Crow is a trickster throughout Native American mythology. His name in the Alaskan Nootka or Tanaina tribes is Chulyen – it’s important to remember that the body of myth described as Native American (or Amerindian) is from dozens of tribes originating from Alaska to Texas. Some stories are peculiar to one tribe, some are shared by dozens. Chulyen, as with many incarnations of Crow the trickster, can be interchanged with Raven the wise teacher. In either form he appears throughout the myths of many tribes.
Generally speaking, the animal spirits – Bear the healer, Beaver the builder and crafty Old Man Coyote – are not gods but helpers to mankind – or sometimes his enemies and rivals. The world is full of evil creatures, like the winter spirit Wendigo and the water spirit Uktena, and without the aid of good spirits it is hard for Man to battle them.
Story of the Spirit – Sun and Moon
Once, not far away, there lived a very powerful and rich chief who had a beautiful young daughter. Somehow, the chief captured the sun and the moon with a powerful magic, and he hung them up in his house.
Everywhere else there became darkness. Because of the darkness, the people could not hunt or fish. The plants would not grow and the animals had nothing to eat. Crow learned that the great chief had taken the sun and moon, so he went to the chief’s house. He asked the chief if he would return the sun and moon, but he would not. Crow saw that it would be hard to steal the sun and moon, for they were well guarded, So the cunning black bird devised a plan.
He saw how the chief’s daughter went to a small stream to get water every morning, so Crow hid near there and waited for her to return. When he saw her coming down the trail, he turned himself into a fingerling, a tiny fish, and jumped into the water. After the girl arrived, she filled a bucket with water. Then she dipped her drinking cup into the stream and Crow-fingerling quickly swam into it. She did not see him and drank the water. So the girl became pregnant with Crow’s spirit.
After a short time the daughter gave birth to a baby boy. The baby grew fast and was soon a young boy. The grandfather was very fond of his grandson and would do anything for him. One day the Crow-boy began crying.
The chief asked him, “What do you want, grandson?”
The boy pointed to the pretty lights – the sun and moon – hanging from the ceiling. The chief decided to let him play with them if it would make him stop crying. So the boy took them outside and played with them for a while, but then he threw them high into the air. When the old chief ran out to see what had happened, Crow became himself again and flew away. The chieftain is still angry and sometimes he tries to throw a blanket over the sun or the moon to catch it again. But Crow will not let him.
In Your Games and Stories
Crow tricks everyone eventually – even Death on occasion, when he feels the world needs to learn a lesson. It is this aspect that the Crow comic series, created by James O’Barr, has taken (The comics have spawned films and novels; the first film starred Brandon Lee.) If you are telling gothic or horror tales, this aspect of Chulyen as a psychopomp (a guide of dead souls) can be useful, especially for explaining the metaphysics of the world to characters, and readers. For a comedy example of this in action, Quoth the Raven in Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music parodies this narrator role.
Players of Werewolf: The Apocalypse will doubtless recognise the ‘monsters’ above as tribe names – if you choose to play one of these characters, it is always worth trying to read a few of the (human viewpoint) stories the tribes are named for. In the World of Darkness, Crow himself has his own people – the Corax. Play all the animal spirits with a measure of seriousness – your players will provide the comedy if that’s what your troupe are looking for.
In more real-world games, Crow or Raven might be used as a warning symbol, in the sense of ‘think carefully, all is not as it seems’ Crow might signify death-places, although these are more likely to feature human names. He is a common spirit guide, and might be appealed to when vision questing. Poe’s Raven has this kind of oracular insight.