The Black Raven or Black Crow. In the Seven Golden Chapters of Hermes Trismegistus, Hermes teaches in Chapter I, fourth paragraph:
"Now the chief principle of the art is the crow, which in the blackness of the night, and clearness of the day flies without wings."1
Again, because of its importance, Hermes begins Chapter V:
"My son, that which is born of the crow is the beginning of this art."2
The Philosophic Research Society in California presented a photographic reprint of the Altona manuscript of The Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians. Within is a vocabulary of occult terms. Under Raven it states: "A symbol for a certain occult power." While vague, the definition does hint a truth if we dig deeper into other sources. In the chapter ‘Fishes, Insects, Animals, Reptiles and Birds’ of Manly P. Hall's Secret Teachings of All Ages, this hint becomes a little clearer:
"Because of its blackness the crow was the symbol of chaos or the chaotic darkness preceding the light of creation."3
These two quotations reckoned together point to one direction for a Qabalistic Alchemist. A "certain occult power of chaotic darkness preceding light" is Binah on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. Binah, colored black on The Tree, is the dark constriction of the black, Limitless Light, prior to ‘bursting forth into day,’ which Qabalists symbolize by expansive Jupiter and the fourth sphere, Chesed.
The black of a Raven is a shiny, iridescent blue-black, an indigo. This shade of darkness is assigned to Saturn, and the thirty-second path. Due to its suggestion of a constricting, limiting influence, Saturn is also attached to Binah, the sphere of Anima Mundi (see same). Finally, also attributed to the third Sephirah is Neshamah, the Divine Soul of collective humanity, wherein say Qabalists, resides Intuition, "a chief principle that flies without wings." Corvus Niger by Latin gematria totals 136. Deus Trinus, the Three God or Triune God, sums the same. Three-Gods-in-One (One God with Three Divine Persons, and the Three Faces of God familiar to various western exoteric religions) is always equated Qabalisitcally by the Three Supernals on the Tree: Kether, Chokmah and Binah. In the language of alchemy these are Mercury, Sulphur and Salt. The Three-in-One is the beginning and end of the whole work. Corvus Niger has also been called ‘the door of the art,’ and in this sense the Three Superiors are exactly that, the chaotic darkness through which light substance emerges. Individually it is our intuition that guides us through this Art of Transmutation. The Divine Soul is a double-acting door in this work, either preceding cycles of downward and outward manifestation, or initiating The Great Work on the Path of Return through Alchemical Art.
The Triune God, concentrated in the third sphere, Binah, preceding involution and evolution, is symbolized by the alchemical glyph of a Black Raven. The Black Crow symbol is not limited to mere European alchemical traditions. The Northwest American Indians, whose influences stretched from the coastal regions of Oregon through Canada and into Alaska, have a creation story with the same Crow in their mythology. In the cultural museum of Victoria, British Columbia, sculptor-artist, Bill Reid, represented the Indian myth with a huge wood sculpture titled, ‘The Raven and The First Men.’ Portrayed is a Raven standing upon a large, slightly opened clam shell. From within, five human figures from youth to old age appear to be simultaneously climbing out from and back into the darkness of the shell. The sheer size and beauty of the sculpture are arresting, visually and by implication. The Divine Soul, Corvus Niger, plunges into the Sea of Manifestation, represented by the clam shell. Through the evolution of higher and finer organisms into genus homo sapiens sapiens, we continue to seek our source, back and within. This mythology from the northwest coast is not accidentally similar to that of Europe. Universal pictorial symbolism is revealed to the truly wise, intuitively, in any culture regardless time or geography.
Readers of Carlos Castaneda's books are certainly familiar with the Crows therein. I am sure those who have read, or now reread, those works were aware of the crows in their lives while reading those books. In Yaqui knowledge they were neither ominous of beneficent nor malevolent works; just existence of another reality offering agreement or disagreement from the universe. They served as reminders from whence all began. In agreement, Madame H.P. Blavatsky elucidates in The Secret Doctrine:
"Darkness is always associated with this first symbol and surrounds it, -as shown in the Hindu, the Egyptian, the Chaldeo-Hebrew and even the Scandinavian systems- hence black ravens, black doves, black waters and even black flames; the seventh tongue of Agni, the fire-god being called "Kali, the black," as it was a black flickering flame. Two black doves flew from Egypt and settling on the oaks of Dodona, gave their names to the Grecian gods. Noah lets out a black raven after the deluge, which is a symbol for the Cosmic pralaya, after which began the real creation of evolution of our earth and humanity. Odin's black ravens fluttered around Goddess Saga and "whispered to her of the past and of the future." What is the real meaning of all those black birds? They are all connected with the primeval wisdom, which flows out of the pre-cosmic source of all, symbolized by the Head, the Circle, the Egg; and they all have an identical meaning and relate to the primordial Archetypal Man (Adam Kadmon) the creative origin of all things, which is composed of the Host of Cosmic Powers - the Creative Dhyan-Chohans, beyond which all is darkness."4
1 Trismegistus, Hermes, Seven Golden Chapters. Edmonds, WA: Alchemical Press, 1988, pg. 4.
2 Ibid., pg. 10.
3 Hall, Manly Palmer, The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1977, pg. 89.
4 Blavatsky, Helena P., The Secret Doctrine. Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1974, Vol II, pg. 443.