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Reply To: The Metamorphic Journey,” with Craig Deininger, Ph.D.”


Thank you Stephen, you present a valuable direction: applicability to the abstract, conceptual understanding—why the expression is “give me a concrete example” to carry it over.

Here’s a brief account of what first came to mind: a time when I was very low on dollars, and so camped out in the Alabama Hills—a place not like it sounds, being hardly Alabama-like, seeing that the geography is where Death Valley (the lowest point on earth) meets the base of Mount Whitney (the highest place in the contiguous U. S.)–and that’s a metaphor right there! But before getting sidetracked on another metaphor, let me continue with the story: I was living in a tent there for about three months, reading books about mythology for my classes, and with my cat Fergus (who did quite well out there). Though sometimes the temperature got up around 115 degrees. On one such day Fergus and I hiked up the Whitney Portal trail for cooler air.

We got to a point where we sat on the top of a juncture where two sheer cliffs met, call it the point where the two legs of the letter V touch. It was about a 300-foot drop. So we sat down to take in the space and wind and all, when three ravens showed up. They circled about a hundred feet above us, and then dived down past us into the opened space between the cliffs—I mean right past us so that were I to quickly reach out and grab I would have ravens.

Didn’t try that. And wouldn’t want to. I consider animals in my presence to be exalted guests–or rather hosts, and myself to be their fortunate guest. Anyway, after dropping to nearly the bottom of the cliffs, they then skimmed the ground and swooped back up to their original circling pattern, and then dived down again, and again, every time passing within our reach. This process continued for a long time. Maybe 20 minutes, it’s hard to track time during extraordinary experiences. Fergus certainly wasn’t keeping track, being far too thrilled.

From the time before the ravens arrived and until their departure, I was seated cross-legged chanting Sanskrit verses from Vedic literature that I had memorized, my focus was on resonance, on my body being a struck tuning fork, itself vibrating and vibrating the atmosphere around it with sound waves and perhaps meaning. And as I had been practicing this regularly, I was at the time pretty good at it. So I just kept doing it, naturally thinking/hoping it may have had something to do with the ravens’ activity. It was a rare and beautiful encounter.

Okay, that’s the story.

Now to the mythic metaphor. Where to begin? There are so many myths about ravens and cliffs. And a common mistake, I think, is selecting  one myth, and one myth only, that “I” like. The training teaches us to be wary of conflating with the archetypes and of inflating ourselves through them. For example, for me at the time, I may have conflated them with Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn (thought and memory). And why wouldn’t I want this? Having been conditioned from 8th grade by that awesome drawing-representation of the god in the Dungeons and Dragons “Deities and Demigods” book. Had there been two crows and not three, I may have gone more deeply with that one.

But, it doesn’t exclude that myth either, they were, after all, ravens and we must amplify—that is, consider myths from as many cultures as we can. This gives us the general, underlying gestalt—the bass-line or background from which the specific “as-is” character of the event is archetypally permeated. So I look to so many others and find the raven as trickster-figure in many of the Native American myths, or as a solar figure via Apollo in the Greek, or as a figure that does its own thing and flies off and never comes back as seen with Noah in the Old Testament. And then there’s the raven as an omen of death, being a carrion eater, which works fine for mythologists, death being the superlative metaphor for rebirth and transformation.

But seeing as I was engaged in Vedic content, I’m inclined to give a little more weight to that direction. In the Vedic tradition, ravens are associated with the deity Shani [Saturn]. I find Jyotish to be a great mythological system (as all systems of astrology are). And Shani, as an archetypal force, grounds or brings things down, slows things down—even psychologically as in depression—but again, to a mythologist, depression is good news, meaning one is at the nadir of the wheel’s rotation, and the next direction is upward. And because one is in a position of gestation. And even more so, I suspect it is a generous communication from deep within: that one is being “told” to slow down, and for one’s own good!

So one metaphorical correlation (and surely not the only one), and applying quite a mix or gestalt of the many of the things I’ve mentioned, would be that the cyclic flight of the ravens (accompanied by all that they symbolize) were a metaphor for my inner transformation, and for my travel between depression–as at the time I had a good deal of it, contending with loneliness (thank god for Fergus!) and financial stuff, etc.–but I was also elated to have begun my formal studies in a graduate program in mythology, and to be getting all this valuable knowledge. The event told me something along the lines of “Embrace the season you are in, and when that season changes, as it will, embrace what the new season brings, whether from depression to exhilaration, or from gaining new knowledge from my studies “above” (ethereal, abstract, intellectual) and bringing it down into my life, and past my life into “soul.” And of course, since these wonderful mythic/real beings were the messengers, whatever the metaphor, their presence and activity alone was another metaphor, affirming that I was exactly where I was supposed to be: in my story.

Okay, that’s a long entry, but wanted to offer a broad selection of content to work with, and will be briefer in my responses!