We’ve all known catastrophe. The apocalypse exists within Caput Corvi, the symbol of a decapitated crow. Our internal reasoning cannot keep up with the crises of our circumstances. The crow forces us to change so that we may learn to begin doing so willingly. Patterns repeat, break, transform. Life is a series of cycles, some of them overlapping, and the corvids will visit from time to time.
[Content Warning: mentions of suicide, abuse, addiction]
A vital piece of resistance will give way. What already exists as an unknown pressure causing subconscious distress, with snowball effect, becomes an ineluctable crossing into disaster. These hidden problems combine into a situation which surpasses our window of tolerance— we aren’t equipped to handle it.
Life is as hazardous as it is haven, and part of our growth as humans is successfully facing challenges far beyond our abilities. We need not come out the other side unscathed or triumphant, if we survive then we have been successful nonetheless. To survive, we often repress the processing of our experiences.
All the accidents and betrayals remain with us and contribute to the unknown pressures on our psyche. Our minds forget to disengage survival mode. When we’ve reached a stable place where we can reflect and face these compartmentalized memories and emotions, we’re hesitant. The cycle is addicting because it’s familiar. Thankfully, alchemy is instinctive and animals are hardwired to adapt, ergo transmute.
It can still be difficult to break the habit of ignoring our instincts. Often, we need a cataclysm.
Within the fire, the crow’s head is severed. Before we realize we’re nearing a decision to meet our challenges at eye level, we may feel the flames grow near. It bites our toes and then lights a fire under our ass. We allow ourselves to finally become engulfed in the pain we repressed.
The culmination is agonizing. It is a trial by fire and we feel how easily we could burn away entirely. However, there are indestructible healing aspects which slowly become clear through the ash, if we’re mindful of them. The headless crow is still bound to the propensity for finding that which glitters preciously even without eyes to see.
Throughout my life the immortal piece of myself that I found in my self immolation was my connection to nature. Finding what I valued allowed me to see what was keeping me from being engulfed by love and curiosity.
When I had the power to understand why I was burning, I could use it to incinerate what led me to the pyre. Huffing, snorting, drinking, and enablers, abusers, and people who used me, I left them behind in the fire. I underwent several cycles of change but eventually the fire became precise and under the control of other birds.
The crow has plenty of work to do as it is. After the initial burnings come the bathings.
The above image may be perceived as macabre, but the depiction is of a careful and compassionate process. Violence out of context, in alchemy it is a metaphysical disruption, a procedural and medicinal destruction. Water is an emotional element and the turbulence may feel violent but the waters will inevitably still.
I was extremely emotionally repressed growing up. The dam didn’t break until I was almost twenty one and my life bettered in every way. Of course, first, two decades of pent up trauma came spilling out and for a while I felt worse than ever, but I levelled out— new stress and trauma would continue to unfold in my life but I was finally prepared to handle it.
We can’t expect perfection from ourselves, I fumbled and stumbled my way through, but we can expect our best effort.
Our best is what we’re seeking and it is what the drowning but peaceful crow is aware of in the bubbling waters. All excuses disintegrate with water’s erosion. Self sabotage dissolves in freed emotion.
When I was a suicidal child first reaching out for help, I had to momentarily separate myself from my shame and denial. No convoluted reasoning, only the bare boned facts. I grasped a single crow feather.
Air represents separatio— to divide aspects of the healthy self from the unhealthy self, we must understand what is indivisible and how to still identify separate aspects (thinking and feeling are intrinsically entwined, but we can still learn to differentiate thought and emotion, but only when the observing self is isolated from them).
I actively avoided my ‘observing self’ for most of my life, that unbiased voice of true and impartial reason which can assess all data and give an honest summary. “You don’t want to live this way.” I couldn’t afford to listen or concur and when I could, I didn’t because I’d assimilated into the life I didn’t want to live.
We must think critically of what hinders and what heals. We can’t delude ourselves with the hindrances we want to be healing but aren’t, and we can’t pretend true healing is too far out of reach. The airing out is as painful as the burning and washing, but the crow gave its head, not its wings.
No matter what matter we lose, we will be found whole. Each loss is a gain if it illuminates what will never leave us.
I’ve always met the crow of earth last. Born of dirt to return to dirt, all creatures know earth consumes and creates equally. Remnants of trauma and self harm rot away in earth’s balance: not hot enough destroy the metaphorical fungus which eats, digests, and transforms, not cold enough to preserve what must mold, moist enough to be habitable to change and inhabitable to consistency, dry enough that the crystals may harden amongst the decay.
All elements work in harmony to achieve transmutation and none is more obvious than the mighty earth. Earth allows the crow to finally rest, to allow the natural conjunction of precious materials and the disposal of interfering substances. When I let go of petty control, nature takes its course. I trust the cosmos and trust is a grounding, natural act.
Fire explodes and water floods, air is more controlled and subtle, and earth we may not even realize is affecting us. We’re given hints we take for granted, ignore. Caput Corvi is a very physical and tangible phase of being— when truths arise from from the steam, they finally become concrete. They manifest in our environments and bodies.
The crow of earth led me to understand why I felt more comfortable sleeping on a couch than a bed. The truths of physical memory came to light, that I’d trained myself to associate beds with trauma. I’d been fighting against the awareness I had deep in my mind which caused yet more stress. Even after realizing I wanted to live differently, not die, I had and still have intricate systems of maladaption. It took a couple years before I felt safe sleeping in a bed.
The grounding powers of earth began to detail steps which could facilitate what I believed to be impossible. I needed to feel comfortable in my space in order to start reconnecting with my body and begin the healing process.
After air gives impartial commentary a microphone, the truths of earth are empowered and are finally heard. The stresses rot and the comforts are given power. The crow begins to transform into a dove when I’ve worked my way through the cycles within cycles, returning frequently but always slightly different. Each time they visit, the crow, raven, peacock, dove, swan, pelican, and eagle carry new lessons.
Caput Corvi is always an important beginning in any new self improvement endeavour: the reckoning, the inevitable apocalypse, the beginning of the end of the beginning.