Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ancient Witchcraft: The Raven, Part 2

Common North American Raven
The raven, the largest bird in the Crow family, also carries the largest brain in the bird world.  It has captured the imagination of all cultures in all times and has become an integral part of folklore.  Perhaps it’s the raven’s eyes—so human looking, so inquisitive, so devious.  Perhaps it is the raven’s association with carcasses and death that contributes to the fear and often revulsion we have for them.  Perhaps it is the cleverness of this highly intelligent creature.  It is hard to rate the intelligence of non-linqual creatures.  But those who have studied Corvids place them at the top of the bird world, on a par with coyotes and wolves, and many other intelligent mammals.

They are renowned for their problem solving skills.  Watch the following videos which chronicle the ravens incredible cleverness:

[]   Clip taken from BBC animal show Clever Critters, narrated by comedienne Dawn French, 2008.  Antony Bloom sets up a complicated test for several Corvids in his garden.  They must drop stones into one water-filled tube to raise the waterline in another tube that contains their favorite food floating on top.

[] Clip from National Geographic videos.  Dr Baron Heinrich, with the University of Vermont, devised an experiment that shows ravens have the ability to make logical connections, much like human beings. 

The cleverness of the raven has been both feared and revered throughout history.  Here are some excerpts from a recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine [October 2013] about using ravens for counterintelligence:

“A raven, in espionage parlance, is a male agent tasked with seducing intelligence targets.  But avian
ravens can be spies as well.  When Bailey [an animal trainer who worked with government agencies] describes the Western raven, he sounds as if he’s talking about Jason Bourne.  “It operates alone, and it does very well alone,” he says.  Western ravens are adept at pattern recognition.  “They could learn to respond to classes of objects,” he says.  “If you’ve got a big desk and little desk, you could train it to always go to the small one.”

“… There would be a rustle of oily black feathers as a raven settled on the window ledge of a once-grand apartment building in some Eastern European capital.  The bird would pace across the ledge a few times but quickly depart.  In an apartment on the other side of the window, no one would shift his attention from the briefing papers or the chilled vodka set out on a table.  Nor would anything seem amiss in the jagged piece of gray slate resting on the ledge, seemingly jetsam from the roof of an old and unloved building.  Those in the apartment might be dismayed to learn, however, that the slate had come not from the roof but from a technical laboratory at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  In a small cavity at the slate’s center was an electronic transmitter powerful enough to pick up their conversation.  The raven that transported it to the ledge was no random city bird, but a U.S.-trained intelligence asset.”

Just as the Raven became a code word for an espionage agent, the Cherokee also recognized the analytical and strategic talents of the raven.   From Thomas E. Mails’ book, The Cherokee People, “The … principal leader of a revenge army [was] the Great War Chief, now called the Raven because he wore around his neck a raven skin … It was said that the Great War Chief, in his guise as the Raven, watched the enemy and kept the chief speaker perfectly informed.  He directed the necessary preparations, and each night magically went forward two days’ march yet was back in camp the next morning.”

The Cherokee saw both the good and the evil of the raven and drew from their study of this very intelligent and resourceful bird.  Whether witchcraft or warfare, the raven occupied a prominent role in their lives.
also author of "The First Raven Mocker",
Book One of the "The Cherokee Chronicles"
Available now.
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