Raven Lore: Origin of Light

Bill Reid

According to the Native American legend told by many Pacific Northwest tribes, including the Inuit, “In the beginning the world was in total darkness.”

This is a common beginning to most creation stories, but this one has a twist.

The Raven, who had existed from the beginning of time, was tired of groping about and bumping into things in the dark.

One day the Raven came upon the mouth of a great river, where lived a chief and his only daughter. Through his slyness, the Raven learned that the old man had a great treasure. This treasure was All the Light in the Universe, contained in a tiny box concealed within many boxes. At once the Raven vowed to steal it.

He thought and thought, and finally came up with a plan.  He had watched the young woman go to the river to gather water every day. On this day, he waited for her in a nearby tree.  As she knealt to dip her water-skin into the river, he transformed himself into a pine needle and dropped himself into the river. Humming to herself under the stars, she never noticed him float gently into the basket.

Bob Patterson

As she drank, she swallowed the needle. It slipped and slithered down into her warm belly, where the Raven transformed himself again, this time into a tiny human. After sleeping and growing there for a very long time, at last the Raven emerged into the world once more, this time as a baby boy.

However, Raven was not a normal little boy. He had been born with a Raven’s beak. As he grew he was always after the treasure box, which his grandfather would never let him touch. Even though he had a rather strange appearance, the Raven’s grandfather loved him nontheless. Ravenchild begged and begged to be allowed to hold the light just for a moment.

In time, Raven’s mother yielded to his pleas and lifted from the box a warm and glowing sphere.

As the light was moving toward him, the human child transformed into his Raven form, wings spread ready for flight and beak open in anticipation. As the beautiful ball of light reached him, the Raven captured it in his beak!

Moving his powerful wings, he burst through the smoke-hole in the roof of the house, and escaped into the darkness with his stolen treasure.

He placed the ball into the sky, where the sun has been giving light to the world ever since.

Bill Reid

About the Artists:

The late and great Bill Reid spent his life confronting public opinion. The artist, who was of Haida and European descent, was largely credited with inspiring a Haida renaissance with his masterful works of art. Some viewed Reid as a curiosity ““ an artist who navigated his way through two dissimilar worlds. Others viewed him with a more cynical eye and criticized him as a mimic with manufactured ties to the Haida community

Bob Patterson worked on the linked series of twelve totemic paintings for over eighteen months after studying the art and legends of ancient, Northwest American tribes for over fifteen years. Through his study and masterful artistry, Patterson has created important work that accurately represents the ideas and cultural complexities of people believed to have lived in the area more than 35,000 years ago.

The ancient art that Patterson understands and so beautifully expresses through his paintings is quite complex.  The artist explains, “All things in the totemic world use forms and variations to connect, disconnect, and embellish their purpose.  Totem poles are not the original forms of their art.” Totem poles were used only for memories or to record events and sometimes were considered as poles showing debt.

Patterson further explains that ancient artisans would decorate a bowl with symbols to honor the animal that sacrificed its life to sustain the humans.  “Certain animals were assigned duties by a creator animal or bird. The ancients believed that everything had to be created and that all things that lived were called people. Salmon people, frog people and so on,” he explains.

The intricate designs in Patterson’s Totemic paintings are true to the important symbolism of the ancient people.  According to the artist the symbolic concepts and ancient beliefs can be somewhat esoteric, but important to understand in order to fully appreciate Totemic art.