Death, Devils, and Ravens

A tale of symbolism and alcoholism

Statue of a wooden raven atop a giant clam with people stuck inside, unclear if the raven is saving the people, or keeping them imprisoned.
Photo by Nick Kwan on Unsplash

Raven’s have often been associated with death, thanks largely in part to Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven. But in Greek mythology, the raven symbolizes prophecy, and legend has it that in 349 BC, a raven landed on the helmet of Marcus Valerius Corvus, aiding him in battle against a giant Gaul in single combat by flying into the giant’s face, thus saving him from an almost certain death. To the English and Middle Age era Christians, the raven was a protector of sorts, while the Inuit Peoples saw the raven as a God of creation or trickery.

Raven’s have symbolized many different things to many different societies and peoples over the history of human existence, the following is what the raven means to me, and why I am still here because of it.

Raven On My Shoulder

My dad passed away when I was two years old, but I believe he was determined to have more of an impact on my life than he did in those two short years. In Poe’s poem, the raven is associated with the loss of a loved one and is mentioned as coming from “Night’s Plutonian Shore,” a reference to the underworld. Because of this association, I believe a Raven — my father — was sent back to watch over me from the underworld, and has protected me through many of my run-ins with Death.

Unfortunately, a raven wasn’t the only thing that came back from the underworld after my father’s passing; a Devil accompanied the symbolic jet-black bird as well. This devil came in the form of alcoholism and remained hidden for quite some time. But, when he finally made himself known, he alerted the Grim Reaper to my location, so when I would drink, if I looked hard enough, I could always see the tip of his scythe at the edge of my vision.

The Reaper was onto me, aided by the devil in my liver, hindered only by the raven on my shoulder.

While the raven was doing his best to keep me hidden from Death, the Devil was sliding down my throat and blasting my location to the Reaper, who never seems to tire when swinging his scythe. With every swing, it’s been said he takes thousands of souls. So, while he may have missed me with his swings so far, I hate to think that the Devil putting me on blast prompted even one of his swings.

How narcissistic of me to think the Grim Reaper would be killing thousands of others in an attempt to take my life specifically, right? The problem is, when the Reaper swings for me, even though I’ve eluded him so far, he still connects with many others who are plagued with this same liquid devil that keeps my raven so busy.

According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), in 2019 a person was killed every 52 minutes from drunk driving alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 95,000 people die a year from alcohol related issues, and that it is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

The Reaper. Never. Tires. And the Devil’s beacon never dies.

Devilish Tricks

While I was learning about the Reaper’s endless endurance, I was simultaneously learning many things about the Devil; my burgeoning alcoholism.

First and foremost, that manipulative little guy is two-faced as shit. So many times he talked me into drinking under the guise that everything would be fine and all my problems would dissolve. But, he was always dead wrong about both.

Every time I woke up out of place I could never find him — the one who convinced me to drink — but I could always smell him. I reeked of him, either soaked into my clothes or heavy on my breath. He promised to look out for me, insinuated that I would be safe and gave me the confidence I’d always wanted. But every morning I found I had once again been deserted. My thoughts were jumbled and my body left aching; I fell for his lies again. How many times had I fallen for this same trick? Countless times, from countless lies, with so many incurred risks and damages to my overall well-being.

I can’t count how many times I’ve told myself, “I’m never drinking again,” after being deceived by this Devil, but I’ve only ever meant it once. 17 months ago, years after the Reaper last made an attempt on my life, I woke up on my couch, and decided I was done drinking. I wrote about that experience at length here, so I won’t go into it too much, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made, and one that has undoubtedly improved every aspect of my life.

Raven the Protector

We know how Poe used the raven, and what it meant in Greek philosophy, so I will end this with another tale of what the raven meant to another society; the English.

According to another legend, the ravens at the Tower of London were said to be symbolic of the Kingdom of England’s good fortune, and that if they were ever to be removed, the Kingdom would fall. Therefore, it is of my firm belief that my raven — risen from death to keep me of the living — should not be removed from my shoulder, else I shall fall like the Kingdom of England did soon after the final raven abandoned it’s perch.

Conclusion

In hopes of keeping my shoulder accommodating, and no longer overworking my raven, I have ceased my drinking ways and in doing so found a way to silence the devil’s beacon, rendering me mostly hidden from the Reaper.

With this newfound freedom, I now travel through life with the memory of my father, a bit of foresight, and the hopes of remaining alive, all encompassed in the raven on my perch.

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