Posted in Essay, Michael Watson, Spiritual Practice, teacher

Ceremony and the Raven

Evening, Lake ChamplainThis morning we put aside our frustration and despair and spoke with the land and spirits. The mosquitoes, which had been fierce, quieted their attack, and even the birds calling stopped to listen. We like to open the altar outside whenever the weather allows, but of late have not had the heart to do so. The last time we opened the altar was the only time all summer we have heard the calls of the Hermit Thrush.

We awoke feeling sad and angry. The news on the racial, social, and climate fronts has been heartbreaking. We’ve been feeling overwhelmed, unable to see how we might contribute significantly to much-needed change. We’ve also been asked to aid others who are thinking they should do more than they possibly can. We remind others to do only what they are able. As we do so we remind our many selves to do the same, even as some selves feel frightened and desperate for change.

In the brief ceremony we spoke to the Creator, Pachamama, and the spirits about our gratitude for our lives and our concerns for the present and future. We acknowledged we humans are not caring for the futures of our grandchildren, let alone those of all species who will follow us in seven generations. This is a great sadness.

After the ceremony we came in to respond to e-mail and do other tasks. Online, we discovered a brief video posted to Facebook. In the video, a wild raven, perched on a fence, allows a woman to remove porcupine quills from its face. After each quill is removed, the raven squawks and complains, then allows the woman to soothe it and remove the next quill. How familiar!   (Watch video.)

Watching the video, we were once again reminded that ravens are immensely intelligent creatures, that humans are not the only ones who seek aid from others, and that all life forms are profoundly interconnected, in life as in story. We were also reminded that small things, even removing quills from an injured animal, can be powerful ceremony, and profoundly healing to those in an ever-widening circle.

– Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes portrait below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

9 thoughts on “Ceremony and the Raven

  1. Michael, thank you for the wonderful video on the clever raven.

    On the topic of (environmental) care for the future, there is much going on. Please, check the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.


  2. Remarkable piece of filming, Michael, and insightful observation about intelligence of the raven; corvids in general have significant intelligence and problem solving abilities, but this could be considered as cooperative or collaborative problem solving, and with humans! I share your sadness at the state of the human world, as it is currently constituted …


  3. I was hoping to see the raven fly away at the end, in freedom and gratitude. We want kindness, but we don’t want to need kindness. We want to give kindness, but we don’t want to be obligated to give kindness. Funny how an ego can flavor the dough.


  4. Thank you for this posting, Michael. It is quite moving. I like to believe that there are many of us quieter ones who, by collectively bringing our best selves into the world, bring if not noticeable change, a needed solace that heals. I hope so.

    Did you know that crows recognize human faces? They can distinguish us from one another, and they tend to roost they are valued and respected (and fed). Not unlike any other creature.



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