Messenger of the Void


July 4, 2016 at 4:02am PDT / 11:02am UT

Sun and Moon conjoined at 12°54' Cancer opposite Pluto at 16° Capricorn

photoAs I write, I am sitting at the kitchen table watching a group of adolescent ravens swoop down onto the deck rail to pick up bits of leftover crackers. They are a raucous group — three teenagers who get up quite early (unlike their human counterparts) and start partying immediately.

The last two months we've watched their parents tirelessly hunt for food for this brood. On a recent afternoon I caught one of them flying from the compost bin with a prize held tight in its beak: an entire corn tortilla. And ravens have other, far craftier, ways of obtaining food. Naturalists have observed that these intelligent birds often trick other animals out of their meals. A mating pair work together like pickpockets to distract larger animals: one functions as a decoy, perhaps prancing in front of the animal, while the other swoops down to steal a bite.

Undeniably smart birds, Ravens are even known to utter words. Although the ability to "speak" is probably due to mimicking rather than real conversing, but who knows! A few years ago a neighbor told me he heard one say "hello." I kid you not. And to clarify: the raven said hello just once, not repeatedly as a (less intelligent) parrot might, and the greeting was given upon encountering my neighbor therefore displaying an impressive knack for appropriate timing.

Ravens can produce some thirty different vocalizations. Their most common call, a frequent sound here in the redwood forest, is a hoarse "krooaaaaaak." On a beautiful, sunny spring day following a storm, soaring way up high, we often see them swoop and dance in the air. This is often when they produce another common sound: a loud staccato that resembles the rapid clicking of castanets: "clok clok-clok-clok" — what we've come to think of as Raven's ode to joy, sex, and the rousing warmth of the sun.

Watching raven behavior firsthand, I understand how trickster stories arose from Native Americans' close observation of this fascinating and clever bird. For them, Raven was creator of life on Earth and possessed the power to navigate back and forth between the realms. It was trickster Raven who stole fire from the gods and placed it in the heavens to form the Sun, the Moon, and the stars.

Ravens, who mate for life and are extremely devoted parents, offer a particularly apt symbol for this month's Cancer New Moon, for the care and feeding of the young fall under the auspices of this Moon-ruled, feminine water sign. Moreover, the New Moon also conjoins Mercury, our very own astrological trickster God, which is approaching conjunction with Raven's own Sun. And this conjunction is significant, marking the "Full Mercury," that synapse-firing fruition point in a cycle that began last May when Mercury last conjoined the Sun — while in retrograde motion. (Remember that stretch of time when both Mercury and Mars were retrograde?)

Referred to as the inferior conjunction — or "New Mercury" — the May conjunction occurred when our trickster God was up to his best retrograde hijinks and coincided with Mercury's closest approach to Earth. Akin to a New Moon, the inferior conjunction is the starting point in Mercury's cycle, when the seeds of mercurial intent are planted in our lives. The cycle's peak, however, does not occur then, but two months later, at the next conjunction with Mercury, this time in direct motion and moving at a full "quicksilver" speed: where we are right now.

There are 47 days between the Full Mercury and its next retrograde station (August 30th). So we are at a special stretch of time with the greatest Mercurial momentum. And this time around the Full Mercury is conjunct a New Moon. Both cycles converging.

Raven magic may involve insights gained in unusual ways: investigating the thread of an interesting synchrony, discerning the import of an odd dream, or paying attention to some other motif that keeps popping up in your life.At this Full Mercury culmination, it can be useful to look back at the genesis point of the cycle. What was going on in your life in in May? What was foremost in your thoughts and concerns? And, do you see any connections between what was going on then and what is happening now? For it is mercurial harvest time. What we intentionally or inadvertently set in motion last May is now ripe and ready. Something that was unclear, cloudy or confused may be brought to clarity right now, especially so this time around, bolstered by a powerful, face-the-truth, opposition to Lord of the Underworld, Pluto. And this opposition marks a critical phase in Pluto's cycle, it's midpoint or fruition point in a cycle that began last January when the Sun and Pluto were conjunct in Capricorn. So we have three cycles, Moon, Mercury and Pluto, converging. Raven has definitely flown into our lives.

In their book Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power through the Ways of Animals, Jamie Sams and David Carson note that throughout time Raven has carried the medicine of magic. "It is sacred in the medicine ways to honor Raven," they add, "as the bringer of magic." Raven magic may involve insights gained in unusual ways: investigating the thread of an interesting synchrony, discerning the import of an odd dream, or paying attention to some other motif that keeps popping up in your life.

If Raven flies into your field of vision, Sams and Carson tell us, you are about to experience a change in consciousness and have "earned the right to experience a little more of life's magic." Raven's color, they add, "is that of the void which holds all the energy of the creative source." In Native American teachings the color black is not associated with evil and represents the seeking of answers, the void, or the road of the spiritual or nonphysical. "The blue-black of Raven contains iridescences that speaks of the magic of darkness, and a changeability of form and shape that brings an awakening in the process." What a fitting description of a New Moon opposite Pluto, conjoined the Full Mercury.

The New Moon is the seed time each month when the Sun and Moon commingle and commence a brand new cycle, long observed as a time of power and magic itself. Raven, Sams and Carson reflect, offers the courage to enter the darkness of the void, the home of all that is not yet in form. "The void is the Great Mystery which existed before all other things came into being. Great Spirit lives inside the void and emerged from this same Mystery. Raven is the messenger of the void" — a perfect totem animal for this powerful lunar cycle commencing tomorrow.



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Linguist Derek Bickerton asserted, in his book Adam's Tongue, that Ravens are one of only four animals (bees, ants, and humans are the other three) that can talk about things or events distant from the conversation in either space or time. When a young raven discovers a large carcass guarded by a pair of adult Ravens, he will return to his roost mates to tell them about the treasure. The next day, the entire flock of young Ravens will fly to the carcass, and together chase off the adults. Bickerton argues that this particular intellectual/linguistic capacity is possibly the most important event in the evolution of human language, and that ravens are the only other vertebrate, besides humans, known to posses this ability.

The Native American in Raven costume is a detail from a photograph taken by Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), an ethnologist and photographer of the American West.

Sams, Jamie and David Carson. Illustrated by Angela C. Werneke. Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power through the Ways of Animals. Santa Fe: Bear & Co, 1988.

The Raven Medicine card shown here is from the deck that accompanies Sams and Carson's book and is illustrated by Angela C. Werneke.

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