I’ve been struggling to talk of raven for a long time. It took me years to come to the simple conclusion I actually have no language for birdness, and that it’s not really a me-thing either – it has a lot to do with the culture I (we?) live in. We have a lot of vocabulary and imagery relating to mammals such as Cat (cats in general, not just the domestic species), we even have a term to describe the cat way-of-being, the essence of cat – felinity.
So writing about ‘pard has come easily; but what concepts do I have to describe being raven? I’ve tentatively used “ravenness” in my writings in the past, but who really gets what I’m talking about? There’s a lot to be said but the language is lacking. Not that this issue is unique to being a raven, of course – there are many much more obscure species – and it’s also a matter of who is around to build the language together. I’ve said it before and I think it’s still true for a lot of us, how much you construct things (including yourself) alongside others, not in a vacuum.
For years, a lot of the people I talked to about animal-things were cat-folk, not birds. Sure, there were others too, like the coyote/deer Liesk being an excellent partner-in-crime, and I also have a history of affectionate duos with wolves, but at some point there mostly were these loosely affiliated felines bouncing ideas off each others, and we were prolific in our writings. It didn’t matter so much that we were different sorts of cats because there was a lot of common ground. Sometimes we echoed each other, sometimes not. Yet everything added up to that big “background” of what cats are, a feline tapestry if you will.
I’ve talked to a handful of corvid-people before and I have yet to find any resemblance between each of us. I actually don’t know of many birds; and though I’ve enjoyed our conversations a lot, the bird-person I’ve talked to for the longest, Meirya, isn’t a close relative (rough-legged hawk/phoenix). To put it simply, I haven’t had the opportunity to discuss “being raven” much with other corvidae and I’m not sure our experiences are similar. One of the most corvid-like individual I’ve known actually is a fox-person.
After all, with the great versatility found in corvids, ‘plus the human-coat that might taint our experiences, maybe there isn’t much of a common ground to find. I think “birdness” is probably too broad as a category to define, and I’m not even sure a strong connection to the sky and flying is going to cut it (at least not for the non-flying birds). I’m not even sure how well I relate to that, since to me flight and wings are things both central and that I don’t idealize. Maybe because of the cat-thing or just me in general; practical, down to earth. That’s the way I am.
Ravens are heavy and inquisitive for passerine birds, and sometimes a bit of a paradox; they tend to be wary of unusual sights, yet wild ravens are also known to be surprisingly confident and tame, even taking food handed to them. They aren’t as social as crows and adults prefer to live in pairs in well-defended territories, however they’re sometimes found in large roosts. I’m not much of a social raven, though flexible enough when there is the need. I’m also not really a raven of the North or mountains, playing in the crisp air and rolling in the snow. I’m a raven of the coastal cliffs and forests of the South.
There’s also the fact that I am no storyteller and don’t relate much to the trickster raven of North America (on the other hand, I admit I am fascinated by the Japanese tengu). Simply put, my raven identity isn’t very “trickstery”, or at least not especially so , and neither is my Raven totem (which, I must say, is quite distinct from myself as well). “My” Raven didn’t create the world. I relate better to the Raven of the dead, the divine messenger and prophet of the Euro-Mediterranean. So that puts me further appart from a certain branch of raven-people maybe, thus harder to bond with.
In fact, before any symbolical associations, to me being a raven is being a scavenger bird, and it is a very mundane and concrete experience of reality. It is about the conflict between my human culinary tastes and my corvid interest in roadkill – corpses, dead things. It is about the awkward gait, the sturdy feet and talons, and the fluffy “feather trousers”. It’s about the long, broad, slighty pointed wings with strong muscles suited for long-distances as much as acrobatics. It’s about intimately knowing of the flap-flapping and soaring, of the primaries shivering in the air; the feel of one’s weight in the thermals and wind. Solid, yet flexible.
My body isn’t suited for flight, yet the sensations are deeply rooted in my flesh and light bones; not a dream or fantasy, it is first and foremoest intensely present in the here-and-now. I am not an archetypal corvid nor a bird-in-the-past (I’m not dismissive of these experiences, but they’re simply not mine). It’s simply hard to find the words for most things non-mammal. And whenever I want to talk about the feathers and flying, others only talk about freedom and infinity, and this isn’t what I meant. Then, all of bird is reduced to that part – the wings – as if they were one and the same or the sum of it.
It seems that a lot of people don’t register me as “corvid” though. People offline, because there isn’t such a thing as “corvidness” to describe humans in my language (but there always is felinity; some people have hinted at the birdness, but it hasn’t been as recurrent as the cat-thing). And people online then, because of different reasons. I’ve certainly written abundantly about being a clouded leopard, and not “enough” about being a raven, so that explains some of it. But it has also always been that people don’t give you as much credit as a member of X animal category if that’s not the only side you show. I’ve rarely if ever been asked to talk about my avian aspect when other birds were around. I possibly wasn’t as legitimate, in some people’s mind.
This is my bird manifesto, then: I am not “one-winged”.
I am raven, intensely and constantly. I am no less raven than any raven-person with a single animal side. I am not less feline than any other cat-person. I am not half-corvine half-feline; no halves. I am not a patchwork with missing pieces. I am both feline and corvine, with some “human” thrown in – simultaneously, no shifting, no switching around. No amount of coloured charts, sliding scales or terminology will ever be able to describe this properly. I may experience more certain phantom limbs over others, it doesn’t erase the fact I know, deeply, the complete range of my own identity. All of raven and clouded leopard are hovering over each other in a steady flow of bird-and-cat-ness; full and complete.
It’s tempting to now fill the white of my page with lengthy lyrical descriptions about what it’s like, deep down, being a raven; but I won’t, not here. I won’t because, basically, that’s what I’m asked if I want to prove that I’m a genuine raven. Been there, done that; I took off my website the old raven essay at some point because it felt too constrained – it doesn’t help that I had written it partly in a train and partly in a park as I came too early for an appointment. The writing was something that had to be done, for a reason or another.
When I’ll put it up again, it will flow better, because my quill won’t be as confined by expectations.
The trick is, I haven’t been very motivated to work on it for the past years because writing about your animal sides separately, like this essay was about, is yet another expectation I haven’t been much interested in meeting (anymore). A “purely corvine” essay, with all the negativity the term “pure” may carry, feels too artificial now; maybe it is. Probably not entirely, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write at all about my animality in the past, but I want to question that practice of separating neatly what’s from what. I think, in the end, that it goes back to the same logic that makes your animal sides appear less “legitimate” if there are more than one.
It’s as though “felinity” or “ravenness” came in a finite, measurable amount and that writing about my animal identity without distinguishing the different species in clearly labeled, neat boxes (different paragraphs, different spaces…) would decrease the value of these experiences itself. I am no shapeshifter so I won’t speak for or about experiences that may be more fleeting, but regarding what I know of animality it seems like a foolish belief to hold, and an offensive one at that.
Which doesn’t mean that I’ll never write again about the specific experiences of “ravenness” or “felinity”, but rather, that it should be more of a conscious choice and less of a practice I follow out of habit or conventionalism. And above all, being a feline does not make me less of a corvid – and conversely. That is something that I’ve always felt and known, but that I haven’t said as firmly as I could have (I couldn’t bother with too much justifying when I was more interested in discussing other matters).