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.
Copyright © Andy Drymalski, Ed.D. Excerpts may be used provided full and clear credit is given author with link to original article.
How do you feed the Self? How do you give it attention and respect?
You feed the Self and give it attention when you try to understand your dreams; learn from them; contemplate their images. You feed the Self when you explore the synchronicities in your life, look at the things that happen to you symbolically, as having a meaning and guidance for your life path. You feed the Self when you acknowledge the reality of the unconscious and make an effort to know it better, such as by reflecting on why you are attracted to certain things, ideas, or people. You feed the Self When you reflect on the ways you project aspects of your own personality on other people, for better and for worse. All of these things involve an inward turning–contemplation, reflection–to know yourself better and to hear that “small voice within.” Journaling, spontaneous painting, drawing, writing, dancing, or singing are all also ways to connect with your deeper self, creativity, feelings and emotions. You show the Self respect when you turn to it as your teacher and as wiser than you, which it always is.
Thanks for sharing this interesting story and the symbolism of girl feeding crows. Are you positive that the girls name is Darby? It sounds like it is the same story that BBC reports here, on a girl named Gabi:
It’s also interesting that in the Hebrew tradition, the prophet Elijah was fed by Ravens. The transfiguration would also link this to the Christian Epoch, and John the Baptist was a wildman much like Elijah, eating locusts, honey, and girded with a camel’s cloth…
I Kings 17 [KJV]
4 And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.
5 So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.
6 And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook.
7 And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.
Naturally, Ravens and Crows are very similar birds with similar symbolism. So it looks like there is something rather deep with them in connection to food/ nourishment. I just read about the “particles of light” last week in the book “Forbidden Faith,” in the chapter on the Manichean religion. It fascinates me that Augustine of Hippo was a Manichean before converting to Christianity. I am not sure I agree with the Gnostic’s view of matter… it seems that Augustine borrowed the asceticism of the Manicheans and made it a pillar in the Christian epoch as well. These attitudes of matter and sex seem closely related and it is hard for me to not imagine that it is all rooted in their own personal sexual frustrations. Nourishment and food, after all, despite all their symbolic meaning, is squarely rooted in the world of matter and of biological growth and sustenance. And what to make of the connection of sex and food in the story of the Woman and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden?
Do you know if the symbolism of Crows/Ravens is employed much in the Gnostic legacy? Is it their color of black that makes the linkage? Why does Cirlot reference the demiurge?
Thanks for the new link to the video. I guess I misheard the name of the little girl as Darby. Gabi is correct. Thanks for the information and your helpful amplifications on the symbolism of crows gleaned from the bible!