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The Metamorphic Journey,” with Craig Deininger, Ph.D.”

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    Craig Deininger, Ph.D. – mythologist, poet, Jungian scholar, and construction worker – joins us this week in Conversations of a Higher Order to discuss “The Metamorphic Journey” (click on link to read), his latest contribution to JCF’s MythBlast essay series.

    Though I will start the discussion, this is not an interview. Please join in and engage Craig directly with your questions, comments, reactions, observations and insights, which is what makes this communal exchange of ideas a true “conversation of a higher order.”

    Craig – there are so many nuggets in your ode to change – or rather, to the inner change that myth inspires. This passage in particular stands out for me:

    Metaphor is our first big tool because it transcribes mythological narratives (i.e., stories about someone else) into stories about ‘me.’ Or, more specifically, through metaphor, the relationships between mythic characters and the stories they find themselves in are precise correlations to the relationships between me and the stories I find myself in.”

    I suspect that may be what so many found compelling about Campbell’s Power of Myth interviews with Bill Moyers – the epiphany that all these myths aren’t just ancient stories from past cultures hidden away in dusty tomes on library shelves, but actually speak to me and my circumstances today.

    Still, there is a difference between an intellectual understanding of that dynamic, and its actual application. Would you mind sharing for readers an example of the resonance between a character or story from myth and the plot of an episode from your own life, and how that made a difference for you?

    I trust others might be encouraged to do the same in this thread.


    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!


    If Ravens are the subject. I’m there!
    So apologies if I covered this before (even in another Deininger myth blast!)

    My experience also happened on a cliff…the edge of Grand Canyon. It was a time of transition as my Grandmother had passed recently and my Mom, Dad and I were going on a trip Out West.
    Grandmother would have gone with us.
    But in memory of her…we went. Mother had driven her parents out west a long time ago and she wanted Dad and me to see it too.
    Many adventures happened including Mesa Verde (seeing those small hand prints in the cliff is humbling.)

    But neither Dad nor I had seen the Grand Canyon. It was mind blowing.
    everything just opened up…you could feel it…
    I played a little Zuni flute I’d just bought at an Arizona trading post…just sitting back from the rim…gazing across all those painted layers.
    When I returned back to the camper and sat with the sliding door open, this huge black Raven came sidling around to the open door.
    This was no harbinger of doom…this was a character of Native myths curious, trickster and that something else…

    (He) picked up a pebble to show off a ravens excellent tossing skills…except it did not go as planned as the pebble bopped him on the beak. (He)shook ruffled his feathers in Corvid frustration. So yes a bit of trickster/clown energy (and not scary clown)

    But for me something clicked. For me it was not the archetypes associated with the raven but the Raven itself. Since the Native cultures have other life forms besides humans alone as archetypes and or energies. The raven was a representative of Raven in that imaginal realm.
    I had other raven references earlier in my life but had never acknowledged them completely until this moment and once I did that raven story connected into other adventures, chance meetings and so forth.
    Wherever I was or would go, I would (see) these birds. Appearing literally to engage my consciousness to “play,” in this imaginal realm. Still happens.

    Sometimes I joke the crows point the way to go…(crows too fit with this)

    As the crow flies y’know.

    One of my favorite connections through my feathered friends is the Naturalist Bernd Heinrich who raised and studied Ravens himself. I was looking for raven calls for a music cd and Had read Bernd’s Mind of the Raven. I contacted him but his return email said all his cassettes of calls were in a shoebox somewhere. He recommended Cornell lab of ornithology, which I used. But even though I never had bird calls from Bernd Heinrich, I gained a lovely pen pal friendship instead. And I even traded him my CD for a signed copy of his book Geese of Beaver Bog.

    One other thought: there was a lovely couple from Finland or Friesland? And the wife was really spooked by the Raven. So that was interesting because probably for her or within their culture a raven must have add an ominous perception. But I was not afraid at all.
    This was a Native Raven!!…not Poe’s never more bird! Or the black winged war goddess of ancient Ireland!

    Now I in my usual parzeval or entish manner have carried on as well!

