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!)” ((Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.)) 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. ((Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.))
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. ((Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.))
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.