A few years ago, I wanted to write a book about healing called, “The NATURE of Healing,” which would include nature and animal symbolism and practice in the healing journey. My publisher was not interested, as books about healing don’t tend to sell big unless you are Bernie Siegel or Depak Chopra. So, I put my idea away with this chapter I had written as a proposal. It has remained tucked into the dark recesses of my file drawer. I decided I would like to shed some light on it, and I offer it to you, here:
CROW MEDICINE: CRAFTING INTENTIONAL SPACE
“We are the tribe of the Crow. We gather treasure. We are looking for your jewels and shiny things, and we are seeking these glittering wonders for the lining of our sanctuaries.”—Conference participant, “Crow Tribe”
It has been seventeen years now since I occupied a bed in Seattle’s Swedish Hospital. For three days, I was attached to a maze of tubes, bottles, and suction machines that kept me tidy and medicated after my neck had been near-half removed in an attempt to halt the spread of metastatic head and neck cancer. Monitors beeped near my left ear like car alarms with weakening batteries. This was my second serious cancer surgery in a year…
Swedish Hospital was a lovely, but personally alien, environment. It was immaculately clean. My boyfriend joked that we could eat off the floor. The rooms were cookie-cutter identical, and several times I got myself completely turned around with a simple walk down the hall, blundering back into the wrong room. Only two objects identified my room as “mine.” One was a pretty vase of pink carnations, and the other was a goofy looking stuffed lamb that I kept on my pillow, and that the nurses kept referring to as my “monkey.”
Eleven dizzying stories up, however, I had a magnificent view of the Seattle skyline, and I spent nearly all my waking hours gazing out at it, especially during the long, hushed nights when my room was dark, the skyscrapers twinkled like Christmas lights, and I thought I would be dead in a year. I think now that it might have been the providence of that view that helped to save me. These days, I would call that view a piece of treasure. I am attracted to the outdoors, and having a view of it those few days helped to remind me that the four walls of my room were not the be-all-to-end-all of life. Out there, birds flew, city lights blossomed, clouds danced. Somewhere out there, it was just another lovely day, and life was not just a hope but a promise. The magnificent healing view was a piece of treasure gifted to me, not of my own making, but offered by the universe or God as an act of grace.
I did not know about Crow medicine back then. I did not know that I could have beckoned healing energy into my room to soothe me, simply by surrounding myself with my own precious treasure. I did not need to wait for the gift of flowers or a view. I could have stocked that room from floor to ceiling with treasures, and been the better for it. I could have chosen to turn those four walls into a sanctuary of sorts, a nesting place, a sacred space, a comfort. This is the wisdom of the crow.
Certain creatures are attracted to objects that have nothing to do with food. Crows and ravens and pack rats are all known to hurry off with “precious things” that have meaning known only to them. We have no idea why they do this. Gathering these seemingly useless items and making space for them is something that must be of importance in the evolutionary or spiritual scheme of things, or such a tendency would have long since been weeded out of the genes of these animals. But it remains to us a mystery, and in my own experience, mystery always shields a power or empowerment of some kind.
Crows are legendary for their collecting. They have an eye for what fascinates them, and when they find such a thing, they take it if they can. I found a crow stash once in a barn loft, and it was a delightful, mysterious jumble of sparkle and junk. Sorting softly through the pile of trash-treasure, I muttered to myself, “Jeez, what is so compelling about a piece of tinsel, a bottle cap, and a plastic Halloween glitter ring?” Crow whispers hoarsely that each soul has its unique definition of “precious.” Crows have become a symbol to me of the ancient need all humans have for sacred space and for sanctuary. Filling their lives with precious, magical bits and pieces of meaning, crows remind me that sanctuary is not just something we stumble upon when we are lucky, but something we can craft out of our own collection of treasure and meaning.
Years ago, I spent a wonderful spring day deep in the bustling heart of San Francisco. It was wonderful to be there in May, even if I was destined to spend most all of my day in a windowless conference hall. The topic of the workshop I was facilitating had to do with animals and healing. The whispering of the women rose up in the huge room like the drone of bees, the sound blending with the rustle of jackets coming off, purses sliding under chairs, shoes being stacked into corners.
