Darby is an 8 year-old girl from Seattle who at the age of 4 started leaving food for the crows in her backyard. When she was old enough to attend school she would break apart her sandwiches and leave a trail of crumbs behind her for the crows to gobble up. Naturally, she developed quite a following of the appreciative black birds. When she and her mother started placing food for the crows in a backyard tray, they were amazed by what happened next. The crows began leaving small objects and “shiny trinkets” on the tray in return. They left a button, a paperclip, a Lego block, an earring, small pieces of sea glass, a variety of beads and a pearl-colored heart. One day one of the crows returned the lens cap to her mother’s camera which she had previously misplaced on a photography outing. The bird even rinsed the cap in the birdbath before setting it aside for later discovery. (See a video of her story here.)
In his book, A Dictionary of Symbols, J. E. Cirlot summarizes the symbolism of crows across different cultures: Because of its black colour, the crow is associated with the idea of beginning (as expressed in such symbols as the maternal night, primigenial [original] darkness, the fertilizing earth). Because it is also associated with the atmosphere, it is a symbol for creative, demiurgic [world forming] power and for spiritual strength. Because of its flight, it is considered a messenger. And, in sum, the crow has been invested by many primitive peoples with far-reaching cosmic significance. Indeed, for the Red Indians of North America it is the great civilizer and the creator of the visible world. It has a similar meaning for the Celts and Germanic tribes, as well as in Siberia…In the classical cultures it no longer possesses such wide implications, but it does still contain certain mystic powers and in particular the ability to foresee the future…(p. 71)
In addition, crows are often associated with death—perhaps because they eat carrion—and with the trickster, as they are very clever animals. Taken as a whole, they represent a creature that serves as a go-between of the living and the dead, the conscious and the unconscious.
There is a Gnostic creation myth whose basic storyline goes something like this: Sophia, goddess of wisdom, wanted to possess a transcendent light she saw reflected upon the face of the newly-formed earth. She left her heavenly realm, descended to earth, and traveled to and fro over the unanimated land and seas trying to impart her spirit and light. But Sophia became weighed down in the heavy muck of unconscious matter. Her light particles became scattered and were devoured by matter. Not all was lost, however. Human beings eventually arose from the spirit-plowed soil. These primordial inhabitants were unconscious, moved solely by their bodily instincts and desires. The myth concludes with the idea that it is the task of every human being to mine and unearth Sophia’s scattered particles of light. In so doing, we would grow in consciousness and begin to reclaim and embody our deeper spiritual heritage and potential.
In this true story of Darby—the girl who feeds crows—we find a sweet metaphor for a psychological process that is available to all of us. The crows are autonomous, living beings like the psyche itself. The psyche is composed of both conscious and unconscious parts, and at its center is the Self, the creative and healing core of the total personality. The Self is the source of wisdom that transcends (goes beyond) our conscious mind, or ego. When we feed the Self—that is, when we give it our attention and respect—we are fed in return; we unearth luminous particles of consciousness. These are the little fragments of Sophia’s wisdom that reside at the core of your being, and the universe as well.
1) Cirlot, J. E. A Dictionary of Symbols. Philosophical Library: New York, 1971.