important variables in a stories perceived value is something that I can have an impact on: presentation. Just as you don't want your father to read you a bedtime story in monotone when you're eight, I'm going to take a piece of lore that is equally undramatically presented in most forms and try and impart a bit of what it means to me onto you by readressing it in a more zestful way. Hopefully when this blog is all said and done, a baseline level of understanding into why I chose to get this tattoo will be imparted. Enjoy.
Note: this isn't part of my rather non-existant belief system, but rather an ideal and a sentiment that resonates with me. Nothing more.
A long time ago, Gray Eagle was the guardian of the Sun, Moon, Stars and of fire and fresh water. Gray Eagle was a bird; more importantly though, he was also a man. This was a time of legend, when the animals existed in both beast and human form, but were ultimately Gods. The concept doesn't need to be confusing, you just need to accept it and move on - life becomes a lot easier that way. Pro tip: read the book Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, that will explain all.
Moving on, Eagle was the keeper of all the celestial bodies, and a couple other nick-knacks that were fairly useful, and he kept them with him inside his longhouse, where he lived with his daughter and who knows who or what else. You see, Eagle was a bit of a hoarder. He had all these wonderful things, but refused to share them with the world. Now, unlike that show on TV where insecure Americans hide their bought-in-bulk Costco wares in their spare bedrooms due to a plethora of mental instabilities, Eagle's reason for keeping these treasures of the universe to himself was rather more pointed: he hated humans.
Yes, humans were detestable to Eagle. He despised them for any number of petty reasons, some probably more recently justified, and as a result forced them to live in a dark world void of the heavens, fire and clean water for drinking. Enter Raven. Raven was a dapper young man, and more importantly a bird of the purest white. A handsome young beast with the tiniest glint of trickery in his eye. You could only see it if you looked closely though, and even then only from certain angles.
I mentioned before that Eagle lived with his daughter. Where her mother was is not important. I'm not a marriage councilor, get over it. Now, being a young Eagle-person of the female variety, she of course had all those urges that I assume are typical to avian-hominids and of course showed interest in the snow-white raven suitor. Inviting him back to her fathers pad, Eagle-daughter then managed to set the stage for one of the biggest debacles to ever throw down in all of Native American lore.
Upon entering the longhouse of Eagle, Raven instantly noticed that there was a treasury of wonders to be had. This is where the story begins to get a little fuzzy. First of all I question how he happened to find himself in a position where he was alone with the booty. Creative explaining chalks this up to a females ability to retire to the restroom to freshen up, and we'll just assume that big bird was out picking on people. The second issue is why Raven decided to even steal them at all. It was pretty clear that he was probably going to score with daughter bird, and no doubt would have other chances to play the looter. Assumedly the humans called in some gambling debts, a trickster like Ravens seems like a craps sort of guy.
The point is that sensing a golden opportunity, Raven grabbed the sun, moon, as many stars as he could carry, all the water (impressive) and a burning brand of fire before flying off from Eagle's longhouse at full speed. The legend states that he in fact flew out of the building's smoke hole, which for the sake of my retelling exploded in a Michael Bay kind of way, just as he emerged from the smoldering rim.
Not wanting to fly blind, the first thing that Raven did as he emerged into the darkness of an empty sky was to put the sun in place. With this new light, his next instinct was to fly far out into the ocean until he reached a little island where he could lie low for a while. After careful consideration, Raven decided that the best option was to ditch the loot so that no one could prove it was him. The problem is that the sun had started to set, and so to take care of this, he threw the moon up in its place, and scatter the stars around it. Under this new light he was able to continue his journey back to the mainland, where he could toss what he had left.
When the moment struck him, Raven next let go of the fresh water, and this became the source of all the fresh-water lakes and rivers today. It really was a lot of water. Our Hero of the story obviously had a much bigger attachment to the brand of fire though, as this became the last thing that our bird-brained protagonist found himself flying with. Possibly it was because it was actually attached to him somehow, or somewhere that shouldn't be mentioned. Let's ask ourselves, if you're managing to carry the sun, moon, ALL the stars and ALL the fresh water, where do you put the burning brand of fire?
If you play with fire you get burnt. This is a fact of life that we all learn the hard way at some time in our life, and Raven was no exception. Whether he just let the brand burn down a little too far, or that he was careless with its placement, the fire eventually became too hot for him to hold, and he dropped it far to the ground below.
The consequences of this were two fold. First off, before he was able to drop it, the smoke from the burning flame billowed around his ivory feathers and coloured them black with soot. This is why Ravens are now black birds. The second is that we learn that rocks, like Eagles, are also hoarders, and upon the brand following into a group of them, they greedily soaked up the flame, and that is why rocks now spark when you strike them together.
With my story over, I guess I owe you a little bit of clarification. The part of this story that really resonates with me has to do with the sun. Ever since I was a child, the high points of my years has always been summer oriented. I'm a lover of light and warmth, and enjoy the life-providing rays of our mother Sol to the umpteen degree.
Even as August progresses, I have already began to notice the continually shortening days, and with a heavy heart acknowledge that all good things must come to an end. As hippy as this sounds, it is the truth of my existence. I have never been one to be depressed, yet still always find myself experiencing a thin film of gloom upon my otherwise cheery demeanor during the lightless months of our Canadian winters.
Coupled with that is the romantic notion of the Raven itself. Ravens are clever birds, thinkers that have the ability to solve problems and use tools. There is a notion of freedom that is associated with all birds too, that thought of just being able to pick up and fly away.
Even if it was just a story, this Raven gave me the sun, and now I always have it with me, even as the light starts to fade a little earlier every night.
Thanks for reading,
Read The Original Story Here
*aside from the image of my tattoo, which was designed and ink'd by a local tattoo artist, the other two images are not mine and instead a result of a google image search. My tattoo is not completely true to the haida style of raven, but instead more bird like due to my wishes.