In a dream I feed a crow corn from my hand, and I hear him laugh and talk as he scratches with one foot. His eyes look gold and I see the ground below, many feet below, and the tops of fir trees and ridges in the foothills of the mountain. Air is cool and lifts the skin on my breast, pulls back my hair and raises tiny bumps I can feel standing up from inside.
The next day I see crows everywhere. First in the yard with their crooked gait, watching me watching them from the corners of my eyes. They’re pretending to eat. Later, crossing low in front of the car and once even, lying struck dead by the side with feathers and flesh tangled and matted and the sight makes me cry within.
I don’t care that the crow has become popular, for movies or bookstore names, or for malevolent or shady characters. I walk on the brick boulevard in town and feel crow light on my shoulder, and I laugh, that this is like a parrot on a pirate but no one can see, and no one would believe I am anything but nuts.
It has not always been crow and I have not been home for long. As a girl I tied feathers in my hair, probably illegal now, and tied long grasses into braids that became filled with the energy of the earth, as I sat beneath trees, and listened to the still sighing of my mother. I danced to drums and felt a heartbeat that rode my own, together, together, as one.
For a time I was distant, forgetting but never breaking the one beating heart. A drumming constant rhythm that would lead me back like a path of popcorn I followed home by listening. I came back and with such relief I was embraced. A book fell off a shelf into my hands and said, now never forget. A blue goddess shone over my bed and left me a long stemmed white translucent flower that felt like cold silk. I was hearing rivers speak again and finding ancestors in dreams.
When I was a young girl I felt this growing inside like the growth of a huge beautiful sunflower, pushing away grass and soil and thrusting its face upward with no hesitation, unyielding and unafraid. This energy made me a little blind. I walked into traps I hadn’t seen because I had been looking up. I was drugged, assaulted, cut and nearly stabbed, and when I finally turned my face down, I saw that my head was already hanging quite low, and hiding. It was then that I left home and started settling for what was only under my nose.
Now I come back, after having found in someone’s eyes a reflection of the earliest time I can remember. In them I see ancient history and all that I have ahead of myself. Together we raise our daughter, and now, I come back as a woman who knows love, and a woman who has looked inside her womb and has seen the purest sanctity of life.
This traveling back has gone full circle and continues upward in a spiral. I have come back as a woman now, a mother, and my daughter is now the age I was when my own mother died. She drew a picture of god when she was three, a large smiling face that floated over an ocean, and she said it wasn’t a he or a she. She knows one grandparent prays to a man on a cross whose name is Jesus, and two grandparents are Jewish and they call god, “Adonai”. Most people would complain that a child needs a religion, a place where all can be explained to her and her own spirituality can be held safe in their hands. They would argue that she needs a context of faith and belief, miracles or social oppression that join a people together. But I look at my daughter and see a gorgeous spirit that already knows, that is already joined to others, and with wings waiting to fly.
My own mother was supposedly a devout Catholic, and I am sure that some of my appreciation for ritual comes from the Church. But I don’t remember my mother telling me Bible stories or teaching me written prayers recited in monotone. I remember her showing me the moon in its different phases, sitting under trees by Black-eyed Susans listening to the underneath, reading me stories of raven and turtle, and sharing what she could of old traditions.
I don’t teach names to my daughter but we celebrate the seasons, and no child young enough needs to be told that animals have souls. What is most precious to me about my religion is experiencing the beauty, the spirit, of nature. It is the one beating heart that when I listen, tells me none of us are ever alone.
I am grateful every day, that I wake up and fall asleep with the sun and the moon rising and setting within me. That a child may feel god within her, and see the divine in all that she sees, is a gift more precious than gold. That she may feel her heart beating with the heartbeat of the earth and with the rest of humanity, is the truest peak of religion, whether in a religion taught by a grandparent, or one learned by herself. I am grateful every day, that our hearts may be as children’s, embraced, joined together, and never breaking.
And as I listen sideways to crow, what I hear is this scratching ability to look into and see the depths of things. With eyes like lasers, vision cuts straight into the center and finds peace, at home, in one heart.
Originally published in New Thought Journal, Fall 1997
© Nellie Levine