Now that my Animal Wisdom Oracle is out in the world I’m delving more deeply into the stories and legends associated with the animals I’ve learned about. Though many legends of animals are strongly associated with goddesses and gods, there are also many that focus solely on animals themselves. In both cases these stories help us understand our place in the world and teach about living in balance and harmony with all beings – a cornerstone of feminism and goddess spirituality.
As winter nears its end, I’d like to share my re-telling of a story with you about Crow. It comes from the storytelling tradition of the Lenni Lenape – a Native American tribe whose traditional territory spanned what is now eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, lower New York, and eastern Delaware. This is a different kind of crow from the one we know today. It goes like this….
Long, long, and even longer ago Earth was a warm, green and welcoming place. But one day Kijiamuh Ka’ong, the Creator Who Creates by Thinking What Will Be, thought of Cold. Snow Spirit began to roam Earth, spitting out ice, sleet and snow. Soon the animals were shivering and freezing. Some became buried in their caves, burrows and dens.
Wise Owl called the animals together and said, “One of us must travel to the Great Mystery Beyond and ask Kijiamuh Ka’ong to please un-think Snow Spirit or we will all surely die.”
They all realized that wise Owl could not go, as Owl can only see at night and would be blinded by the radiance of Kijiamuh Ka’ong. And Turtle, who is so steady and dependable, is way too slow. The animals cried “We’d freeze to death long before Turtle even arrives.”
Coyote claimed that he could devise a great plan to convince Kijiamuh Ka’ong to un-think Snow Spirit and its freezing cold. The animals responded, “Coyote, you are very smart but so full of tricks. Kijiamuh Ka’ong cannot be deceived by one such as you.”
“Who can succeed. Who oh who?” hooted Owl.
Now Rainbow Crow spread her feathers and stepped forward. Rainbow Crow was the most beautiful bird of all – with feathers that shimmered with all the colors of the rainbow and a song that rang out the sweetest of all birdsong. She said, “I will go. You all can count on me.”
And so she set out at once. Rainbow Crow flew up and up, on and on, and up and up for three long days. She passed beyond the clouds and Sky. She passed beyond Moon, Sun and Stars. Exhausted and with no place to rest, she continued on until she finally reached the Great Mystery Beyond – the Holy Abode of Kijiamuh Ka’ong.
She called out to Kijiamuh Ka’ong for help – once – twice. But Creator was too deep into Thinking What Will Be Into Being to notice Rainbow Crow’s cry for help.
So Rainbow Crow paused and gathered all the beauty she had within her to sing her most beautiful song ever. Now this caught the attention of Creator who turned an eye to find who was making this beautiful song.
Creator soon located Rainbow Crow and remembered having thought her into being. “Such a beautiful song you have sung for me! What gift can I offer you to express my gratitude for your song?”
“Oh Great Kijiamuh Ka’ong! The only gift I want is for you to un-think Snow Spirit. Earth has become too cold and covered with snow since Snow Spirit’s arrival. All us animals will soon freeze to death.”
“But my dear friend that is impossible.” answered Creator. “Once I have thought something into being I cannot un-think it. Snow and Ice have spirits of their own which I will not destroy.”
Beautiful Rainbow Crow sadly bowed her head and said, “I understand. But now we animals will surely perish from Earth as nothing can grow to nourish us and the cold snow and ice will freeze us. I’ll return home and tell the others to prepare for their fate.”
“Do not despair. If I can think Cold into being then I will now think Tindeh – Fire – into being – something to warm all my creatures during the times of snow and ice.”
Kijiamuh Ka’ong took a long stick and stuck it into the blazing heat of Sun, removing it with flaming, hot fire on one end. Giving the fiery stick to Rainbow Crow, Creator said, “Go quickly. Return home and take Fire back to the animals so they can be warm.”
Rainbow Crow took off immediately on the three day trip home. She flew as fast as she could, fearing that the fire might go out before she arrived. Leaving the realm of the Great Mystery Beyond, she passed a little too close to Sun causing her tail to catch on fire. But heedless of danger to herself she flew on. By the time she reached Moon the smoke had turned all her beautiful rainbow-colored feathers black.
Still descending Rainbow Crow dove into Sky realm. As she passed through the clouds, smoke got into her throat and choked her. She felt something changing as she wheezed and rasped on her final descent. When Rainbow Crow finally arrived back on Earth, gone were her beautiful rainbow colored feathers. Now she was all a dull black. When she opened her beak to call the others with the good news, gone was her beautiful singing voice – only a rasping, cawing sound came out.
