In our village, when one of the young reach the age of self-sight, they are sent to discover their spirit animal. The young one must go off alone and build a lodge, and sit and meditate on the fire until their animal comes to them. Sometimes their animal does not come at this young age, and sometimes several spirits answer the young one's search. These spirits may not reflect the essence of the child, sometimes they are what the child strives to embody, and sometimes there is prophecy to be told in the vision.
After they feel they are done they seek an elder, and speak to them of their visions. If they have been successful, the elder asks them to undertake a journey. This journey is to seek out those elders in their village and nearby villages, to understand more of the spirit that has revealed itself to them. This is one of the stories I was told when it was my time.
When the world was young, there was little life to be found. There was no sun, nor moon to watch over the spirits or the living. A few strange animals had come to survive on the fungus that grew in the dark, because there was no light to feed the plants of the plains or mighty trees. Only the fleet of foot or swift of wing who could travel very far to find their fill.
And there was one who was small, but not so swift of wing, he was the raven. It took him all his time to find even enough to eat of the small plants that grew on the edges of rocks and crags, where the hoofed animals could not go. And he toiled, and toiled, barely finding his fill. Eventually he grew tired of this endlessness, and cried out to the sky, "Why should I be alive? There is nothing here to live for. I am alone, and I barely find enough to eat. I don't want to live anymore, and I will soon die."
But of course, the dark sky did not answer him. The stars still hung silently in their fixed position. So the Raven decided what he must do is choose a direction and keep on flying until he fell out of the sky. He resolved to not stop, to not toil for food any longer. But which direction should he go? The Raven looked around him. All was black as far as he could see, but then as he almost was ready to choose, he saw one direction that looked a little different. There was a dancing of lights on the blackness.
For a moment that confused the Raven, until he remembered there was a lake there. He knew for he had drank at is shores before. So he set off in that direction, ignoring the ache in his stomach. It was a nice flight, and for the first time he noticed the cool breezes that enveloped him as he flew. And when he landed at the edge of the lake, he actually saw it for the first time.
It was beautiful. A large lake that stretched off so far so he could only barely see the outline of hills where the stars stopped on the other side. And in the lake the sky was reflected, so every star seemed to dance on the water. He wondered how he could not have seen this before, for he had stopped at this lake many times to drink. And he realized it was because this was the first moment in which his mind was not filled with the endless thoughts of where he might get food, crowding out all other sight so only now he could see more than just what he was looking for.
The ache in his stomach was there still, but he found he did not care, and flew off over the lake. For if he died, he wanted his last sight to be of something beautiful. Everywhere he looked there were stars, and he kept flying until his wings ached more than his stomach, but still he flew. He flew until he thought his wings would refuse to hold him, and still he pressed on.
With each stab of pain, he fought on, and refused to allow it to distract him from the stars which shined all around him now. The steady flapping of his wings as he pushed on into the darkness distracted him for a time until he realized that the stars seemed different now. They seemed closer, larger, like white fires burning all around him. And he realized he could drift more and flap less now, lessening the pain of his wings. And somehow the ache in his stomach was gone too.
One of the white star fires was straight before him, and he pushed on with a burning need to reach it. He came up to the star, and heard laughter, a chiming noise that suddenly ceased. And he saw there was a being in the center of the fire with beauty he could not ever explain to any other, and she regarded him with amusement.
"Why do you fly so high, little one of dark wings?"
The Raven was surprised as much by the parts he understood as he was the ones he could not and he did not answer for a time. She only smiled at him and waited, for She was eternal, and could wait eternity if She wished.
"I am so tired of living," the Raven said. "There is nothing good or worthy of there. I spend all my breaths searching for food, and I am alone."
She smiled at him. "What of the lake?"
The Raven stopped, confused, "The lake?"
"Did you not find beauty in the lake?"
"Yes, but I could only see it if I stopped looking for food. And if I do not eat, I will die. I can't have both," the Raven said.
And for the first time, the star frowned, as she turned to look upon the world. She saw the Raven spoke truth. There was life there, but it was so sad and dark and alone. "That is not good," she said, regarding the sight. Then she looked at the Raven. "If you could have beauty, and could have life, would you want to live again?"
"If I could have beauty and life, I would be satisfied all my life," the Raven said.
"What if it you had to endure more pain than the pain of hunger, than the pain of your wings getting here, before it could get better?" the Star asked.
The Raven thought for a moment. He was tired of being alone in the dark, but if he could have more than he had now, it would be better than dying. "Yes." The Raven said.
"And if those who followed you and who lived because of you did not understand your sacrifice, and you were shunned?"
