Sunday, April 13, 2008

So who is this "Bright Cow," anyway?

Walhydra likes to tease her amanuensis about a typo he makes occasionally with his totem name, Bright Crow.

Since he's been typing for forty years, often to earn a living, he just shrugs and laughs. Nonetheless, she thinks the question her title asks is worth exploring.

Now Walhydra herself refuses to explain to anyone what her name means, but it does have a sort of folk etymology.

Back in another century, Walhydra was working as a male secretary for an international construction project in Saudi Arabia. That's where she met Nikki, Husband #3 (JimJim is #4).

Nikki is a gifted and humorous witchy fellow from the Isle of Wight. For the several years that he and Walhydra worked and traveled together, they constantly shared their fiction writing with each other.

Nikki had a properly British muse, yet he insisted that Walhydra had to have two, to whom he gave suitably Teutonic names: Waltrot and Hydrant. As the writing partnership progressed, it was decided that Waltrot was responsible for all the Sturm und Drang, while Hydrant wrote the comedy and the "gushy bits."

Fast-forward fourteen years or so to the mid-1990s. Walhydra was now writing as part of several Pagan, Gay, Christian and All-of-the-above chat rooms and discussion boards on the Web, using the screen name of her amanuensis.

At some point, a wise witch invited Walhydra and several dozen others to leave the chat rooms for a private, flame war-free listserv of mostly Pagan, mostly women elders. These are all folk who revere and emulate the Crone aspect of the Goddess.

Somehow, when the amanuensis began writing comic, autobiographical stories for this dear online circle of friends, Walhydra sprang full-grown—by a sort of spiritual parthenogenesis—from some probably unprintable union of Waltrot and Hydrant.

Around this same time, in the course of changing Internet service providers, the amanuensis was casting about for a new email/screen name.

That was when years of dream journaling, fantasy writing and attending to the confounding yet salutary links between outer and inner world imagery yielded up the Bright Crow totem name.

"Oh, I get it," says Walhydra, rather smarmily. "A clever, squawking bird who's good at mimicry and eats carrion or steals hatchlings from their nests for food."

Always willing to annoy Walhydra for the fun of it, the amanuensis nods. "Yeah, that too."

He knows that the name actually has much richer though more ambiguous significance than this. Of course, those deeper meanings can only be hinted at through storytelling.

There are early clues in a story fragment he wrote in Arabia, just before his twenty-ninth birthday.
Waite Deck, The Tower
An unnamed figure climbs the stairs of a milky white, marble tower and steps into a burned out chamber, the outer wall of which had been blasted away ages ago by arcane fire.

Crows swoop and laugh as he looks out over endless green lawns and hills to the north, and, to the south, "scorched black ruins, stumps and fire-charred shrubs, and hard, cracked earth."

Soon there follows this passage:

Yet again the crows laughed.

"Are you dead yet?" they asked—not with sneers, but with something vacant and cold in their voices. Their laughter was vibrant, inhuman, devoid of emotion.

He smiled and raised up a hand, where a small stone lay in the crease of his palm. The sun caught its ruby heart, and it gleamed with a laugh of its own. The crows flew away.
"So," Walhydra observes. "The good old 'harbinger of death and destruction' crow."

"Well, yes," the amanuensis replies without apology. "A novice Lutheran shaman might perceive them that way."


"You know. Europeans spent centuries killing each other off with famine, plague and war, all the time carrying the Cross in front of them. As if death were a punishment meted out by the righteous on the unrighteous."

"So crows...?"

"...were omens of death as retribution for evil—or as the victory of evil itself."

"And since everybody dies...?"

The amanuensis smiles silently.

"I hate when you do that!"

The tower and the crows figured again in later story fragments during the early 1980s. After that they faded into a writer's archive as Walhydra began her fifteen-year career counseling addicts, sex offenders and mentally ill prison inmates.

Then death changed.

In the late 1980s, Walhydra's step-father of only five years died rapidly from cancer.

