Birds Of A Feather

By and for Bird-People

The Man Who Turned Into a Raven

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This is a rough translation of Boria Sax‘ version of The Man Who Was Changed Into a Crow, from the Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling. I came upon this version in the French edition of his 2003 book Crows, and I wanted to share the story here for other corvid folks (I do not possess the English book, which is certainly more faithful to Sax’s original account).

This only is a small excerpt, the whole Crows book is an interesting and enjoyable read that I’d recommend to any corvid-lover.

Yü Jung, a young man from a modest family, had failed his examination. Desperate, he had stopped by the Wu Wang temple to pray  the god – a deity of birds.

As he was resting, a servant came to him and led him to Wu Wang himself who asked that a black robe was brought to the young man; as soon as he had changed clothes, he turned into a raven (or, in some versions of the story, a crow).

Later on he married a female raven named Chu-Ch’ing. One day, as he was with other ravens catching crumbs thrown by sailors (a propitiating custom), Yü Jung did not follow his wife’s advice on not getting too close to humans, and he was shot with crossbow.

He suddenly found himself back in the temple, wounded and laying on his side in human form. As he recovered his senses, he swore to himself that he would never forget his life as a raven with Chu-Ch’ing.

Often he came back to the temple, praying Wu Wang and offering food for the birds. Later on, when Yü Jung got his exams, he sacrificed a sheep in homage to ravens, and Chu-Ch’ing – who had become a river spirit – came to him.

She handed his black robe to him and said: “If you want to visit me, all you have to do is putting on the robe and fly to me”. And that is how Yü Jung lived two parallel lives, one as a man and one as a raven.

I find this tale fascinating in that it sounds like a reverse swan maiden story: the protagonist starts as a human but becomes Other, this bird shapeshifter is male instead of female, he is happy with his life instead of wanting to escape it. The transformation is still dependant on a garment, just like the usual swan maiden’s cloak.

I’d suggest that you read Pu Songling’s version from the link I gave, it would give you a much longer and detailed account of the tale (and there are some minor changes in the storyline). The sentence “there is a vacancy among the black-robes” at the begining may even indicate that most ravens actually are human shapeshifters. :)

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