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Raven and Crow Symbolism and Meaning

Updated on November 24, 2016
American crow.
American crow. | Source

The Remarkable Raven

Years ago in high school, I memorized most of Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Raven." I never gave much thought to the raven of the poem saying, "Nevermore," and the superstitions regarding this animal until the last couple of years.

Then, the raven seemed to become ubiquitous. For some reason, I began to notice it and its behavior a lot more. I am not sure why. Groups of ravens seemed to regularly land in my yard. I even painted an homage to it influenced by Native American artwork.

Being the curious literary type, I began to research more about the history, symbolism, and superstitions surrounding this creature.

Did you know that there is a difference between the raven and crow?

See results

The Raven Is Not the Crow

Common raven.
Common raven. | Source

When I began my research, I had no idea that ravens and crows were different. (I admit my lack of scientific prowess here.) I only knew that I preferred to call these black birds ravens and not crows, thinking they were one and the same.

They're not.

In this article, you will find:

  • The differences between crows and ravens
  • Native American symbolism of the raven
  • Celtic symbolism of the raven
  • Superstitions about both crows and ravens
  • Debunking the myths

The Differences between Crows and Ravens

The crow, especially the American crow, is a common bird found throughout North America.

  • They are smaller than the raven, and you see them more frequently around cities.
  • They are rather opportunistic birds, feeding off anything and everything they can find that is edible.
  • They have a rounded tail.

Because of their ability to adapt, crows are often regarded as quite intelligent. They have a different bird call than the call of the raven (click the links to hear their sounds).This bird inhabits North America, although other subspecies inhabit other parts of the world.

The raven, on the other hand, is a larger bird, often rivaling the size of a hawk.

The other morning, a flock of about seven of them were scavenging in my yard. While I watched from the window, I noted their immense size. I knew they were ravens and not crows not only because of their size, but also because:

  • Ravens like to hang out in wilder areas and woodlands. I definitely do not live near a city, and my house is surrounded by national forest.
  • Raven feathers have pointier ends than do crow feathers.
  • They sometimes look quite "ruffly" when they puff up their feathers, commonly called a "ruff."
  • These birds are also found throughout the northern hemisphere.

Native American Symbolism of the Raven

Raven rendition.
Raven rendition.

Native Americans had great respect for this bird.

Several southwestern tribes heralded the raven as the bringer of light that escaped from the darkness of the cosmos. Thus, they associate this bird with creation because it brought light where there was none.

Other tribes looked upon this bird as a trickster or even a shape-shifter because of its high intelligence and ability to adapt to different situations.

Even today Native Americans say they are good signs and counter the effects of bad spirits, such as the owl. They are a sign that danger has passed and will bring good luck.

Because they fly high toward the heavens, they can take prayers from the people to the spiritual realm and, in turn, bring messages back.

Celtic Symbolism of the Raven

Samhain was the Celtic new year, which survives to this day as Halloween.

As part of the Samhain celebration, the goddess Morrigan presides over the festivities, bestowing those born on the holiday with oracular traits. Morrigan assumes the shape of a raven during the celebrations. As such, the bird was believed to have special visionary powers.

Superstitions about Both Crows and Ravens

Many in Western cultures associate the raven (or the crow) with bad luck and death.

This is probably because it swooped down onto military battlefields, picking at the dead. These birds were smart enough to find food wherever and whenever they could, even if the circumstances were quite morbid.

Another reason why ravens and crows may be considered unlucky is that dark-colored animals have often been perceived as threatening or harboring superstition. Think about how Westerners view black cats and darkly-clad witches, or how the villains in many a Hollywood movie—Frankenstein, Dracula, and Voldemort, to name a few—are often dressed in black. It seems it wouldn't be a far stretch to include the dark-colored raven among these dubious ranks.

Debunking the Myths

If you look past the nefarious history of the raven, they are actually pretty remarkable birds.

Did you know that they can be trained to speak?

This is another reason they're often portrayed as seers.

The raven call, "cras, cras," translates as tomorrow in the dead language Latin. So it's not hard to imagine that someone who spoke Latin would make the connection that perhaps this bird was constantly referring to the future.

Some cultures also associated this bird with light.

I have already mentioned certain Native American tribes that revered this animal as a bringer of light.

In ancient Greek culture, the gods Athena (a goddess of wisdom and watchfulness) and Apollo (the sun deity) kept ravens. These gods turned the birds black when they couldn't keep secrets; they originally had white feathers, according to lore.

Raven - Acrylic on Canvas - 2009
Raven - Acrylic on Canvas - 2009 | Source

My Respects

Thus, after reading so much on these beautiful birds, they have earned my respect.

When I see one, I think about them as seers and bringers of good luck.

The other day, when an entire flock was only feet from where I was standing, I immediately felt gratitude for having made it through another year—with a new one about to begin.

Whether they have anything to do with luck is really anyone's guess, but I always smile when I come across these avian creatures now.

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    • profile image

      Veronic 7 weeks ago

      Around the 17, 18th of September I was on vacation. While cleaning up my garden, a raven that I see from time to time was atop an electric pole. I said hello to it and it began it's call. I told it fine and have a good season too. On the 19th I had a massive heart attack (or so they tell me). Drove myself to the hospital got stents put in and haven't seen my raven friend since. I think he just wanted me to know it would be fine.

