The Raven/Eagle Dichotomy

The eagle and the raven are two majestic birds that are common to the Pacific Northwest. They are tightly entwined in the myth of the first peoples, especially the Haida.

In Haida Gwaii, the eagle and raven represent two halves of a whole. On the dominant right side is eagle, a respected noble bird that leads by example, walking the straight path. On the opposite side is raven, a troubled anti-hero, who steals, lusts, tricks and changes identity. The two birds are the Haida’s ying and yang, a necessary balance.

 

Both figures are needed for a healthy society. Without eagle, there is no example for the humans to live their life. There is no judgment, marriages or trade. Without raven, there is no myth. Without myth there is no art, imagination or colour. Raven opens up the world to interpretation.

CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2079873

In one of the classic Raven myths, the black bird finds a clamshell on the unbroken sands of Rose Spit at the north end of Graham Island in Haida Gwaii. Having nothing else to amuse himself with and being ever curious, Raven inspects the shell and discovers tiny creatures (humans) inside. With his sweet tongue, he coaxes the humans out of the shell and into the world. And this is how the first Haida came to be…

 

The artist Bill Reid, discussed in last week’s post, created a beautiful carving of this myth that is now featured at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. It too was featured on the old $20 bill.

 

These two birds are tied to our modern culture as well, but in less binary terms. Ravens feature heavily in one of television’s top rated programs, The Game of Thrones. They often carry messages of betrayal and loss, giving breath to the phrase: “Dark wings, dark words.”

 

The bald eagle is a powerful symbol of strength and courage for the American people. It soars above the rest of the beasts, is top of the food chain and mates for life – all admirable characteristics. Just look over the part about them being scavengers.

Image by Guy Kimola

 

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