#25 “The Seven Ravens”
Analysis and Commentary
by Lois E. Wilkins, PhD, APRN
The language of numerology is brought into the tale by the number Seven (7) in the title. Seven indicates completion and accomplishments well done. Ravens are birds that throughout history, in various myths and folklore, have often been presented as messengers from the gods between the worlds of life and death. Their messages can be either positive or ominous. From this title, we know the tale is focused on fulfillment and an array of messages.
The Initial Paragraph
In the first paragraph, we learn of a father who, although he has seven sons, wishes that he had a daughter. His wife does finally gives birth to a daughter, but because the baby is small, weak, and sickly her parents believe she must have an emergency baptism. He sends one of his sons to fetch the baptismal water and the other six brothers run along with him. Disaster occurs when all the brothers, fighting over the bucket, cause it to fall into the well. The boys, knowing they have failed their sister and disappointed their parents, are afraid and do not dare to return home.
Awaiting their return, the impatient father fears the daughter will die and laments, “Certainly, they have again forgotten it over a game, the godless boys.” In his fear and anger, he cries out, “I wish that the boys would all turn into ravens.” His wish is granted. In fact, the Father has two (2) wishes granted in this first paragraph: one for good, to have a daughter; and one for ill, to turn his seven sons into ravens.
From the first paragraph, the movement of this tale involves magic/enchantment. The father is unaware of the power in his words. The movement is from the masculine toward the healthy feminine. Initially, we are introduced to a small, weak, sickly baby girl, alerting us that the feminine is going to have to show a large presence, gain strength, and become well. We also know that the emotions of anger, fear, and anxiety permeate this family system. We know this by the behavior of the father and his seven sons. Both the father and mother are anxious about the wellbeing of the newborn daughter and their ability to protect her.
The Parents, having long wished for a daughter and finally, after seven sons, having their wish granted, demonstrate fear and anxiety. We will learn that these emotions of fear and anxiety have contaminated their sons. This is not uncommon, psychologically, for the emotional atmosphere in the home to play out in the children. Magical thinking is a defense mechanism used by the father when, out of his fear and anger, he wishes for his sons to be turned into ravens. The reality that the magical thinking results in a powerful enchantment leaves both parents regretful and sad. They are somewhat comforted by the attention they can bestow on their now healthy, beautiful daughter.
Not wanting to burden their daughter with the story of the misfortune of her seven brothers, the parents decide to keep them a secret and not even let her know she has seven brothers. The parents, when confronted by their daughter, learn that she overheard people talking about her seven brothers. They then confess, claiming their deception around a disaster from heaven, with the daughter’s birth being an innocent cause.
The Seven (7) sons act as a collective unit and in being assigned to the fetching of the baptismal waters demonstrate a rather pagan irreverence to Christianity. Although the father sends one of the boys to get the baptismal water from the well, the other six (6) boys run along with him. In their competitive play, they end up losing the bucket into the well; this failure to bring the baptismal waters to their baby sister causes them anxiety and fear over what they believe will be her certain death and damnation to hell. Immobilized by their collective fear and anxiety, they do not return home. When the boys did not return home, their father’s fear, anger, and anxiety is compounded. In his tumult, he utters an enchantment, wishing his sons to be turned into ravens, as he now believes they are godless. His wish is granted; they are turned into seven ravens and fly up and away.
Ravens, according to Greek mythology, are associated with Apollo, the god of prophecy and, as such, bring messages, both good and bad. They are seen as the messengers from the gods to earthly mortals. Raven symbolism, according to depth psychology, is a representation of the shadow aspects of the self that are unknown to consciousness. Also, they represent the bird of death and the afterworld. Woton, the pagan god, often referenced as Odin or a Sun God, had two ravens associated with him, Huginn and Mininn, representing thought and memory.
The ravens in our tale force the parents to see and begin the process of communicating with unknown parts of themselves. The boys, until they were turned into ravens, were acting as collective extensions of the father’s desires. Once the father’s anger, fears, and anxieties gave voice to seeing the godless aspects of his boys, the portal was opened for him to acknowledge his darker side. Raven symbolism promotes communication with both sides of ourselves. Unconsciously, the father was calling on the energy of the ravens to promote communication between the light and dark sides of himself. In other words, from the consistent unveiling of inner depth, the positive impulses of bringing light into the darkness was made manifest.