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      samuel 4 months ago

      in my family we see the ravens and crows as a family symbol, because of our respect to the raven and the fact we are from baltimore

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      Toby 13 months ago

      ravens have always been a bird I loved true it was for the mystery and myth's about these birds but non the less I loved them and knew they were no ill will bringer to this day I love the raven. and the talking thing wild ones can teach them self to ive herd one first hand, it wasn't actually talking but it made the perfect water drip sound and echo multiple times, I stood there watching him/her until it flew again, the same way I was headed weird but cool it was like it was fallowing me

    • Anita Hasch profile image

      Anita Hasch 15 months ago from Port Elizabeth

      Hi, Our neighbors had a crow when we stayed in town. It used to chase the kids if they walked in the street. Could also talk, so maybe it was a raven. They seem to look very much alike.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 16 months ago from Western NC

      LiliMarlene - I love researching this sort of stuff, too! Thanks for stopping by. :)

    • LiliMarlene profile image

      Elisabeth Meier 16 months ago

      I like ravens too and am working on a story with some ravens playing an important role. Hence, I'm researching and am grateful for all articles and information I can get. Thanks for sharing!

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      cheryle 17 months ago

      i love how you are helping to educate people i am a bird person i worked at indianapolis zoo for many years with penguins and other birds , but i loved our raven and i love crows too . keep doing what you do!

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      Andrew 22 months ago

      I always had bad feelings toward crows. Ravens I kind of grouped in with them I suppose. It was interesting to hear that Ravens had white feathers before they told too many secrets and that Apollo and Athena would/could do that... I have a better perspective. Thank you!

    • profile image

      Just Ian ok? 23 months ago

      I personally looked this up do to a independent religion...to find the symbolismisitic beliefs about the Raven/ crow as I saw a "sign" let's say.... Which was not a crow but rather a shadow...which is taught in this context means....well long story short is...the symbolism of this sign for me....was I will be safe and well

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 23 months ago from Western NC

      Haha, Casey. Thanks for stopping by! Cheers.

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      casey 23 months ago

      I love this synopsis / article. I'm so happy to know there are so many other corvid lovers out there! Thank you for sharing.

    • wildbluefrontier profile image

      Nathan M 24 months ago from Tucson

      Don't see too many ravens around my area, but crows are pretty amazing and smart birds.

    • annasmom profile image

      annasmom 2 years ago

      Yay!!! Everywhere I go, a crow! Love both of these birds! Thanks for the good read!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 2 years ago from Western NC

      Kristen - thank you! I appreciate the votes and comments. Have a wonderful day!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Nice hub on ravens and crows. Very informative with beautiful photos. Great insight on the difference of both birds. Voted up!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 2 years ago from Western NC

      Cheryl - thank you so much! Those differences between the two are interesting, aren't they? Thanks for stopping by!

    • Cheryl Cuddeback profile image

      Cheryl Cuddeback 2 years ago from Forest Hills Queens

      Well written and researched. I didn't know there was a difference between the Raven and Crow.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      FlourishAnyway - haha, thank you! I hope you have a wonderful day!

      Vicki - hehe, I try, I try. ;)

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Owl symbolism, now ravens. It's all very appropriate for the pre-Halloween season, methinks!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Very interesting hub! I enjoyed your combination of ornithology, literature and symbolism from different cultures. So appropriate, too, for this time of year.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Mel - thank you! They really are a lot like us, aren't they? I love our avian friends - all of them. ^_^ Have a wonderful day!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      I love how you approach this subject from both a mythological and ornothological perspective as well. I am fascinated by the entire family of the corvids. They are extremely intelligent omnivores, and in that they are a lot like us. Great Post!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Anna - I'm very glad that you enjoyed this and that your assessment was indeed correct. I appreciate your comments and feedback. Have a great day!

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      Anna 5 years ago

      I have found that crows and ravens are fascinating birds. Thank you for sharing this information. I happened to find a crows feather on the ground the other day, and was delighted. I felt that the Native American Culture would think that they would bring good luck. And to find out that it also means light was also enlightening. I was happy to know that I was right about it meaning good luck.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Perry - well, hang on to those. :D

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      well, eight

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Perry - I'm sure you've got nine lives. I'm not too worried. LOL

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      Thanks! I'm working on it.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Haha, Perry. Stay safe! :)

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      Yikers! Get behind the dogs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      HOOO HOOO HOOO - said the owl. MEOW MEOW MEOW - said the kitty. Then they stormed the house where Perry the Cat lives. :D

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      or a late night snack? Yeah, he's a real hoot!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Perry the Cat - he who knows about owls is wise indeed. I'm thinking that since owls are nocturnal and cats are nocturnal, that perhaps Perry the Cat has an owl friend. :)

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      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      Thoughtsandwiches, the hoot of an owl three nights in a row is a harbinger of death. Romans believed if you nailed a dead owl to your home overnight it kept death at bay. But mostly they are thought of as beneficial (they eat vermin), wise and helpful. The owl was Athena's personal bird. In England the screeching of a barn owl indicates an impending change in weather conditions.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      ThoughSandwiches - I LOVE that username. Crows in the city? I'm surmising that that's probably what you've been seeing. The ravens really are markedly bigger. Poe's poem...oh, how I love that poem. I'm sure psychological types would have a heyday with that, but well...hehe.