The animals came and saw as Fire began to melt the snow. They rejoiced, giving great thanks for Tindeh – Fire – and its warmth. All the animals began to celebrate. Everyone except for Rainbow Crow who was very sad. Where she once had beautiful feathers they were now all a dull black. And her beautiful singing voice was gone – replaced by an ugly rasping voice.
Suddenly a breeze stirred around her. She looked up to see Kijiamuh Ka’ong, the Creator Who Creates By Thinking What Will Be, looking at her lovingly. Creator said, “Do not be sad my friend. For your sacrifice in helping save the animals I have given you a great gift. When the people come with their hunting gear you will not be hunted and killed. For the smoke has made your flesh taste of smoke – an unpleasant taste to people. And because of your black feathers and rasping voice the people will not capture you to keep you caged for their enjoyment. You will always be free. Finally Creator reached out gently and pointed at Crow. Crow watched in amazement as all her dull, black feathers began to reflect an iridescent rainbow of glimmering colors deep within each one. “Now all those with eyes to see truth will understand your service and sacrifice. You will be loved and honored for you have saved them all.”
I love this story which shows us how we too – just like Crow who is a committed member of its flock, documented exhibiting acts of compassion and caring – can forget about our own petty needs and rise to the meet the needs of our community when faced with difficult circumstances.
Crow, who is never heard to sing beautiful birdsong and whose feathers lack the colorful beauty of many other birds, is a bird beloved by many.
You can read more about the crows we know today on my post from 2019
Postscript: I just began a new venture with my work – weekly posting on YouTube focusing on oracle card readings and re-tellings of myth and legend. Here’s a link to one I just posted in which I re-tell this story of Rainbow Crow. Feel free to share it with any educators who might like to use it in their classroom studies of animals, myths and legends.
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of her manifestations, which of course includes the flora and fauna of our beautiful Earth. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment.
After almost 5 years of work Judith’s new oracle deck, Animal Wisdom Oracle, is now available. You can order it here. Experience the wisdom our animal kin have to offer.
The Celtic Goddess Oracle Deck is still available. Order your deck here.
17 thoughts on “Rainbow Crow – A Native American Story Retold by Judith Shaw”
Judith, thank you. I very much enjoyed your story. I am going to repost and link and enter your YouTube channel to resources on the divine feminine app. Thank you.
Glad you enjoyed. Thanks for entering it into the resources on Divine Feminine app.
A lovely story and not one I know….creator as one who « things »into being smacks of patriarchal thinking… so my guess is that this is a newer story?… as for crows in nature, well they are bullies – a quality that I find distasteful… I can’t help but wonder if crow wasn’t first a raven who is considered by many Indigenous tribes to be a messenger from the beyond…. I also happen to have a neighbor who feeds crows keeping them away from here – and instead I have a pair of ravens that I often see flying silently across the sky before the dawn breaks.. I was delighted when one showed up here about three years ago and stayed despite being ruthlessly harassed by crows… now there is a pair that nest here – apparently having two ravens is enough to keep the crows at bay! Love the painting.
I don’t know the age of this story but I kind of doubt it is new. None of the versions of it I read assigned a gender to Creator but they did give Crow a masculine gender. I changed that.
Personally I don’t see a worldview that considers life as coming into being from a non-physical mental plane as Patriarchal. It’s when value gets assigned to one side of the dualities called masculine as good and the other side called feminine as bad that Patriarchy enters. It’s my understanding that Great Spirit is the concept of a life force found in the worldviews of many different Native American peoples with different names and different stories attached – but never did Great Spirit have a gender. This concept of a life force is know as Wakan Tanka to the Lakota. Lakota leader and activist, Russel Means says a more accurate interpretation of Great Spirit for his people is Great Mystery and is the power or sacredness that resides within all beings. Where we come from and where we go after this life are questions that have intrigued humans for millennia and in some ways is what sets us apart from animals.
But we aren’t separate from animals – we are one species of many
For sure – we are not separate from anything – we’re all connected in the ongoing mystery of the cycle of life.
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There is a similar story with the Goddess Oshun who takes the form of a Peacock to fly to the Creator God, only to lose everything flying to him and becomes a Vulture instead. In this aspect, Oshun becomes a Goddess of the dead but the Vulture headed Oshun is ironically also one version of her that is very close to the Creator.
