“What is it with damned ravens….”

This comment was made earlier today and I commented back with some amount of whimsy and didn’t take it very seriously. Afterwards, though, whatever the actual intent of the comment (which I took as whimsy itself), it occurred to me that ravens do make an inordinate amount of appearances in what I write here, and I don’t think I made it clear how the pen name I had came about, or the significance of the raven.

It all really started about the time I was eighteen years old, maybe nineteen. I’d decided I was done pretending to be a Catholic — I had no respect for the Church and had the whole Dear God thing going on in my head. I’d always had a torrid relationship with the Church when I was asked to not come back for a while to Sunday school for asking difficult questions, and I was appalled at the hypocrisy I observed when someone in my family had their future spouse bought their way into the faith to marry them, and then she had to pay extra for an annulment when it turned out he was a scam artist, draining her bank account as fast as she could fill it and had the authorities after him for doing it to other women in the past.

So I started looking elsewhere. Buddhism (which was unfortunately presented to me in a very unhelpful manner and turned me off completely at the time) was first. Then I researched others and stumbled across Mists of Avalon at the same time as the Mission’s Carved in Sand came out. As a result, I stumbled on Starhawk and her flavor of Wicca. I immediately gravitated towards it because of the familiar ritualism. The Arthurian influence of Mists also drew me towards British Isles myth; at first welsh and British, and eventually dropping me off in Irish myth. Throughout this, the figure of the Morrigan kept cropping up and I adopted her as the archetype resembling the Goddess in my practice.

The Morrigan, just so you know (if you didn’t already), is associated with ravens. That’s about the time that ravens started showing up in all parts of my life, though I didn’t see it at first. Or recognized the repetition of the motif for the first couple of years.

As I said, I was more drawn to Irish myth than most other elements and eventually got wrapped up with one of the more authentic druid groups out there as a result. As opposed to the coven I’d been practicing with, which always seemed uncomfortable with the presence of Morrigan in my approach and several times discouraged the association (though they were great people), the druids fully embraced where I was coming from and we had some deep discussions about the Raven Queen in my time hanging out with them.

But I still was oblivious to the whole raven thing. Honest.

Shortly after is when things got kinda weird for me, and had little to do with this whole searching for a spiritual replacement thing I had going on.

I was in the process of deciding to move to Seattle, the place I had been enamored with from about fourteen years of age. My grandmother lived there and I fell in love with it right away. I convinced my partner to go check it out and we did the summer before we both moved there. I had decided I was in need of my third tattoo (the first was a Celtic Cross, the second was a Book of Kells border with entwined hounds). I had decided to get one near the piers, as there were a few shops in that area and we were obviously going to be there anyway as tourists. I knew I wanted something Salish or Tlingit, some totem animal, but I wasn’t sure which.

We were discussing my conundrum at about five in the morning, having come in on the red eye and driving around the city so as to not wake my grandmother too early. “Damn it,” I said. “What the hell should I get? What the hell is my totem?”

The answer presented itself moments later as we had to brake hard so as to not kill a conspiracy of ravens who were damned if they were going to leave their feast in the middle of the road. At least twenty pairs of eyes looked up at me, waited for several heartbeats… Then they exploded into the air deciding that they didn’t want to resort to cannibalism after all.

My companion and I looked at each other. “Raven,” we said simultaneously.

Later that trip, I did indeed get a NW Coastal style raven tattooed on my back. That’s when I finally noticed all of the raven imagery I’d brought into my life. And I started to embrace it.

In Seattle a year later, after determining there were irreconcilable differences between her and I (rather, she had independently and unilaterally decided it was something that couldn’t be solved and I was forced to accept it), I resurrected my old performance poetry skills and started up a spoken word night that was anti-slam. I recalled how weird people could be when they perceived you as popular or famous from when I was in several bands over the years. Seeing as I was the host, emcee, whatever, I decided to deflect some of the odd behavior with the use of a pen name, Michael Raven. My real surname is fairly uncommon, even more so in Seattle, so it was no complex thing to look up my private phone number. I didn’t want a repeat of the band days, with drunken calls at three a.m. from people wanting to rub elbows with me. Or more. [please note: you don’t have to be actually famous, only perceived as famous to draw those kinds of phone calls, and I was most assuredly not famous].

It was an off-the-cuff decision that still reverberates today. So that Raven is explained.

During my time in Seattle, I spent a lot of time walking, as I had given the ex- the vehicle we had in both our names. She’d offered to let me have it, but I had no place to park it and I was far more familiar with public transit than she. I walked to the piers (not too far away), to Lower Queen Anne (farther), the International District (a pretty good haul), Capital Hill and Upper Queen Anne (both up hill and quite a distance from home). When I was not drinking coffee at the shop right next to home, I was walking.

I don’t know how it is these days, but everywhere you turned seemed to have ravens in Seattle. Walking everywhere, especially close to the sound, you’d as like see ravens as see seagulls. Often you were more apt to see ravens.

Because I kept weird hours (I didn’t sleep much due to depression, maybe 2-3 hours a night) and walked during those weird hours (the coffee shop wasn’t open past bar close) to keep my mind off the depression, I did the crazy thing of talking to the ravens I encountered, kind of how a cat or dog owner will talk to their pets.. You’d be surprised at how talkative they can be when they don’t feel threatened. I don’t know if they understood me, but I think I occasionally understood them. Their favorite chatter around me was something that sounded like rude laughter.

I got Celtic wheel of raven tattoo that autumn. They’d taught me all about change (don’t look at me that way, it’s true), and acceptance of change. Birth, Life. Death. Rebirth/Birth. A triad (I like threes and nines (3 threes) too).

I also ran into a shaman at the coffee bar. He noticed me talking to ravens one night (he lived in the neighborhood too) and pulled me aside one night while I was writing poetry and drinking coffee. He wanted to make a trade. He pointed to my pentagram I wore, and slid a small wicker basket towards me. I looked inside. He was offering to trade his cleaned raven skull for the pentagram. I shrugged and made the trade. The skull was from a very large raven, how could I resist? I wish I could remember his name…

There aren’t as many ravens back here at home and I miss them. Blackbirds and crows don’t hold conversations the way ravens do. Frankly, they keep saying the same thing over and over. One track minds.

Anyway, though I’m no longer strongly involved in Wicca or Druidism, or the later forays into Lakota beliefs and tend to lean more Zen (without the Buddhism, though I now respect it more than I did back when an unskilled practitioner tried to school me) and Taoism, I still retain some of the old things I explored and have come up with my own pan-polytheist approach heavily influenced by the eastern traditions. And raven is still the center of my understanding.

So, if you want to know the why of ravens, it is because for the better part of 30+ years that ravens have played a large role in my understanding of how the world works. And, chances are, they will continue to do so until I die.

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