    I hope more participants come to participate with this!!


    p.s. the other participant in the trip was Prissy (Caprice) our soon to be “well traveled,” Blue Point Siamese.
    By Wyoming she stopped voicing her Siamese opinions!


    Sometimes I feel, the more we put the imaginal (creative) realm at bay…the more our journey/s are focused on finding answers and/or “knowing,” answers and they become less about “discovery.” (Discovery Meaning the journey “as is,” provides discoveries along the way, which can potentially lead to aha! Moments but in a more indirect way. That What you are looking for is somehow already there?)

    Or Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter saying “sometimes the things we loose don’t always return to us in the way we expect.” Yes Ravenclaw I know.

    That’s why I love how you reference the Mystery Craig!
    I feel we need it but also understand that very human part of us that seeks answers as well as needs them.It’s natural…it’s human nature.

    My concern in the balance between the “imaginal,” and the secular world “as is,” which we also need according to Robert Mirabal’s “Navajo Fires,”…

    Is that the purpose of the Mystery is conceived to be “that which can be figured out and will be,” that the purpose of the mystery can be completely explained, measured and quantified…all mysteries are to be solved in other words…

    Solved” instead of “experienced?” Even if sometimes it’s through experience and wonder and The Unexpected…that some of the greatest discoveries have come to light.

    Any thoughts? Craig? Stephen?


    This is tangential to the actual conversation, but thought I would share about the time I asked my ornithologist friend the difference between a crow and a raven.

    “Well,” she said, “you know the pinion feathers on the end of birds wing that help them steer? Ravens have 11, while crows just have ten.”

    So it seems the difference between a crow and a raven is simply a matter of a pinion . . .


    Thanks for sharing this! I think you point out some great things here. First, I too would give extra emphasis to Raven as trickster-figure in your encounter. And in great part due to the region and the culture of that region—“when in Rome…” as the saying goes, or rather, “when in Arizona…” And even when we’re within a culture and region, there are subcultures and sub-regions. Like in Ancient Egypt where in different parts of the nation, different gods rule or are worshipped—for example, in Heliopolis Atum-Re is the chief deity, or Sais it is Neith/Isis or in Hermopolis, Thoth, etc. and that when one is in a particular region, that god or goddess’s energy and influence is fused into the region—or so I like to imagine it. So yes, trickster of the Zuni.

    So in your encounter, we get the playing, to the point of clowing-around, with the pebble. And trickster here showing so clearly “Hey, don’t take yourself so seriously—here’s how!” And all the valuable things that come with deepening into less self-importance. A freedom of sorts. Like Hillman says somewhere, “Let’s relieve ourselves of the burden of self-importance.” What a welcome visitor.

    I really appreciate your not focusing on “the archetypes associated with the raven but on the Raven itself.” –getting caught up in what things represent is just a lateral hand-off for the conceptual intellect, and not the heart of the experience. However, and as you point out also, this knowledge of archetypal reference has its part in it. To this point, I like to think of what Marie-Louise von Franz and Jung say about this, which is basically—“yes, learn the associations. But then forget them.” (Rather a trickster-ish thing to say, too). I suppose the purpose of the saying is that we aren’t railroaded into an intellectual certainty as opposed to staying with the richness of the experience: Raven. And what raven is up to. In short, I feel also, that by learning the archetypal associations and then forgetting them has another value in that even though we’ve supposedly “forgotten” them, that knowledge, or the residue of that knowledge is still there, functioning as an invisible, general structure gently guide as opposed to dictate.

    Like I say to my students: “Kung fu—practice the forms and techniques, then drop them if you want to win the match.” But now they know that whenever I say “kung fu,” it means we’re probably going to be getting into some routine-ish, practical, less-exciting content. Not the experience. Alas.

    But all this to come back to what you share on the mystery. The preferred direction (my bias acknowledged). You do mention that mysteries are to be experienced, but they are also meant to be solved. And I agree. It’s important to not get one-sided on approach. But I’ll remain a little one-sided and add that my favorite part of solving a mystery is that a new mystery presents itself that otherwise would not have, had I not solved the former. And maybe these deeper levels of mystery are what establish the path for our imagination’s journey. I just now realize that I failed to stay with Raven in all this. I hope we can get back to that as well in our thread.


