000_0658A few years ago, I wanted to write a book about healing called, “The NATURE of Healing,” which would include nature and  animal symbolism and practice in the healing journey. My publisher was not interested, as books about healing don’t tend to sell big unless you are Bernie Siegel or Depak Chopra. So, I put my idea away with this chapter I had written as a proposal. It has remained tucked into the dark recesses of my file drawer. I decided I would like to shed some light on it, and I offer it to you, here:

“We are the tribe of the Crow. We gather treasure. We are looking for your jewels and shiny things, and we are seeking these glittering wonders for the lining of our sanctuaries.”—Conference participant, “Crow Tribe”

It has been seventeen years now since I occupied a bed in Seattle’s Swedish Hospital. For three days, I was attached to a maze of tubes, bottles, and suction machines that kept me tidy and medicated after my neck had been near-half removed in an attempt to halt the spread of  metastatic head and neck cancer. Monitors beeped near my left ear like car alarms with weakening batteries. This was my second serious cancer surgery in a year…

Swedish Hospital was a lovely, but personally alien, environment. It was immaculately clean. My boyfriend joked that we could eat off the floor. The rooms were cookie-cutter identical, and several times I got myself completely turned around with a simple walk down the hall, blundering back into the wrong room. Only two objects identified my room as “mine.” One was a pretty vase of pink carnations, and the other was a goofy looking stuffed lamb that I kept on my pillow, and that the nurses kept referring to as my “monkey.”

Eleven dizzying stories up, however, I had a magnificent view of the Seattle skyline, and I spent nearly all my waking hours gazing out at it, especially during the long, hushed nights when my room was dark, the skyscrapers twinkled like Christmas lights, and I thought I would be dead in a year. I think now that it might have been the providence of that view that helped to save me. These days, I would call that view a piece of treasure. I am attracted to the outdoors, and having a view of it those few days helped to remind me that the four walls of my room were not the be-all-to-end-all of life. Out there, birds flew, city lights blossomed, clouds danced. Somewhere out there, it was just another lovely day, and life was not just a hope but a promise. The magnificent healing view was a piece of treasure gifted to me, not of my own making, but offered by the universe or God as an act of grace.

I did not know about Crow medicine back then. I did not know that I could have beckoned healing energy into my room to soothe me, simply by surrounding myself with my own precious treasure. I did not need to wait for the gift of flowers or a view. I could have stocked that room from floor to ceiling with treasures, and been the better for it. I could have chosen to turn those four walls into a sanctuary of sorts, a nesting place, a sacred space, a comfort. This is the wisdom of the crow.

Certain creatures are attracted to objects that have nothing to do with food. Crows and ravens and pack rats are all known to hurry off with “precious things” that have meaning known only to them. We have no idea why they do this. Gathering these seemingly useless items and making space for them is something that must be of importance in the evolutionary or spiritual scheme of things, or such a tendency would have long since been weeded out of the genes of these animals. But it remains to us a mystery, and in my own experience, mystery always shields a power or empowerment of some kind.

Crows are legendary for their collecting. They have an eye for what fascinates them, and when they find such a thing, they take it if they can. I found a crow stash once in a barn loft, and it was a delightful, mysterious jumble of sparkle and junk. Sorting softly through the pile of trash-treasure, I muttered to myself,  “Jeez, what is so compelling about a piece of tinsel, a bottle cap, and a plastic Halloween glitter ring?” Crow whispers hoarsely that each soul has its unique definition of “precious.” Crows have become a symbol to me of the ancient need all humans have for sacred space and for sanctuary. Filling their lives with precious, magical bits and pieces of meaning, crows remind me that sanctuary is not just something we stumble upon when we are lucky, but something we can craft out of our own collection of treasure and meaning.

Years ago, I spent a wonderful spring day deep in the bustling heart of San Francisco. It was wonderful to be there in May, even if I was destined to spend most all of my day in a windowless conference hall. The topic of the workshop I was facilitating had to do with animals and healing. The whispering of the women rose up in the huge room like the drone of bees, the sound blending with the rustle of jackets coming off, purses sliding under chairs, shoes being stacked into corners.

For intimacy sake,  I began as I often do by breaking the group up into smaller “tribes” where we could do more personal work. Together, we drew cards from the Animal Medicine Card deck, and named each tribe after an animal. We never take the drawing of these cards lightly, and we spent a hefty amount of time that day reflecting in our small tribes on the gifts of this particular “relative,” and the providence that drew each participant to this creature on this day.