The Daughter entered this family system, after her seven brothers, as small, thin, and weak. Her frailty frightened the family, so much so that it was believed she would not survive for long and, therefore, was in need of an emergency baptism. This tells us that she was born into a God-fearing family.
As she grows in health and beauty, her parents are careful to never make mention of her brothers. When she learns from overhearing townspeople talking about her that they think she must feel guilty over the misfortune of her seven brothers, she becomes distressed and confronts her parents. Although her parents can no longer keep the secret of her brothers from her, they do frame the incident as “…a disaster from heaven and that her birth had only been the innocent cause.”
As her guilt bothers her daily, she grows to believe she will have to save her brothers again. Her first act of saving her brothers is to reclaim her them into the family system by forcing her parents to speak of them. To save them for a second time, she must find a way to release them from the curse and bring them back into the family system. Therefore, she must secretly be on her way to find her brothers and set them free of the enchantment—at all costs.
For her journey, she takes four items, “…a little ring from her parents as a memento of them, a loaf of bread for her hunger, a pitcher of water for her thirst, and a little stool for her fatigue.” On her journey to the end of the world, she encounters the hostile sun and moon and the helpful stars, the most helpful being the morning star, which gives her instructions of how and where she can find her brothers. Having established destiny’s path with the assistance of the morning star, she continues on her journey to reclaim her brothers.
In our tale, The Sun represents the archetypal negative energy found in the father. Living out of ignorance, as he is unaware of his dual nature, he unknowingly and without consciousness brings about the enchanted curse that changes the boys into ravens. Not surprisingly, after reaching the end of the earth, our heroine approaches the Sun, discovering it is “too hot and terrifying and ate little children.” Discovering the Sun as the negative archetypal father in his punitive, frightening, and angry behaviors, she experiences greater fear and anxiety.
Likewise, The Moon represents the archetypal negative energy found in her mother. Her mother’s ignorance of her own dual nature is expressed by her cold, non-engaging relationship with her daughter. Potentially, a fused relationship is represented here, as there is no separateness from the mother’s desires and what she projects onto her daughter. Psychologically, we know this dynamic of relationship fusion forces the daughter to carry out her journey in secret. This secrecy is necessaryin order for the daughter to begin her journey of individuation. By withholding defining aspects of her daughter’s life from her, unable to mirror healthy separation between the mother and daughter, the townspeople (collective) bring awareness of those unknown aspects of life to the daughter. The Moon mirrored this negative archetypal mothering dynamic by being “entirely too cold and also horrible and evil, and when it noticed the child, it said, ‘I smell human flesh.’” Here, in the desire to eat the daughter, is an example of the devouring mother, unable to separate from her daughter.
The Stars and their Little Chairs provide new potential for our heroine on her secret journey. Our heroine has had to travel to the ends of the earth, to the Sun and the Moon, before she can find the positive mirroring provided by the Stars sitting on their Little Chairs. The Stars, like the little girl, have their Little Chairs. Too long, this relationship with positive mirroring has been out of our heroine’s reach. Now, on her secret journey, her soul’s journey, a journey only she can take, the positive mirroring happens. Often, in depth psychology, individuals are referred to as a “universe unto themselves,” as are the universes assigned to each Star. The Stars and their Little Chairsprovide new self-reflections that, until now, has been out of the reach of our heroine.
Venus is a planet and, as such, a representative of feminine energy. Commonly, Venus is referred to as the Morning Star because of its brightness. The (Dwarf) Morning Star, a planet,is a powerful catalyst for the success of our heroine’s journey. Later, under “Symbolism,” we will learn the significance of my assignment of a “Dwarf” to the Morning Star in our tale. With the morning star, we have an encounter with the positive archetypal feminine, as it provides our heroine with direction and instruction, while giving her the entrance key to the glass mountain that holds her brothers. The key, in the form of the drumstick, will allow for her entrance into the glass mountain.
The Dwarf guards the entrance to the glass mountain, and he provides for the wellbeing of the ravens. He does this by acting as their host and caretaker in this realm of base, instinctual, non-human existence of the brothers—as ravens.
