Crows and ravens have always been a part of my personal mythology. In the Mythic Yoga Retreats I held in Colorado, we made masks and shields and wands. Mine always contained a crow.
Maybe because I spent 38 years in Colorado and loved the Native American reverence for nature and the earth.
Their mythology is so rich, and the North West Native Americans have their trickster Raven and its many wonderful stories, including Raven Brings the Light, (a similar motif to Japan’s Amaterasu) I made into a Storytime Yoga Kids Yoga Story Kit to celebrate the winter solstice.
Living in Japan I loved the sound of the crows, be it enclosed in the womb of Meiji Shrine’s glorious woods, the crows’ caws crowding Osaka’s skyline or in a distant lone cry from a street light or Shinto shrine, crows awakened me to something deep within.
I recall mornings from our Nagaranishi home and wrote this haiku —
first, the sound of crows
then, the train clattering by—
morning light rises
It was while walking the Kumano Kodo that my Sensei Nakamura-San first told me about the three-legged crow 八咫烏 Yatagarasu that is mythologically important to Japan and Shinto
Images of Yatagarasu were everywhere when we arrived at the entrance of Kumano Hongu Taisha Shinto Shrine, where we began this first leg of the journey.
Crows are associated with the sun and first appeared as a messenger of Amaterasu and are considered divine intervention. .
Yatagarasu means “eight-span crow,” and legend has it that it guided a man named Jimmu, who was a direct ancestor of Amaterasu, when he was lost on what would become the Kumano Kodo.
Yatagarasu led him through the Kii Mountains to the Yamato Plain, or modern-day Nara, and Jimmu became the first emperor of Japan.
Japan was then known as its native Yamato before it became Nihon, land of the rising sun.
Being guided by is similar to the legend about Kūkai when he founded the Inukai Mountain Hohonen Temple in Nara.
He encountered a red-faced hunter whose two dogs, one white and one black, led him to the location where he established the temple. The dogs are rendered in sculptures at the Nijokariba Akira Shrine on the site.
A rather nice origin story for a country, considering what I learned in American school about our country’s origin was Manifest Destiny and white men murdering Native Peoples and buffalo and stealing land. Heavy sigh.
I like making pilgrimages to places like Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine instead!
Kamigamo Jinja in Kyoto claims its founding kami was none other than yatagarasu, the three-legged crow of Kojiki mythology, explains John Dougill, whom I know from Writers in Kyoto and runs the fabulous Green Shinto website.
Indeed, he continues, the Crow Clan is a common feature of shamanic cultures, based on the shaman’s flight into the spirit world and an acknowledgement of the animal nature of humans – an instinctual understanding of evolution, you might say.
For me personally, the myth resonates with the inner vision – the third eye – three legs on a crow – that intuitive light of the spirit that guides us where it is birthed from that singular solar sun.
Same thing with Kukai’s duality dogs – one black and one white – that unity of opposites guide us to that singular space of inner real estate and spiritual union that’s waiting for us to find it.
Crow lives on inside me. Now as Yatagarasu, the universe sends divine guidance in these modern, troubled times whose caw takes me to that primordial place of transcendence to find my way back to the sun, back to singularity, home, and the peace of no-mind, just pure bliss of knowing one’s unity with nature, awareness and being.
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