Raven as a Deity in Legend and Myth

Common Ravens ~

Common Ravens in the Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.
Common Ravens in the Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. | Source

Raven of the spirit world

In legend and myth Raven is often portrayed as a deity. He came from the spiritual realm to give light to the world. His black feathers whispering like silk as he soars in flight. His eyes see all as he looks down upon Mother Earth, for he is of the spirit world. He watches over his people.

To many cultures Raven also represents deep magic, the mystery of the unknown, death and transformation, creation, healing, wisdom, protection, and prophecy -- he is a connection to the Otherworld.

Raven hat ~

Raven ceremonial hat of the Tlingit tribe
Raven ceremonial hat of the Tlingit tribe | Source

Haida and Tlingit Tribes ~

Haida and Tlingit tribes of the Pacific Northwest portray Raven as a deity in legend and myth.

The Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest Coast , United States, refer to themselves as Lingit, which means "People of the Tides". They are a matrilineal society that came from the rainforest of southeast Alaska coast and the Alexander Archipelago.

The Inland Tlingit are from the northwestern British Columbia and southern Yukon Territory in Canada. All the groups were hunter-gatherer cultures.

The Tlingit consist of twenty individual tribes. They are of a multifaceted and complex culture rich in art and spirituality. They have a rich and consistent tradition of oral storytelling passed down from their ancestors. It is very important that their stories are always told the same way. Their Raven tales are well-loved and repeated generation after generation.

Raven, or Yelt, is an important character in the mythology of the Haida and Tlingit -- he is seen as a complex reflection of the within (Self).

How Raven Brought Light To The World is a common legend of many tribes throughout America. It is the story of how Raven stole all the light in the world from an old chief who kept it hidden in a box within many boxes. Raven finally had the light in his beak and moving his powerful wings, he burst through the smoke-hole in the roof of the house, and escaped into the darkness with his stolen treasure. He threw Sun up into the sky and that is how light came into the world.

In many cultures Raven is a helper of the Supreme Being in creation of the world and many other things. In Native American cultures, Raven is the Deity.

The Haida people are also from the Pacific Northwest coastal areas. They have a very similar culture and traditions as the Tlingit peoples. Like the Tlingit, the Haida believe that Raven as a benevolent spiritual figure who helps the people shape their world in a positive way.

Skaay, a blind and crippled Haida elder, was a beloved storyteller of the Haida village of Ttanuu. He was born sometime around 1827. He could not read or write, but his oral stories were a treasure to his people. Fortunately, his stories were written down by John Swanton and Henry Moody during the winter of 1900. One of Skaay's well-loved stories was "Raven Traveling", which was his own version of a popular tale.

Raven releasing first men ~

Sculpture by Bill Reid showing Raven releasing first men from a cockle shell. Bill Reid is an artist from the T'anuu (Haida)  Raven/Wolf Clan.
Sculpture by Bill Reid showing Raven releasing first men from a cockle shell. Bill Reid is an artist from the T'anuu (Haida) Raven/Wolf Clan. | Source

Raven brings mankind to the world~

Another common legend of the Haida people is how Raven brought mankind into the world.

After the Great Flood, Raven found himself alone on a beach. He raised his beak and cried loudly to the sky. He then heard a muffled squeak and searched for where the sound came from. He found a giant clam shell half buried in the sand. He dug it up and peeked inside.He saw the shell was full of tiny Male Humans. He released them and had great fun playing and teaching them his tricks.

After awhile he realized this was boring and went in search of Female Humans, for all creatures need both male and female. He found the Female Humans in a giant Chiton clinging to the rocks. These creatures were softer and rounder, like the Chiton, whereas the Male Humans were stronger like the clam shell.

Raven brought the Male Humans and Female Humans together. They produced children and that is how mankind came into the world.

Do you have a favorite Native American Raven story?

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Other Native American Cultures ~

In Native American cultures there are over 150 stories in the "Raven Tales". Each tribe may have their own version of these tales, yet they follow the same basic story line.

With over 5000 different tribes in North America, that is a lot of Raven stories. Raven is a central character for many Native American peoples.

In many cultures Raven is a helper of the Supreme Being in creation of the world and many other things. In Native American cultures, Raven is the Deity.

Raven's feathers were singed by fire ~

The Twa Corbies (or The Two Ravens) c. 1919 by Arthur Rackham
The Twa Corbies (or The Two Ravens) c. 1919 by Arthur Rackham | Source

Odin with Huginn and Muninn ~

Odin with the Raven deities Huginn and Muninn
Odin with the Raven deities Huginn and Muninn | Source

O'er Mithgarth Hugin and Munin both

Each day set forth to fly;

For Hugin I fear lest he come not home,

But for Munin my care is more.

— Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows

Other Indigenous Cultures ~

Other indigenous cultures around the world, such as Scandinavia, Ireland, Wales, Bhutan (south Asia), northeast Asia, and Siberia, also have revered the Raven as a spiritual figure or god. Raven came from the Old World to North America over two million years ago by crossing the Bering land bridge.

