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?

LISTENING TO RAVEN Solo Exhibition

 

There is an artist named Beth Surdut who specializes in the art and story of Raven. She would like to invite all those who love corvids, particularly ravens, to to her solo exhibition of intricate drawings and stories opening at the Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The show runs through August 9, 2010.

The Ravens of Truth and Memory © All images in this post are copyrighted by Beth Surdut. Do not copy or use any of them without her permission.

The artist, Beth Surdut, said this about the above ravens (The Ravens of Truth and Memory),

The Norse God Odin sent two Ravens out each day–one named Truth (Hugin), the other Memory (Munin). Here, Memory allows Truth to gently pick through her feathers until both birds shine.

As with The Ravens of Truth and Memory each of her raven drawings has a unique story that you can read on her blog. Each has a life beyond the paper and the pens the coloring and shading, in the imagination of those who are able to see them and read their stories.

You can also view her beautiful work on her blog http://www.surdut.blogspot.com and her website http://www.bethsurdut.com.

And a special request to all corvid lovers who have stories to share about the raven. Beth Surdut “collects raven stories of spirit and science and would delighted to share and hear from [our] readers.” You can leave your comments / stories below or you can message her personally at info@bethsurdut.com (tell her you read about her work at CorvidCorner so she knows who you are…)

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. []

Ravens in Norse Mythology

Ravens have often been featured in myths and legends, stories, poems, and religious beliefs. For example, the Norse God Odin was said to have a pair of ravens, Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory). They were said to travel the world from early morning to late into the evening each and every day in search of information and news from every corner of this planet to bring back to Odin. Upon their return every evening they would whisper what they learned into his ear as they perched upon his shoulder.

It is the story of Huginn and Muninn from which Odin’s nickname, the raven-god was born.

In Grímnismál the ravens are mentioned:

The whole world wide, every day,
fly Huginn and Muninn;
I worry lest Huginn should fall in flight,
yet more I fear for Muninn.

Another translation reads,

Every morning the two ravens Huginn and Muninn, are loosed and fly over Midgard; I always fear that Thought may not wing his way home, but my fear for Memory is greater.1

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugin_and_Munin []