Each tribe took itself seriously, but none as seriously as the twelve Crows, who took to snitching small glittering bobbles from many of the other women over the course of the day. So skilled at their treasure hunting were these crows that none of the other tribes even noticed the loss of watches, shiny pens, jacket pins, coins, and gold-threaded scarves until the end of the day when the crows fessed up and returned all the stolen booty. To the chorus of surprise and exclamations flitting around the room, the lead Crow responded, “We have enjoyed these treasures very much.” Her eyes sparkled with mischief as she returned one exceptionally gorgeous cobalt-blue silk scarf, “We will continue to search out treasures when we leave here today. We have learned that each of us reveals something to ourselves and others by what we call ‘treasure.’ We have learned that we can actually see ourselves reflected in the kind of treasures we love. We will always be crows now, and we will begin making our nests when we return home, because there is power in this.”

Personally, I cannot think of anything more unlike a crow’s nest than a medical setting. By their design, and by our cultural consent, hospitals and medical offices are too rarely comforting, inviting places. They are clean and sterile places. They are techno-marvel places. They are places with a very specific job to do. They are institutions that must consider the needs of many patients, and are dedicated to curing, fixing, stitching, bandaging, and testing. And our hospitals are the envy of much of the rest of the world. But the art of healing, of becoming whole, looks more like a crow’s nest than a hospital, and setting the stage for healing  happens as much outside of a hospital—or more—as in it.

Crow wisdom is a vital piece of a medical journey, the critical piece about setting intentional space, both within and without, with one’s hands, mind, heart, and soul. Crow, with her black cloak of complete assurance offers us her wise counsel on the importance of surrounding ourselves with whatever mystery speaks uniquely to us. She tells us not to harken to any other voice but our own when it comes to choosing what is precious and meaningful to us. Crow does not care much for what other creatures make of their own nests. She is not a herd bird. She gathers the treasures that delight her and that reflect her own particular idiosyncrasies, and she is not the least bit apologetic about her fascination with this particular piece of a Corn Nuts bag, or that ring of tinfoil. She has faith in the power of her own unique treasure, and this is a powerful, powerful lesson for us.

Just like a beautifully set dining table creates the mood for our meal, like flowers and champagne conjure the magic of romance, the setting of intentional space is an important aspect of creating the psycho-spiritual ambience of our life. Understanding how deeply emotion—mood—can affect our brain chemicals and supercharge or muffle our inner healing system, we begin to see how powerful the act of creating space that nurtures, comforts, excites, and honors us can be. Crow gifts us with invaluable wisdom about the power of treasure-making in our physical space.

In the corner of my combination bedroom-office today, is my own “crow’s nest.” I call this my altar space, my meditation corner, my reflecting spot. I have been cultivating such a spot in every place I have lived for the past sixteen years. Sometimes, it has taken up entire rooms. Once, it was set in a large closet. At times, it has been only a small table in a quiet corner. Right now, it is set up on and around an old trunk that was given to me by a very old, wonderful crone-like neighbor of mine. I’ve refinished it, and the wood is burnished, warm, and inviting. Kitty-corner on the wall behind the trunk is a huge elk skull with enormous antlers, because Elk is a helping symbol to me for endurance and physical protection. This particular elk is special. I knew him when he lived, and when he died.

On one corner of the trunk is a round copper tray that holds a fist-sized bird’s nest made of mud and straw, filled with hand-fired glass and pottery beads, a spray of dried pink roses, and bone fragments from birds and mice—symbols of a very important dream I once had, and that I am still working with today. It helps me to have a seeable, touchable piece of this dream as I work with the meaning of it.

There are many other secret and precious treasures on that trunk, behind it, and tucked away beneath it. When I sit before this place mornings and evenings–or any time of the day I need to come back to my self—this small nest space of precious things reflects back to me all of who I am, who I would like to be, and who I am becoming.

Sitting in this corner, I am awash with peace and comfort and a sense of grace and promise. This intentional space has continued to evolve and change. I put away this or that piece of treasure and find new sparkling delights that reflect a me who is forever in motion.  Over time, simply heading for this corner has created an automatic relaxation response in my body. My breath slows, my stomach softens, and my ever- tense jaw loosens a bit. I know that part of the goodness that happens to me when I visit my sacred corner is what I have brought to the intentional crafting of it, but part of it is in the alchemy of the treasures that rest there, too.

I know many other people who keep a sacred nest space for healing and reflection. A friend of mine who is battling prostate cancer currently spends a lot of his time in a camper. He has gathered a small corner of treasure in this tiny place, including a beautiful piece of purple cloth, candles, and leaves that symbolizes the color, spirit, and texture of  healing. Another who is recreating her life from the ground up has dedicated half a room to small fountains, fairies, stones, animal figures, sacred staffs, feathers, and dream catchers.

