Talking About Raven

Photo credit: Angela Gnyp

Photo credit: Angela Gnyp

When a raven takes flight, it’s possible to pause and recognise a presence beyond the physical realm. Appearing as a wide-winged, blackly feathered bird, the common raven (Corvus corax) is anything but boring. In my world, it is a bird of mythic proportions.

Considered a legend in Canadian aboriginal art, the raven is depicted as one who steals the light (the sun) and sometimes, the stars and moon. It is both a thief and trickster, and is closely associated with the storytelling of Coastal Salish, Tsimshian, Heiltsuk, Haida and Tlingit peoples along the coast of British Columbia.

For the Haida people, the raven (yaahl) is the central character in their creation story, Raven and the First Men. It's here that it takes on the role of hero and guardian of the first people that emerge from a beached clam shell on Haida Gwaii. It's also embedded in their nature-based existence, bearing equal significance with the eagle in the identification of their two major clans. 

While the raven and its humorous qualities have been transposed into many First Nations stories, in real life it's never without wit and mischief either. It easily takes on the sounds of other animals, such as dogs, and even human speech. Squawking and croaking, it’s highly vocal in its communication and is an adaptable scavenger in the wild.

Found in close proximity to man and wilderness, the raven lives in mountainous areas, and coastal and inland forests in the Northern Hemisphere. Larger than many hawks, owls and other related species like crows, it’s essential to the ecology of its natural environment.

Enriching the narrative of northwest coast art, raven has, at times, served as inspiration in my own work. It boldly symbolises the act of conscious transformation and revelation, and means more than just a bird to me.

Angela Gnyp