    Ha, that’s great. I also heard something once about the beak being either yellow or black, and the bird being larger or smaller, but haven’t researched it. But I think your point, Stephen, is also something along the lines of we don’t have to squabble over differences as miniscule as “a pinion.”  (I couldn’t resist 🙂

    But underneath the humor, a valuable point (for me, at least): Raven or Crow, don’t overthink it. I’m glad we, as mythologists, have the leisure of backing out of the math and getting back into the enjoyment and experience of encountering the figure and the story, itself.



    Perhaps I should modify my stance on discovery/solving puzzles/ and mystery.
    An aside: corvids are quite the puzzle solvers.
    Back to that in a minute.
    I really like the idea of solving a mystery, which opens to a new mystery.
    Bernd Heinrich says something similar  in his studies as a naturalist…and ornithologist…that when he goes to solve something with one idea of what is happening then he is absolutely delighted when he is wrong and nature shows him something else that’s happening.
    I highly recommend any of his books…including the ones on ravens.

    Bernd does a lot of study in the field and while in his Maine cabin a reference to Thoreau or Frost wouldn’t be out of place even if like Parzeval some of Bernd’s methods such as climbing trees for raven eggs at least during one period of his life would be more unorthodox.
    Bernd emphasizes the need to interact with nature in order to appreciate it rather than build a fence around it.
    He often says after making a discovery about a mystery in nature that is the closest thing (to truth and beauty.)

    Or even for a better quicker view introducing Bernd Heinrich is an independent film dvd made by Jan Cannon. “An Uncommon Curiosity at home and in Nature with Bernd Heinrich.”

    As for Ravens…they are larger than crows. Some have compared their size to be about equal to a red tail hawk.

    Raven’s also have a wedge tail, which crows do not have.

    Crows are sleek and shiny black.

    Ravens are more ruffled. Even though they are dark black with undertones of purple/blue. Crows have sharp pointed beaks.
    Ravens have large beaks sometimes jokingly remembered in comparison to having a “Roman nose.” The Beak is rounded on the top.
    Ravens over all tend to be much shaggier than their shiny cousins.
    Both Ravens and crows have demonstrated excellent puzzle solving skills. Trained Ravens can learn words just like parrots.
    I think Heinrich was one of the first to prove juvenile ravens worked together to find and protect food caches.
    Ravens are fascinated by various trinkets it’s proven now and some have even suggested Corvids have “left gifts,” for humans who have fed them.
    gifts such as pull tabs and pine cones.
    Heinrich after working with Ravens believes there is a “consciousness,” there. I’ll have to find that link.
    Their intelligence is considered to be remarkably high…along with simians, dolphins and parrots.
    Some of the information is from Bernd Heinrich books and some from other articles and bird guides I’ve read but unfortunately don’t remember the sources now.
    So that’s more Raven…trivia



    here is Bernd Heinrich talking about consciousness in Ravens.
    And apparently he is not the only one. Glanced several articles just written last year from other researchers about this subject.


    Haha Stephen! Great wordplay there!



    Thanks for bearing with me, Craig!

    As a matter of fact, that is not the actual difference between those two members of the corvid family – but since most people couldn’t say just exactly what distinguishes one from the other, that’s what I latch onto to make the pun work (I’m not proud – certainly nothing to crow about). 😄

    Puns, though, do intrigue me. That leap of association, the dynamic that makes punning possible, seems embedded as well in symbolic thinking – which brings us back to your essay (intuiting a relationship between mythic stories and my story), and the example you share from your own life. Had we, unbeknownst to each other, been sitting the other side of the same rock at the exact same moment you had your experience, I might well have turned to indigenous tales of Raven given the setting, influenced by the geography and the myths associated with it; you, on the other hand, recognized a congruence with the material in which you were immersed.

    Same three ravens, same geographical context, but different lives, different histories, different circumstances, and a difference in engagement with the same mythic image.

