Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Dreamcatcher and the Raven

While walking the dog along the Merrimack river today, I took a photograph of a gypsy moth web silhouetted against the dramatic, post-tropical storm sky. I was attracted to the web and wanted to make it part of a Photoshop collage, combining it with a photograph of a raven I took last year in California.

But I wanted to know more.

 By googling “gypsy moths,” I found out they are one of North America’s most devastating pests. Interestingly, they are not Native Americans:  They are immigrants who, much like the White Man, were accidently introduced into Massachusetts.

One reason I took the photograph was because, to my eye, the gypsy moth web looked like a dreamcatcher.

I had always thought dreamcatchers were an old Native American custom, but upon looking on Wikipedia I found out that traditionally, only the Chippewa tribe had something similar: protective charms made of real spider webs hung on tiny wooden hoops over sleeping infants to catch “any harm that might be in the air as a spider’s web catches and holds whatever comes in contact with it.”

Dreamcatchers, as we know them, didn’t come into existence until the 1960s during the Pan-Indian movement. And now, many Native Americans have come to see them as over-commercialized: “sort of the Indian equivalent of a tacky plastic Jesus hanging in your truck.”

And what about the raven?

I have long felt a connection with crows and, even more so, ravens. I consider these birds to be my spirit animals: my guide to the mystery of Nature and what lies beyond.  I can identify with the great painter, Morris Cole Graves, who came to see the bird as “psychedelic, mystic, en route to transcendence.”

So far in my research, none of the elements of my photographic collage has been what it appears to be. And the raven is no exception. As opposed to my romantic feelings about my spirit animal, many view the raven not as a guide to transcendence but as “a bad omen which foretells unhappy events which are going to follow soon.” 

After my research, I am now more in touch with a deeper truth underlying these surface contradictions, a truth I have attempted to express in my image:

The raven is here as our spirit guide to issue a dire warning: Depleting the earth while pumping the atmosphere full of carbon dioxide and toxins of a million kinds is rapidly unraveling the protective web of the great cosmic dreamcatcher essential to our continued existence:

"Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'"–Edgar Allan Poe
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