I love Oshun but the only aspect of know about her is as Goddess of Love. I need to delve into her wisdom more. That is interesting that in her aspect as Vulture she is so close to Creator. Do you have ideas as to why that is?
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Long story short,
Once upon a time there was a Rebellion among the Under Gods or Orishas. They thought they could do a better job of ruling the Universe then their father Olodumare who is basically a Supreme God like the Christian God. In fact we see him as the same God. He got pissed off and said,
“Oh really? Okay let’s see how you do without my Ashe (grace) on you,”
So he retracts or takes away his full power from them. They are still Gods and still have powers, but the Universe is falling apart now. And I also think Olodumare sent a Global Flood. The Orishas realized they needed his forgiveness of their creations would all die. They each tried to reach the palace of Olodumare in Heaven, but none of them could. Their full powers weren’t there.
So Oshun shape shifts as a Peacock to fly to the Heavens. But the strain of flying without her full Ashe caused her to lose all her beautiful feathers and appearance. And many considered her ugly and I think mocked her. So by the time she reaches the palace of the Creator, she is now a Vulture rather than a peacock. Now besides Elegua, Oshun is one of the most favored children of the Gods. And when the Great Father saw his daughter in such a condition, he immediately gave her food, and water, and a bed to rest in. When she was well enough to speak, he kept complaining about how angry he was at the other Gods who walk around pretending they know everything when they still depend on him. You see in our religion, the Supreme God had children, actual children who are also Gods. So imagine it’s not just Jesus, there’s also Obatala and a few other Gods. Like 100’s of them and some are good and some are evil etc..
When he finished, she told him that the Orishas had repented. But reality was dying. He couldn’t say no to his daughter and he immediately restored full power to all the Gods. And reversed the ill effects of his curse. And stopped the flood. But he also ordained that this vulture aspect would be a new Oshun. One who is near and dear to his heart because she sacrificed her beauty to save the Universe. And that because of this “all would bow before her” because she is the direct intercessor between GOD and all other beings, including other Gods. That from now on even the oldest Gods must bow down before her. Of course he regenerated her and allowed her to return as a peacock. But now Oshun Ibu Kole which is Oshun as a Vulture is his preferred incarnation. Because he said,
“Only those who can see beauty behind ugliness will be saved and they will be clean and pure of heart,”
Despite this, many fear Oshun Ibu Kole because she is the Queen of the Witches. She rules the night and the dead. And she can do powerful magics. Most people invoke her power to do curses and what not. But I have worked with Oshun Ibu Kole and I can tell you she is still a loving mother. And helps the dead who are lost and need guidance as much as the living.
Elder speaks on Oshun Ibu Kole on Spotify
The Eldest of the Witches : Oshun Ibu Kole
Who is Oshun Ibu Kole? Goddess who is inseparable from the Vulture
That’s beautiful. Thanks for sharing. The concepts expressed are found in so many mythologies around the world which ultimately remind us of the unity from which all duality emerges.
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Well as the Yoruba say, the Supreme God made all Gods. And I found that this is also shared in many religions. For the Greeks what they had was a Supreme Goddess (Gaia) who made all Gods. As a Gnostic as well as a Christo-Pagan I find that there must be a whole family of Supreme Gods who are at the same level as the Christian God in power and authority. And therefore we knows how many of them actually exist. New Gods and Goddesses may be born every day and we just don’t know because they don’t interact with us.
The pagan Celtic people also had a whole pantheon of goddesses and gods but believed them to be kind of like intermediaries between the One Source from which all life comes. There are so many similarities between religions and spiritual practices – maybe one day the world will wake up and realize that we don’t have to fight and that there are many paths to Source. I do like the idea of new goddesses and gods being born every day.
Crows are so incredible. Often under-appreciated, but truly fascinating and intelligent. Bless them.
Yeah – its seems that people either love or hate crows with very few falling in a neutral zone. They are amazing and very intelligent – even using tools.
People have been prejudiced against them for so long. A flock of crows is called a Murder of Crows. There have been superstitions and the idea that they are bad omens. I am glad more and more people are appreciating how amazing they are.
I know, right! – a murder of crows – as if crows are the ones going about murdering one another and the world. Sounds like a bit of human projection to me.