The Winter Crow

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Brigit's Crow_0001

There was once a mad, bad, white, winter crow so impertinent and insolent and filled with such insouciance that nothing could humble him. Tiring at last of his disruptive nonsense, the Goddess Brigit set out to enchant him and he fell in love, promising anything for just one kiss.  Brigit, binding him with his own words, made him messenger to the gods.  From that day forth he flew back and forth between worlds, diving into the Below, soaring into the Above visiting the abodes of gods, elementals, angels, djinns and humans; observing innumerable acts of kindness, greed, compassion, love and terror.  At first his own feelings bewildered him – rage, pity and mirth cracked his heart open; tears of laughter, grief and frustration moistened it and caused it to soften and expand.  Gradually, Brigit, keeping her side of the bargain, tamed his feral spirit until he began to take pride in his job, venturing now and then beyond the strictly necessary to work his own magic on situations and circumstances in order to better the conditions of the beings he encountered on his errands.

Usually, the crow flew home to Brigit on Solstice night to celebrate the Return of the Light with her and all the other animals.  Deep within the forest they gathered in a grove of evergreens to sing and chant, honoring the Darkness, praising the Light; celebrating the mystery of Life and Death.  Over the years, humans had heard rumors of these rites. They had begun to imitate them, or at least the way they imagined them to be, by cutting living branches and taking them into their own homes to decorate with nuts and berries; making up their own songs and ceremonies for they, too, recognized the turning of the wheel of the year and wished to honor it.

This year was a special year, one of the rare times when the full moon coincided with Solstice, illuminating the longest night with her magical light. The crow was late and tired, but as he flew through the forest, determined not to be late to the convocation, his concentration was interrupted  by an oddly sorrowful creaking.

“It’s only the wind rubbing against the bare branches of that sleeping oak,” he thought, though it sounded like something crying. He flew on, but the sad sound followed him. Giving a weary sigh, he circled back and landed on a branch.

“You’re supposed to be asleep. Why aren’t you sleeping?” asked the crow.

“I’m lonely,” wailed the tree.  “My branches are bare. The people who love me in the summer for my delicious shade have gone inside, taking the evergreens with them, leaving me alone.  The evergreens are wearing the ribbons maidens wind around my trunk in May!  They are cradling beautiful red apples their needled branches never bore and flaunting the many nuts my cousins and I worked so hard to grow while I must stand here with only the cold North Wind for company, too far from the Brigit’s congregation to hear the singing!”

The crow shifted impatiently on the branch waiting for the tale of woe to subside.

“Everything has a place and a season and a purpose, “he explained, reasonably.

“But it’s not fair,” groaned the tree.

“Nothing’s fair,” thought the crow crossly. “It’s not how things work.”

A faint vibration ruffled the crow’s feathers – a padding of paws, a fluttering of wings as animals began to gather deep in the heart of the forest.  Suddenly he felt sorry for the poor silly tree; rooted in place; tossing and turning its branches; fretfully awake while his brother and sister trees dreamed sweetly of summer and the rest of the world celebrated.

“Listen,” he said suddenly.  “I’ll tell you a secret I’m not supposed to talk about.”

He dropped his harsh caw to a croaking whisper.

“The animals aren’t the only ones that sing tonight. All the planets join in and the stars keep them company.  If you are very still and quiet, you might hear them. The stars are good fellows, always ready to share a lark and a laugh.  They owe me a favor.  So stay very quiet.  No more moaning!  I’m going now, but be patient. Keep very still and wait to see what happens!”

Giving a jump he flew straight up the sky and circled the stars muttering a little rhyme.

                                                                              Little Stars, come settle down

                                                                              Upon these branches bare

                                                                              Glimmer soft this solstice night

                                                                              And pretty twinkles share.

One by one the stars dropped softly down, clinging to the tangled branches of the bare tree.  The Earth had begun to hum and the stars sang along in a sweet shrill counterpoint, voices rising to join the solar song.  The tree stood straight and tall, all his grievances forgotten, shivering with pleasure and delight; hung with a thousand points of lovely light.

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