This is what creating sacred space can do for you: It can provide a focus for your healing intention. It can evoke powers and blessings unique to your needs. It can jumpstart your body and brain chemicals on behalf of healing. New kinds of consciousness can rise up from it to teach and inform you. Such intentional space can help convert your medical crisis from a sense of hanging by one finger from a high limb, to rocking in a magic nest as the winds whirl around you. It can make the profane sacred.

On behalf of Crow, I ask you, is there a special place in your home that could reflect the mystery and the unique power of your healing journey? Is there a nesting space that you could line with your own treasure—precious things that awake your soul and your own sleeping healer? Is there a place where you could see reflected back to you a mandala of your wholeness? Come. Crow is “grawwccking” at you— ruffle your feathers and set to creating the power of sacred space.

What Crow Healing May Look Like:

  • Create a small space—or many small spaces—in your home, in your office, or both, that holds “treasures” invoking healing for you: candles to represent the light of healing energy, pill bottles wrapped in gift paper to remind you of the gifts and goodness of medicine, a bowl of water to conjure the healing of inner cleansing, a beautiful leaf that speaks of healthy growth, incense and smudging herbs and plants or essential oils, the color green and a bundle of flowers. These are some of my “treasures.” What are yours?
  • Bring into your medical/hospital appointments a secret “treasure” that can serve as a strengthening spirit for you, a kind of portable crow’s nest. I carry a small, white beaded pouch in my pocket that contains little pieces and symbols of my most powerful healing allies. A friend of mine battling cancer carries a small metal angel figurine in his pocket that fills him with a feeling of love and mystery and that he says “will carry me through this safely.” It might also be a necklace, a piece of treasured clothing, a poem.
  • Offer your own treasure to a loved one or friend on the journey, something that evokes healing, and that holds your prayers for their good journey and recovery. Or keep your own sacred space in honor of your friend’s journey, and of your own role in it.
  • Ask your friends to come over and create a crow’s nest with you. Creating such a space with whose who love you is a profound healing ritual all its own.
  • Create “temporary nests” that serve to empower you for a particular process, test, appointment, assembled from treasure that represents this particular event.
  • Get up your courage once you’ve created your space, and ask your special place what else it would like. You may discover instant thoughts of images of things that would empower this sacred space even more.
  • If you or someone you love requires a hospital stay, put on your crow cloak and create a magic nest there. Bring the sounds, smells, images, and symbols of healing and craft a corner, a tray top, a chair top sacred corner. You will be bringing healing magic to all those who step foot in the room by bringing the gift of intention into the equation in this special way. And you will be remembered!
  • Visit your sacred space often. I have even slept on the floor by mine when life gets especially stormy. It is a sanctuary.

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12 Responses to CROW MEDICINE

  1. Cindy says:

    Oh Susan, this is a beautiful essay! Many memories came flooding back to me as I read your words. We had a crow when I was a little girl with the wonderfully imaginative name of “Blackie”! Everyday he would fly in through the open bedroom window and take something from my mother’s dresser. At first she would fret that some of her jewelry was missing, then after realizing who the thief was she began to intentionally leave small shiny objects for him to take. As a child I would collect anything that was shiny and junky looking and leave it on the dresser. It was fun to see what he would pick out each day. Just when I’d leave something I was SURE he would like, he would surprise us and take nothing at all. We knew where his nest was, it was out back about a acre from the house. The day Blackie stopped flying into the window was the day we knew he had probably met his demise. He never returned. Solemnly we went to his nest and found his glorious stash. Seemed he had a passion for the pop tops from soda cans, way back before they were attached on top. There were dozens of them! I collected them all up and made a necklace out of them, carefully attaching each pop top to the next until I had a sacred necklace. I still have it.

    I have what I call my “sacred table”. It’s by my bed, on it you will find an eclectic mix of things that have meaning only to me. I add to it from time to time, usually something that catches my eye, sometimes it’s something shiny too. Just sitting by my table, I too, feel calm and secure. It’s my own gathering ground. When I travel I always take a few items to set up in my hotel room by the bed, along with a candle it keeps my sense of home close to my heart.

    Thank you again, your gift of writing is a joy to read. Your recovery from cancer is absolutely uplifting and inspiring! It’s clear you were meant to bring the power and healing of nature and animals to us. I am very grateful for this kind of mutual bond we share.


  2. Karuna says:

    I, too, thank you Susan for your wise words. At my own time of difficult personal transition, nothing could ring more true than ‘sanctuary’! Even in middle life, I am still learning how to advocate for self, and the creation of sacred space is integral to my sanity.