A Wish is distinguished from a prayer in this manner. A prayer can be experienced as a collapse of personal power toward an external benefactor. Furthermore, prayer is a reach toward an energy outside most individuals, releasing the outcome to an external entity. On the other hand, a Wish is generated from within the individual’s egocentric (personal) desires that will make manifest deeply personal outcomes. Wishful thinking is a defense mechanism, overriding logical conclusions. In our tale, the belief that their daughter would never learn of her brothers’ existence gives us an example of the parents’ wishful thinking.
There are three wishes granted. The first is from the father to have a daughter. The second is that the boys would become Ravens and, as such, due to the unconscious nature of this wish, became a curse and an enchantment that could not be undone. The third wish is granted when the seventh brother proclaims, “God grant that our little sister were here. Thus we would be saved.” With their sister’s emergence of from behind the door, all seven ravens regain their human forms as men.
When a personal desire (Wish) finds the wisdom of the importance of reigning in the external benefactor (Creator), the opportunity for living out of co-creation manifests. This is further explored under the section on spirituality.
Although a Curse is a deliberate, conscious action of a spell, psychologically, a projection can act on a person much like a spell. An example of a Curse would be the pricking of Snow White’s finger. It was a deliberate Curse; it had a specific intention—to put Snow White to sleep. The Curse had a deliberate, predetermined outcome. A conscious Curse can be overturned when specific criteria are mastered, as in “Snow White,” when she is kissed by the prince who was unaware that his kiss would reverse the Curse.
An Enchantment is more of a buffoonery, as in our tale, where the father in his unconscious lamentations, enchants his sons into becoming Ravens. An Enchantment, according to our tale, is overcome by the conscious intention of our heroine to overturn it and reclaim her brothers.
Psychologically, the significance of Secrets in all fairy tales is that they exist in the realm of the unconscious. In depth psychology, the never-ending quest toward more and more consciousness provides relevance for the study of fairy tales. Fairy tales, once analyzed psychologically, offer portals for moving the unconscious into consciousness. The identification of projections (unconscious) is a technique required in the analysis of fairy tales, which promotes opportunities to move such projections into awareness (consciousness).
There are three examples of Secrets, in our tale, originating in the parents and in the daughter. Secrets become exposed by the light of consciousness. When the father is forced to acknowledge his buffoonery (unconscious intentions), causing the enchantment of his sons by turning them into ravens, our first Secret is revealed. The main desire shared between the parents was to keep the existence of the brothers from their daughter. Both parents, now aware that they cannot reverse the enchantment, must begin the process of recognizing hidden, secret desires lurking within them. Their desire, in this second Secret, was to protect their daughter and also themselves from guilt which the parents and the townspeople projected onto the daughter. The third Secret is exposed when the daughter sets out on her Secret journey to reclaim her brothers and return them to the family system. In her illustration, Anna Leamon depicts the cloaked sister on the path to the glass mountain. This silhouette of the dark, cloaked figure mimics the seven ravens in her illustration, emphasizing the veil of secrecy claimed by the daughter/little sister. The daughter/little sister’s need to be secret about her journey demonstrates the psychological need to bring forth, from the unconscious, attributes to the family system. Once in the realm of consciousness, these heretofore secrets manifest the ability of the family to consciously evolve.
The Emergency Baptism alerts the astute reader to the urgency this family feels in relationship to protecting the newly found feminine—the birth of the daughter. Unconsciously, the father recognizes his helpless and hopeless influence over the wellbeing of the feminine, which he perceives as small, thin, and weak.
From depth psychology and alchemy, we know that the masculine is in constant pursuit to find relationship with the feminine. This long-held desire of the father in our tale amplifies this psychological truth. It is not without precedence for the masculine, when confronted with the feminine, to perceive it as “small, thin, and weak.” The fact that our heroine, the daughter/little sister, does not die without receiving the baptismal waters and, in fact, grows each day in beauty and strength, indicates how unaware the family is about the stronger aspects of the feminine. These aspects of the feminine are contrasted with the mother in this way: The mother, perhaps due to her overabundance of masculine demands, in caring for her husband and seven sons, has limited ability to be in touch with her own desires and only primitive influences cleaning and feeding for her husband and sons. On the other hand, the demands on the daughter remain closer to the divine, as we see by her ability to go on her secret journey. Her destiny is unknown to her until the revelation that she has seven brothers.