    That to me is one of the wonders of mythic symbols. It might be different if we were raised in a cultural where everyone underwent the same initiations, were fed the same myths, participated in the same rituals – but today, when that just isn’t happening, every myth and fairy tale – and, come to think of it, every song, story, painting, and poem – has both a collective and a subjective aspect. The latter speaks specifically to me and my circumstances (assuming that I have “the ears to hear”), just as it does to all the other “me”s who engage the same set of symbols.

    That protean, shapeshifting aspect strikes me as very much part of the magic of myth.


    Thanks, All, and thank you Craig for the mythblast, this is such a fun and interesting topic to me.

    One fictional story that has always served for me as a great example of change/metamorphosis is a story by that very name:  The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka–what a magnificent story!  While the main character wakes up one day to find himself in the physical form of being a big bug rather than a human anymore, the changes he goes through are also inner–or it could be perhaps appropriate to say that his inner changes he was going through at the time of stress in his life and family have created the outer metamorphosis. We could sit here and wonder whether it was the inner effect on the outer or the outer on the inner–or both simultaneously working upon the other.. Of course the reader is to take his so-called metamorphosis metaphorically! At that same time, when we imagine the character Gregor Sama as a giant bug, we can also see/imagine ourselves as a giant bug and so we see ourselves in the story, our selves/Gregor reflecting our own feelings of alienation back at us as we are all prone to do at times, especially at sensitive times in our lives such s teen years or early adulthood when we have to get out in the world and make choices our family might not agree with, etc.  It is such a fun story as it is gripping. I might say it would be fun to examine this as another type of Jungian shadow projection, or its dynamics–a roundabout way of looking at the projection of the Shadow. As for Campbell, perhaps this is a hero’s journey threshold moment when it is not the others he sees that are alien at the threshold but himself he sees as he ha crossed the threshold overnight into the new strange life as a bug being the threshold because he is still in his own home–so there is a twist on a hero’s journey step, perhaps. Also as Campbell says in the Power of Myth about the story of the woman who married the man who turned out to be a snake (literally, bad medicine man/magician), her threshold was when she crossed the water signifying a spiritual break from the physical or a change from regular earthly known “normalcy,” and this story by Kafka has sort of the same theme only with very different motifs though each one still a vermin of some sort or a pest, whether the snake-man husband who is a evil magician or of Gregor who feels like and therefore has symbolically/metaphorically turned into a bug. Here is a website address you can cut and paste:



    Yes, I love that direction, being attentive to the innumerable potential takes on a symbol’s meaning (all dependent on the consciousness of the percipient). And thank god for that–literally a world in which, at last, anything is possible.

    And there is that aspect to the puns, beneath the humor. They function similarly to symbol and metaphor, being a bridge via the ambiguity of a word to another word of the same or similar sound. And suddenly, they are in relationship. I’m recalling that the Ancient Egyptians (and not sure why that topic keeps coming up–uh, aside from me bringing it up) took puns very seriously and that when words were phonetically equivalent then one would have to be attentive to the reality of the “second” meaning, because it was invited by the sound. Not to get too far off topic.

    But more on topic, I like how you word it as “protean,” inviting the whole Proteus myth which, as all mythic allusions, can speak pages in a single word. But namely, the aspect of capturing the “one” meaning of the symbol, which one can then rightfully, and only, call one’s own. It’s that versatility of the symbol to accommodate, precisely, one’s subjective disposition, that intrigues me most.


    Finally, I now have a clear distinction between crows and ravens. And thanks for the short video on consciousness revealed in the ravens with the string. Could we say that the in that the raven’s thinking ahead to the consequences of either holding or letting go of the string that the raven is “imagining” into the possibilities? Sure, I don’t have the answer, but I like to explore possibilities.

    And thence, the relationship between imagination and consciousness. Again, don’t have the answers, but I do suspect that the two are entwined more fully than most would think.


    …but it does get a bit messy, when we get into the distinctions between “thinking” and “imagining.” Like I said, don’t have the answer, but just in wrestling with it, may come up with something of value.

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