Gnostic Symbolism Of The Raven  

By Larry Fyffe

Rationalist thinkers during the Age of Enlightenment cast the Judeo-Christian God outside the workings of the physical Universe, and look instead to science in order to explain human behaviour – without resorting to moral terms like ‘good’ and ‘evil’. They consider the Alchemy experiments of yore to be a ‘proto-biology’ – an attempt to explain human behaviour on the basis of the  ‘elements’ of earth, air, fire and water.

Gnostic thinkers do somewhat the same thing; they cast the Monad into the deep and far-off mysterious, and nonmaterial regions of the Universe though “He/She” still connects with mankind’s material world. Neo-gnostics consider Alchemy to be a ‘proto-psychology’ – an attempt to explain human behaviour on the basis of unconscious images and figurative language: on archetypes, analogies,  coincidences, and correspondences wrought in the human mind. According to these  gnostics, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic method focuses too much on the physical sex drive.

Rationalists, for these gnostics, are unable to adequately explain the evolution of the ‘spirtual’ side of mankind that co-exists with the physical side. Sophia, a symbol of feminine wisdom, plays a large part in gostic thinking; the raven symbolizes the first step in the revitalization of the sparks of spiritualism in the phyical body – individual humans must first confront the blackness trapped within the inner soul before they can release it, move on, and be warmed by the red light shining at the higher levels of the “collective” unconscious. In mythology, Apollo, the Sun God scorches the white raven black because he’s angry at the bird for being a wicked messenger, for telling him that his lover, the daughter of a king, has been unfaithful. In the Bible, the maiden in the ‘Song of Solomon’ is blackened in her search for love.

Observed is that not all traces of Gnostic thought are erased from the Holy Bible:

And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro
Until the waters were dried up from the earth
(Genesis 8: 8)

Noah is aware that, unlike the white dove, the black raven can survive by eating impure carrion that’s floating on the flood waters.

Many an artist, rebellious against orthodoxy, be influenced by Gnosticism. The lyrics of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan exhibit such an influence; in the following song, the black bird might well symbolize a lover who’s hindered from taking the first flight upwards towards ‘gnosis’:

The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and rainy
My love she's like some raven
At my window with a broken wing
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

And in the song below, the feathers of a nightingale, a symbol of virtue, are turned raven black:

She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo
A messenger arrived with a black nightingale
(Bob Dyan: Changing Of The Guards)

At least through Christian eyes, the raven, or black crow, becomes associated with bad luck rather than with the beginning of a spiritual journey:

Woke in the mornin', wanderin'
Weary and worn out ....
Black crows in the meadow
Across the broad highway
Though it's funny, honey
I don't feel much
I'm out of touch
With being a scarecrow today
(Bob Dylan: Black Crow Blues)

Bringing it all back home to:

Once upon a midnight dreary
While I pondered weak and weary ....
Open here I flung the shutter
When, with many a flirt and flutter
In there stepped a stately raven
Of the  saintly days of yore
(Edgar Alkan Poe: The Raven)

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