A long time ago Raven looked down from the sky and saw that the people of the world were living in darkness.
The sky above was in darkness. The waters below were in darkness. Men and women lived in the dark and cold.
A long time before, it seems the people had misused the light for evil and selfish purposes. Because of this Sky Chief took all of the light from the people.
After a time, Raven grew sad for the people. He said, “I will search for the light.”
So Raven flew across valleys and over mountains. He flew along rivers and beside lakes. There was darkness all around.
Then he saw a bit of light far away. He flew and flew and came closer to the light. The light was at the edge of a mighty river, just on the other side.
The light came from the shining house of Sky Chief.
Raven perched high in a spruce tree on the shore of the mighty river. It was the river that separated the light of Sky Chief from the land of darkness.
Then Raven saw a beautiful young girl emerge from the shining house of Sky Chief and go to the edge of the water.
She was the daughter of Sky Chief.
When the girl got to the river’s edge she knelt and drank some water from a woven basket.
So Raven turned himself into a spruce needle and fell down from the tree and floated on the water.
When the girl drank again, she unknowingly swallowed the Spruce needle.
After a time, the girl became pregnant.
After more time, she gave birth to a small child with shiny black hair and tiny dark eyes. The child was Raven in disguise.
Sky Chief was delighted with his daughter’s child. He called him grandchild. He played with the boy and carved toys for him. He even invited the elders to come and see the curious, wonderful child.
So the elders gathered in the shining house with Sky Chief and his daughter.
They watched Raven–child crawl around the floor of the lodge.
He pretended to be playing. All the time, however, he was trying to find where the light was hidden.
Then he saw a cedar box in the corner of the lodge.
The box was large. It was carved and painted with many bright colors and glowed. So Raven–child turned to all in the lodge and made a sound like a baby!
“What do you want?” asked his mother.
Raven–child made the sound again. Then he began to cry.
“What does the child want?” asked the elders.
Raven–child continued to look at the beautiful cedar box. And he cried and cried.
“My grandchild wants the box,” said Sky Chief while chuckling in his great wisdom.
The young daughter of Sky Chief placed the box in front of Raven–child, but he continued to cry.
She took the lid off the box. Inside was a smaller box. She took the lid off that box; and inside was an even smaller box.
Raven–child’s mother took the lid off that box, and light poured out of it. Light flooded the room.
Inside the box was a shining ball, blazing with light. In truth it was the light of the world.
But the baby continued to cry and cry.
Finally, Sky Chief said, “Give him the ball of light to play with.”
His mother gave Raven–child the ball. Immediately, Raven–child stopped crying. He began to play with it. He rolled it around the floor of the lodge. He held it up into the air.
Suddenly, Raven–child began to laugh.
He laughed harder and harder. All were joyful that Raven–child was so happy.
And then it happened.
Not very long after he had been given the light, Raven turned back into himself. He became a bird; a Raven once again.
The elders and Sky Chief’s daughter looked on in amazement. But Sky Chief was wise and knew exactly what was happening.
Then Raven just plucked up the ball of light in his beak, flew through the smoke hole of the lodge, and disappeared into the dark sky.
Raven flew over the river; across the valleys beyond the river; even over the mountains. He flew along the edge of streams and beside the lakes – by where the people had been living in darkness.
Indeed, wherever Raven went the light came back into the lives of the people.
From then on the people of this world no longer...lived in darkness.
This story of Raven is part of the Native-American and First-Nation’s traditions along the northern most regions of the Pacific coastal area. To the indigenous communities of these areas, nature itself is not God, but the people are intimately connected, and in relationship, with all of creation around them. They find Creator, Great Spirit, relating to them in very personal ways through the land, plants and animals. Indeed, then, even as we are dependent upon Great Spirit for life, so also is all of life in nature dependent upon Great Spirit in its midst to sustain and nurture life.
Thus, it is natural for these indigenous peoples to look for familiar images in the world around them, in order to understand who Creator is. So, the warmth of sunlight is a symbol for much more, even life itself. Animals become agents of divine purpose. In fact, from the tiniest spruce needle to the largest river, all of creation holds possibility for Creator’s purposes.
But then, even the people of the Hebrew scriptures called the Spirit of God “Ruach” in their language, which literally means a divine wind or breath. Moses likened God to an eagle. Christians through the ages have looked to the Greek Testament to express parts of creation, such as the dove, and fire, as symbols of God’s Holy Spirit. We have heard stories of a child who would bring God’s light back into the lives of all God’s children.
The imagery of the Raven creatively speaks of Great Spirit’s limitless possibilities, as it soars freely over the land. Its black color suggests a reality of mystery, and coupled with the croaking voice of Raven also the redemptive power of suffering for the benefit of others. Ravens are powerful birds. And yet, they are also common to the life of the Northwest people; always watching over them from nearby. What farmer hasn’t been in the presence of the Raven while out in the field, tilling the soil? Raven has also been known as a trickster; one who playfully brings to light the foolishness of humans. And yet, we experientially know of Raven’s famous ability to remember and act upon, both, the kindness and cruelty of individuals, even long after a first encounter. So also, has their observed and incredible intelligence been an inspiration to many who seek insight and wisdom.
It is no accident the first Christian missionaries to work within the early N.W. coastal indigenous communities were struck by how closely some Raven stories seemed to parallel some of the wisdom found from the Christian tradition. As you read this simple and ancient story, may it’s wisdom empower your living.