Ravens as Familiars, as inspiration for great art, as a muse for this 420 character 9-liner by Patty

Raven. Crow-caw chaos gets me peering the pine tops along river trail

from which a posse pursues a stately Raven. She’s unflappable, er, dignified

(she was indeed flapping)

& eludes them. They give up.

My inner Shaman awakes & karmic memories stir.

Myth has it that Raven hung the sun in the sky

& shed light over the darkness. Thus I’ve determined:

be the source of light or a reflector of it.

My familiar, the Raven.



When the kids told me “Mom you’ve got to read His Dark Materials trilogy,” I protested that I hadn’t the time. Plus I didn’t read this genre. I’m surely glad that they persisted. Philip Pullman got me into fantasy and introduced me to a benign presentation of the familiar. His take: every human has a “daemon” in animal form that has parallels to various cultural interpretations of the soul, a familiar that guides and teaches. I’ve decided that there are certain animals in my life that teach me to be more wide-awake to the wonders and how to uncover them, to listen better, to try to communicate, to solve problems. Raven is one such animal for me. Hence my calling her “My familiar” in the above 420 character 9-liner.

I took this picture of Bill Reid’s sculpture at British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, in Vancouver, Canada. It was an awesome experience to walk round and round it, seeing something fresh each time we circled the Raven and the First Men.

raven birthing humans from clam


“The Raven and the First Men sculpture was commissioned by Walter and Marianne Koerner for the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the sculpture is currently on display. It was carved from a giant block of laminated yellow cedar. The carving took two years to complete and was dedicated on April 1, 1980.

In Haida culture, the Raven is the most powerful of mythical creatures. His appetites include lust, curiosity, and an irrepressible desire to interfere and change things, and to play tricks on the world and its creatures.

The sculpture of The Raven and the First Men depicts the story of human creation. According to Haida legend, the Raven found himself alone one day on Rose Spit beach in Haida Gwaii (also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). He saw an extraordinary clamshell and protruding from it were a number of small human beings. The Raven coaxed them to leave the shell to join him in his wonderful world. Some of the humans were hesitant at first, but they were overcome by curiosity and eventually emerged from the partly open giant clamshell to become the first Haida.

Bill Reid had worked with the old Haida myth in the 1950s with a silver bracelet and earrings, then again in 1970 when he carved a small (8.9 cm high) boxwood depiction. Walter Koerner, an ardent collector of Reid’s work, jumped at the suggestion a larger version might be possible and suggested that Arthur Erickson should design a special place for it in the Museum of Anthropology then being planned. Reid demanded a 3.05 metre cube of yellow cedar, but anything that big were flawed, so pieces were laminated to form a block of the size required. But he was taken up with other projects by then, so hired Vancouver sculptor George Norris to work on the preliminary stages, including an intermediate scale model which he cast in plaster.

A number of First Nations carvers also worked on the project, including Reggie Davidson, Jim Hart, and Gary Edenshaw (no relation to the famous carver, although Davidson and Hart were). George Rammell, a sculptor in his own right, worked on the emerging little humans in the later stages, and Bill Reid himself did most of the finishing carving. Koerner’s role in both subsidizing the work and seeing it through to the finish was vital.

Both the miniature version in gold cast from the original boxwood and a medium-sized version carved in onyx are now on display at the Bill Reid Gallery for Northwest Coast Art.