Crows poll somewhere between eagles and sparrows, though not all 113 million hits are from crow lovers—some people like to brag about killing them. But that’s another story for another time. Nonetheless, crows and their raven cousins have accompanied human civilization since we showed up. And they were here first.
Crow and Raven have been with us since our beginnings and made a large impression on our earliest ancestors–for the stories they inspired, as well as a place in the stars. One of the oldest named constellations, Corvus (the Crow or Raven) refers to an old story, already ancient in the time of Aesop:
Crow was Apollo’s sacred bird who he sent to fetch him some water from a nearby spring. Crow flew off with the god’s ceremonial crater in his claws. But instead of filling the crater with water, Crow perched in a tree and waited for the figs to ripen. After gorging himself on figs, he remembered his task, but rather then returning with water, he brought Apollo a water snake and a story about how the serpent had kept him from filling the cup with water.
Enraged, Apollo threw Crow off Mt Olympus and into the heavens. He set the water snake (Hydra) to guard the cup (Crater) of water from Crow (Corvus), doomed to be thirsty forever in plain view of the Crater full of water.
Water, a snake, a cup, and ripe figs. Somehow I think the anger of the god at the disobedient crow was the very least thing this myth is about. The real meaning of the story, the one that earned it a place in the stars, has been lost.
Many of the old stories are like this one—full of symbols that no longer carry the meaning they once did. It’s high time, I thought, to re-tell the old tales, about First Crow, First Raven, and First Human. Though obscure, what is clear is that we’ve come hand-in-wing down through the ages, together. Not always in friendship, but constant companions, nevertheless
Who Are These Birds?
Accompanying the plethora of old legends, recent research into the intelligence and behavior of crows and ravens reveals an intelligent sentient, species. Interested parties might enjoy this excellent book on the subject: Gifts of the Crow, by John Marzluff and Tony Angell.
Crow and raven brains are wired like ours. They assess. They dream, they plan, they make tools. They observe us as curiously and perhaps as critically and judgmentally as we observe them. We no longer revere them as gods, we might well remember that at no time in the history of the Earth have they ever thought so of us.
In that light, I imagined myself to be a crow, observing the human species. From the very beginning when the poor hairless creatures shivered in the darkness … until Crow (or was it Raven?) taught them to make fire. Ever since, with Crow’s oversight and over Raven’s protestations, human civilization lurched haplessly along.
I wrote a series of stories about the interactions of our three species. Down through the ages, imagining the way it might’ve been.
First Campfire The sound of the humans teeth chattering on the ground below irritated Raven, and he couldn’t sleep…
Tan Me Hide and Teach Me to Sew …well before the first human took a bite of the first apple from the Tree of Knowledge
The Still Driven to drink from the Garden of Eden….
Let Them Eat Corn …..humans grew smarter and smarter, while Crow and Raven grew wiser and wiser…