The Raven: Friend, Guide, Ancestor, and Trickster

words :: Jon Turk

photos :: Ilanna Barkusky

Throughout the Coast Mountains, Raven is regarded as friend, guide, ancestor, liberator of light, finder of man, and creator of life and land. But Raven can also be trickster. I know this, personally, because on the other side of the great Pacific Ocean, in a land called Kamchatka, the old Koryak woman named Moolynaut had me stand on one leg, naked, with one hand behind my back, and the other hand stretched out in front of me, in the pose of flight. She spit on my pubic hair and asked Raven to heal my damaged pelvis.

And when I returned the next year to thank Raven, Moolynaut told me to eat the mushroom and walk through the labyrinth to find the Other World where Raven lived. “Remember to trail a string behind you,” a voice reminded me, “so you can find your way out of the labyrinth when your mission is complete.” But Raven stole my string and I got lost in the mysterious subterranean darkness.

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“Ha, Ha. Caw, caw,” said Raven.

“Very funny,” I replied.

Why inhabit these harsh alpine environments? To tease us, or to teach us?

Years have passed. I see Raven nearly every day, soaring gracefully on thermals rising above snowy ridgetops, chatting and joking with her friends all lined up on power lines, picking the bones of some poor deer who stepped into the headlights along the roadside. We can all talk to Raven. Try it sometime.  When Raven is flying overhead, look up, “Caw, caw, you old dirty dawg you. How’s the family?”

Sometimes Raven is too busy for your silly human shenanigans and will soar away. Other times, she will rock her wings, hover, and make eye contact. “Caw, caw. And dirty dawg back to you. Remember the time I stole your string. That was a good one.”

If I had Moolynaut’s shamanic power, I could shape-change out of my human bundle of perceptions and become Raven. But I’m just a white guy from suburban Connecticut, with all the limitations that come with that territory. But no worries. Oleg the hunter told me that even though I am a lousy traveller within the Other World, losing my string and all, I am a good traveller in the Real World. And since the Other World is the Real World, and vice versa, go ahead and make the journey with whatever power you have.

So, give this a try. Climb up high on an untamed ridge. When Raven comes by to pay you a visit, take a deep breath. Turn off your useless, annoying, think-too-much-know-it-all-brain. Look into Raven, not at Raven—into. Don’t try to ‘think’ animal, because that is missing the point. Become animal.

And maybe, if you are lucky, Raven will steal your string and you will never find your way back. —ML

Jon Turk is a Ph.D. chemist, an environmental science pioneer, and also the author of The Raven’s Gift and a number of other incredible books about adventure, in both worlds.