The father’s lament for a daughter emphasizes the psychological need for him to have a more in-depth relationship with the feminine. What is initially perceived as small, thin, and weak, carries the projections of fears related to inadequacies of nurturing the evolving feminine.
The Bucket from our tale is at first, a symbol of hope for the containment of the baptismal waters. Due to the collective mass behavior of the seven sons, its function as a container is lost, no longer available. Psychologically, when containment is lost or broken, the transformational process is thwarted. In alchemy the container has the capacity to either promote or retard transformation. In our tale, the townspeople contain the sons by holding them in awareness and by bringing awareness of their existence to the little sister. This containment is held until the little sister is ready to begin her and, ultimately, the brothers’ transformational journeys.
The Ring—a symbol of infinity, wholeness, and destiny—finds it way into our tale by the daughter’s choice to take it from her parents as a reminder of them for herself and her brothers. The destiny of the family system is in the hands of the daughter as she goes on her secret journey. When the last brother, the seventh (7th) brother, drinks from his little tumbler, the ring, which little sister has dropped into it—rolls toward him. He recognizes this ring as one belonging to his parents, and exclaims: “God grant that our little sister were here. Thus we would be saved.” The destiny of reuniting the family is about to be fulfilled.
The Bread taken on the journey by the sister indicates both her need to have sustenance and to provide nurturance for herself and the family as a whole. In other words, she is not naive about what can sustain and promote growth in her family, symbolically, not unlike the bread of life Christ provided for his followers.
Additionally, The Water in the Pitcher shows a functioning container that will not only quench her thirst on her journey, but also, psychologically resurrects the dynamic of containment for transformation that was lost with the bucket in the well. Water, as one of the basic elements for life, is further explored under the section on the alchemical processes.
In our tale, not only our heroine, but also, the stars all find benefit by resting—the stars on their chairs and our heroine on her Stool. After the encounters with the negative Sun and Moon, she discovers positive mirroring from the Stars. She is aware of this by seeing each of the stars sitting on their own special chair. For her, this reflects her own Stool and, as such, she begins a relationship with positive mirroring.
The Glass Mountain is the place where the seven ravens, her brothers, live. The Morning Star tells our heroine how to get to the Glass Mountain in order to retrieve her brothers and gives her a gift of the key for entrance. Glass, in and of itself, is a paradox. Glass, as an element, is symbolic of fragile life issues. As such, fragile life issues can bring about redeeming strength or, if shattered, can bring about deadly shards.
The gift from the Morning Star of a Drumstick, according to Hartman’s footnote 5, translates the drumstick with its literal meaning of a “limping leg” or a “game leg.” Hartman tells us: “The fact that the devil in German folklore is often referred to as ‘Der Hinkende,’ ‘he who limps,’ the star’s gift would seem to be some sense of mortality, of physical limitations, and of the ‘other’ side, the world of the devil, or psychologically, of the unconscious.” This Drumstick is the gift from the Morning Star, representing the ability of the sister to carry the energies of the devil in harmony with herself. Yet, along the journey, she loses this devil’s totem, so she cuts off one of her fingers to use as a key. She is able to do this because she can now replace the external energy from the devil (Drumstick) with that of her own integrated energies of light and dark. Much like the red shoes worn by Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” our heroine is always in possession of the key to entrance to the Glass Mountain.
The Key in our tale is not only for opening the entrance to the Glass Mountain, but is also the entrance into the little sister’s integration of light and dark aspects of herself. Having lost the Key given by the Morning Star, the sister must now confront her insecurities (anxiety and fear). In so doing, she discovers her strength and ability to use the only resources available—her physical body (Finger) and a Knife.
The Knife used by the little sister to cut off one of her little fingers is an example from horror tales of fin-gore. This fin-gore is the deliberate use of a part of her body (Finger) as a replacement Key, and as such, is a movement of consciousness beyond the realm of the physical body. This conscious separation moves her from the experiences of victimization and impotence caused by her fears and anxieties. Now, relying only on herself, the success of finding and reclaiming her brothers is within her reach.
