Original artwork by Stacey Couch © 2022
The wisdom for the spiritual life that the fairytale “The Seven Ravens” teaches is:
- How to integrate your spiritual life into your daily life. It involves bringing the masculine and feminine into balance and experiencing all the sides of yourself and your life, including the hard parts. We all experience the pain of illness and loss. Suffering continues with burying the pain of loss.
- Entering into the mystery (raven symbolism) and unveiling this hidden pain brings healing. Entering into the fragility of life (the glass mountain) helps you find resilience and union. “The Seven Ravens” shows how you can set down the busyness of daily life, enter into the peace of the inner spiritual life, and then blend the two.
Watch Stacey Couch tell the story of “The Seven Ravens” here…
When We Get Too Busy for a Spiritual Life
In this tale we have a couple that has the blessing of not a few, but seven sons. Patriarchy values sons above all else. So why would these two seemingly humble parents bemoan the bounty of sons and wish for just one little girl? And what does this tell us about ourselves?
First of all, the sons represent the masculine principle, the yang force in the world. The masculine principle is associated with life outside the home, and the busyness of doing. It represents activity, productivity, and drive.
There are times in life when we can get caught up in our lives “out there”, away from home. When we have a number of creative irons in the fire and have a lot of work projects going, we have, in essence, manifested a lot of sons. Our identities become wrapped up in what we are doing and producing. We strive to perfect external, material displays of ourselves. There is nothing wrong with this unless, of course, it is out of balance. And, well, seven sons is quite a lot.
Do you have seven or more important work and/or volunteer projects going? How many interpersonal relationships are you building? If you are feeling over-extended and in need of some introvert time, you are like the parents longing for a sweet little girl.
Longing for the Feminine
The feminine principle represents receptivity, introversion, and the inner life. It values “non-doing” and practices simply “being”. With the feminine principle, the yin force, there is nothing to prove. We simply just are. It is a place of refuge and relaxation. Motivation and drive slip away and peace takes their place.
From this perspective it is easy to see the parent’s longing for a daughter in each of us when we say, “I need a break.” The longing for the little girl is symbolic of longing for the feminine principle, the soul’s way of telling us it’s time to slow down and turn inward.
As we ask, so we shall receive. The couple receives the blessing of a girl, but she is sickly and weak. This reminds me of the times I’m forced into rest because of an illness or injury. Sometimes a breakdown is the only way we feel okay giving ourselves permission to take a break and embrace the feminine principle of simply being.
Adopting a Spiritual Life
The number seven is a sacred number and shows up in nearly every religious tradition. There are seven chakras in Hinduism, seven sacraments in Catholicism, and seven heavens referred to in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The fact that there are seven boys turned into seven ravens points us to the fact that there’s something sacred happening in this tale.
At the baby girl’s baptism (the first of the seven Catholic sacraments), the brothers go to fetch the holy water. They want to help adopt her into the faith, but they can’t decide who should collect the water. They blunder by dropping the pitcher into the well.
The feminine principle calls for us to adopt the inner, quiet contemplative life. As we look to baptize ourselves into a spiritual life, we try to make this another thing to perfect, strive for, and “do”. We muck it up and fumble around.
Collecting holy water is symbolic of gathering spiritual guidance. This is not something we can do with our intellect and in a competitive way. There is no “right way” to connect with the Divine. This confuses the masculine principle that needs a single direction of focus. We take too long and get frustrated with ourselves for not doing rest and relaxation correctly. We become the father cursing the sons.
Symbolism of Ravens
Why does the father wish his pesky boys would turn into ravens? What wisdom does this choice of curses have for the soul?
The father’s call on the spirit of ravens is an intuitive slip of the tongue, and exactly the kind of trickster medicine that is needed. Ravens are tricksters that turn everything on its head. When the father curses his sons, he’s inverting his family.
This happens to us when we realize how crazy busy our lives are and decide it’s out of balance. We tend to over-correct and go to the other extreme. In the draw to the interior life and the desire to be more spiritual, we become instant introverts.
While an extreme life of solitude can and does help for a time, it is not sustainable. We see this in how the little girl starts going out and listening to what other people have to say. She has a feeling there is something missing.
Initiation into the Family Shadow
In town she hears some women gossip about her having brothers. Here enters another aspect of raven spirit animal’s magic – the shadow. In this case, it’s an initiation into the family’s shadow. When we take time out for self- and life-reflection we often find secrets about ourselves that we were trying not to face. In raven’s ability to navigate the unconscious, underworld, and mystery, they can help show us what is hidden.
