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Folklore and Mythology

Present here, are but a few of the rich abundance of stories available concerning crows and ravens. Presented first are stories of the trickster. The trickster is an element of oral stories in almost every known tribal people. In the north, Raven and Crow are joined by Coyote, Beaver, and Wolverine. Trickster is not just a jokester or magician, but can present itself in such realms as love and education. Trickster may be the fuel behind the man who cannot control his lust, or more benignly, the one who teaches another how to exalt in life and find beauty in even the most commonplace things. I particularily like the angle Howard Norman takes in describing Trickster and it's role in Native life: "His presence demands, cries out for, compassion and generosity toward existence itself. Trickster is a celebator of life, a celebration of life, because by rallying against him a community discovers its own relilience and protective skills."

TRICKSTER

The Blackfoot of western Canada have a story how Raven stole all the buffaloes, antelope, deer, moose, and rabbits--leaving nothing for themselves. Once, the Old Man; the creator, turned himself into a dog for the purpose of trying to retrive these animals and recruited the help of the chief's son. When they found all the animals hidden away in a deep cave, they freed them all, and attempted to run the buffalo of a cliff as a clever hunting technique. But just when they thought they were going to be successful, Raven appeared from the edge of the cliff, driving them back into the cave.

The followning "trickster" tales are in essence from Alaskan Igloo Tales, by E.L. Keithahn, and are stories of Eskimos from the Arctic coast and rivers of the Seward Peneninsula:

MR. RAVEN AND THE SQUIRREL HUNTER

Mr. Raven woke up very hungry one morning and came upon an igloo with some squirrel meat cooking inside. Mr. Raven, bing famished from walking a very long way, went inside and helped himself. Then after stretching his belly took his accoustomed afternoon nap.

While he was sleeping the hunter returned, and exclaimed: "Oh! Somebody has come for dinner." Mr. Raven awoke to his voice.

"My, I am so hungry. Won't you join me in some stew," the hunter said to Mr. Raven.

"Oh, no my stomach has shrunk recently, which is why I cannot eat anymore meat."

As the hunter was skinning his squirrels, he exclaimed, "Ah, get away from here, you have eight feet!"

Oh, no, I haven't," said Mr. Raven. "I have only two like a man. Let us be friends and live here together."

The hunter had to admit he was a lonely soul, so he agreed to let Mr. Raven stay.

Every day the hunter worked hard and long to get his catch, and in the evening do his skinning. Mr. Raven, however, appeared to be living a enjoyable life, free of much work. The hunter had to bring this to Mr. Raven's attention.

"Now don't be angry, my friend," said Mr. Raven. "You go get me some pitch and a strong club."

The man got the materials requested, then Mr. Raven said: "Now, my friend, please go and invite the seals up here for a dance and good times."

So the hunter went down to the sea, and got a good many seals to follow him back to the igloo. Mr. Raven had them all dancing and having a gay time, when he all of a sudden told everybody to get ready for the big surprise, and for everyone to close their eyes. "Don't open them until I say ready," he said. With everyone's eyes shut, Mr. Raven went around and poured pitch into the eyelids of the seals. When he said, "Ready!" none of the seals could open their eyes to get away. The hunter took the club around and killed everyone of the seals.

"Now, my friend," said Mr. Raven when all the seals were dead. "There are two ways to get meat and hides, so don't call me lazy anymore. I may not have hands like a man, but I can work with my head."

HOW MR. RAVEN OUTWITTED THE FOX

For many years Mr. Raven and Mr. Red Fox had been bitter enemies. The cause of their enmity was jealousy. Mr. Raven was the wisest of all birds, and Mr. Fox was the most cunning of all the animals. They were always trying to bring about the other's downfall, always without success.

One day Mr. Raven thought of a new scheme to rid himself of his rival. Going to Mr. Fox's home, he said, "Good morning, Mr. Fox. Let us go to the great hill and play games."

"Very well, my friend. I will play slide-down-the-hill with you."