      Owls - well, now you've given me a hub idea. I'm going to have to leave you hanging for a little while and I will let you know on that. I will give you a tidbit: some cultures believe the owl is an omen of death; others think it warns of danger, and still others revere it. Hehe...but I'll have a hub on it within the week. :)

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image

      ThoughtSandwiches 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Cyndi,

      Well being that I am a city boy...I must presume that I have been seeing crows my whole life. This is a very interesting article! I knew that the Native Americans referenced then as "The Trickster" but little else. Like you, Poe's poem has been my benchmark of knowledge.

      Thanks!

      Thomas

      PS...Question: Is the Owl known as a bad spirit? I kind of dig owls.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      That Grrl - hehe, they are so fun to watch, aren't they? I'm so intrigued by them. Though they're common, they have an uncommon smartness about them. They are also such opportunists. Thanks for coming by! Hubhugs!

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      We have a family of crows living in the woods behind the house this year. They make pretty good neighbours.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Glad to know that, Perry. I'm glad it's coming to light - my heart broke seeing all the abandoned pets after Hurricane Katrina. I'm so glad you are highlighting this. :)

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      Just thought I'd let you know, mom and I just wrote an article on disaster planning for people with pets. If you've got a cat, you might need to read it. The federal government in the US has just recently realized the importance of integrating pet planning into the big picture.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Perry - that's okay. Pepe the cat ate a vole and offered it up to me. Um...appetizing. Icky. Hehe. Hopefully he'll develop a better rapport with the voles. :)

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      Cats and intelligent birds can get along. Most birds though are a bit feather brained. And bullies, too. But I haven't eaten any... lately. :D

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Perry - great to see you! Meeeooww! Hehe. Did you see the video about the kitty and the bird (crow)? So cute, no? See? Cats and birds can get along. :) Thanks, Perry.

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      Excellent article, beautiful paintings, even if they are about birdies. (Remember, I am a cat) I'm going to read the selling paintings hub you wrote as well. Keep writing, you little hub nugget!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Ruby - I just love your enthusiasm! Thank you so much for the kudos and shares. It's refreshing to sense your love of learning, art and appreciation for animals. Thank you so much for stopping by here, too. (HUGS)

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 5 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      We have these birds in common my friend. I am so glad I came across this Hub. Your art work is awesome. This raven one is so beautiful. Sharing this one too, adding the link to my raven poem. Thank you for such great information.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Perry the Cat - thank you for stopping by and reading. :) I can tell you're a fellow animal lover. (HUGS)

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      Very interesting article.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      @ aviannovice: :)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Oh, indeed! I have much to tell

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      aviannovice - given your username, I would venture to guess that our avian friends also know they have a voice and friend in you. :)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I am never far...

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Sounds good, aviannovice. =) Good to see you again.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I will do that, thanks!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      aviannovice - I look forward to that hub! Let me know and I'll link it with my hub. :) I love all the different birds. Even the most common birds - seagulls, magpies, pigeons - they all are beautiful and they all fascinate me. :)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I, too, am a bird person, especially fascinated with eagles(whom I have worked with) and ravens(when in the state of Maine) as they guarded my house when I was away. I will get to it eventually, but stay tuned for my own piece on ravens and their wisdom.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Before doing this hub, I did too. :) Except, I always preferred to use the word "raven" just because it's so much more poetic. Thanks again, alocisin. Always good to see you!!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I always thought they were the same, so thanks for pointing out the differences. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Seeker7 - thank you for sharing your insights. I, too, love all animals and strive to help others to see how amazing they are - so that all of humanity can respect them and prevent any one of them from becoming extinct. Thank you for the votes. You, too, have written beautiful hubs! :)

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      This is a beautiful hub. It took me a lot of years as well, but I did eventually learn to tell the difference between the crow and the raven. I have crows in the garden but out in the countryside, especially the wooded areas, we have ravens. It's great to have both of them so close. I saw one documentary on the crow and it showed them using tools (a small twig) to dig out grubs from inside a rotting tree trunk. I was fascinated watching them. Not only that, but you saw the adult teaching a younger one how to do it. They said it takes the birds about 2 years to learn the skill, but learn it they do.

      You hub was a thoroughly enjoyable and fascianting read. Voted up + awesome!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Thanks for stopping by, moonlake. :) I may not know you personally, but I know you're a wonderful person to go out and care for wildlife like that. You're cool. :)

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      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      My son has Ravens nesting in his trees all the time. One morning he called and told us a Raven nest had fallen and there were baby Ravens every where. He wanted us to come and get them. I'm the bird lady in this house. I went down there and only found one live baby, the rest were dead. We took the raven to the Wildlife Center so they could take care of him.

      The eagles here often go after the Raven nest and tear them down. We think that's what may have happened.

      Good Hub.