In our tale the Dwarf manifests in two ways, one being a Dwarf star and, the other, the Dwarf character at the entrance to the Glass Mountain. In Germanic folklore, a Dwarf is any member of a race of “little people” possessing specific supernatural powers. They are skilled and, therefore, often depicted as miners or metalworkers. The Dwarf at the entrance to the Glass Mountain symbolically provides awareness of the gestation required for the boys/ravens’ evolution to men. Psychologically, the phase of adolescence involves a separation from childhood prior to the adult stage. Our boys/ravens, now having gestated in the womb of the Glass Mountain, have been prepared for their return to the family as men. Just as the Dwarf Morning Star facilitated the integration of light and dark with the sister, so has the Dwarf Steward of the Glass Mountain facilitated the integrating dynamics of the boys/ravens to men.
Evidence that each of the seven (7) brothers has been nurtured while contained in the Glass Mountain is represented by Seven Little Plates of Food and Seven Little Tumblers of Water. Their little sister, partaking from each Little Plate and each Little Tumbler, indicates the influence of the feminine with each one of them. Once this uniting of the feminine with the masculine occurs, we again hear the whirling and blowing of air, first experienced by the father the moment the boys were turned into ravens.
The Numerology of the Fairy Tale
In numerology, the Number 7 can refer to completeness which manifests through holistic perfection. Holistic perfection occurs through the multidimensionality of both light and dark attributes. In our tale, the Number 7 supports various combinations of numbers that equal seven (7) and finds a place between the two worlds, the world of life and the world of death. As such, the evolution of human consciousness is forever promoting stages of completeness: those stages where rest occurs and those whose motion promotes the continuation of growth by the awareness of the need for regeneration. Completion and regeneration are part of a never-ending cycle. Likewise, in depth psychology, there is never a complete, stagnant integration of the masculine and feminine—unlike alchemy, where a final opus can manifest.
It is said that God rested on the 7th day, further supporting the number seven (7) numerology in a cycle of completion and holistic perfection. In our tale, The Seven Ravens completion is shown through numerology in the following examples. Knowing that three (3) is a masculine number and four (4) is a quaternary number for wholeness, (3+4=7), we have a hint that there is, in the language of numerology, a message of the masculine in search of the wholeness that will be brought about by the feminine. This is again emphasized with the number two (2), representing the feminine, and the number five (5) being a numerological representative of the family (2+5=7). With the numerological language of the one (1) representing destiny and the six (6) representing the doubling of the three, which is an emphasis on the masculine, (1+3+3=7). With 1+2+2+2=7, the energy of the feminine is also available as we move into the awareness of the destiny journey for the seven ravens and, therefore, the entire family. Our tale shows destiny’s completion with 7+1=8, as the seven (7) ravens/men, with the one (1) little sister, brings together a wholeness that would not exist until they were reunited with a new level of consciousness.
Some say the language of numbers, numerology, is the basic code of the universe and as such provides this coded language for unpacking the depth meaning of growth and transformation within the characters of the tale.
The Colors in the Fairy Tale
Although the reader can project many colors into this fairy tale, the tale itself only references “coal-black.” This is very significant when reading the tale psychologically. Individuals, beginning their destiny journey at a level of primitive consciousness, begin the process of evolving consciousness by bringing awareness to facets of the self, often analogized as a diamond. With this simple descriptive term of coal-black, we are alerted to the primitive level of consciousness working within this family system. The father unconsciously projects aspects/facets of his dark unconscious onto his sons, due to the need of his soul’s journey to advance the process of conscious evolution. In other words, there is no such thing as an accident.
The symbolism of the color black is that it holds, within it, all the other colors. Psychologically, the luminescence of the wings of the ravens—that oily, dark multi-color radiance—highlights the multiplicity of the separation dynamics out from the collective. This process of discernment is required for individuation to progress.
From our title, we are placed on alert that this entire tale could be seen to take place in the alchemical stage of nigredo. In the tale, we do not have a king and queen, we have a Father and a Mother and a Sun and Moon to represent both sides of parental archetypal influence. The difficulty in teasing out the alchemical process in a linear manner is that all processes happen simultaneously. Although our tale is grounded in the nigredo (the blackness, the beginning phase of alchemy), we can also see the destiny journey put into motion by the father’s unconscious and the little sister’s quest and success to return her brothers and bring the family to a new level of evolved wholeness/consciousness.
