Raven the Storyteller
And the Place of Beginnings

Music by William Grear

In many cultures, certain times of the year mark a time of free passage between the physical and spiritual realms, when ancestors and other departed souls just might be encountered. With music composed by William Grear, Raven and the Place of Beginnings was premièred on Thursday, October 31, 1996, at Central Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas.

Raven and the Place of Beginnings

Long ago when the Earth was new and smooth like an egg, Flood Tide Woman (She Who Is the Moon) said to her son Raven, "You must go down to the Earth to make a place for the waters."

So Raven spread his wide black wings and flew down to the young Earth, and with his huge claws and gigantic beak he gouged out great basins. He piled the boulders to the sides to form mountains. Then with his tail, Raven began to sweep, creating sandy beds for the waters to lie in. As he swept he spun, and as he spun the wind swirled, and the whirlwinds brought rain, and the rain filled the basins, and there were oceans.

Flood Tide Woman turned to Looking Downward (He Who Is the Sun), father of Raven, and she said, "Look, our son has done well." Looking Downward smiled, and the smile streamed onto the world in a rainbow of colors, and he said, "What will you paint, my son?"

Raven plucked a downy feather from under his wing, looked at the glowing colors, and answered, "First I shall paint the sky."

Carefully, Raven began to paint. The first sections he painted slowly, using colors as pale and delicate as the insides of shells. But soon he began splashing about with the hottest, firiest colors in his palette.

Then Raven had an idea. He dragged a claw through the wet sky-colors, setting them swirling until clouds appeared like white foam.

Next I shall paint the rocks," Raven said, and soft green mosses began to appear. But in some places where the sky-colors had dripped, the rocks were stained red and orange like the sunset. "I like that!" cried Raven.

Pleased with himself, Raven shook out his feather-brush. Droplets of color fell upon the green moss, took root, and became flowers. "Indeed you have done very well, my son!" said Looking Downward.

But Raven grew lonely. So from riverbanks he gathered clay, shaping it very carefully, and created the First Ones. He divided them into many tribes, gave them language, and provided dwelling places in the land.

After countless suns and summers and seasons, the First Ones grew bone-weary. Their weariness grew and grew until they became too tired to sleep. Sleep, when it did come, brought no rest. They slept less and less, aged more and more.

"We must go North to the Place of Beginnings," Raven told his friends. "It may be that renewal awaits us there." So they began their long journey North.

Now the First Ones were bent with age like ancient trees. They traveled slowly, limping painfully along cold beaches and through moss-covered forests.

The air grew colder, but they gathered their blankets more tightly and struggled on across snow-covered glaciers, inching their way across crystal bridges in blue caves of ice.

Beyond the mountainous glaciers they came at last to the place where Raven had set the sky-colors in motion. His claw-marks still shimmered and flickered in the night sky above them.

"This is the Place of Beginnings," Raven whispered, "Do you remember it?" The First Ones looked about, and a dim memory stirred within them. They nodded silently, and they stood for a long time.

People who were living close by stole out from their lodges and approached warily, overcome at the awesome sight of beings whose adventures and exploits were known from ancient legends.

"Help us!" the First Ones begged, "for we are tired to death." So the people wrapped the Old Ones in many blankets and gave them food and a place by the fire. Eagerly they waited to hear the stories these Ones would tell!

But instead, Raven whispered,"Build a burial box. Here, in this Place of Beginnings, all stories must come to an end." Tenderly they tucked the ancient heroes into the burial box. Grief fell like the snow and blanketed the people.

But Raven said, "Do not mourn for them. The painter lays down one brush in order to paint with a new color, but the first color does not disappear. Dance and tell stories of their deeds, for stories have more power than you know."

And the people danced through the winter night, singing and telling tales of the First Ones. One night passed, then another, and still more long nights.

Then the box opened. The long winter and its tales had ended.

The First Ones rubbed their eyes and blinked up at their old friend Raven! "Come and be washed," Raven called to them, and they ran out into the renewing rain like children. They were young again and full of life!

And from that time on our Ancestors, honoring the First Ones, continued in this way. When they grew tired and the year grew old, when the leaves withered and the spirit world beckoned from just beyond the firelight, they wrapped themselves in blankets and lay unstirring while their tribes danced and told many tales. Night after winter night passed...

...Until one night their sleep ended and they went to Raven. Send us rain to wash the sleep from our eyes," they said. And Raven washed them, and they were young again.

Yet after many suns and moons and seasons and sleeps, some of the Ancestors grew weary of so much waking and sleeping, of so many tales told, and the memory of so many deeds. They said to Raven,"We do not want to be young again..."

And Raven changed them. Some became the animals of the mountains and the forests -- the grey Wolf and the waddling Beaver, the Kit Fox and the scolding Squirrel.

Others became swift Seagulls, the Merganser and the Willow Ptarmigan, the Snowy Owl and the Sparrowhawk -- all the birds of the air.

Some he transformed into the great Whales, the sleek Seals, the shimmering Fish and singing Frogs -- all the animals of the oceans and rivers.

And one day, when Raven returned to the sky, some of the Ancestors followed. You can see them still along the trail he took -- bright stars and fiery meteors -- dancing across the night.

Tableau from premiere performance of 'Raven and the 
Place of Beginnings'

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