I always say I’ve known I’m an animal-person since age seven, but this isn’t accurate. Seven is when I realized that I clearly was one of the Cats, inside, and that most people around me were not animal-people. Seven is the age I played with my dolphin friend as a jaguar, and then with my margay friend as an ocelot, except for me it wasn’t simply a game. On a more recent day though, unexpectedly, some of my earliest feelings of being other-than-human were brought back to my memory.
I remember my mother helping me dress up to go to kindergarten, which in my country is for children age 3-5 (elementary school starts at 5-6, where you learn how to read; except I could already read in kindergarten but I disgress). I had this coat, unlike any other, which I missed so much after I outgrew it, and still miss to this day like a stolen piece of my heart. It was this wonderful and thick, dark grey cape coat made of fleece, going down to my little knees, folding and closing on the front with these conical real horn buttons – which I liked putting in my mouth and chewing on so much.
Spreading my arms, the fabric would unfold and felt like real wings, not a trail like a cloak but an integral part of my body. And so I remember the playground, where we had our breaks, with me running around some of the buildings until I was out of breath, flapping my arms forcefully, and believing so hard that I was on the verge of taking flight; that if I flapped hard enough my feet would lift from the ground and I would soar to the sky into the clouds. Because it was meant to be.
This was Being Bird, with me at the same time performing and being completely oblivious of my true nature – like an unquestionable evidence. And the belief clung onto my soul for so long that even in my years of identifying mostly as an arboreal cat of some sort, climbing oaks and pines and standing there in the sunset, I would tell myself that if I curled my feet hard and long enough, growing up I would evolve them into talons. And so every year until I was ten or twelve I hoped it to be the year I would finally turn into my Self, of which I still have drawings from the time.
I don’t like lingering too much on my urge to fly, both because there is more to a bird than its wings and because I am mostly happy with being human in spite of my nonhuman animality. I do not experience strong dysphoria anymore, even though I would be happier if I could fly. Maybe I quieted the pain down to be able to live; and maybe one day I can afford paragliding to alleviate the itch. In a way, also, I do experience flight, through dreams and journeys in my raven shape. I am a raven of Raven, under the guidance of my kindred – but that is too intimate to write about in depth.
As much as the spiritual cats and corvids, there are the living ones around me. It was not until the recent passing of my grandfather, a butcher like his father was, that I noticed I am not the single expression of what I feel is our familial totem. Watching my father’s side of the family talking and being together, it struck me how raven we are in our similarities: our love of puns and language(s), our sharp tongue and readiness to speak our mind (but less so our feelings), our smarts and perfectionism and, yes, tendency to neuroticism. We are lawyers and magistrates, graphic artists and doctors, engineers or other scientists; add one priest per generation with the occasional wanderlust. We also are – with varying degrees – at times neophobic, prone to anger and anxiety-ridden.
The most animal of my relatives, though, was my mother; in retrospect I believe she probably knew what was up with me. She’d sewed this feline costume made of a sort-of-marbled fabric when I was maybe six, including a cotton-stuffed tail, so I could walk around at home and for the carnival as a Cat. She loved cats and was, in my opinion, most definitively one (it isn’t easy for me speaking of her, bringing back so many fond memories, like the sound of her voice calling out my name when I played in the nearby woods; in fact looking after the adventurous kitten I was). Isn’t it ironic that it’s when she was pregnant of me she developped an allergy to cats; I couldn’t have any feline companion at home until she died of illness in my early teens.
In a way, it’s almost as though I’m felid on my mother’s side and corvid on my father’s side. It sounds silly as I don’t believe specific animal types are passed down through our genes, but in a way it does feel like some sort of heritage, even moreso since certain figures have appeared in my journeys (as an animist). My personal tapestry is that of cat and bird entwined and it is difficult talking of one without the other. Both are behavioural, symbolical, and even spiritual to me. They do not oppose each other, and actually share much in common – like when I hold that chicken carcass in my human hands, cutting and tearing apart the tender meat with my teeth, it is both as raven and ‘pard.
Here ravens are seldom seen near humans – they prefer the remote cliffs and mountains. It’s the crows you see in town, or jackdaws. I didn’t live in the city though; I lived by the forest, a land inhabited by magpies and wood pigeons and boars. I remember my mother telling me of the ongoing war between the magpies and the [red] squirrels, raiding each other’s nest. I remember my habit of collecting pretty rocks and feathers and bones. My favourite findings were the lower jaw of a cat with all of its teeth, and a magpie skull and spine that my parents later threw away when I was not looking. I was fascinated with the dead birds, lizards and lesser shrews that the neighbouring felines would bring. Sometimes I think of our dead rodent pets burried near the house, how if I returned there and dug I could have their bones.
What can I say; this is being raven. It’s not romantic or even really mystical. Most of the time it’s a quiet, serious thing; I’m not a trickster raven of the Americas. Raven is a scavenger and, at times, a predator. Being a common raven is being the heaviest passerine bird around. To me raven is the ultimate, perfect bird-shape; not my favourite bird, but my natural one: it is a second skin inside and beyond human. It is watching both sides from over the fence – distinct from being mammal, but not entierely alien from it either. And being raven is not an ethereal experience. It is something of the senses and feather-quills and talons, and at times the plucking, the gut-tearing, bone-seeking. Intense, raw bird. Corvid.