From the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia comes an ancient story of how Raven brought the Sun, Moon, Stars, Fresh Water, and Fire to the world. Raven, as a deity figure became very protective of the people and helped them by bringing them what they needed to survive. Very similar to Native American tales, Raven had to steal Stars, Moon and Sun which he threw up into the darkness of Sky to bring light into World. When Raven stole Fire to bring to the people who were cold, the flames singed Raven's feathers and that is why he is black.

In Norse mythology, Huginn and Muninn are Ravens that sit upon the shoulders of the god Odin. Odin's Ravens fly around the world, bringing him back important information that they whisper in his ears. Thus Odin is aware of many important events and of things to come. Huginn and Muninn represent the mind of Odin, Huginn being Thought and Muminn being Memory. The Ravens represent Odin's ability to see into the future. Odin's ravens appeared on Viking war flags.

In Irish mythology Raven is associated with warfare and the battleground in the figures of The Morrigan, a Triple goddess

named Badb, Macha, and Morrigu. The Morrigan is a goddess of battle, strife, and fertility and takes the shape of Raven when flying above the warriors. The Morrigan is a protector of warriors and Chooser of the Slain.

"To have a raven's knowledge" is an Irish proverb meaning to have a seer's supernatural powers. Raven is considered one of the oldest and wisest of animals.

Bran the Blessed in ancient Welsh mythology is depicted as a giant and is King of the Britons, Protector of the Isle of the Mighty. His totem is a Raven and his name means "Raven". Raven is a bird of wisdom and prophecy. After the battle with Ireland, when Bran lay mortally wounded, he requested that his men take his head and bury it in what is now Tower Hill in London to protect Britain from invasion. Bran's Ravens are kept there to this day. According to the legend, if the Ravens should ever leave, then the tower will fall and disaster would befall on Britain.

In Arthurian legends Raven is often seen with Merlin and Morgan le Fay. Raven is symbolic of wisdom, magic, and the mysteries of sorcerers. Some say that Arthur did not die, but when taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay he was turned into a Raven.

Tha gliocas an ceann an fhitich or Fice ceann na fhitich are Scots Gaelic proverbs meaning "There is wisdom in a raven's head."

In the Hebrides, a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland, it is said that "Giving a child his first drink from the skull of a raven will give the child powers of prophecy and wisdom."

The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe ~

The Raven illustration by Gustave Dore', 1884
The Raven illustration by Gustave Dore', 1884 | Source

Powerful Symbol ~

Since the beginning of the history of mankind, Raven has been looked upon as a powerful symbol. Stories of Raven abound in folklore and mythology.

The common raven is widespread throughout the world. Many cultures have well-known stories about the raven as a deity, helper of mankind, a trickster, or messenger. Raven is often revered as a spiritual figure or god. Raven is also a shapeshifter. Raven is the greatest shapeshifter of all.

One of the most famous of Edgar Allen Poe's stories is The Raven . Poe's writings reflected his inner turmoil, expressing his own sorrows and losses. He was deeply spiritual. In The Raven the symbolism can be seen as searching within his own soul for clarity and affirmation.

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee

Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'

Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

— Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

Raven brings light to the world ~

Note from author ~

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony.

Phyllis Doyle Burns
~ ~ ~ ~

© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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Comments 32 comments

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago

What a wonderful piece of folklore. Do you think the raven stories with all their variations may have originated in Africa before the great migration of people from that continent? I wonder if the raven tales may be akin to the tales of the phoenix, especially getting the wings singed rather than burning and rising from the ashes. The ravens, the thunderbirds, the phoenix, what would we do without all these interesting and lovely stories? I enjoyed your take on these immensely Voted up useful and beautiful.


Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Very interesting to learn about why Ravens are looked upon as a powerful symbol in the form of a bird. Great hub.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi MizB. Thank you for stopping by. Your comment can start a discussion for a whole new hub and I love it ! Your thoughts on similarities with the Phoenix are spot on -- the stories of Raven are very much akin to the Phoenix. I know, that just like the Great Flood, each culture has their own version with different names and slight variations on the story line. You are much like me in your way of thinking. The Pacific Northwest is my home land -- Raven and Thunderbird are embedded within my memories and belief system. I have already started a hub on Thunderbird. Thanks again for your visit and comment.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Nadine. So glad you enjoyed my hub on Raven. I have a special fondness for Native American legends and Raven is one of my favorite interests. Thanks so much for your visit and comment.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Great stories told and will always be remembered.


sheilamyers 2 years ago

I've read many of the Native American stories about Raven and really wouldn't be able to choose my favorite. Thanks for sharing those and for also teaching me about the raven as seen in other cultures.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

I really enjoyed reading your hub. The Raven is a beautiful bird. The story about the Raven bringing man and woman into the world is amazing. I love reading about the Native Americans. Thank you for sharing. Tweeted...