This wry, taciturn man had enabled Walhydra's mother, Senior Witch, to heal herself of decades of hurt. Then, in the space of four months, he went through several rounds of chemotherapy and relapse, sought out and made amends with everyone he'd hurt or been hurt by, and died quietly while Senior Witch slept in a chair next to his bed.

Next, Walhydra volunteered as an AIDS buddy for a thirty-year-old named Richie, who told her when they first met, "I've already had my argument with God. He's told me who's going to meet me on the other side, so I'm ready to go. But...," he looked around the room, "my friends aren't ready yet."

A year later, Richie came home by choice from one too many hospital trips for rehydration and tube-feeding. To everyone's surprise he was still living after a month, despite receiving nothing except morphine drip for pain.

One morning Richie came out of his drug fog...he'd been claiming he and his friends were all sitting at card tables on the roof playing bridge...and said, "Tell me what's happening to my body."

They told him about the scarcely breathing skeleton.

"What's today's date?"

They told him.

"My birthday is Tuesday. I want a party and a cookout."

Two dozen people met at Richie's home the next week—some of them for the first time. Friends from Richie's old home in New Orleans had FedEx-ed a daubache torte. They brought the cake with candles and balloons into Richie's bedroom and sang Happy Birthday to the grinning skeleton.

Then he spoke to each one privately. To Walhydra he said, "Your work is done now. Thank you."

He died two days later, having said nothing more after that night.

Walhydra sits back in her chair, remembering.

"And then there was Alex, who hated my using the term 'sex offender,' because he said if it hadn't been for older men teaching him how to make love as a teenager, he would have lived a miserable life. He got to dance in full regalia with his tribe at one last powwow in North Carolina, before AIDS took him at fifty."

She shakes her head.

"Then there was Luther, our best friend Randy's lover. That was the first time I actually saw someone take his last breath.... And I just remembered! My Mom was there with us!"

"Yes," says the amanuensis.

"But, where are the crows in all of this?"

Jamie Sams, Crow Medicine Card"Crow is shimmering, iridescent black in this world, because his feathers absorb all light. But on the other side, he gleams as bright as light."

"Oh. Bright Crow."

"Yes," says Bright Crow. "Death isn't an evil. It just happens. If anything is evil, it's the hurt we all do to ourselves and to each other in order to pretend that we are escaping death."


"That's why, whenever I hear a crow caw, I turn toward it, touch brow, lips and heart, and say, Blessèd Be'."


"Because it is saying to me, 'Don't worry. You're just mortal. You don't have to figure out how to survive all of this.'

"It's saying, 'Just do the best you can for everyone at the moment. Then forgive and ask for forgiveness."


And so it is.

Blessèd Be.

Note: One way to consider the Crone is as that aspect of the Divine which, in the form of a wise woman past childbearing age, strives on behalf of her people to learn about and teach the terrors and blessings of mortality.

She does this by facing them honestly, walking through them with eyes open, breathing deeply, and returning to tell the tale.

Mary at the cross and Easter tomb of her son is one of Walhydra's examples. Another is Mother Teresa. Green Tara is a third.


Anonymous said...

I was following along just fine until you got to the part where Walhydra does her riff on crow. I then started to wonder what she would make out of Crow Dog a Lakota Sioux spiritual leader and story teller I met in the 70's.
Then I kept having similar associations throughout. Darn the monkey mind who can't stay focused.

Hecate is another who is present at the liminal spaces. She stands at the threshold of death and birth and at the crossroads.

Alma Enodia (Hecate in her Tri Via aspect)

PS I got here via the CroneThread

Bright Crow said...

Hi, AEnodia.

Yes, I recognized you from Crone Thread.


I'm curious about Crow Dog's stories.

About three years ago I stumbled onto a marvelous book, Ravensong: A Natural and Fabulous History of Ravens and Crows, by Catherine Feher-Elston (who also wrote the companion book, Wolfsong).

