R is for Raven
Symbols in Stories from Around the World
For the longest time, I thought a crow and a raven was the same bird. They both were black and were highly intelligent. They look alike though have plenty of differences. The crow is as big as pigeon and could live for 8 years while the raven is as big as a hawk and could live for 30 years. The crow has a high-pitched “Caw-Caw” song (though can be tricky to call it a song) while the raven sings a low-toned “Gronk-Gronk” song. Now we are ready to see why so many stories feature the raven.
Almost all Canadian First Nations tribes as well as tribes in the United States have raven stories. The Pacific Northwest and the California areas are particularly immersed in raven stories. The Tlingit and Tahltan have the most kinds of adventures for raven. Depending on what tribe or cultures the raven stories originate, sometimes the stories are owned by a tribe and it is taboo to share if you are not from that area.
The raven exudes a personality of a trickster and often shape-shifts into anything from humans to animals to objects. Raven is a problem-solver though prefers to fix things for his own benefit rather than helping mankind or his fellow animals. Though, and luckily, humans and animals alike have benefits from his ventures. As a trickster, the raven can be a hero or villain and it is up to the audience to decide.
The Haida First Nation said that raven found the first humans in a clam shell. The raven fed these humans berries and salmon. The tribes in the Pacific Northwest and beyond credit raven to bringing light into the world when all was dark. Another Native American tribe believed that raven dropped pebbles into the sea to make islands.
Though usually black, the Sioux tell of a white raven that kept singing out and warning the buffalo before the hunters could make their kill. One day, an angry shaman grabbed the bird by the tail., threw it in the fire, and the raven became black from that day on.
In Judeo-Christian culture, the raven is the counterpart to the dove. When Noah sent the raven to see if it was safe to land the ark, the raven never returned while the dove brought back an olive branch. Some Christians saw the raven as bringing about evil. The raven, due to being black, was like the night and so naturally haunted graveyards and prophesied of death and destruction. In contrast, the Chinese, Japanese, and Persian cultures saw the raven as the messenger of the gods and symbolized the sun.
The Celts saw the raven as one of the three beasts of battle. The Vikings told stories of Odin, the one-eyed god, that had two ravens named Huggin “Thought” and Muggin “Memory.” Odin led or started many wars though these ravens would bring back wisdom and strategy to all he did. The Irish Celts connected raven not only to battle but with death. The raven was the bird associated with Morrigan, the war goddess. She would summon ravens (and crows) to slaughter and to feast upon the dead. In real life, the raven prefers carrion to the crow. These same ravens had the gift of prophecy, could use magic, shape-shift, and seduce men.
The Ancient Welsh’s King Bran actually means “Raven.” When he died, his head was buried within the White Mount, which is the location of the historic Tower of London. Ravens still fly about that tower and legend has it that if the ravens leave, it would be the fall of England.
So far England has nothing to be worried about.
Some stories that feature a raven:
- “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe, a raven says “Nevermore” continuously to a grieving man who misses his love and the man becomes frustrated and references mythology and other religious images
- “The Birth of Raven,” Tlinget tale (Pacific Northwest), Raven is born the third child and the mother’s uncle drowns the first two though Raven is skilled at carving and uses a carved toy canoe to enlarge so he does not drown and later Raven takes vengeance on anyone taken advantage of or being cruel to another
- “The Crow and the Raven,” Aesop Fable, a raven received happy attention from people as a good omen while the crow was a bad omen so the crow wanted attention and cawed loudly but no one was impressed
What stories do you know that feature a raven? Was there trickery? Shape-shifting? Do you know a story that involves a raven and a crow? Please comment below and share with others.
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