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October 2008
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corvi [userpic]
Murder and Unkindness: a few of my favorite things

(A flock of crows is a murder. A flock of ravens is an unkindness)

I saw a raven lurking about on campus this morning. I put out my arm for him/her, a little shyly. I got a sort of 'what are you doing, human?' look in return. He/she was not particularly afraid of me, just saw no reason to leave off poking in the grass and come join me. Ah well, I'll keep trying. Today is a soft, faintly grayish day, the greens and red-browns particularly intense, brick and ivy. The raven nearly glowed darkly against the muted backdrop. Mmmm.

The remainder of this post will, alas, be boring. Apologies.

I am terribly, horribly obsessed with corvids. Politely, quietly obsessed, but obsessed none the less. Corvidae is the Linnean designation for crows, ravens, magpies, jackdaws, rooks, pihuls, etc. When I was in Nicaragua, I spent my breaks from construction trying to learn the screechy calls of the pihuls; when I climbed in the Alps, I fed the corvids (blackbirds? Definitely corvids, but very yellow beaks) bits of my bread; when I walk around Seattle, beautiful city of ten thousand crows, there is frequently one on my shoulder. Instills fear in the street preachers, very good thing.

Those who know me well give me crow-things to increase my hoard: a cast resin statue from tithonium, an old-fashioned silver key bound to a black feather from killianpooh, a beautiful raven feather as long as my forearm, brought from Los Alamos by rigel_p, behavioural studies of ravens from maribou. And I am given names, Karasu and Corvi and Ravenschild. And, of course, Featherbrain, from my ever-loving roommates, or "hey, you, bird!" from gfish when he is trying to get my attention in a loud machine shop. And when randomdreams says to me, "I saw some crows today and thought of you," there is no higher compliment.

I'm not sure what it is about them. Other than the fact that they're the most wonderful things your-deity-of-choice thought up, of course. I mean, duh. Rainbow of darkness - did you ever notice they aren't all the same color? Greenblack and purpleblack and yellowblack and blueblack. Elegance of movement, of intelligence, of form. Mythologically, Raven is a creator spirit, a trickster, is Munin and Hugin, who bring knowledge to Odin, trouble and beauty and intellect. Knowledge to prophets, and death to the battlefield.

Partial Cast of Corbies:
(Note: all genders are completely arbitrary. I have no idea which any of them are, and guess based on size or behavious. Except Mendicant. I still, six years later, have no idea of Mendi's gender; I refer to him as male, but english hasn't got a good set of neutral pronouns, which is another rant entirely.
Also, this may seem like a lot, but keep in mind there are several hundred crows whose regular range overlaps with mine. I can call maybe twelve to me. Not very many, considering.)

Mendicant: The first. Latin for "beggar". Intelligent. I've known Mendicant nearly six years at this point. Doesn't really act much like a crow; approached me out of the blue, one day, demanded crackers. Probably invented the crow word for 'hey, this one's a real sucker, come check it out!' (it sounds a bit like Qrrak) - he likes to sit on my shoulder and yell at other crows until they come investigate and I give them crackers too, at which point, he makes a noise suspiciously like 'I told you so'. Introduces new ones to me thusly. Rode on my shoulder into a class at BCC once; I'd kind of forgotten about him. Ooops. Not going to do that again - I do learn, slowly. He seemed to enjoy the resultant chaos immensely; Mendi is trouble with a beak.

Sable: Acrobat. Unlike most of the others, can land on my shoulder without violently disarraying my hair with his wings - a graceful upward little swoop. Showoff, fancy flyer, more arrogant than any of the humans I know (and I know several sysadmins and more computer geeks than you can shake a Cat5 o' nine tails at) A little undersized. Probably male; I've seen him court Velvet, and I think he was acting male - wings half open in display, chest feathers fluffed, tail fanned. I am not a behaviourist, though, and could be wrong. Flies about through narrow spaces, through cherry trees to shower students and fellow crows with petals.

Nocturne: Silence. Nocturne is almost never willing to perch on my arm. I've named her only because she's Just So Beautiful. At least to those of us with silly gothic sensibilities. One always sees Nocture perched high in a leafless tree, or on the bell tower, unmoving and silent, knife-edged feathers fluffed to a jagged silhouette, looking all ancient and wise. Usually on rainy days, or at sunset, too. Cliche, but beautiful beyond easy description.

Velvet: Cheerful, a little shy. Can't resist a shiny thing. Like, for example, the CBRs I had in my ears for a couple of months. Or a zipper, or a shiny barette, or some silver hair. Velvet is the one who somehow ended up with a barette stolen out of the hair of a student and came to where I was sitting, and dropped the barette and became immediately interested in the silver chain about my wrist. I wasn't quite sure whether to walk up to the disgruntled student and say, "here, a crow gave me this," and give the barrette back. I would have liked the opportunity to wierd someone out that much. I get the wierd feeling Velvet would like vixyish, and want to introduce them. And photograph vix dressed goth with a crow on her shoulder. Mmmmmmmmmm.

Satine: So one day shadowblue tells me that I should name the next crow I meet Satine. I have no idea why. Satine is not very used to me, and a little shy and jumpy. Very pretty, kind of purpley. Odd habit of tapping the side of her beak on something, not the tip.

Shadowfax: Feathers always look a little bedraggled; bird beneath a bit thin. Feathers sort of gray - not much color. Sudden movements; goes between stillness and motion instantly.

Nox: One gets the feeling that if she were human, she would be a compulsive liar. Very cautious and considering.

When I think of heaven
Deliver me in a black-winged bird
I think of flying

Current Mood: dorky
Current Music: Counting Crows - Rain King

Wow. I'd like to meet some of them.