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you, Devika, for reading and commenting. I appreciate it very much.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Sheila. Stories of Raven are intriguing and fun to read. Glad you enjoyed reading my hub. Thank you.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you, Ruby. I agree, with such black, shiny feathers, Raven is beautiful. How he brought man and woman into the world is an endearing story. Thanks for the Tweet.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

what an amazing hub.. Phyllis when I started reading your myth and legend I really couldn't stop .. read it earlier but I even forgot to comment.. you peak and you stab at my interest love it


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Frank, I am so happy to know this hub stabs at your interest -- you continue to delight me with your comments. Thank you so much for reading.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

When thinking of the raven, I always think of Edgar Allen, firs, then Halloween, scarecrows, and so on…everything as you stated so well, “symbolic of wisdom, magic, and the mysteries of sorcerers.” But I never considered their role in mythology. You have presented us with some fascinating info…a pleasure to read. :-)


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you so much, Genna. I wish I could have added more to the hub about ancient Egypt and Japan beliefs in Raven. Thanks again.


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

Very impressive Phyllis since the only ravens which I am familiar with are the real bird and the poem by Poe. Not the one which you mentioned, the one that was knocking at his door. I voted this up, shared and G+ it.

Kevin


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 2 years ago from New York

Great hub Phyillis. Like Genna my first thought is always, "quoth the raven, nevermore". I learned a lot from your hub.

Its a big bird now with more meaning.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you, Kevin, for reading, the votes and share. The poem verse I put at the end of the hub is just one verse from the poem you are mentioning - The Raven. Thanks again for stopping by.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Mary, it is good to hear from you. Yes, it is a big bird with very deep meaning for many cultures. Thank you so much for reading, commenting and the votes. I really appreciate it.


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

That is strange then Phyllis, that means that I do not know the poem very well because I did not recall the verse.

Kevin


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

http://www.online-literature.com/poe/335/

The Raven, one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite Poets (Poe), has several verses, Kevin. Most people do not remember the entire poem.


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 2 years ago from london

Beautiful Phyllis, and told so well!

Good to hear of both sides of the raven and the myths included too.

I like Poe. A great man and a genius of a writer.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Manatita. Thank you so much for your kind words. I love raven tales and myths. Poe -- ahh! one of my all time favorites. I did deep research on his life and analysis of his poems and am fascinated with his work. Thanks again, Manatita. I appreciate your visit and comment.


midget38 profile image

midget38 2 years ago from Singapore

There is so much mystique about the raven...no wonder so many cultures embraced it. This is fascinating, Phyllis.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Michele. Yes, a lot of mystique surrounds the raven. Thank you for stopping by to read and comment. I appreciate it.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

Such interesting knowledge of raven folklore; Phyllis. Very well done!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Jackie. Thank you for such a nice comment. I love folklore and legends. Rave is quite popular in such stories. Take care and have a great day.


askformore lm profile image

askformore lm 23 months ago

Thank you for a great hub about Raven Legends. Thumbs up!

Here in Scandinavia the ravens are well known as Odin's "messengers", but there are many other examples in Nordic literature.

The ravens are often described as wise, but cheating (tricksters), and in Danish we even have a short saying: "To steal as a raven"


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 23 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi askformore lm and thank you very much for reading and commenting. Odin is my favorite god in Nordic literature and I love Norse legends. Raven, in Native American legends, is a trickster and thief - yet one cannot help but admire his cunning and sense of humour. Thanks again for the visit, I appreciate it.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 22 months ago from sunny Florida

What a fascinating hub you have shared. It is intriguing to hear of all that is associated with Raven.

Voted up+++ shared

Angels are winging their way to you this morning Phyllis ps


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 22 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Patricia. Yes, it is intriguing. Raven is a very powerful symbol to many cultures. I love to watch our Ravens around here. There are several families who each have their own tree where they raise their young every year. Thank you, Patricia, for your visit, votes and share.

Blessings and hugs.


Hartzell Cobbs 13 months ago

Thank you for your insightful and inspiring words.

My favorite Raven myth concerns the twin white and Black Ravens where the white Raven kills his black brother and becomes black with the spilled blood of his brother. Do you know the tribal source of this myth and/or any variations of the myth?

Thank you for so freely sharing your thoughts and knowledge.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 13 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

You are most welcome, Hartzell, and thank you for reading and commenting on my article.

I have not heard about the twin crows legend. There are a few other legends as to why the crow is black and they concern fire. One Brule Sioux legend is:

Crows were once all white and friends of the buffalo. The large leader of the crow would fly above the buffalo herds. When the crow saw hunters coming he would fly down and sit on a buffalo's head, crying out the danger of hunters coming. The herd would stampede and the hunters went away hungry. One day the crow was captured and taken to council. One hunter grabbed the crow and threw it into the fire, but the crow escaped with singed feathers. Since then all crows are black.

Thanks again for stopping by.

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