I was listening to Omnia’s version of ‘The raven a little while back, it struck me what a pertinent piece of writing this is for anyone engaged in symbol interpretation. It’s a bit of a crash course in things you really don’t want to do, and I thought it might be both entertaining and useful to poke around in that a bit. If you aren’t able to listen to Omnia, here’s the text version.
We start out with a chap in a state of angst and melancholy. Moods colour perceptions, and if you are depressed, pretty much everything has the potential to look like a harbinger of doom. He has a fair sense of his own mood, so has no excuse. If you know everything looks shitty and feels doomed, try to avoid reading messages into things because you will just see portents of everything going to hell in a handcart. Had a dancing rainbow unicorn turned up, he would probably have seen something terrible in its eyes.
Clearly he’s looking for something or hoping that something will come to him. Perhaps the ghost of dead Leonore, but he has both a mood of gloom, and an agenda, which informs how he understands everything. It’s easy to see omens when you are specifically looking for them, and the stronger desire is, the less reliable your interpretations will be, so at the very least you need to factor that in a bit and not get too carried away.
He asks the bird its name, it answers ‘Nevermore’ and he instantly rejects that as the name the bird goes by, because it does not suit him to accept. If we are led by our assumptions, we are going to get things wrong. We should not assume otherworldly beings will have the same conventions and habits as we do.
He says a few other doleful things, the raven repeats ‘Nevermore’ and he at once assumes there must be innate meaning in its saying that. The more logical conclusion is that the bird knows one word, and this is it. Again the agenda is allowed to inform the interpretation even when other possibilities are clearly present. He then proceeds to ask an array of questions to which ‘nevermore’ would be the least helpful answer he could hear. He’s setting himself up to get the depressing answers that on some level, he evidently wants. Gloomy man confirms his gloom.
The bird stays. Never once does he consider that the bird might be benevolent, a guardian, or connected to Leonore in some way. He assumes it is there to torture him because he is busy torturing himself. Had he asked ‘how long must I suffer?’ the raven’s ‘Nevermore,’ might have sounded like a blessing, not a curse.
“Will they make me eat tapioca again?”
Without an open mind, any form of divination can be a lot like seeing what you were looking for.