Not to those who are of similar minds about corvids. Raven is a bringer of light, as well as a trickster, at least in some of the myths. It irks me no end when I read something that depicts ravens and crows as agents of evil, and only agents of evil. They are too vilified, these beautiful, adaptable, and extremely intelligent birds. They are also psychopomps(sp?), guides between this world and the next, and sacred to the goddess-form I most closely associate with, The Morrigan.

Don't know how many times I've seen a hawk or an eagle mobbed by crows, and inevitably some moron spouts off about how dare they attack such a majestic creature. At which point I inform said moron that hawk and eagles will raid crow nests for eggs and hatchlings.

I've listened to the different sounds they make, not just the calling caws, but other chirring, clucking combinations of sounds. I'll watch whenever one flies overhead, and feel my spirit lift for seeing a crow in that moment, even as I bow my head and murmur a blessing. In the winter I've watched them gather in huge murders, so many crows together they blacken the sky with their wings. I've watched them play with the wind, dancing in mid-air for the joy of it.

Thank you for posting about the crows you know by name. I know I was definitely interested in hearing more about them, and I'd love to meet them sometime. I suspect I'll also get labelled a 'sucker' by your feathered friends. ;)

Re: Boring?

Appreciative audiences are always a very good things, and I'm not too surprised, given your livejournal name.
Have you been in Suzallo Library on the University of Washington campus? Suzzallo is the site of a set of raven art installations:

That is, 'Raven brings light to this house of stories'. In a large airy entrance area, dozens of ravens holding shiny objects in their beaks - mirrors, golden mathematical symbols, letters, folded papers - hang in flight. When poking around in the stacks one time, I came upon a carven wooden raven perched atop a shelf of computation theory books. There is a wooden pedestal with a beautiful hand-bound book retelling the story. Poetry painted on some of the walls. Special collections has a bunch of items that are 'what the crows left.' Suzzallo is a wonderful library, fun to prowl around in looking for these things. Sigh. I hope they finish the retrofitting soon. (A little more information here.)

>I'll watch whenever one flies overhead, and feel my spirit lift for seeing a crow in that moment, even as I bow my head and murmur a blessing.

I certainly understand the feeling! May I ask what sort of blessing? I do not know much of such things.

Re: Boring?

*grin* When I was still going to the UW, Suzzalo was my favorite library to hang out in specifically because of the raven displays. I don't know how many times I'd wander in just to look and see if I could spot a new shiny object. Y'know something, I think I noticed something new with that display almost every time. I didn't know about the 'what the crows left' in Special Collections. I'll have to wander back there sometime and check it out.

As for the blessing, it's one I made up myself, which is something I tend to do fairly often. "Goddess greetings and blessings, friend crow." Just an acknowledgement of the crow's presence being welcomed and recognized.

That was a lovely post.
NOT boring, at all.
But then, I'm also one who thinks of you every time I see a crow.

>But then, I'm also one who thinks of you every time I see a crow

Thank you very much.
See, it's things like this that convince me I might be worthwhile after all. That intelligent and well-informed people are able to associate me, imperfect and incomplete, with them. That there's some sort of connection between this half-mad white-haired human and the irredescent shadowy bird-shapes that are the most wonderful thing I know of.

Not boring at all. I was fascinated.

I became interested in corvids when Eris told me to listen to Raven since he understands the NW a lot better than she does.

If you listen to Gaia Consort, you might notice that the adoptive co-parents to Ravens on Gaia Circles are Weird Uncle Cindy and Weird Aunt Torin.

One thing that I'm looking for again is a book I picked up a while back on the behaviour of ravens that was very well done. It's not the Mind of the Raven but did start out talking about how they know that ravens can count to four and how they tend to post sentries while feasting. If you're familiar with this, I'd appreciate it. I loaned it to someone, it hasn't come back, and I don't remember the title to get another copy.

I believe the book you mention is Ravens In Winter, which I would be glad to loan you, as long as you'll let me hunt you down with a sniper rifle if I don't get it back. (It's one of the ones maribou gave me, actually. Everyone needs friends who work at used bookstores and have excellent taste in books!) Same author as Mind of the Raven and A Year In The Maine Woods.

I'm afraid I don't really know enough to comment on Raven as a spiritual entity; my appreciation for corvids is along the lines of my appreciation for music so beautiful it turns my bones to crystal and echoes within them, or a perfect sunset, crowned with the velvet blue of night's cloak and the first few stars. Except much, much more so, intense and numinous. But given the importance of Raven in NW mythology as a creator-trickster archetype, it seems he would indeed know the area very well.

Corvids, with a few exceptions, tend to be adaptive, intelligent, and curious, poking their beaks in where they don't belong. I climbed Zugspitz, the highest mountain in the German Alps, once. At the top of the mountain one finds some strange place where none of Earth's rules apply, where light is cold and blue and palpably intense, settles into the lungs and spills into other sense as crystalline bell tones and cold feather touches along the skin. Cold, and bright, and bluesilverwhite.

And, even there, I found corvids, and raised my arm to them, and they came to me. They are tiny birds, hugely fluffy: when one strokes them, one's fingers sink an inch into soft down. They seemed hardly heavier than the press of the light itself. Feet icy cold. They fly like hawks, circling lazily on thermals. I have no idea what they eat when corvophile climbers aren't around, but they fit in so perfectly, like the mountain would have been incomplete sans these three pair of corvids.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that maybe corvids are especially good at understanding a place, because of intelligence and adaptivity.

Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to obsess a bit more. Shhhh.