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?

Demon Bird

Creative Commons -- I did NOT take this photograph

During the witch craze in Western Europe, ravens and crows were sometimes feared as demons. In Strathnaver, Scotland, for example, in the seventeenth century, an entire congregation of prayerful souls was seized with dread when they sensed a spectral raven in the house with them. Evil emanated from this shadowy presence, and the people were paralyzed with fear. A day passed and then another, and the group decided to sacrifice the house-holder’s son to the bird spirit. And so they would have done had it not been for the intervention of a servant. Eventually, neighbors rallied to tear the roof off the house, and the raven’s dire spell was broken.1

  1. Source: Savage, Candace. Crows : Encounters with the Wise Guys. New York: Greystone Books, 2005. []