The father, as we have said, unconsciously put into motion the boys’ adolescence which occurs for them within the raven. By giving voice to his dark side, when he projects his frustrations, fury, and anxieties of being unable to care for the newly arrived daughter, he propels the boys into their own encounter with the dark side—a necessary part of adolescence. This projection of his unconscious desire to recognize the darkness within him acts as a spell on the boys, demonstrated by the enchantment of turning them into ravens. Psychologically, a projection can act as a spell for those on the receiving end until there is enough psychological awareness to reject such projections. The boys were ripe for receiving the father’s projection/ spell because of their own fear of returning home. They were also ripe to receive the father’s projection because of their primitive psychological stage of living out of their collective, rather than having any awareness of the separation necessary for individuation. This struggle for the emergence of individuality is a hallmark of adolescence—when the group mind can have more influence than an individual’s thoughts. Psychologically, this dynamic of living out of the collective is a necessary stage constellated in adolescence for the purpose of separating from the parents.
Upon receiving the enchantment from their father, the boys/ravens/men could then begin the processes of moving through the three stages. These three stages provide the recognition of the maturing of masculine attributes. By moving through the process of her destiny’s journey, the little sister evolves from her small, thin, weak introduction to the family system and emerges as an empowered, strong, healthy younger sister.
Alchemically, the father’s wish for a daughter brought forward the family’s destiny, not unlike when Eve took the bite from the apple, which propelled human destiny. In alchemy, the element of earth, which is the One (1) from the Maria Prophetissa’s axiom, “One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.” The Two (2) in alchemy from this axiom is the separatcio, the separation of heaven and earth. The boys leave their earthly bodies and take on the spiritual (air) bodies and as ravens, fly between the two worlds. The Three (3) is paradoxically manifest in the little sister when she follows the energy of the masculine (animus) within her and sets out on her journey. Animus energy, representing the masculine is the Three (3) in the axiom and, as such the element of fire. The four (4) occurs within the ravens as they return to their human bodies, now as men; the little sister finds what always has been within her, the strength to enter into the glass mountain; and the family system is brought to completion with the return not only of the brothers, but also the little sister. Here, in the four (4), is the element of water which promotes the return to the one (1), now the evolved family system. The fluidity of human, family, and consciousness evolution is not unlike the memory in water, promoting life—all life has its origins in water.
Spirituality in the Fairy Tale
Some have said that the central theme of this tale is to be careful what you wish for. This tale shows us the paradox of that saying. Without the capacity to wish, no one’s destiny would be fulfilled. The father would have stayed in his ignorance of his dark side; the brothers would not have had the necessary separation from the family system that allowed their successful transition throughout adolescence, allowing them to return home as men; and in fact, the little sister would not have come into existence.
The emotions of anger, fear, and anxiety were absolutely critical for the father, his sons, and the little sister to experience. Had the father lived an idyllic life, he would have been like Job, before God brought all the pestilence and strife or like Adam and Eve, never leaving the perceived, out of ignorance, perfection of Eden, and numerous other examples of innocent/ignorant stagnation. Light and dark must be experienced by the individual in order for co-creation to occur. In other words, the divine would not find its way into human consciousness without the transformations possible because of the tension of opposites. In our tale, the parents were unaware that there was anything other than what they were living out of and, therefore, they were not aware of opposites. It took the messaging from their lived experiences, brought into awareness by their eight children, to bring the necessary changes of consciousness and the evolution toward the ultimate experience of co-creation.
This tale did not occur in the realm of a king and queen; it occurred in the realm of ordinary human beings. The messages found in this tale started in the space of the ominous, because there was such a primitive level of consciousness available to the parents. This is not unlike humanity’s struggle to grow in the awareness of the Creator and the reality of not only humanity’s own dark side, but also the emptiness/darkness within the Creator. Until an individual owns their own dark side, there is little opportunity to accept that the Creator could also have such a struggle.
We know from our title that the number seven (7) is going to show the dynamics of completion. This fairy tale provides an experience of a family system completing the tasks of maturation required for movement beyond a primitive level of consciousness. In this process, the reader can see the significance of a single family unit moving humanity forward toward co-creation.
© 2019 Lois E. Wilkins, PhD, APRN