"I would do anything to escape the darkness."
The Star regarded him with a smile, "Then it will be so."
Then she reached out and touched him. He screamed as every feather caught fire. The fire consumed him, and he was certain he would soon be dead, and the lake would be all the beauty he would have known. The Raven awoke some time later, surrounded in darkness. He picked himself up from the ground and a great anger consumed him. He had been tricked. He was once again trapped in the endless darkness, and he was once again alone.
And then he noticed there was more than the blackness around him. There was just behind him on the ledge a nest of silver hair. And in that nest was three eggs. They glowed with an inner light, and were different colors. The Raven had never seen color before, living in this world of endless darkness, and he stared in amazement at the beauty of them. Each color was different. There was a red egg, which was deep and stirring; there was a yellow egg, vibrant and hopeful and there was a blue egg, peaceful and serene.
Now the Raven knew the task before him. He would have to guard these eggs against the others who would see them as easy food. He would have to keep them warm to keep the flames of color from going out. But with the beauty of the three eggs before him, he could not think he could do any differently.
At first this was easy, as he wondered what would be the beauty of the young who hatched from those eggs. Before too long his stomach began to hurt, but he could not bear to leave the eggs alone. He began to steal way a few feet to drink some rain from a puddle. Soon the pain became unbearable.
'I can't leave these eggs!' he thought, the fear of what would happen to them without him was overwhelming. But he realized if he did not find something to eat, he would die, and then the eggs would be unprotected. So he flew up from his little ledge and began picking off the mushrooms from the rocks. He flapped this way and that, until he felt stronger. It wasn't enough to fill his stomach, but it was enough to sustain him.
And he did the same for a time, each time food becoming more and more scarce. Soon he went as far as he dared to try and gather food, but there was none to be had. The barren land would not support one who would stay in one place, and he could not move the eggs. He tried to eat the dirt, but could not stomach it. He tried to eat the rock, but his beak could not break it. He flapped this way and that, looking for more to eat, but could find nothing.
His frantic movement soon attracted one of the clawed ones, and it scrambled to catch him. The Raven flew up, far out of reach, but the clawed one spied the colored eggs. They would be an easy meal. The Raven panicked, diving at the clawed one, pecking at its eyes, and flying in its face. This angered the clawed one and he hissed angrily and snapped. The Raven continued his attack, dodging this way and that to stay away from the claws. Feathers fell from him, and the clawed one swiped at his wing.
The Raven fell. Without his flight, he would be an easy meal. He hopped away, stopping at the edge of a cliff. The clawed one hissed, and dove for the Raven, and he gave one last mighty attempt at flight. The pain in his wing was so terrible, he feared it would be torn in two. Somehow he managed to get above the clawed one, landing on the ground behind. But he clawed one was large, and could not turn so easily, and fell over the edge, smashing into the ground below.
He looked over the cliff, to see the clawed one twitch for the last time, then hopped down over the edge to the nest. The eggs were still there, safe and warm, and the Raven settled down on top of them knowing he would not live much longer without food and a hurt wing.
He awoke next to a quiet sound, and was astonished to realize the blue egg was hatching. The excitement was enough to chase away the pain of his wing and his hunger. Eventually a beautiful bird emerged, he could not think to describe her. Short white feathers tipped in blue, keen bright eyes, with a serene countenance, and blue fire that enveloped her.
The Raven could not find anything to say to one this beautiful. She regarded him with interest, and touched his wing. The pain of injury was gone. He flexed his wing, and found no stiffness. Then she said not a word, and took to the air.
"Wait!" the Raven called. "Where are you going?"
"To the lake!" the fire blue bird called.
"But you'll come back?" The Raven asked urgently.
"I am of the lake!" was all she said, as she flew out over the lake.
The Raven watched her go, sad that he was once again alone. She was but a bright blue circle, moving out over the lake before she disappeared. The Raven fell asleep filled with sadness. When the Raven opened his eyes again, and looked up, there was another star in the sky. But it was a much brighter, closer, and larger star. And he could see the light shine over the world before him, revealing the rocks, the sand around the lake, and the outline of every edge.
The Raven was overjoyed, and flew up to meet her, forgetful of the other two eggs. He flew and flew, until he could not fly anymore and never seemed to get any closer. He called to her, asking how he could get up there to be with her, but she never answered. And then he remembered the other two eggs, and flew quickly back down, searching for them frantically.
