Latin speakers interpreted the raven’s call “Cras! Cras!” to mean “Tomorrow! Tomorrow!” And this soon became the symbol of the foolish sinner who puts off conversion. While others thought it symbolized the hope of something new or a better day. Here is an example from the 15th century depiction of a crow saying “cras cras”, which is not only an onomatopoeia but also means, according to the author, in Latin: “Tomorrow… you’ll die”. Actually it can be translated by an ominous “Tomorrow, tomorrow” and again, what this meant to different people could be very different. This picture makes it a little more ominous!
To the North American Eskimos, the raven’s cry sounded like “Kak, kak, kak!” which means ‘a deer-skin blanket.’ According to their legends, the raven’s cries warned people not to forget their blankets when they moved.
As intelligent as these birds are, it isn’t such a stretch of the imagination that the ravens could have been trying to help the Eskimos so they could survive. If they survived, then the ravens could eat the carcasses of the animals hunted. They could live near by and thus reduce their own work hunting. Who knows?
While driving around a beautiful university campus I came across a monastery with a lovely statue in front. It was a bronze statue of Saint Benedict of Nursia with a book in one hand a crow on his shoulder. I had not previously read about this saint or his story. But I found it interesting that he is depicted most times with crows. Here are a couple pictures of the statue I saw on the lawn near the abbey at Saint Martin’s University in Olympia, Washington. (They are not the greatest because I felt rude going on the lawn to get head on shots. Maybe next time I go I will ask if for permission.)
According to the Saint Martin’s University website,1
The dynamic, larger-than-life, bronze statue of Saint Benedict of Nursia, Father of Western monasticism and patron saint of the Catholic Benedictine order, stands near the Abbey Church. The statue, by Russian-born artist Simon Kogan, is a reminder of the 1,500-year-old Benedictine heritage that is part of the fabric of Saint Martin’s. Among the hallmarks are hospitality, service and a commitment to work, prayer and learning.
Crows were important to Saint Benedict of Nursia according to the French legend of the monk, Benedict of Nursia, who is known as the father of the monastic rule of the Benedictines. In French, a saying, “D’or aux trois corbeaux de sable posés deux et un” which translates into “Of gold, three sand crows posed two and one” denotes this very legend. It was said that Saint Benedict lived within a cave far away from the people and shared his food faithfully with a crow who visited him daily. This crow grew to love the monk and Saint Benedict grew to love the crow(s). A jealous priest sent poisoned bread to kill Saint Benedict but he was wise and gave it to the crows telling them to throw in a place far, far, far from any man. And so the crows did as he said and became the symbol of obligingness, intelligence and fidelity.23456
Another spin on the legend makes it Saint Benedict and the raven from the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great,7
When as the foresaid monasteries were zealous in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and their fame dispersed far and near, and many gave over the secular life, and subdued the passions of their soul, under the light yoke of our Saviour: then (as the manner of wicked people is, to envy at that virtue which themselves desire not to follow) one Florentius, Priest of a church nearby, and grandfather to Florentius our sub-deacon, possessed with diabolical malice, began to envy the holy man’s [Benedict’s] virtues, to back-bite his manner of living, and to withdraw as many as he could from going to visit him.
When he saw that he could not hinder his virtuous proceedings, but that, on the contrary, the fame of his holy life increased, and many daily, on the very report of his sanctity, took themselves to a better state of life : burning more and more with the coals of envy, he became far worse; and though he desired not to imitate his commendable life, yet fain he would have had the reputation of his virtuous conversation.
In conclusion so much did malicious envy blind him, and so far did he wade in that sin, that he poisoned a loaf and sent it to the servant of almighty God, as it were for a holy present. The man of God received it with great thanks, yet not ignorant of that which was hidden within. At dinner time, a crow daily used to come to him from the next wood, which took bread at his hands; coming that day after his manner, the man of God threw him the loaf which the Priest had sent him, giving him this charge: “In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, take up that loaf, and leave it in some such place where no man may find it.” Then the crow, opening his mouth, and lifting up his wings, began to hop up and down about the loaf, and after his manner to cry out, as though he would have said that he was willing to obey, and yet could not do what he was commanded.
The man of God again and again bide him, saying: “Take it up without fear, and throw it where no man may find it.” At length, with much ado, the crow took it up, and flew away, and after three hours, having dispatched the loaf, he returned again, and received his usual allowance from the man of God.
In my research on Saint Benedict of Nursia, I found this other statue depicting him with crows, as well. The legends all include his love for crows and how he helps them and they help him. This makes him a memorable saint for me. An old-school corvid lover. =)
I came across an interesting tale, The Three Ravens, it was originally an old English ballad and it has been told in various forms over time. This is a very different version of The Three Ravens told by Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. You can watch it here…
A few weeks ago I posted about Make a Joyful Noise written by Charles de Lint (read post here). I enthusiastically shared two of my favorite literary characters, the Crow Girls, Maida and Zia. This story is not available to purchase anymore but since I had a copy I thought I would ask the author if I could record it and post it on Corvid Corner to allow other crow lovers to enjoy it as well. Much to my surprise, he said I could! =)
And without further delay here is the story…(don’t forget to bookmark it!).
A friend made the following graphic to go with this audio recording. Thank you.
Please do NOT redistribute this recording elsewhere or re-post it on other sites. If you enjoy it and wish to share it you can send a link to this post to as many people as you would like. We want to be respectful of copyright laws and issues and not take advantage of the kindness of Charles de Lint in allowing me to share this here. =) Thank you and enjoy!
Update 1/10/2011: I started a new post for more information on these two beautiful characters, the Crow Girls here. Perhaps together we corvid lovers can find all references to them and share them with the world.
Scientists believe the fable of the crow and the pitcher might have been fairly accurate given the new research showing rooks using rocks to raise the level of water where a worm resided… to bring the worm up to their level.1
They are such incredibly intelligent birds. The other animal who showed fluid mechanics was the orangutan. I will bet corvids are just as smart if not smarter than many of the primates.
This is a story of some clever crows and a clever farmer and even more clever owl as they all try to fight for their own causes. The owl tries to help them see the futility of fighting, of war, in this beautifully illustrated children’s fable. Definitely worth the read!