Legends of the Raven’s caw

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.
Photo by Kotsuis Hohhug
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?

St. Kevin and Crows

Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

After learning all about Saint Benedict of Nursia and his affiliation with crows, I did some research on other saints and crows. I found St. Kevin, the Patron Saint of Crows! How cool is that? Who knew? Well, apparently some people. He was born in 498 and reportedly died 120 years later in 618. He is also the Patron Saint of Ireland, Dublin, Glendalough and crows to be exact. Saint Kevin of Glendalough. He is often depicted with crows and is said to have preferred the company of animals to humans. So strong was his preference for animals, songs with his story tell of him drowning a woman who tried to seduce him. Yet, he was said to have infinite patience and kindness?1 Even deemed the "gentle one". Legend says he once allowed a crow to lay an egg in his palm and he held it safely until the egg hatched and the little bird flew away. It would seem those who thought him gentle were much more impressed by his skills with animals than his people skills.

Seamus Heaney wrote the following about St. Kevin,2
"And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird. The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside His cell, but the cell is narrow, so One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands and Lays in it and settles down to nest."
Art by LINDA JAQUES
  Sources: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/lasi/lasi03.htm http://patriarts.com/Kevin/Kevin%20manuscript1.htm http://asinnersguidetothesaints.blogspot.com/2010/06/st-kevin-of-glendalough-498-to-june-3.html http://patriarts.com/Kevin/Kevin.htm http://saintspreserved.com/Kevin/St_Kevin.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_of_Glendalough http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-kevin-of-glendalough/
  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_of_Glendalough []
  2. http://asinnersguidetothesaints.blogspot.com/2010/06/st-kevin-of-glendalough-498-to-june-3.html []

Omens related to a Crow according to Vastu Shastra

Here are some omens related to crows according to Vastu Shastra (an ancient Indian doctrine):
  • Crow is probably the most common bird in India and hence they are often ignored as mere scavengers. But Vastu Shastra associates a number of omens with it. These omens are as follows:-
  • If a crow coming from the south-west side in the evening is seen it is an indication for some approaching calamity.
  • If a crow coming from the South-East direction in the evening is seen it indicates monetary gain.
  • When a crow drops a piece of burnt wood, bone or meat on the bed of a person it indicates approaching danger or death in the near future.
  • If a crow passes from the left crowing it is considered a good omen.
  • When many crows start crowing together in a corner or around the house it indicates approaching danger.
  • Early in the morning when a crow comes flying from the North-East direction it indicates some good news.
  • The crowing of a crow on the roof is inauspicious.
  • If it sits on someone`s head it is inauspicious.
  • When a crow is calling out with its face towards the South the head of the family will have a nice time.
  • In case one sees a crow sitting on the back of a pig it indicates legal complications. However if it is sitting on a camel or a donkey if it is seen it is considered a good omen.
  • When a person sees a crow flying in the clockwise direction he or she faces bad relations with his relatives.
  • When the ear of corn, flower or sand stone is seen in the beck of a crow it indicates monetary gain for that person.
  • When a crow carries a vessel or some costly article it is associated with danger. When a crow brings grass or burnt wood in our place he indicates danger from fire.
  • When a crow starts crowing with its face towards the South-West it indicates monetary gain for the person who watches it.
  • A person is likely to gain jewelry when a crow crows with his face towards the South-East direction.
  • If a person sees a crow sitting on a tree laden with fruit he will receive wealth and honor.
  • When a crow calls out facing the North-West the head of the family gets grain and arms as gifts.
  • When a crow crows with its face towards the North the head of the family has chances of getting new clothes or vehicle.
  • If a crow comes into the house and crows it indicates the coming of guests.
  • The person who sees a crow sitting on the back of a horse gets a new vehicle.
  • When a person sees a crow sitting on the tail of a cow and crowing he or she faces ill health.
  • Seeing two crows together brings bad news.
  • When the crow crows facing the North-East the head of the family will be subject to monetary gains.

The Crow Girls

After the fantastic response to my audio recording of Charles de Lint's Make a Joyful Noise (listen to it here), I decided to make a concerted effort to find all the literary references to these two magical characters, the Crow Girls. I have read them in various stories and books of Charles de Lint's. I will revisit his books again to comb through them to find where and when they appear. If you know of any off the top of your head, please leave a comment and I will add them to this post. The first reference that comes to mind, aside from Make a Joyful Noise, is in The Onion Girl. This is one of my very favorite books by Charles de Lint and includes other amazing characters like Jilly Coppercorn who I believe everyone should have the opportunity to get to know. Another couple stories or books I remember reading about the Crow Girls were in Someplace to be flying, Triskell Tales and Triskell Tales 2 (available only for 2nd hand purchase). I will list all the pages where the Crow Girls debut soon. In the meantime, I found these wonderful references or stories about the Crow Girls around the web... The Crow Girls (art) by Erin Kelso

The Crow Girls (fan art by Erin Kelso)

Character Connections Charles de Lint by The Introverted Reader -- This is an interesting character connection and delightful description of the Crow Girls textually supported. =) A Crow Girls Christmas by Charles de Lint and his wife -- This is both a short story AND a wonderful artistic rendition of the Crow Girls by his wife, Mary Ann Harris. Click on the title to go to Charles de Lint's website to read this charming short story!

The Crow Girls Christmas (art by Mary Ann Harris)
The Crow Girls Christmas (art by Mary Ann Harris)
More to come soon...

Make a Joyful Noise Audio Recording

Make a Joyful Noise by Charles DeLint

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!). Make a Joyful Noise (Part 1) Make a Joyful Noise (Part 2) Make a Joyful Noise ( Part 3) Make a Joyful Noise (Part 4) Make a Joyful Noise (Part 5) Make a Joyful Noise (Part 6) 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.

The Crow and the Pitcher more than fable?

The Crow and the Pitcher, originally uploaded by AnnaleeBlysse.
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. You can read more about the studies here.
  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/5983953/Aesops-fable-is-true-shows-crow-study.html []

The Crow Song

Crow, originally uploaded by russthedutch.
"The Crow Song"
There were three crows sat on a tree, Oh Billy Ma-gee Ma-gar! There were three crows sat on a tree, Oh Billy Ma-gee Maggar! There were three crows sat on a tree, And they were black as crows should be And they all flapped their wings and cried Caw, Caw, Caw, Billy Ma-gee Ma-gar!
II
Said one old crow unto his mate, Oh Billy Ma-gee Ma-gar! Said one old crow unto his mate, Oh Billy Ma-gee Ma-gar! Said one old crow unto his mate, What shall we do for grub to ate? And they all flapped their wings and cried Caw, Caw, Caw, Billy Ma-gee Ma-gar.
III
There lies a horse on yonder plain, Whose by some cruel butcher slain, We'll perch upon his old backbone, And pick his eyes out one by one. And they all flapped their wings and cried Caw, Caw, Caw, Billy Ma-gee Ma-gar.

Here is one version of this song sang by Burl Ives:
The Three Crows by Burl Ives

Legendary Ravens

Ravens are majestic birds and thus inspire great and terrible legends, myths, folklore and superstitions. It is no wonder with their capacity for intelligence. Ravens have exactly the same brain-to-body ratio as dolphins and almost the same as humans. "If crows were human, their average IQ would be 135 (the average for humans is 100!)"1 With such a proclivity for intelligence it is no surprise many cultures have created elaborate myths, stories, legends, and superstitions about the raven. The Raven in many mythological traditions was often reported to be the creator of the world. The raven is tied to the flood many thought once overtook the earth as well.
The Koyukon people, hunters living on the Koyukuk River in Alaska, believed that the great raven Dot-son-paa made the world, and that when the great flood came he placed two of every animal, bird, and insect upon a raft so that they would survive. To this day, the Koyukon people treat all wildlife with the courtesy that they accord to human beings, but make a special point of showing particular respect to the raven.
For the neighbors of the Koyukon people, the Tlingit Tribe, the raven is also important as is depicted in their beliefs.2
The [Tlingit Tribe] believed that the raven was the mythical ancestor of their race and performaned many deeds at the beginning of the world. Among these was deciding what particular task each bird should perform, where they should live and what colour their plumage was to be. One story relates that the raven decreed that the (American) Robin should give pleasure to man through its beauty, and the hummingbird through its song; another tells how he commanded all birds to dress differently so that they would be able to recognize each other---the blue jay, for example, was told to pile its hair high and tie it with a string. As for himself, the magical raven could transform himself into whatever shape he chose and could remove his feathers like a coat. As a spirit of creation he had no beginning and no end.
Ravens were worshipped and revered by the Vikings. The raven was the symbol of one of their Gods, Odin and it was said that the shields and banners of his men donned raven images. Such was the case with the Landeyda or Land ravager war banner which bore the emblem of the raven and was reputed to have been woven in one day by the granddaughter of Sigurd, a hero of Norse mythology who had the power to understand the language of the birds.((Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.)) Odin owned two ravens named Hugin and Munin. Hugin represent thought and Munin, memory.  You can read more about them in this post. This myth is also belived in Ireland where the phrase 'raven's knowledge' is still used to refer to anyone who appears to see and know all.3 The Vikings so admired the ravens powers of observation they even sang about them in this song:
How is it with you ravens, whence are you come With gory beak at the dawning of the day? You lodged last night I ween [suppose] Where you knew the corpses were lying.
Many references in literature can be found that indicate the negative superstitions believed to be true about ravens such as found in Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta,
...the sad presaging raven, that tolls The sick man's passport in her hollow beak, And in the shadow of the silent night Doth shake contagion from her sable wings.
Or in Shakespeare's Macbeth when Lady Macbeth welcomes the man she wishes dead, Duncan with these words:
The raven himself is hoarse That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan Under my battlements
This is definitely not all the legends, myths, folklores, superstitions or beliefs about the raven. We will write more in the future.
  1. Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. []
  2. Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. []
  3. Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. []

Rooks, Easter Lore and More

Like many in the corvid family Rooks are attached to many legends, myths, lore and superstitions. In Shropshire, it was believed that rooks never carried sticks to their nests on Sundays or Ascension Day, but simply sat quietly on trees and did not work. It was also believed to be futile to wear new clothes on Easter because the rooks would fly above and poop on them. Quite the opposite was said to be true as well. Some believed if you were hit by bird poop it was because you did not wear new or nice enough clothes on Easter. It was the Rook that was believed to make the decision if your Easter attire was nice enough. And it was the Rook who would carry out the punishment as well. It was a dirty job but somebody had to keep those English people well dressed on Easter. Rooks deserting a rookery were (and in some places still are) also thought to be an indication of a death coming. They were also looked to for predicting weather conditions for many. Such was the case in Devon, England where it was assumed that should the Rooks stay in the vicinity of their nests in the middle of the day, or return to the rookery early, then rain would follow, but if they flew far away, then fine weather would follow instead. And in Yorkshire, the saying went that if the rooks congreated on dead branches of trees, rain wuold come before nightfall, but if they perched on live branches it would be fine and dry.1 The rook is a predatory bird, cunning and intelligent, it will do most anything to survive. This is true for most corvids. But because of its sneaky nature it has gotten a reputation. The root of its name "rook" means 'to rook' or cheat someone. The distrust for rooks has long since held true in many places. In 19th century London a criminal ladened slums in the East End were referred to as a 'rookery'. This was indicative of the rook's sneaky nature but also a comment on the way they build their nests very close together---crowding in---similar to the slums. The name Rook is descendant of the Latin word frugilegus which means acquisitive. Fitting for the bird as Rooks often like to take objects including twigs and other nesting materials from other nests.2
  1. Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. []
  2. Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. []