For intimacy sake, I began as I often do by breaking the group up into smaller “tribes” where we could do more personal work. Together, we drew cards from the Animal Medicine Card deck, and named each tribe after an animal. We never take the drawing of these cards lightly, and we spent a hefty amount of time that day reflecting in our small tribes on the gifts of this particular “relative,” and the providence that drew each participant to this creature on this day.
Each tribe took itself seriously, but none as seriously as the twelve Crows, who took to snitching small glittering bobbles from many of the other women over the course of the day. So skilled at their treasure hunting were these crows that none of the other tribes even noticed the loss of watches, shiny pens, jacket pins, coins, and gold-threaded scarves until the end of the day when the crows fessed up and returned all the stolen booty. To the chorus of surprise and exclamations flitting around the room, the lead Crow responded, “We have enjoyed these treasures very much.” Her eyes sparkled with mischief as she returned one exceptionally gorgeous cobalt-blue silk scarf, “We will continue to search out treasures when we leave here today. We have learned that each of us reveals something to ourselves and others by what we call ‘treasure.’ We have learned that we can actually see ourselves reflected in the kind of treasures we love. We will always be crows now, and we will begin making our nests when we return home, because there is power in this.”
Personally, I cannot think of anything more unlike a crow’s nest than a medical setting. By their design, and by our cultural consent, hospitals and medical offices are too rarely comforting, inviting places. They are clean and sterile places. They are techno-marvel places. They are places with a very specific job to do. They are institutions that must consider the needs of many patients, and are dedicated to curing, fixing, stitching, bandaging, and testing. And our hospitals are the envy of much of the rest of the world. But the art of healing, of becoming whole, looks more like a crow’s nest than a hospital, and setting the stage for healing happens as much outside of a hospital—or more—as in it.
Crow wisdom is a vital piece of a medical journey, the critical piece about setting intentional space, both within and without, with one’s hands, mind, heart, and soul. Crow, with her black cloak of complete assurance offers us her wise counsel on the importance of surrounding ourselves with whatever mystery speaks uniquely to us. She tells us not to harken to any other voice but our own when it comes to choosing what is precious and meaningful to us. Crow does not care much for what other creatures make of their own nests. She is not a herd bird. She gathers the treasures that delight her and that reflect her own particular idiosyncrasies, and she is not the least bit apologetic about her fascination with this particular piece of a Corn Nuts bag, or that ring of tinfoil. She has faith in the power of her own unique treasure, and this is a powerful, powerful lesson for us.
Just like a beautifully set dining table creates the mood for our meal, like flowers and champagne conjure the magic of romance, the setting of intentional space is an important aspect of creating the psycho-spiritual ambience of our life. Understanding how deeply emotion—mood—can affect our brain chemicals and supercharge or muffle our inner healing system, we begin to see how powerful the act of creating space that nurtures, comforts, excites, and honors us can be. Crow gifts us with invaluable wisdom about the power of treasure-making in our physical space.
In the corner of my combination bedroom-office today, is my own “crow’s nest.” I call this my altar space, my meditation corner, my reflecting spot. I have been cultivating such a spot in every place I have lived for the past sixteen years. Sometimes, it has taken up entire rooms. Once, it was set in a large closet. At times, it has been only a small table in a quiet corner. Right now, it is set up on and around an old trunk that was given to me by a very old, wonderful crone-like neighbor of mine. I’ve refinished it, and the wood is burnished, warm, and inviting. Kitty-corner on the wall behind the trunk is a huge elk skull with enormous antlers, because Elk is a helping symbol to me for endurance and physical protection. This particular elk is special. I knew him when he lived, and when he died.
On one corner of the trunk is a round copper tray that holds a fist-sized bird’s nest made of mud and straw, filled with hand-fired glass and pottery beads, a spray of dried pink roses, and bone fragments from birds and mice—symbols of a very important dream I once had, and that I am still working with today. It helps me to have a seeable, touchable piece of this dream as I work with the meaning of it.