Ravensong begins with stories from native myth and shamanistic tradition and then adds the perspectives of modern science, law and nature study.

What particularly interested me was Feher-Elston's recounting of the Paiute prophet Wovoka's origination of the Ghost Dance religion (later reworked by the Lakota Sioux), and especially the role of Crow as one who could cross between worlds and "hasten the revitalization of the world and the melding of the living world with the Spirit World" (80).

I'll be sharing more of Crow and the Tower in later episodes of Walhydra's Porch.

Meanwhile, yes, Hecate shows up in my questing and journaling, too. As does Kali (less frequently) and even Juno (once so far).

Thank you for your comment.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow

GrumpyGranny said...

Wow. Hard to believe it's been nearly 15 years for the Crone thread. You write so beautifully, Michael. One day, I'll have to tell you about the wounded crow that stayed in/near our yard for a whole year while his leg healed...

Sometimes he comes back to visit.


GG (Igraine)

Anonymous said...

Just saw your response today 4/22.

I saw Leonard Crow Dog in the mid 70's when he came to speak at the UW Madison about AIM (American Indian Movement). He was the spiritual leader.
His style was slow, deliberate and circular or perhaps a spiral. It would seem like rambling to the Anglo culture.

He has written a book "Crow Dog: Four Generations of Sioux Medicine Men"

I also saw a site by his son Leonard Alden Crow Dog and his writing was similar to the way his father talked.

I also just finished reading "Widdershins" by Charles DeLint you will find mention of Crow Dog there.

I wonder what I'm to do with all the mentions showing up this month.


Bright Crow said...

Thanks, AEnodia.

I know that for me active reappearance of Crow has signified the reopening of a doorway.

Not one I had closed, but one which has been neglected since I started dealing with my Mom's decline a few years ago.

As soon as I published this particular blog entry, I began awaking with elaborate dreams still in memory. That's the doorway I'm refering to: the opening to subconscious learning.

I will look into Crow Dog and his son's writings. Thanks for the suggestion.

My favorite DeLint novels are Moonheart and Spiritwalk, though I've read some others, too. His mix of Celtic and Native lore is beautiful.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I've always been a little bit bothered by crows... they're not as charming as smaller, chunkier, cheerier birds.

I lost a friend to cancer a few years back. She was in her early 50s, loved to kayak and hike and swim. She was quite prickly around people, though--was angry with her brother and her father, didn't open up to people easily, seemed determined to remain independent of everyone. Of course, you know what cancer does to independence. Toward the end, when she was spending some time in hospice, a new doctor came to her. And this woman, who was private and told no one anything voluntarily, opened to him. She told him of how she had first lost the use of her legs (the cancer ate through some vertebrae, and an attempt to fix them left her paralyzed). Then she lost her ability to live alone in her little house. Then she lost her cats, who stayed behind with friends while she moved to another state to live with a friend. Then she lost her dogs. She lost her appetite, she lost weight, she lost the ability to bathe herself. She sang the entire song of her losses to this new doctor, and then she finished by saying, "But now I have all this love," and she spread her arms wide, to indicate her good friend, and all the good friends who had rallied around.

So when you say that the crow absorbs light on earth and shines bright on the other side, I know that it's true. I can't wait to see another crow in my yard... perhaps it will take a message to the other side.

Bright Crow said...


Thanks for sharing that story.

As I disclose in this post, whenever I hear a crow caw, I look around for it. I don't expect it to give me any message other than its iconic one: "You are mortal."

I know the Roman tradition of having a slave ride in the chariot behind whichever conquering general was being given a triumph and whispering those words in his ear.

In that case, the purpose was to warn the general not to succumb to hubris.

For me, though, the crows words are an impersonal yet potentially benevolent caution:

"Don't cling to what you fear to let go of. Don't fear what hasn't yet happened. Don't try to control the past or the future.

"Just be a mortal who treads lightly."

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow