Raven Symbolism, Lore & Mythology
Myths of The Raven: Symbolism and Lore
Learn about the lore of the raven - bird of mystery, magic and omens both good and bad. Raven symbolism is rich and plentiful, with a plethora of raven mythology, raven lore and raven superstitions available from a wealth of cultures.
The raven often has a bad press, for being a carrion bird it is ultimately associated with death, and consequently considered a bad omen by many, or a forewarning of war.
But there is much more to this enigmatic and intelligent bird than death, darkness and destruction. Raven is a trickster, a protector, a teacher. and a bringer of great magic.
Learn all about the Raven and his lore here on this page, and perhaps you will take a little bit of Raven wisdom away with you, to help you on your way...
Photo Credit: Raven via Wikimedia Commons
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Raven Biology: Natural History of the Raven
About the Raven
Corvus Corax. Member of the crow family
The raven is not only the largest member of the crow family, but the largest perching bird in the world. An extremely intelligent bird, the raven was once extremely common, but persecution now finds it only in remote areas such as cliffs, mountains and moors.
The adult is completely black with a shaggy throat and heavy bill. It flies higher than the crow and is adept at aerial acrobatics.
It is a carrion bird, feeding the likes of dead sheep, and will also kill its own food also, including small mammals and birds, reptiles, as well as taking eggs and eating insects and seeds.
Ravens prefer to nest in a sheltered spot, favouring a rock crevice but also opting for trees. They build their nests from earth, moss, twigs and heather stalks, lining it with hair and wool. They raise just one brood per year, from February to March, which consists of 4-6 eggs.
Ravens are extremely intelligent and in some cases can even learn to talk.
Photo Credit: Raven illustration via Wikimedia Commons (image in the public domain)
Facts about Ravens
- Profile of Ravens
The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) profile of ravens
- Ravens on National Geographic
Information and beautiful images of ravens from National Geographic
- 10 Amazing Facts about Ravens
Ravens that count, ravens with emotions, and lots of other fascinating facts about these beautiful birds
The wolf and the raven are often mentioned together in mythology, lore and scripture. In nature, the wolf and raven have an important relationship. Wolves use ravens as aerial spotters for possible sources of food, as well as using them to alert them of any danger ahead.
The raven also gains from this relationship with the wolf. Being carrion birds, ravens share in the feast provided by the wolves when they bring down their prey. Golden eagles and bald eagles have also been spotted feeding on the remains of wolf prey along with ravens.
There will be an accompanying lens in this series up shortly about the lore of Wolf and Raven, along with their symbolism and meaning in magic, wolf medicine and more.
Much Folklore surrounds the Enigmatic Raven
Raven Lore: Folklore & Legends
The Raven and Water
The raven has a plethora of lore surrounding it. Richly interwoven into Celtic and Norse mythology, it also features in many superstitions and countless legends and stories, from Noah to the Tower of London.
Those interested in perusing the very early stories of ravens should note that they often speak of the raven as the crow.
The raven is often associated with water, often with the finding of water, or lack of it. Sacrificing gods sent the raven for water, but the bird delayed his mission to wait for some figs to ripen. Angry, the gods punished the raven by cursing him with a great thirst in the summer, which is said to be why the raven croaks.
Photo Credit: Raven and Swans licensed from JupiterImages Corporation
The Raven, Death and War
Photo Credit: Raven - Omen of War licensed from JupiterImages Corporation
The raven is also, quite famously, known as an omen of death. Being carrion feeders, seeing them feeding on gibbet corpses was once a common sight, and most likely where the association arose. A famous example of ravens being portends of death include the Roman philosopher, statesman and political theorist Cicero being forewarned of his death by the fluttering of ravens.
Raven is a war bird. The Danes believed that observing ravens could help foretell the outcome of a battle. Indeed, they are said to have foretold the deaths of Plato and Tiberius, and told the Irish god Lugh of the invasion of the Formorians in Celtic mythology.
The Raven and Prophecy
Photo Credit: Ravens licensed from JupiterImages Corporation
The raven is also frequently linked with prophecy, further enhancing its status as a bird of the occult. Not only was it a messenger of the gods, both as an informant and as a guide, but it also was thought to be the most prophetic of all birds. People are still referred to as having "the foresight of ravens".
Raven, bird of prophecy,
is the protector and teacher of seers and clairvoyants.
Raven is considered both a good and bad omen according to different cultures
Raven Augery and Symbolism
Ravens and the Weather, Negative Raven Superstitions
Weather Raven Lore:
Ravens facing the direction of a clouded sun foretell hot weather
If you see a raven preening, rain is on the way
Raven Superstitions of Death and War:
Ravens flying towards each other signify an omen of war
Seeing a raven tapping on a window foretold death
If a raven is heard croaking near a house, there will be a death in it
If a raven flies around the chimney of a sick person's house, they will die
Photo Credit: Raven licensed from JupiterImages Corporation
Positive Raven Superstitions
Photo Credit: Raven on Roof via Wikimedia Commons
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Many parts of Celtic Britain and Ireland view the raven as a good omen:
Shetland and Orkney - if a maiden sees a raven at Imbolc she can foretell the direction of her future husband's home by following the raven's path of flight
Wales - if a raven perches on a roof, it means prosperity for the family
Scotland - deerstalkers believed it bode well to hear a raven before setting out on a hunt
Ireland - ravens with white feathers were believed a good omen, especially if they had white on the wings. Ravens flying on your right hand or croaking simultaneously were also considered good omens
Do Ravens Represent Good or Evil?
Many associate Raven with death, war and evil, while others see Raven as a bird of wisdom, magic and good omens. How do you view this enigmatic bird?
Do you see Raven as a good omen or a bad omen?
The Raven permeates the myths of so many cultures, from the ancient Celtic and Norse, to Greek and Roman, right through to Native American and Christian spirituality.
The Raven's appearances in mythology are discussed below. First, here is a list of deities associated with ravens, the most closely associated of which would be the Celtic goddess, the Morrigan, and the Norse god Odin.
Raven Mythology Resources
- Raven Mythology and Lore
Mythology of the raven with a focus on Scottish and other Celtic legends
- Raven Lore
Pagan and Wiccan resource on raven lore and mythology
- Myths of the Raven
Many myths of the raven from The Fortean Times, including numerous stories of the ravens in the Tower of London
- Raven Myths and Tales
Beautiful selection of blog entries that focus on raven legends, myths and tales from around the world
The Raven in Norse Mythology
Raven and Odin
Ravens are an iconic symbol of Norse mythology and most closely associated with Odin.
The raven was a powerful war symbol to the Norse people. Warriors would fly black flags emblazoned with ravens during battle.
The goddess Freya also had a prophetic raven which she lent to Odin.
The sea raven was sacred to Odin, and was also the emblem of Danish raiders.
Odin himself had two ravens, Hugin and Munin (Mind and Memory). They perched on Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and would fly around the world seeking out news to deliver to Odin. For ever after ravens were thought of as spies and not to be spoken in front of.
The raven was also connected to Odin as the Yuletide father and the rebirth of the sun from the Underworld in the midwinter.
The Raven in British, Irish & Celtic Mythology
Celtic Raven Lore
In Celtic, Movran means ‘sea raven”, and Macha means “raven”, as does the name “Bran” (Slavic Branu meaning “raven”).
Ravens are closely associated with the god Bran. His head was taken to the White Mount in London, where it continued to prophesise and protect Britain from invasion. It was removed by King Arthur to show he was now Britain’s protector, but the descendants of Bran’s ravens remain on the site, which is where the Tower of London was later built. The ravens live in the Tower and are still said to protect Britain from invasion. According to legend, if they ever leave the Tower, Britain will fall to invaders.
Ravens also protected the Gaulish city of Lyon, which had the white raven Lugos as its totem bird.
Raven: Omen of War
The raven was a bird of death and war for the Gaels and Cornish.
Celtic tales had the raven associated with death and battle goddesses, namely Morrigan, Badbh, and Nemain, who could all take the form of a raven. Morrigan (meaning "great queen") became a raven on the battlefield and would foretell the outcome of the fight to the Dagda.
Warriors would invite the Morrigan to battle through the blowing of war horns, which imitated the croaking of ravens.
Ravens are said to have warned the god Lugh of the impending invasion by the Formorians.
Ravens: Guardians of the Underworld
Ravens are also guardians of Underworld treasure. In the Chaw (“raven”) Gully mine in Cornwall, gold is said to be guarded by a fierce raven.
According to myth, a stone collected from a raven’s nest is called a “stone of victory” or “raven stone” and can help discover treasure and aid prophecy. One such stone was owned by Brahan the Seer.
The Celts held the raven in high esteem as a sacred bird, and its Gaelic name Fitheach appears as part of the name of Pictish deities and sacred kings.
The Raven in Arthurian Mythology
Morgan Le Fay (Le Faye meaning "fairy" or "the fate") is said to be the later counterpart of the Morrigan, who could transform into a raven. Morgan could appear as a raven also.
Elsewhere in Arthurian stories, while Arthur plays the board game Gwyddbwyll with Owain, his warriors are attacked by those of Owain in the form of ravens.
While the name Arthur means "bear-man", the Irish name Art-Bran is translated as "priest of the raven", but can also be translated as "bear-raven".
Many areas believe Arthur to have become a raven following his death. Consequently many countrymen still tip their hats to ravens. It was considered a crime to kill one as to do so would insult Arthur, and in Wales and the West Country, ravens were considered royal birds.
The Raven in Greek Mythology and History
Greek writers spoke of the raven portending storms, and consequently associated it with rain and clouds. Two ravens were linked with a rain-making ceremony at Krannon in Thessaly.
Coins from the fourth century BC depicted two ravens on a wagon, along with a jar of water that had pieces of metal hanging from it. This was a form of ancient “magic” whereby the jangling metal and splashing water would create a mini thunderstorm, with which to summon a real one.
The Athenian Oracle also mentioned ravens, stating that when ravens forsook the woods, famine was imminent. “Ravens bear the characteristic of Saturn, the author of these calamities and have a very early perception of the bad disposition of that planet”.
