PBP: “R” is for Ravens and Vultures and Hawks, Oh My!

Birds are cool, especially the ones who stay behind in the winter. I have a natural knack for Augury: “the art of divination by observing the behaviour of birds” (Bygone Beliefs on Sacred-Texts). And it's not just one type of bird for me, but pretty much any feathered creature that coasts through the air. They have circled above my head in different flight patterns, pooped on my arm at Disneyland as a kid, stood as sentinels at my bus stop, visited my hospital window to witness my newborn baby... I even have a black cat named Raven. I did not choose the name nor was she originally my cat... but regardless, Raven has chosen me for her human. As a kitten, Raven fell three stories to a paved lot below, in the night falling off the rail which surrounded my bedroom balcony. Off into the night she flew... never seeming to touch the ground in that inky summer night. The next morning, we found her on our doorstep, anxious for food and perfectly unharmed. This cat truly has 9 lives as Raven dodged near death several times more over the years. Smarter and wiser, she stays safely near home where the food is. This Samhain my kittie will be 16 years old and lives up to her name as Raven can still fly through the air. I am sure to keep the bird bath and food in the front of our home, as she only goes and hangs out in the garden these days. Raven ironically is also a bird-catcher... and bat. She has no interest in mice except to occasionally torture one or assist the German Shepherd, Cypress who is 14, with killing it.

"Romulus Consulting the Augury". Image by John Leech, from: The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott A Beckett. Bradbury, Evans & Co, London, 1850s.

I have an affinity for birds of prey and scavengers. California Condors, Bald Eagle, and Red-Tailed Hawks all have been present during prayers and rites for me, both privately and publicly. In the element of nature, I am a guest in their home paying special attention to the messages. One memory that stands out to me most was an omen I received on the infamous September 11th, 2001. I woke up that morning as normal, never watching or listening to the news as I prepared for my one hour commute to university. It was around the time that first airplane crashed a huge Turkey Vulture swooped down at my car, almost hitting the windshield. I watched as it flew to my left... an indication of an unfavourable message. It struck a chord in me as I had a quiz that morning in my Humanities class on The Odyssey. In my head I started thinking about Odysseus, Poseidon, and epic trials the crew faced with them all.

When I arrived on campus, everything was in dead silence. People were gathered near the student union and hugging. I was fearful of something bigger than a Homeric test when I saw the television screens in the halls showing images of people jumping out of windows, running from the cloud of dust... our campus was being evacuated. I immediately thought of my step-daughter who was at school and hurried back to my car for the long, sad drive home. I was glued to my radio and eventually had to stop. As I sat on the hood of my car, the engine warming shaky legs, I looked up into the sky to see nothing... no airplanes, helicopters... the birds were the only ones flying that day and they ALL flew in counter-clockwise directions no matter which way I turned. Since then, I have taken these auguries very seriously.

Sometimes, the prophecy is given through the bird's whistle; or in the case of Corvus the “caw” I love so well. Counting the croaks and calls coming from a nearby tree as I contemplate something is always a sign to me of the presence of divinity... as if they are nearby listening in on my thoughts and communicating through the birds' behavior. Or perhaps they might actually BE that deity, transformed or shape-shifted into anima for the purposes of being among humans. I do not claim to know the why of this talent or even if it is one; I could have a slightly wild imagination or silly superstitions... but it is based on experience and that is something I cannot dismiss.