    I had never truly appreciated crows, ravens, or magpies but you have provided us with another kinder view of these winged-ones who share the planet with us all. Gut instinct always calls me to small things like tiny bones, particular rocks, a strangely-twisted branch interposed on my journeying path, etc. It all has meaning, if I remain present to the message.

    Much Metta………………Thanks so much………………Karuna

  3. Last Sunday I was surfing and wound up at the Ttouch blog where pictures of Linda Tellington Jones’ “nest’ in Hawaii inspired me to go on a purge of disorganization. You can see her lovely workspace here and I came away so refreshed that I literally felt a new vibration. Now this wonderful post on Father Crow~! Crows are a long time favorite of mine. I always seem to see them three at a time when traveling, and it is always an “all is well in the world” feeling.

    I can now see the top of my desk in my office~!!! Before I would not have missed what the crow snatched…. and he would have had a hard time finding anything shiny under all the papers. Many lbs of paper went to recycling on Wed.

    Thanks for reminding us to keep our sacred treasures.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Hello everyone: Today, three crows winged overhead, calling in their croaky tones. I love the word “treasure,” and the crows for making me ever-aware of the power of little treasures in our life, and also the power of the verb, “to treasure.” Keep looking for the tiny sparkles!

  4. Tamara says:

    Hi Susan,
    The passage, “Personally, I cannot think of anything more unlike a crow’s nest than a medical setting”. I just spend a few weeks in various hospitals with my dad. The setting alone was enough to drive me bonkers. I found myself gazing out every window I could find and escaping for walks whenever I could just to escape the florescent lights and the dizzying variety of beeps and the air that held the underlying rank of sickness. I found I have the utmost respect for the doctors, nurses and other hospital workers who had to work in this environment day in day out. One nurse I was talking to put it succinctly, “Hospitals are places to go to get fixed, you go home to heal.” Thank you for this timely article. While I can’t quite picture my good old dad surrounding himself with candles and sage sticks, my family and friends have been surrounding him with our presence as much as we can. Quite possibly, the gift of family and friendship is the greatest treasure!

  5. Denise says:

    1st on my animal wisdom cards are the crows! Daily they glide and “talk” over my head.
    I think what Susan is saying to us is “LOOK UP!”


  6. Ann Parker says:

    Hello Susan!
    What a wonderful essay! It makes me feel a little better about my “packratty” self, as I gaze around my office room. Maps/letters/old photos & pictures hanging or pinned on the walls; old books and objects from the 1880s squirreled away nearby where I can see, touch, and refer to them as I write; stacks of papers dotting the four-walled landscape. (Well, okay, maybe some of that *could* be gone through/done away with… no need to create a fire hazard!) It’s so true … one person’s “trash” can be another one’s treasures!

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Hey Parker! Yes, I love my dear, beloved “treasure/trash.” I have lots of it. It brings me a sense of comfort and warmth to see and touch these precious things.

  7. kathey says:

    Hi Susan, I love the sentiments which you have expressed here. You write so personally and from your heart. I worked in a large medical center for many years as a nurse and recently left my job because it was so depeting for me personally, yet my patients were quite often sources of love and light in my life. Because I have experienced sickness for two months I have been questing for strength of mind and soul to help get me through this. Reading your words today tells me that the quest is always there, the path continues, in a search for higher powers in all forms, shapes, and beings. Crows are majestic, really intelligent creatures and they want for respect. Right on, Crows!! You rock!

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Kathey: Illness has stalked me a lot these past few years. It really is a sobering and powerful soul journey in its many forms. All animals are beautiful examples of moving through sickness and injury. Their capacity to experience pain without the emotional burden of suffering during illness is a profound teaching. May all your relations offer you their many blessings on your healing journey.

  8. Susannah says:

    Deare S,

    thank you for painting with words of black and white the many moments that sparkle our lives with a sparkling outlook.
    Crows have a special relationship with our suburban home.
    Each sunrise a couple coe mornings stormy or clear, to eat the food offering we leave overnite. Popcorn, rice, other remanents of dinner or tea.
    Watching them proudly standing and moving about their wet pile of staff of life, the way they stand straight, jump gracefully sideways and continually bark their vocal reactions to one another or the open sky.
    Good medicine.
    Dance in the puddles of Spring.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Susannah—The wildlife rehab center I volunteer for has a resident crow named DaVinci. I think he is easily as bright as his name sake! I’ve never seen such self assurance in anyone. He is imposing in his dignity and in his goofiness, as well!

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