Crow/Raven – A Messenger of Magic and Mystery by Judith Shaw


judith shaw photoCaw! Caw! calls Crow. Gronk! Gronk! honks Raven. Magic and mystery are in the air. Ancient cultures saw birds as spiritual messengers, whose gift of flight gave them access to the spirit realm.

Crows and ravens are majestic birds found on every continent except Antarctica and South America. They are so similar it’s hard to tell them apart, the main difference being size. Even in myth some deities are associated interchangeably with Crow and Raven as their symbolic significance is basically the same.

The American crow is about 14 – 16” long. Ravens are quite a bit larger, 22 – 27” and clunkier in proportions. Both birds are relatively long-lived;  wild ravens can live up to seventeen years and crows up to twenty.

Symbolism
Mystery, Intuition, Magic, Destiny, Death, Transformation, Commitment, Wisdom, Intelligence, Fearlessness, Strength, Communication, Playfulness

Mystery … Transformation

As scavengers on the battlefield, Crow and Raven have long been associated with death. In myth they are portrayed not as the cause of death but as its harbingers and scavengers. A group of crows is called a murder. Some scientists would like to see that name changed as it supports negative associations with violent death.

Both birds figure prominently in Celtic Mythology. Morrigan, The Phantom Queen, emerges from the darkness wielding her magic. She was a shapeshifting war goddesses who could appear as Crow/Raven or be accompanied by them. As Raven she predicted death on the battlefield or feasted on slain warriors.

Dhumavati, Hindu goddess, is often shown riding in a chariot pulled by crows, riding on a crow or with a crow flag. She is “the Void” that exists before creation and after dissolution. Often depicted on a cremation ground, the place of final transformation, she is a great teacher with ultimate knowledge of the universe – knowledge that goes beyond the duality of this world.

The Morrigan, Celtic War and Fertility Goddess, painting by Judith Shaw

Some Native American tribes believe Crow is a shapeshifter, simultaneously living in both the physical and spiritual worlds.  Others see Crow as part of their creation story.

Crow teaches that dissolution is part of the ever-changing nature of life, leading you through the difficult task of letting-go onto transformation and rebirth. Crow calls you to to see through illusion and experience the oneness of being.

Commitment, Determination

Crow and Raven mate for life. Crow’s offspring often stay with their parents for many years, helping care for younger siblings. Raven’s young leaves the nest and roam around together until they mate.Branwen, Celtic Goddess painting my Judith Shaw

Both birds appear to have empathy for one another – consoling another who lost a fight or responding amicably to bird friends for many years. Crows will surround a deceased member of their family both to mourn and to assess potential danger to the group. A dead crow’s mate often appears devastated and can mourn its loss for several days.

From the Welsh tales of the Mabinogion we learn of King Bran whose name means Crow or Raven and his sister Branwen, whose name translates as Beautiful Raven. When Branwen’s husband, the king of Ireland, began mistreating her, King Bran gathered an army to rescue her. The war was terrible; many were killed; Bran was mortally wounded by a poisoned spear; Branwen died of a broken heart. Beautiful Raven’s journey of betrayal and heartbreak, one traveled with determination to find harmony, calls us to remember the importance of love, empathy, and determination. Call on Crow for help in dealing with adversity, in the development of will power and in being true to yourself.

Insight, Intuition, Fearlessness

Crow and Raven prefer living in open landscapes with trees nearby. It’s a common sight to see crows perched high in trees surveying the world around them. Crow says it’s time to see your own struggles from a higher perspective – time to access your inner wisdom. 

Crows are know to be fearless in protecting themselves.They gang up together to chase away large predators in aerial attacks called mobbing.

Crow encourages you to be fearless and bold.

The tale of King Bran illustrates another message from Crow – be ever watchful. Seeking a less painful death than one from poison, King Bran asked that his head be cut-off and buried at Gwynfryn (where the Tower of London now stands). Still today ravens are kept at the Tower of London, vigilant sentinels of protection. From this higher perspective Crow sees much. Crow calls you to be alert, with open eyes, to trust your intuition and insight will follow.

Magic, Intelligence, Wisdom,

Crow and Raven are undeniably smart – the only animals more intelligent are humans. Like humans, they have a highly developed forebrain where intelligence is regulated.

Raven has been known to push rocks on people to protect their nests and to steal fish by pulling a fisherman’s line out of ice holes. Keen puzzle-solvers, some Crows even make tools.

Various Native American tribes recognized Crow’s intelligence, wearing crow feathers in their hair as a sign of respect. To many tribes crow is a messenger of destiny and magic and a symbol of transformation. The Cherokee place great value on Crow medicine which enhances our decision-making skills and allows us to embrace change. Crow reminds us that magic is everywhere and that a sharp wit, keen eye and wisdom will help you access that magic.