The eggs had been untouched. The Raven was happy to have more light in the world, but confused as to why she had not stayed. He took his place back on the eggs. He watched the bright star slowly move across the sky, leaving a path of blue in her wake until she disappeared. She was the Blue One, the watchful eye of mother star, and some would call her moon. When he awoke again, she was once again in the sky, but the ache in his stomach had also returned.
He could not leave the eggs, and he had already eaten all of the mushrooms. But there was the clawed one who had died, and where no one else could find it. The Raven flew down to the clawed one, and began eating. The taste of flesh was new and overpowering to the bird, but Raven filled his stomach and felt stronger again. Several more times he did this, watching the eggs, and eating of the dead clawed one when she was in the sky.
And the next time the blue one rose in the sky he awoke again to a strange song. And when he opened his eyes, the brightness was overpowering. He felt as though he was being burned again, and closed them again, seeking shelter in his own darkness.
"Thank you," a voice said. But the Raven could not see who spoke, and kept his eyes tightly shut. The brightness gradually dimmed, and then he opened his eyes. Everything around him looked as though it had caught fire. The yellow had spilled over the cliff face where the Raven nested, and stretched off to the horizon. It was then he saw the bright yellow ball moving higher in the sky, and he noticed that in his nest was an empty yellow shell. She would be the Sky Fire, wakeful eye of mother star, and some would call her sun. He called to her, but she did not answer any more than her sister had.
Once again he was alone, but he was not content. 'Are they all to leave me?' the Raven thought, remembering what the Star said of sacrifice and pain. The Raven watched the yellow one climb in the sky, then slowly sink, chased by her sister in blue fire. They took turns gracing the sky, and all around the Raven plants began to bud and blossom, bringing new colors to all places in the world, as Sky Fire chased her sister for the mischief of filling the sky with blue.
By this time, the Raven began to count the time by how often he greeted them, and it became a familiar routine. He rested often while Blue One worked her mischief, and awoke while Sky Fire pursued her. One day he returned from feeding and a hoofed one was nearby, contentedly eating new plants that were rising up from the earth under the bright star. The last egg was untouched. And the Raven realized with all these new plants, the animals spent less time eating and more time with others. Herds formed, and flocks, and he could see their number increasing in the days to follow.
But he was alone still, alone with the last egg. He saw no more of his kind in the skies, and no one came to speak with him, preoccupied with their own. And still the red egg was there, unhatched, and he tended it. The new plants were beautiful, but he could not eat of them. The Raven had developed a taste for blood, and as the other animals began to become numerous to fight each other, he realized this was part of his sacrifice that he would eat what remained for uneaten the dead would outnumber the living.
The light in the red egg dimmed, and with it the Raven's hope diminished. He was scared it would not hatch, but he didn't dare leave it. He was almost willing to give up hope when he woke up one morning next to the nest, and he realized the last egg had hatched. She was a small bird, black in color with a dull red flame surrounding her. She was looking in the nest to the other two shells from her sisters.
"What happened to my sisters?" she asked the Raven.
The Raven pointed at the sky, where the sun fire was burning. "Sun sister flew into the sky, and moon sister flew into the lake. You can see them burning now as they chase each other in the sky."
"Then I should go too," she said, and closed her eyes. The flame on her flared a vibrant red for a moment, then went out, leaving just plain black feathers to clothe her. She cried out in horror, "My fire! I am not bright as my sisters are!"
The Raven realized as he looked at her, that without her star fire, she looked as one like him. But she was so upset, she saw nothing but the beauty of her sisters and how she was dull and ordinary. Just as he once saw nothing beyond the need to eat. "They are brilliant and beautiful, but they chase each other in the sky, never sharing it both at once and so are always alone. I have been in this world before them, and it was dark and nothing was beautiful. But as soon as they hatched they flew away and now there is beauty everywhere, but I am still alone. There is more than just beauty that is precious."
She, the Red Raven, the darkened one, looked at Raven, not understanding his words at first, and said nothing in her grief. Then she watched her sisters as they chased each other, and during this time she followed the Raven as he took her to feed, to look at the lake, and to fly in the trees that has begun to grow. And she began to understand what he was speaking of. She could have flown up to the stars, to find her fire, and chase her sisters in the sky, but she instead chose to stay beneath the sky and she and Raven became many ravens.
All things came to pass as the Star said, the raven were despised and hunted. But in those beginning days, the Raven first understood there was more than just finding food to life. And now the raven takes flight and hides because he remembers he is not to be accepted, but still sometimes he fights because some things are worth dying to have. So we honor the Raven, in the reaching for things that seem not possible, the willingness to sacrifice what we have for what might be, and in the understanding that we may be shunned in our grief - for the hope we might find those things which are worth living for.