There are many other secret and precious treasures on that trunk, behind it, and tucked away beneath it. When I sit before this place mornings and evenings–or any time of the day I need to come back to my self—this small nest space of precious things reflects back to me all of who I am, who I would like to be, and who I am becoming.
Sitting in this corner, I am awash with peace and comfort and a sense of grace and promise. This intentional space has continued to evolve and change. I put away this or that piece of treasure and find new sparkling delights that reflect a me who is forever in motion. Over time, simply heading for this corner has created an automatic relaxation response in my body. My breath slows, my stomach softens, and my ever- tense jaw loosens a bit. I know that part of the goodness that happens to me when I visit my sacred corner is what I have brought to the intentional crafting of it, but part of it is in the alchemy of the treasures that rest there, too.
I know many other people who keep a sacred nest space for healing and reflection. A friend of mine who is battling prostate cancer currently spends a lot of his time in a camper. He has gathered a small corner of treasure in this tiny place, including a beautiful piece of purple cloth, candles, and leaves that symbolizes the color, spirit, and texture of healing. Another who is recreating her life from the ground up has dedicated half a room to small fountains, fairies, stones, animal figures, sacred staffs, feathers, and dream catchers.
This is what creating sacred space can do for you: It can provide a focus for your healing intention. It can evoke powers and blessings unique to your needs. It can jumpstart your body and brain chemicals on behalf of healing. New kinds of consciousness can rise up from it to teach and inform you. Such intentional space can help convert your medical crisis from a sense of hanging by one finger from a high limb, to rocking in a magic nest as the winds whirl around you. It can make the profane sacred.
On behalf of Crow, I ask you, is there a special place in your home that could reflect the mystery and the unique power of your healing journey? Is there a nesting space that you could line with your own treasure—precious things that awake your soul and your own sleeping healer? Is there a place where you could see reflected back to you a mandala of your wholeness? Come. Crow is “grawwccking” at you— ruffle your feathers and set to creating the power of sacred space.
What Crow Healing May Look Like:
- Create a small space—or many small spaces—in your home, in your office, or both, that holds “treasures” invoking healing for you: candles to represent the light of healing energy, pill bottles wrapped in gift paper to remind you of the gifts and goodness of medicine, a bowl of water to conjure the healing of inner cleansing, a beautiful leaf that speaks of healthy growth, incense and smudging herbs and plants or essential oils, the color green and a bundle of flowers. These are some of my “treasures.” What are yours?
- Bring into your medical/hospital appointments a secret “treasure” that can serve as a strengthening spirit for you, a kind of portable crow’s nest. I carry a small, white beaded pouch in my pocket that contains little pieces and symbols of my most powerful healing allies. A friend of mine battling cancer carries a small metal angel figurine in his pocket that fills him with a feeling of love and mystery and that he says “will carry me through this safely.” It might also be a necklace, a piece of treasured clothing, a poem.
- Offer your own treasure to a loved one or friend on the journey, something that evokes healing, and that holds your prayers for their good journey and recovery. Or keep your own sacred space in honor of your friend’s journey, and of your own role in it.
- Ask your friends to come over and create a crow’s nest with you. Creating such a space with whose who love you is a profound healing ritual all its own.
- Create “temporary nests” that serve to empower you for a particular process, test, appointment, assembled from treasure that represents this particular event.
- Get up your courage once you’ve created your space, and ask your special place what else it would like. You may discover instant thoughts of images of things that would empower this sacred space even more.
- If you or someone you love requires a hospital stay, put on your crow cloak and create a magic nest there. Bring the sounds, smells, images, and symbols of healing and craft a corner, a tray top, a chair top sacred corner. You will be bringing healing magic to all those who step foot in the room by bringing the gift of intention into the equation in this special way. And you will be remembered!
- Visit your sacred space often. I have even slept on the floor by mine when life gets especially stormy. It is a sanctuary.