This leads to another sacrament – confession. The parents confess the story to their daughter and now she has a heavy conscience she must absolve. She must bring her brothers home. On a soul level, we realize that we’ve left the world for too long and neglected the call to serve and make the world a better place. The only way to fully embrace a spiritual life is to live it. We re-enter the world and seek out the brothers again.
Moving from Duality to Multiplicity
Every time I work with fairytales as sources of wisdom for the soul, I remember to look at every person, image and symbol of the story as an aspect of me. That means that I have the father, mother, daughter, sons, ravens, sun, moon, and stars in me.
When the girl leaves home and travels first to the sun and moon for directions, she is seeking higher guidance. When we discover that our parents have limits in the problems they can solve, we seek answers from greater sources. We stop looking to our familial and cultural conditioning for answers.
The thing is that we can cannot solve this problem from a dual mindset. Neither the masculine sun or feminine moon can help her. The stars have the multiple perspectives needed to reveal the path ahead.
This is not an either/or, good/bad scenario. A truly soulful approach goes beyond duality and accepts that there is no “right” way to integrate the inner and outer life. To live ensouled is to accept multiplicity and a world that is not so black and white. And, it presents confusing images like a chicken leg that’s a key.
Chicken Spirit Guide
Why in the world does the morning star give the girl a chicken leg? How is this the key to freeing her brothers?
I just can’t shake the feeling that the chicken leg is more than an inanimate object. In shamanic tradition, carrying a piece of an animal helps us connect with the spirit of that animal. The stars are giving her a guardian for the journey in the form of a chicken spirit animal.
Chicken symbolism contains the protection of the mother hen. She incubates her eggs and guards her clutch of chicks. Hen spirit animal is connected with creativity, brooding over creative projects, and hatching new ideas. The girl receives help in learning how to think for herself in many different ways.
On the spiritual path, we often find a teacher, a mother hen, to follow around for a time. We rely on her ability to hatch new ideas, but eventually need to integrate the creative potential into our own being.
The Finger as Key
Chicken spirit animal can only help so long. Eventually, the girl must have her flesh in the game. She must sacrifice a part of herself. The definition of sacrifice is “an offering”. It is a way to make something sacred. By giving up a finger she consecrates her quest.
It’s important not to take this part of the story literally. We are not meant to hack off our own fingers on the spiritual path – thank goodness. Fingers symbolize dexterity in how we handle delicate situations. They allow us to grasp and point.
Sacrificing a finger is symbolic of giving up our need to manage (grasp) and know (point to) everything. On the spiritual path, we cannot solve everything with the intellect. Many things are non-rational, ungraspable. To embrace this truth is to gain entry under the mountain and grow closer to our goal.
The Glass Mountain
Now we come to the last perplexing symbol in this story. The glass mountain. I wonder. Is this a transparent, glass cone? Is it a mound of broken glass?
There are other fairytales where the insurmountable glass mountain is the endpoint. How curious that this is a recurring theme.
Mountains loom large. They are obstacles in our path, ladders to the heavens, and keepers of great treasures at their heart. We speak of having “mountains” of work to do when overwhelm hits.
Here, the girl must gain entry into the mountain rather than passage over it. She goes inward rather than up to find the masters of the skies, the ravens.
This speaks of getting to the heart of the matter. What is the matter here? Fragility and pain. Glass shatters. Shards of broken glass cut swift and deep. Resolution for the soul comes by first looking through the glass and then going into the heart of our fragile lives. Right when everything is great and going smoothly, it all falls apart. The sons are lost and girl is alone.
Wisdom for the soul teaches us that life is fragile and it hurts. By finding the courage to enter into our own vulnerability, we find our strength rooted deep like a mountain.
Union of Daily Life and Spiritual Life
Another repeating pattern in fairytales is that of the ring dropped into the glass. When the lost party finds the ring, the separation ends and union occurs. A cup is a vessel, a container for experience. With the journey to the glass mountain, the girl has gained the capacity to hold the fullness of her experience. Her inner vessel, inner space, has grown to hold the full spectrum of sorrow to joy. The brothers too, in their time as ravens, have grown in their capacity to hold mystery. The circle of the ring brings this all together.
For us in the spiritual life, the fragments of our selves come together. Our inner and outer lives, still and busy selves, unite within the never-ending circle of our souls.
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You can read the The Seven Ravens by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm here: https://sites.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm025.html
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch is a Spiritual Teacher who specializes in shamanism, inter-spirituality, archetypes, and symbolism. She supports soul pioneers - those of you who are learning as you go along the spiritual path. She works with beginner and life-long spiritual seekers. Through working with Stacey, lost seekers find their way home and professional spiritual guides receive mentorship. Stacey empowers people with the ability to explore their purpose and calling. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.