"you go first," said the crafty fox. "I want to see how well you can slide!"

"Very well," said Raven, and away he went. He slid so fast that he couldn't stop himself! But just as he was about to hit bottom he spread out his wings and glided across to the opposite side in safety. Then called, "All right, Mr. Fox! Let's see how well you can slide!"

"No, I am afraid I will fall into the water," said Fox.

"Oh, no, you can't fall into the water," returned Raven. "Surely you can jump as well as I can."

Mr. Fox was not to be outdone by a mere raven, however wise. If Raven could do it so could he. Down, down he slid so fast he couldn't stop and landed right in the center of the pond.

Mr. Raven's plan worked well. He threw his head back in wild laughter. "Help! Help!" shouted the fox. "I am sinking!" But Mr. Raven only laughed and laughed as if he would die laughing and didn't stop until long after the fox had drowned.

THE KILLING OF GRIZZLY BEAR

One day, the Raven invited the Grizzly Bear to go fishing with him. Before they went, the Raven secretly caught a salmon and cut it up to use as bait. But when the Bear asked him what he was using, the Raven claimed to have taken his own testicles. He urged the Bear to do the same, and the Grizzly reluctantly agreed to be casterated. As a result, the great Bear died, overcome by the Raven's superior wit.

WHY THE RAVEN IS BLACK

"In the olden days, the raven and the peacock were close friends who lived on a plantation in Vietnam. One day, the two birds decided to amuse themselves by painting each other's feathers. The raven set willingly to work and so surpassed itself that the peacock became, as it is today, one of the most beautiful birds on earth. Unwillingly to share its glory even with its friend, the mean-spirited peacock painted the raven plain black." (From "Bird Brains" by Candace Savage.)

Note: I believe there are other variations of this story suggesting the raven exhausted all the color on the peacock, leaving only black for itself.

CROW AND CAMP ROBBER

Dena'ina Indian

Note: This story is taken verbatim from "Northern Tales" edited by Howard Norman.

That Crow was hungry.

So was that Camp Robber. He walked around humans, eating scraps.

Crow called, "Camp Robber! You're a little too stupid. You'll stick your head in a kid's toy, a snare, or a little trap."

Camp Robber laughed. "You're a little too scared. I'm not the hungry one."

At dawn Crow stole fish from the fish-rack. A boy came out and saw him. He shot Crow with his toy arrow and dumped his body on the beach. Crow drifted until his body washed ashore.

Camp Robber came along and saw him lying there, half rotten and full of maggots. He blew into his friend's nose, saying, "Come back as a new animal."

Crow came back to life. He was itcy. "Here I was just sleeping," he said to Camp Robber. "You woke me up!"

Camp Robber told him, "You were stealing fish, and that boy put an arrow into you. You were destroyed. You drifted ashore and got maggoty. That's why you needed new life. I fixed you up."

He told the Crow how he had dipped water and said, "Let it turn to medicine." He spilled it on his friend. "Shake yourself," he told Crow, and Crow shook himself. The maggots fell off and he was healed.

And, "Ggagh!" Crow cawed.

Here is a passage from the Babylonian story about The Flood, which predicates the biblical version, Savage (1995):

"When the seventh day had

come

I brought out a dove and let

her go free.

The dove flew away and

{then} came back;

Because she had no place to

alight on she came back.

I brought out a swallow and

let her go free.

The swallow flew away and

{then} came back;

I brought out a raven and

let her go free.

The raven flew away, she

saw the sinking waters.

She ate, she pecked in the

ground, she coaked, she

came not back."

FINNISH FOLKLORE

While the raven is seen as a bird of ill omen, it is said that below its wing is a feather of fortune. If a trapper can find it, he is rewarded by a bountiful catch.

NORSE MYTHOLOGY

The god Odin, in Norse mythology, had two ravens named Thought and Memory. They would fly around all day, and in the evening they would converse with him the happenings around the world.

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