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RAVEN-First Nations Trickster or Demon?

Updated on February 14, 2013
Raven calls the First Men out of the Clam Shell. This massive sculpture is in Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology
Raven calls the First Men out of the Clam Shell. This massive sculpture is in Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology | Source

Raven Wood Carvings and Gold versions.

Since Raven is such a key figure in West Coast First Nations Mythology there are many carving of Raven on totem poles, masks, plaques, and other First Nations Works of art. In many B.C. First Nations culture the Raven holds equal status to the eagle. Bill Reid's sculpture at the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology draws visitors from around the world. In the same chamber as the massive wooden sculpture are tiny versions in gold.

Ravens love the mountain tops
Ravens love the mountain tops | Source
Golden Raven Brooch by Bill Reid master carver and jeweler, Haida.
Golden Raven Brooch by Bill Reid master carver and jeweler, Haida. | Source
Raven encourages the first men to creep out of the clamshell. Small golden sculpture.
Raven encourages the first men to creep out of the clamshell. Small golden sculpture. | Source

Raven Trickster, Hero or Demon

“ Golden Bird vs Dirty Black Bird”

In the morning staff meeting a colleague asked me,

“ What do you think of the new name for our Community Health Center? It’s “RAVENSONG.”

“I think it’s a totally stupid name. Ravens don’t even sing. They go CAW CAW. There is one in the tree, right outside my bedroom window, that wakes me every morning.”

“That’s not a Raven, that’s a crow.”

Right! I forget the difference between a crow and Raven. Then I remembered a sunny day when I hiked the granite bluffs on Black Mountain above Vancouver B.C. Tired, I lay down on the warm rock ledge and fell deep asleep and woke with a start to the loud sound of gurgling. Like someone was pouring gallons of water out the neck of a giant pop bottle. There was Raven, gigantic, black, on a rock just above my head. Raven stared down at me. I was scared. It flashed through my mind: “ If I were dead, would he eat my eyeballs?” I sat up quickly, and Raven jumped back. I had scared him. Scrounging through my day pack I found half a cheese sandwich, an offering. I threw it near him. He gobbled it up. I took a bite of what was left, and threw him the rest. It was comfortable sitting on the warm rock sharing lunch with Raven.

First Nations Raven

Many Vancouverites know Raven, the First Nations trickster, who encouraged the first humans out of the clam shell, brought men and women together, brought light and fire to our cold dark world. The massive Bill Reid sculpture of Raven and The Clam shell is the key exhibit in our world class Vancouver Museum of Anthropology. However many Health Center clients, were unlikely to have heard of Raven the Hero. Some were knowledgeable First Nations, or locals, but many were new immigrants, from Asia, Europe, the Americas, Europe. Some were torture survivors. Why scare them with the name of a demon bird that foretold evil, and death?”

"Spoke the Raven "Nevermore."

At staff meetings we argued, we protested, we researched and found scary bloody Raven stories, but to no avail. The name Ravensong had won the contest. It had been chosen by a committee. Beautiful framed portraits of Raven were hung in the clinic lobby.

Raven becomes Golden Bird

A multilingual nurse at our health center led a large multicultural group for mental patients. Angelo was quite worried how he would explain this new name to his group. Apparently, the translation of Raven into Chinese is “Dirty Black Bird” Angelo told the story “Raven brings fire to the World” to his group. They loved wily magic Raven. Maybe Raven could be translated into Chinese as “ Golden Bird” because he stole the sun.

A few days later I was catching my breath, at the top of the “Grouse Grind.” This hike ascends straight up the mountain that towers over Vancouver, is easily accessible and has become very popular. Hundreds of people hike it. On the big granite rock at the top sat a handsome young man. He was feeding his bagel to a large black, Raven. A group of young women were hiking up behind me chattering in Mandarin. Suddenly they saw the Raven. They gasped. There was a loud, animated discussion in Mandarin. Then one of the young women in the group said, in English. “ I think this is a different bird, than the one we have back in China.”

Raven Coaxes the First Men out of the Clamshell

Raven was walking on the beach of the new world when he saw a strange object. It was a giant clam shell filled with squirming creatures. The little naked men were crying, afraid to creep out of the clam shell into the new world. Raven jumped up on the shell and said:

"Come out into the world."

When they fearfully crept out onto the beach they were cold and shivering and hungry. Raven felt sorry for these pitiful creatures so he picked up a limpet shell with the limpet sucker inside. Raven threw the limpet onto the naked man's sexual organs. The limpet stuck on tightly. Out of the limpet grew a lovely young women. Now men had women to feed them and make clothes for them and hold them warm at night.

Raven Steals the Sun

Men had women but they were still cold and miserable without sunlight or fire. This was because the Sky Lord had the sun locked up in a big chest in his sky lodge. Raven took pity on the cold humans and he put on his shining white feathered cloak and flew up to the sky lodge. When he arrived he took the form of a boy and entered the great lodge.

"Greetings Uncle. I have come to visit you."

The great Sky Lord said: "Take some food nephew and sleep on those furs by the fire."

In the morning Raven gathered sea urchins for breakfast. As. he sat on the Great Lord's door step eating Raven threw the sharp spines all over the door step. Then he went into the lodge, snuck up to the Sky Lord's great chest, opened it and stole the shining golden sun.

The Sky Lord saw him and tried to catch him. Raven jumped over the door step and flew away. When Sky Lord and his warriors ran out to chase Raven they stepped on the Sea Urchin spines and the spines stuck in their feet so hard they couldn't run.They were hopping around yelling.

Raven flew quickly, the golden sun in his mouth. But the wind fanned the sun's flames and sparks lit Ravens feathers. His beautiful white coat turned black. His mouth burned and he had to drop the sun. A great forest fire started. Thus Raven brought fire to the world, but he also unleashed fire's wild force of destruction.


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