I was first aware of the concept of a "helping ally" when I would walk into the small mining town from the bunkhouse where I lived for a time. Invariably, I would be joined on this short half-mile stroll by a raven. I had never seen a raven before. They are huge, black birds. They talk as they fly–caws, quorks, clicks, and a variety of other sounds. The raven appeared to be the same one every time. It would fly an arms length behind me and just above my head, talking, talking, talking.
At first I was afraid. But as I got more used to the idea of being followed by a huge black bird, I started to think of it more as a walking companion. I knew that in many cultures of the world, the raven is associated with Death. Everyday, I strolled with Death into the village, trying to understand why this mysterious companion was stalking me. I began to talk to it, the way you would to a friend. I would tell it about the day I was having, my problems working in such an alien environment with people I could barely fathom, and my parents wondering when I was going to come home to return to my education. My friend would caw occasionally, and fly off when I reached the edge of the village.
Its presence reminded me of something I learned as a child: we are never really alone on this planet. There is always a presence, sometimes visible, often not, willing and available to share important passages of the journey. As the mythologist Michael Meade reminds us, there is a world behind the world.
© Patrick O’Neill 2008. All rights reserved.