THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Winter 2017)
Long ago when the world was young, the earth and all living creatures were shrouded in the darkness. It was said that a great chief was keeping all the light for himself, but no one was certain, for the light was so carefully hidden that no one had ever actually seen it. The chief knew that his people were suffering, but he was a selfish man and did not care.
Raven was sad for his people, for he knew that without light the earth would not bring forth the food the people needed to survive. Raven decided to rescue the light. He knew that the way to the chief’s village was very long. When Raven arrived, he said to himself, “I must find a way to live the in the chief’s house and capture the light.”
So Raven transformed himself into a seed and floated on the surface of the nearby stream. When the chief’s daughter came to draw water, Raven was ready. No matter how she tried to drink some of the water, the seed was always in her way. Finally, she tired of trying to remove it, and she drank it along with the water.
The woman became pregnant, and in time she gave birth to a son, who was Raven in disguise. The chief loved his grandson, and whatever the child wanted, his grandfather gave him.
As the boy crawled, he noticed many bags hanging on the walls of the lodge. One by one he pointed to them, and one by one his grandfather gave them to him. Finally his grandfather gave him the bag that was filled with stars, and the bag that contained the moon. The child rolled the bags around on the floor of the lodge, then suddenly let go of them. The bags immediately rose to the ceiling, drifted through the smoke hole, and flew up into the heavens. There they burst open, spilling the stars and the moon into the sky.
The boy continued to play with bag after bag and box after box until one day he pointed to the last box left in the lodge. His grandfather took him upon his lap and said, “When I open this box, I am giving you the last and dearest of my possessions, the sun. Please take care of it!”
Then the chief closed the smoke hole and picked up the large wooden box he had hidden among other boxes in the shadows of one corner of the lodge. As soon as the chief removed the sun from this box, his lodging was flooded with a brilliant light.
The child laughed with delight as his grandfather gave him the fiery ball to play with. He rolled the sun around the floor of the lodging until he tired of the game and pushed it aside. His grandfather then replaced the sun in its box.
Day after day Raven and his grandfather repeated this process. Raven would point to the sun’s box, play with it until he tired of it, and then watch as his grandfather put the fiery ball away.
Finally the day came when the chief was not as careful as usual. He forgot to close the smoke hole, and he no longer watched Raven play with the fiery ball. The child resumed his Raven shape, grasped the ball of light in his claws, and flew up through the smoke hole into the sky, traveling in the direction of the river.
Raven spied people fishing in the dark. He said to them, “if you will give me some fish, I will give you some light.” At first they did not believe him. However, when Raven raised his wing and showed them enough light for them to fish with ease, they gave him part of their catch. When he had his fill of fish he lifted his wing, grabbed the sun with both claws and tossed it high into the sky. “Now my people will have light both day and night!” he exclaimed. And from that day forward, the people no longer lived in darkness.
This Pacific Northwest Native American story inspired an artist in the creation of our logo. The Raven represents the spirit that brings light to the dark places in the human soul.
One can find other versions of this tale. One particularly delightful one is found in the 1990s television series Nothern Exposure, the Third Season, Disc Two. The episode is called "Seoul Mates" and weaves together a variety of winter solstice themes, and ends with a Raven pageant.
The Raven Steals the Light is a delightful collections of raven stories; "The Raven Steals the Light" is first followed by nine others. The stories are compiled by Bill Reid & Robert Bringhurst and the book includes Drawings by Bill Reid. The Raven Steals the Light was published in 1984 by Douglas and McIntyre (Vancouver) and the University of Wasington Press (Seattle).
World Mythology, Second Edition by Donna Rosenberg (Chicago: NTC Publishing Group, 1994) has a version as well (pp. 517-520) with some background information.
Editor: Steve Galipeau