The Raven in Roman Mythology
Ravens were sacred to Apollo, the god of prophecy, and were oracular birds to him
Ravens are also associated with Mithras, and in Mithraic religion (popular among the Roman military) the first initiation was called the raven or “servant of the sun”.
Ravens often acted as the protectors of human seers.
The Raven and Christianity
The Raven in The Bible
Ravens are mentioned in The Bible and have various segments of religious folklore attached to them also.
In one story of Noah, a story preceding Genesis in age tells of Noah sending out a raven, a swallow and a dove from the ark in order to find land.
Ravens are sometimes spoken of as the protectors of prophets.
They are said to have fed Elijah in the desert and aided Paul the Hermit, St Cuthbert and St Bernard.
Raven feeds Elijah in the desert
Adversely, the raven was also once known as the devil's bird, with some saying that ravens contained the souls of wicked priests.
In Yorkshire, children were told that a great black bird would carry them off if they were naughty
Other stories say that the raven was once white, but was turned black as punishment for committing sin. The sins vary but one popular one is that the raven fed on the corpses of the drowned in the story of Noah's Ark.
The Raven in Native American Mythology
Native Americans called the raven the messenger of death. The Raven is found in the stories of most tribes and is generally considered a Trickster.
In one story, Raven brings sunlight to a dark world.
The Tsimshian (of British Columbia and Alaska) were given light by Raven, who had tricked a tribal chief.
The chief had kept the light in a box, but Raven created an eleborate scheme to obtain it. He transformed himself into a spruce needle and then fell from the sky into a cup of water that the chief's daughter was drinking, impregnating her. Raven was born into human form, and stole the chief's box before transforming back into his original form.
As he flew off with his stolen prize, Raven saw some fishermen. Hungry, he asked them if he could have some of their catch. but they refused. Raven then flew away and released the daylight.
Raven Totem Animal
Shamanism and Native American spirituality speak of animal totems. These are important nature symbols used by people to get in touch with specific required qualities found within an animal. A person's totem animal will have qualities they need, that they connect with, or feel a deep affinity toward. You can work with more than one totem animal, although many people tend to have a main totem that they work with all their life.
Raven is known as the "keeper of secrets" in numerous native tribes.
As a totem, Raven is the teacher of mysticism. Having such a wealth of myth and lore surrounding him throughout many cultures and ages, Raven is the ideal teacher of this subject.
The black color of ravens and their carrion diet associates them with darkness. This dark void represents the the unconscious.
Raven brings heightened awareness and a deeper understanding of our consciousness. Raven allows us to see into the hearts of others using our newly found perception, helping us to empathise with their feelings.
Raven encourages us to experience transformation, so that we can be reunited with the mysteries of the universe, and rid ourselves of our inner demons.
Raven Medicine and Totems - Further Native American & Shamanic resources on the Raven
- Crows and Ravens as Totems
Discusses the meanings and qualities of people who have "raven medicine" in their lives
- Crow and Raven Medicine
More on crow and raven medicine and their similarities
- The Raven Totem Guide
Lots of information on having a raven as your spirit animal totem
- Raven Medicine
Assorted sources of raven medicine lore from the Spirit Lodge Totem Library
The Raven, Magic and Witches
Air and Water
Samhain and Imbolc
Station on the Wheel of the Year:
Northwest and Northeast
Raven is said to be the protector and teacher of seers and clairvoyants. In the past, witches were thought to turn themselves into ravens to escape pursuit.
The Raven as a Familiar
A familiar is a spiritual animal power or supernatural spirit, representing a species as a whole (i.e. Raven, not a raven) in a similar way to a Totem Animal.
A witch works with a familiar by drawing on a particular species for their strength and abilities. A familiar may also act as a guide to the Otherworld, and act as helpers in healing or magic.
The term familiar is also sometimes applied to a witch's companion animal, such as a black cat.
The Raven is a teacher, particularly of magical systems. If you find that one is attracted to you, it means you have the potential to be a great worker of magic. Raven does not care if this is for good or bad.
Raven familiars are not for the newly initiated – Raven only appears as a familiar to those who have progressed significantly down the path. Your consciousness must be at a certain level to understand the teachings Raven brings.
Raven brings the secrets from the underworld, particularly bringing the secret of transformation from the underworld to the world of magic.
Raven appearing physically out of the blue, or in a vision, is an important omen.
The Raven appearing in a vision can signify a warning, telling you to take heed as you may be in dangerous territory or are attracting negativity to yourself through magic or other workings.
Alternatively it can mean that the higher powers have acknowledged your progress in your magical workings and have sent Raven to instruct you further in the magical arts.
The Raven - Bird of Mystery and Magic
More on Raven Symbolism:
I have further information to add to this lens, including videos, links, books and other resources, as well as additional lore and sections on Raven in Literature & Media, Raven in Astrology and more.
Do you love ravens, or loathe them? Are you interested in raven symbolism and lore? I hope you enjoyed reading this lens as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please leave your thoughts here before you go!