Lock up your hindbrain, it's Andy's Bucket-o-Memes

So what's the deal with Raven? Who, or what, is He? How did He get involved in my life and what the hell does it all mean? Who are these "children of Raven" and are they some weird cult or what?

It seems that most of Raven's children who are online have a page like this. They all read much the same, so that we find them strangely comforting; reading the same rambling rant in the same grammatical style is a bit like being a Beetle owner and seeing another Beetle driving past; flashing your lights at them. That's not just a cool-car thing; it's also a wry acknowledgement of the maintenance bills and the rust. Having a Raven page doesn't make you one of His, though, and we can tell, the same way Beetle owners can tell a real owner from someone who has the garage do the work. We're shifters. We can smell form.

So what is He? That's a harder question to answer than it ought to be. For something so intimate and essential to me, it's almost embarassing that I can't define Him as well as I would like. Slippery sod that He is, it's easier to define Him by what he is not.

Raven is not a god. Not a deity, though He has plenty of connections with deities - think of Hugin and Munin on Odin's shoulders, or the Morrigan's ravens, or the cloud of ravens that follows Kali across the battlefield. Those ravens aren't Raven any more than the ravens in the Tower of London are Raven or I am Raven - but He is all of those things.

So we don't worship Him, because that would be a bit like worshipping your Dad, and that's silly.

He is the principle of raven-ness, if you like, insightful and humourous, tricky and deceitful, a fiddler, a glutton, the creator, demiurge and corpse-eater - and the ultimate shapeshifter. That's something His children share, shapeshifting, an ability to alter form to get the most. Because we're gluttons (ravenous? ha!), and lazy, we want the most for the least effort. But then there's a paradox becuase we will go to extraordinary efforts if something is important to us.

I could use the word "totem" - and I just did, so there - but He doesn't like it. "Totem" has been hijacked by the newage and has lost its balls. It seems to mean a badge that you wear now, or at best, someone you call upon for help. It has lost the deep meaning, that if He is my totem then I am His. We call ourselves His children not because we're belittling ourselves, but because in a very genuine and bone-deep way, He is our parent. He has the same sort of rights over us as parents do.

He has sent me to bed early, and He has told me what I can and cannot eat in the run-up to workings. He has appeared as someone else to distract me from the pain of my sister's leaving, or to amuse me and keep me awake on long journeys. He has driven me to tears teaching me things I do not know but, because He wants me to learn them, I must know. He has taken me over because that's His right and run up my mobile phone bill or driven in a way I would never dare. He took me away from my twin sister before we were born and brought us together again a quarter-century later. He is a lover, friend, confidant, father, taskmaster, tormentor.

But all of this still fails to capture the essential emphasis of what I'm trying to say. Another word that's been newaged to death is "avatar" - and yet all of Raven's children are His avatars, in a way.

To use the Family cosmology, Raven is the head of his Family, and we are among its members. There are other Families - Wolf, Bear, Dragon - you've read the names a dozen times. And like an extended family, the head of the family exerts sweeping influence on us.

Raven appears in myth-cycles and folklore wherever there are ravens, and with great consistency. He's tricky, deceitful, a carrion-eater, a change-bringer, a shapeshifter. But He never claims to be anything else, once you've found Him. Unlike Man, Raven is an honest liar. Raven has the strongest mythology in the American Northwest, the Tlingit and Haida and Kwaikutl, where He is a god in His own right rather than an adjunct to deity. He likes that, because He's arrogant.

Raven's children are easy enough to spot when you have the eye for it. They're not all black-clad mournful types; those are goths. Some of Raven's kids might be goths; many I think pass through or near goth before coming out the other side. Shifters are too wary to get locked into so rigid a form. Raven's children are intelligent, though sometimes a bit unworldly. They have a grasp of language that's astonishingly similar, a meter to their writing that is instantly recognisable. Black and bawdy humour is our thing, though we can be found in fits of giggles at the silliest or least appropriate of moments. As befits carrion-birds, Raven children seem to often be dirty; we have stuff under our nails and oil in our hair, not deliberately but because it's what we are. Can't keep clean, can't see the point in obsessing over it.

We seem with some consistency to be bisexual, in head if not in action. My guess would be that gender is just another form and we're outside that. Shapeshifters are sensualists, why should we deprive ourselves of half the fun? Why should we deprive ourselves of love just because of shape?

Because we are shifters, we value form that has function. You'll see us in combat trousers not because we're making some statement (though we may be, and it may even be a true one) but because they're cheap, tough and have lots of pockets. We like natural fibres and our own smell, becuase the fibres hold the smell (and are easy to wash) and the smell serves a function too. We like gadgets that are clever, because they interest us, but love things that are efficient, and have a thing for anatomy. We have very little time for forms without function - ornamentation isn't our thing unless it has meaning (which is, after all, merely a non-physical function). Social mores that have no justification, like disapproval of sexuality, anger us; they are forms with negative function. This intolerance is unusual; we're tolerant of most things except serial stupidity.

We are keen to learn rules, so we know when and how best to break them.

The colour scheme on these pages isn't accidental. It'd deliberately not black. Black would have been too easy, a falling into stock form. Aqua green, well now, that's another matter. Sometimes we'll do that, shift off-form deliberately in order to see what the view is like from over here (granted, a different website colour-scheme is hardly a deep-pattern P-shift, but hey).

We do magic. Even Raven's non-magical children do magic; they have a brain and a vocabulary and can shift to suit their medium, even if they don't realise what they're doing. Sometimes we're working truly mind-boggling stuff; most of the time we're being nagged and perplexed and scared by the weirdness that seems to follow us around. We draw weirdness, street-crazies and the like. For some reason Down's Syndrome kids love me. It's all part of the package.

A lot of people think Raven's children are tough. Are we? We certainly appear so from the outside, utilitarian-clad and going about our business in falling-apart cars or with bodged-together yet somehow high-performance equipment, ranting to ourselves or our partners or scowling, deep in thought or conversation with something. But we're also soppy buggers, deep down. If we seem tough its because you expect us to be from appearance, and that stimulus sometimes nudges our form. Tough as boots and soppy as an episode of Lassie, sometimes.

This all makes us seem rather loose cannons, untrustworthy, perhaps even dangerous to have around. And to a degree that's true; people don't instinctively trust us, don't feel comfortable. A shifter could be anyone, and that's hard to trust. But when we're bound, by love or friendship or duty or Family, we are reliable to the grave. And where necessary we can adopt the formal protocols needed in certain circles; protocol (as opposed to Protocol) being just a social form, after all.

And now the good news: you either are Raven, or you aren't. You can't "become" one of Raven's children (and that's no bad thing for the folks you know). Raven's paternity is stained across your deep pattern sometime before birth. That's not an elitist thing; it's just how it is.