Communication, Trickster

Crows and Ravens are great communicators – emitting different sounds with different meanings and mimicking other noises and animal sounds. They also use gestures to communicate –  pointing with their beaks in the direction of hidden food.

The Norse God, Odin had two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory) who traveled the world and brought messages back to Odin everyday

In Native American lore Crow and Raven are often depicted as playful and mischievous – even a trickster. They have been observed skiing down snow-covered roofs, playing keep-away with other animals and taunting other animals just for fun.

If you have become a little too stuffy or self-important Crow might be telling you to lighten-up and have some fun.

When Crow swoops into your life bringing clarity of vision to your situation, it’s time to be fearless, bold, brash, and alert. Seek Crow’s help in dealing with adversity. Allow Crow to guide you into the dark mystery of your soul and from that higher perspective to access your inner wisdom; to see beyond the illusion of duality. Crow urges you to listen to your intuition, to speak your truth and to seek the light. Crow reminds you that every moment is magic; that all is one. Listen to Crow’s messages with an open heart and be open to transformation. 

Sources: Outspire, Inspiration From the Outdoors, Live Science, Mental Floss, Spirit Animal, Mental Floss, Exemplore, Exemplore, Spirt Animal, Fractal Enlightenment,

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck from Judith’s Etsy Shop. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!

 

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.

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Categories: animals, General, Paganism

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13 replies

  1. Thanks, Judith, I love that beautiful black and white photo here of a crow skiing down a roof. It always seems amazing to see animals becoming playful alone or with each other in the wild. It takes real creativity to be playful, not just instinct.

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    • Hi Fran, The black and white photo you mention is actually a video. Click the arrow and enjoy watching that crow having a good old time. Also notice that the crow fashioned a ski out of a metal jar lid – more evidence of Crow’s intelligence!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a delightful lore-packed post! And gorgeous paintings as always. I love the blue-black feather of the raven and the circles in the sky. I looked up what a group of ravens are called, and found “an unkindness.” I love ravens and am lucky to live on a ridge that is home to many ravens. I have seen them turning somersaults on the wind. Their sounds are a source of wonder. I decided to call a group of ravens a “raucousness of ravens.” Thank you for brightening the morning with Raven and Crow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elizabeth, I love your name for a group of ravens – very fitting. I also discovered that they were called “an unkindness. Unfortunately there was so, so, so much info on both Crow and Raven that many interesting facts and even some symbolic meanings about them hit the editing floor. The circles in the sky came to me in a vision after a day of working with various ideas for the sky that would give a feeling of magic. I have lots of crows in my neighborhood in the winter. I learned that in New Mexico the ravens come around in the spring. I plan to take note this year as in year’s past I probably thought they were crows.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hooray for crows and ravens! As you know from my witch and raven stories, I’m a big fan of those birds. There’s a big flock of crows that lives on my street and on the nearby cross streets. I’ve seen those birds in action and totally believe everything you write about them today. And that’s a gorgeous painting. Bright blessings to us all.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ravens and crows are fascinating birds – in my life, Raven in particular embodies a messenger – of news – good or ill.

    I have to take issue with this statement “Crow and Raven are undeniably smart – the only animals more intelligent are humans.”

    These birds are very bright but it is a western myth that they are the most intelligent animals besides humans. This is simply not true. We judge them as brilliant because they use tools like humans do… well many other animals do too – but that’s not the point – humans judge intelligence by HUMAN standards – an unbelievably narrow standard that doesn’t take into consideration that human perception is just that – human.- and thus limited.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suppose what you say is true Sara as it is scientists who are human who make these qualifying statements about things, though the making of tools is only one of the elements that goes into that assessment of crows and ravens. What animal would you consider to be the most intelligent?

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  5. I relate to crow/raven here as “the Trickster”! My dog, Watson, jumps up and tries to catch anything that flies, including the air ambulance enroute to the hospital! Crows know this, and sit on the wires taunting him. Sometimes they drop acorns on him with great deliberation! I’ve also seen them chase a bald eagle who was threatening a nest.
    I always say “hello” or “good morning” to them. They bring a smile to my day.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks, Judith, for this mythology-packed post. I love cross-cultural examinations of significant symbols, just what you gave us today!

    Like all the commentators, crows have been extremely important in my life as well. They hung out in large groups (I have trouble with “murder” as well) along the street where I lived for 25 years. One of the first times that I realized that the world had more to say than just human language was in listening to crows in the late 1970s along that street or in the cemetery behind it. I couldn’t understand them, but I knew they were talking to me. that was one of my first intuitions about the significance of divination, which of course resulted in my book _The World is Your Oracle_.

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  7. I am puzzled by the idea that crows and ravens would be viewed as the same bird by anyone who was in touch with nature. I was confused for a while but they are easily told apart not only by their size and features but by their jizz (ravens are often in pairs, crows single and in large groups), and as you say by their speech/sounds.

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