Monday, May 16, 2005
What's in a Name?
By Elise Abraham aka Mother Raven
While you here know me as Elise Abraham, my pagan community know me as
Mother Raven. Why?
WHAT'S IN A NAME ?
Lots - that's what! One of the most difficult things in the world is choosing the right name for something - very often I have found that whatever moniker you pick will end up being changed when the "right" one becomes clear - the ginger tom TT who became Beetle, our French tripod Labrador Gavroche who has become GubGub which suits us all much better.
So imagine my dilemma many years ago when I realised that with my rebirth as a baby pagan I would have to find a suitable name. Rolled up mental sleeves and ran through every kind of Nature-based name I could think of while begging inspiration - flowers - no I am not a Pansy or Marigold no matter how mellow the light behind me, trees - well my favourites are Mimosa (which sounds too shampoo-ey somehow) or Rowan which has been done to death (and is it Row as in with oars or Row as in argument?), places where I have been inspired - Tintagel (too Arthurian), Carnac (sounds like a vehicle attachment) Zennor (too Buddhist sounding)
I kept coming back to Raven. Yes, I know, groan and shake your head - also done to death and have lost count of the number of silver, gold, white or rainbow coloured Ravens existing in Pagan circles these days. Too Norse - well of course it is! Hugin and Munir are better known than their owner. Too Hammer Horror - yes we all saw The Omen! But nonetheless, I kept coming back to it and I will explain why.
During my many and varied careers, I spent a mostly very enjoyable year as Manager in a Zoo in Cornwall and had the privilege of meeting and becoming friends with a raven who had been confined in the zoo because, hand reared, he had been re-released into the wild and was unable to cope. He attacked picnickers on the cliffs above St Agnes, he got on a bus going to St Ives and terrorised the passengers - he was, in other words, a bloody nuisance. When I started work at the zoo he was a miserable, lonely and beaten bird. We took an instant liking to each other - it was love at first sight, for me at any rate.
At this park we did demonstrations of falconry and I was very very keen to learn, so I asked the owner if I could take lessons from our Chief Falconer in my own time. This bod - another total maverick looked at me as if I were potty when I said, "I want to fly the Raven". He shook his head and told me it wouldn't be the easiest bird to learn on but if my heart was set on it, we could give it a go - it was, and we did.
Birds of prey, while magnificent, are pretty single minded and stupid - they will do anything for a bite to eat and absolutely nothing when they have eaten enough. They will come to the glove to get the piece of meat and not because they love you - but Ragnar was different - he and I had a truly beautiful relationship.
I discovered very early on that he had a sense of humour. He understood exactly what I wanted him to do but took his time deciding if it was what he felt like doing too. By the time we had worked together long enough to take part in the public displays he had found his metier - he was a clown and I was his straight man!
I would put him on his post and say over my throat mike "Ragnar - stay there" and start walking away. He would jump down from his post and walk after me and I swear on my life that he could imitate my walk! When I turned around to call him he would sit on my foot, laughing at me and then jump on my head, my shoulder - anywhere but the gloved fist I was holding out for him. The public adored him - he put his showy brothers in the shade with his display of intelligence.
Pretending to be angry I would have a conversation with him - all relayed over the tannoy "You stupid bird - I told you to stay there. What do you think you are doing? All these people want to see you fly! Come on Ragnar, they've paid good money to see you do your thing. Get back to your post!" Interspersed with him cawing at me this usually brought the house down and he would reluctantly jump off my shoulder and start strutting back to the post, at which point I would usually tell everyone "Oh no - it's such a nice day he's decided to walk!"
Finally - when he sensed it was time he would turn around and look at me - have you ever seen a bird wink? I have! That was my signal "Ragnar - please, please - behave. Go on - show how you can do it when you want to". He would fly to his post, sit on it and look at me expectantly, shuffling his feet and fluffing his wings - at the dramatic cry of "Fly Ragnar, fly!" he would do a circuit of the field and land gracefully on my fist, cawing and bowing to the audience, who by this time were in raptures. Many times I wanted to kiss him - but with a beak like a chisel one is very respectful of close contact with ravens. Sometimes we would show off horribly and I would send him back and forward to the post just on voice - at no time was he ever attached except when I was taking him to and from the field.
But of course this golden age couldn't last - the owner of the zoo who, if he ever had a soul, had buried it in a bank vault years before, decided that I was spending too much time on the demonstrations. He took Ragnar away from me and insisted that one of the keepers fly him now that he was "properly trained". I was heartbroken. I was not even allowed to see him until the awful day when the girl flying him said to me "I think Ragnar is sick".
With doom settling on my heart I went to see him - he was dying. He had literally pined to death for me. Having tried several times to get back to me by flying away during the display, he had decided to stop eating and the keeper responsible had never noticed. Where I used to stay with him while he fed and count how many chicks he had eaten, she had dumped his food and left - never realising that he was burying his meat rather than eating it.
As a result he had got a fatal infestation of worms in his crop, which meant that even if he did eat, he would not be able to digest them. I grabbed a bottle of antibiotic and worm killer, stuffed Ragnar in a box and took him home with me - that was the Friday. All weekend I got up every two hours to dose him, holding him in my hands and willing him to live. By Monday he had improved and I dared to hope that he would live, but a telephone call from the zoo owner dashed all hope - bring my bird back and don't you dare take him away from the zoo again! His bird! His bird! I still burn with anger at that phrase.
The inevitable happened - I returned him on Monday morning and by Tuesday he was dead - he had realised that the 48 hours we spent together had been only a brief reprieve - he was back in prison. He showed that marvellous independence of spirit that I had always admired in him, and died.
The Chief Falconer called me down to the shed and showed me the body, we were both in tears. He looked at me and said - "he died because they took you away from him" and put his arm around me. I rendered "my" bird the last service I could and removed his jesses, saying "Fly free now, Ragnar, fly free and remember me" and did something I had always wanted to do - I kissed him gently on the top of his head.
So there you have it - hackneyed it may be, but Raven really was the only name I could choose, in gratitude for the most magnificent creature the Goddess has ever confided to my keeping. It was a privilege to know him and I will do my best to carry his name with as much pride and freedom of spirit as he did.
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