Saturday, May 1, 2010

Archetype: The Raven

Traveling around the blogosphere the other day, I came upon a lovely piece by Patrice Lynne Young, featuring one of my favorite figures- a raven.  I've had a fascination with ravens/crows for many years, and I've noticed that this is something I seem to share with a fairly large number of other artists.  In fact, when I started looking, I was surprised by the number of raven/crow images I had done.  What is it about this common bird, I wondered, that captures our imaginations to such a degree that you might even call it an iconic figure?  I had some idea, but decided to investigate further, and to share with you a small part of the information I found.

The Crystallization of Winter in My Heart by Sharmon Davidson

"Ravens are common characters in the traditional narratives and mythologies of cultures around the world," according to Wikipedia, and are "often depicted as a trickster or culture hero figure."  Carl Jung discussed the Trickster as one of the primary archetypes of the collective unconscious, an ancient and eternal cross-cultural symbol through which we humans interpret our experiences.  Examples of other archetypes include the Shadow, the Savior Child, Anima/Animus (the soul), the Wise Old Man, the Magician, the Divine Couple (Syzygy), the Hero, and the Great Mother. Archetypes occur within the traditions of every culture, though each archetype takes different forms in each culture. While familiar with the concept, I don't think I explain it very well, so for a more complete explanation of Jung's Archetypes, go here.

There are many trickster figures besides the Raven, such as the Coyote in native American myths, and Eshu in the Yoruba tradition,  among many others.  Some characteristics of the Trickster are as follows: "The trickster deity breaks the rules of the gods of nature, sometimes maliciously, but usually, albeit unintentionally, with positive effects.  Often, the rule-breaking takes the form of tricks or thievery... Frequently, the Trickster exhibits gender and form variability." (Wikipedia)

To illustrate, I thought you might enjoy one of my favorite Raven stories.  Someone paraphrased it into the following form, but since there is no further information on the page, I don't know who to thank.

Raven Steals the Sun

       According to a Haida story, in the beginning the world was in total darkness. 

      The Raven, who had existed from the beginning of time, was tired of groping about and bumping into things in the dark.  

      Eventually the Raven came upon the home of an old man who lived alone with his daughter. Through his slyness, the Raven learned that the old man had a great treasure. This was all the light in the universe, contained in a tiny box concealed within many boxes. 

      At once the Raven vowed to steal the light. 

      He thought and thought, and finally came up with a plan. He waited until the old man's daughter came to the river to gather water. Then the Raven changed himself into a single hemlock needle and dropped himself into the river, just as the girl was dipping her water-basket into the river.  

Earth, Sea, and Sky by Sharmon Davidson 

      As she drank from the basket, she swallowed the needle. It slipped and slithered down into her warm belly, where the Raven transformed himself again, this time into a tiny human. After sleeping and growing there for a very long time, at last the Raven emerged into the world once more, this time as a human infant.  

 Longing for Spring by Sharmon Davidson

      Even though he had a rather strange appearance, the Raven's grandfather loved him. But the old man threatened dire punishment if he ever touched the precious treasure box. Nonetheless the Ravenchild begged and begged to be allowed to hold the light just for a moment. 

      In time the old man yielded, and lifted from the box a warm and glowing sphere, which he threw to his grandson.  

Ancestral Ground by Sharmon Davidson

      As the light was moving toward him, the human child transformed into a gigantic black shadowy bird-form, wings spread ready for flight, and beak open in anticipation. As the beautiful ball of light reached him, the Raven captured it in his beak!  

Kiva Spirits by Sharmon Davidson

      Moving his powerful wings, he burst through the smokehole in the roof of the house, and escaped into the darkness with his stolen treasure. 

      And that is how light came into the universe. 

  Rise (detail) by Sharmon Davidson

As is the case with most ancient myths, numerous versions of this story evolved as it was passed down orally over time; to read more, click here and  here.

I hope you found this interesting.  To learn more about the relationship of Jung's Archetypes to mythology, an excellent and beautiful book you might want to read is Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth.


  1. What a fabulous post, Sharmon!

    Your Raven/blackbird images are beautiful and evocative - so perfectly suited to the ever changing image and character of these marvelous birds.

    Like you, I studied myth and history of crows and ravens after wondering about their popularity with artists. And like you found so much rich history. And yet often for me, it is the image itself, the beautiful lines, the strong black shape/s, the different beaks and flashing eyes that inspire me to attempt to reproduce the feeling I get when I see one - or a thousand - beautiful black birds.

    I love a mystery - and what could be more mysterious than the activities of one or the destination of entire flock. They always seem to KNOW things.

  2. Wonderful, delicious post Sharmon.
    I love crows and raven (blackbirds) also. Great information, lovely story and very, very stunning art of yours!

  3. Your art and words are wonderful...I think, 'earth, sea, and sky' have inspired me to create a Spirit Figure with your wonderful painting as my creative muse..thank you!

  4. Love your artwork and the story of Raven, trickster swallowing the light


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