and now, a word from my Sponsor
It's time to out myself. Unlike some others who share this site, Raven does not deal with me directly. Instead, someone I have regularly referred to as Shouting Lady has pursued me across Europe in a gigantic scavenger hunt. At times, shining angels have sung to me. Shouting Lady gives insistent instructions, occasionally in poetry, which gives the others a chance to laugh at me. My instructions may be "pretty", almost to the point of saccharine at times, but always tantalisingly vague and incomplete.
This is not what I would have chosen for myself, but that isn't the point. Even mere friends are supposed to have to work hard. I first met Her in the Tyrol, but that's close to being the end of Her story. The beginning occurred twenty-five years and many thousands of miles later. With typical irony, the beginning and end are geographically close. The circuitous miles in between were serious distance training.
There was once a goddess whose stern advisory aspect was shown by her sacred ravens. Since she didn't know she was supposed to be universal, she spent her days in a small area of what is now Italy, guiding her people as might a strict but loving schoolteacher and protecting them against evil enchantments. I doubt we'll ever know her original name: several layers of change imposed by people who didn't understand her language have obscured the details of her sacred festivals and rites, probably forever. This began when, about two thousand years ago, the "Admonishing Lady With Ravens" was unable to prevent her people being over-run by invaders. Her statues cried tears of blood (or, perhaps, they simply bled and cried ordinary tears), but prevention was beyond her capabilities. Instead, she simply made sure that her followers didn't have too rough a ride.
The newcomers made Her part of a much wider cult: To be sure, She was still a personal Goddess, but her name was changed in the cause of state control. She also lost her ability to harangue her followers, becoming instead a patron of prosperity, due to a confusion of root words by some state chronicler who never visited the area. I imagine, in truth, that the locals and their Goddess simply shrugged and went on doing pretty much what they always had - certainly that pattern will be repeated at the end of the story.
Let me say right out that I can make a pretty good explanation of the clinical reasons for her red and green robes, for the auras of light and for the effect of wine and blood. This makes her no less real when she appears in unexpected places and imparts nuggets of impenetrable wisdom, all the while insisting that one get one's arse into gear. Knowing how coloured glass is made doesn't stop a stained glass window being beautiful.
Meeting Her for the first time, I knew nothing of ravens. I met "Prosperous Lady" at the end of Her tour of Europe, which lasted at least two thousand years. She was almost home: to cross the High Tyrol is no great distance, especially for a Goddess. Somewhere along the way, She'd lost her robes and her ravens (it happens if you gig out a lot). In this case the robes were stolen by an Italian man who decided that blue looked much better, whilst the ravens fell another casualty of an inadequate dictionary. But, for the end of a two thousand year tour, She was glowing - positively radiant - perhaps it had something to do with the amount of sex She'd seen on the northern leg of the tour. She was riding on a vintage tram and insisted that I look at her statue.
When Prosperous Lady reached the isolated Stubaital, She was returning home to the open arms of willing followers. Local churches agreed not to denounce any traditions of those followers, provided that they were upheld within the aegis of the church - and provided the congregation kept giving the church money. However, the mother church may not have been aware of these agreements: at least one city-born pastor, on arrival at a new parish deep in the mountains, attempted to ban the local traditions. The parishioners responded in a way most appropriate for Prosperous Lady: they "converted" en masse to the Protestant faith. Takings plummeted and, following an investigation by the Diocese, a new, local-born pastor was appointed. The congregation returned and the status quo was restored.
An American academic who should have known better gave her a horn. He did speak the language, but accidentally or otherwise misread an ambiguous word and suggested a horn to summon the four winds. This better suited the needs of his publishers, and certainly made her useful as an aspect of the reverse-engineered universal goddess who was just coming into vogue. Many followers are unable to go back to primary sources, but interestingly, she is the "Goddess of the Four Winds" even to some expatriates who do speak the language - the true inheritors of a tradition begun when prosperity replaced stern advice.
But Shouting Lady also lives on, appearing when She is least expected. Occasionally, in sympathetic areas of Belgium, Austria or Germany, She is sufficiently daring to dress in her red and green finery. Elsewhere She wears a shining blue. In the Stubaital, of course, she rides vintage trams, but there's no need to go that far. When She crosses the Channel, she tends to keep a fairly low profile, but She's there, if you know where to look. If you don't know where to look, don't worry. She'll find you when she really needs you, although it may be difficult to understand just what she wants. She loves flowers, especially red ones, but it's fair to say that her favourites of all have sharp thorns, resulting in the occasional blood offering. She never turns it down.