Crow Medicine

For me, this chapter drives the story much further from the normalcy of everyday predictability into the realm of magic.  And the power for that change is the crow.

After two minutes of blissful silence, Mr. Lust interjected, Can’t we at least . . .


And that was that.  Meditation is no trick whatsoever when you have your own black-feathered enforcer.

The intervention of the crow’s voice to prevent Mr. Lust from interrupting is special.  An animal sitting on a branch, despite how it came to be there, is within the realm of reason.  Responding to Rick’s subconscious simply isn’t.

I got goose bumps when I wrote these lines.  For me, goose bumps are some of the greatest moments of the entire writing experience.

crowMy father believed crows to be extremely intelligent. He claimed a crow could tell if you were holding a rifle or merely a stick.  I never managed to verify that for myself (although I did spend several hours as a boy trying), but here is some research that goes even further, published by Robert Winkler in National Geographic News in 2002.

New Caledonian crows living in the wild create hooked probes from twigs, but a captive crow named Betty did something very different.

Betty’s toolmaking abilities came to light by accident during an experiment in which she and Abel (her captive male crow companion) had to choose between a hooked and a straight wire for retrieving small pieces of pig heart, their favorite food. When Abel made off with the hooked wire, Betty bent the straight wire into a hook and used the tool to lift a small bucket of food from a vertical pipe. This experiment was the first time the crows had been presented with wire.

The researchers then devised a new experiment to test Betty’s startling behavior systematically. They placed one piece of straight garden wire on top of the tube and waited for either crow to try retrieving the food. In her ten successful retrievals, Betty bent the wire into a hook nine times. Abel retrieved the food once, without bending the wire.

Betty almost always tried to get the food with the straight wire first. She then made hooks of varying shapes by wedging one end of the wire into taped-up sections of the tube apparatus and tray, or by holding it in her feet, while pulling the other end with her bill.

The researchers say that Betty’s creation of hooks cannot be attributed to the shaping or reinforcement of randomly generated behavior. And since she had no other crows to model, no training with pliant objects, and very limited prior experience with wire, they see her actions as novel and purposeful.  “To solve a new problem, she did something she had never done before,” said Kacelnik. “Naturally, she must have exploited abilities she acquired doing other tasks in the past, but she showed the capacity to solve a new problem in a creative way by reorganizing her experience.”

Behavior beyond even my father’s respectful beliefs.

Here is the story of Crow and her shadow, from Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams and David Carson.

crow medicine cardThere is a medicine story that tells of Crow’s fascination with her own shadow.  She kept looking at it, scratching it, pecking at it, until her shadow woke up and became alive. Then Crow’s shadow ate her. Crow is Dead Crow now.

Dead Crow is the Left-Handed Guarding. If you look deeply into Crow’s eye, you will have found the gateway to the supernatural. Crow knows the unknowable mysteries of creation and is the keeper of all sacred law.

Human law is not the same as Sacred Law. More so than any other medicine, Crow sees that the physical world and even the spiritual world, as humanity interprets them, are an illusion.

I didn’t key on that last paragraph until today.  The physical world as humanity interprets it is an illusion.  Sounds like its speaks directly of Avalon, S.C.

Crows have a complex language. They have a remarkable voice range, but they actually do not sing. They can caw in many different ways, each with its own meaning. Learning to understand the language of crows is something humans have done.

If we could understand each other easily, I wonder what they would say about a flock of crows being called a “murder?”

Members of the crow family live on all temperate continents except for South America.  There’s probably a legend explaining why that is–the Mayan version of St. Patrick–but I’ve never heard of it.

When my kids were growing up, they pulled an animal card each morning.  And for a while, we used to choose an animal totem for the year.   But I never spent a year under crow’s guidance.  Now I’m sorry I didn’t.



22 thoughts on “Crow Medicine

  1. Back to the book…ish. You forgot to mention all the crow feathers we find on the ground and that grace our home. One way to look at finding black feathers relates more to soul than other colors of feathers. When you find black feathers, it means that the guardian of your soul is near. The feathers are there to remind you that you don’t fight your battles of darkness in life alone. When you find a black feather, give thanks to your guardian for being there to protect you always. Hummm….Good thing for Rick to think about.

  2. Good question about the crow in South America. I have a copy of The Popol Vuh and keep meaning to get the Chilam Balam. I seem to have a vague recollection of a story about Crow in one of those. Too little sleep last night but I’ll try to find it this weekend.

    The crow interrupting Mr Lust made me remember part of a (I think) George Carlin routine. He’s talking about standing in the shower when he was younger, thinking “unclean” thoughts when the hand of God reached down and flushed a toilet somewhere in the house.

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