Crows, Ravens & Halloween

Over the years, I have written quite a few posts on Halloween related subjects such as Halloweens of past and present (updated)  Top 10 Haunted places in the U.K. the fearful Spring Heeled Jack who wrought terror in mostly distant times and the Enfield Poltergeist who terrified a particular family in modern day London.

This year I thought I would take a brief look at Crows and Ravens, both of which have connections with Halloween and superstitions in general.

Although crows and ravens are part of the same family (Corvus), they’re not exactly the same bird. Typically, ravens are quite a bit bigger than crows, and they tend to be a bit shaggier looking. The raven actually has more in common with hawks and other predatory birds than the standard, smaller-sized crow. In addition, although both birds have an impressive repertoire of calls and noises they make, the raven’s call is usually a bit deeper and more guttural sounding than that of the crow.

Both crows and ravens have appeared in a number of different mythologies throughout the ages. In some cases these black-feathered birds are considered an omen of bad tidings, but in others they may represent a message from the Divine.

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Ravens & Crows in Mythology

In Celtic mythology, the warrior goddess known as the Morrighan often appears in the form of a crow or raven, or is seen accompanied by a group of them. Typically, these birds appear in groups of three, and they are seen as a sign that the Morrighan is watching – or possibly getting ready to pay someone a visit.

In some tales of the Welsh myth cycle, the Mabinogion, the raven is a harbinger of death. Witches and sorcerers were believed to have the ability to transform themselves into ravens and fly away, thus enabling them to evade capture.

The Native Americans often saw the raven as a trickster, much like Coyote.

There are a number of tales regarding the mischief of Raven, who is sometimes seen as a symbol of transformation. In the legends of various tribes, Raven is typically associated with everything from the creation of the world to the gift of sunlight to mankind. Some tribes knew the raven as a stealer of souls.

Native-Languages.org says, “In Native American folklore, the intelligence of crows is usually portrayed as their most important feature. In some tribes, the crow is conflated with the raven, a larger cousin of the crow that shares many of the same characteristics. In other tribes, Crow and Raven are distinct mythological characters. Crows are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Crow Clans include the Chippewa (whose Crow Clan and its totem are called Aandeg), the Hopi (whose Crow Clan is called Angwusngyam or Ungwish-wungwa), the Menominee, the Caddo, the Tlingit, and the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico.”

For those who intererted in Norse mythology, Odin is often represented by the raven – usually a pair of them. Early artwork depicts him as being accompanied by two black birds, who are described in the Eddas as Huginn and Muinnin. Their names translate to “thought” and “memory”, and their job is to serve as Odin’s spies, bringing him news each night from the land of men.

Divination & Superstition

Crows sometimes appear as a method of divination. For the ancient Greeks, the crow was a symbol of Apollo in his role as god of prophecy. Augury – divination using birds – was popular among both the Greeks and the Romans, and augurs interpreted messages based on not only the color of a bird, but the direction from which it flew.

A crow flying in from the east or south was considered favorable.

In parts of the Appalachian mountains in the United States, a low-flying group of crows means that illness is coming – but if a crow flies over a house and calls three times, that means an impending death in the family. If the crows call in the morning before the other birds get a chance to sing, it’s going to rain. Despite their role as messengers of doom and gloom, it’s bad luck to kill a crow. If you accidentally do so, you’re supposed to bury it – and be sure to wear black when you do!

In some places, it’s not the sighting of a crow or raven itself, but the number that you see which is important. Mike Cahill at Creepy Basement says, “Seeing just a single crow is considered an omen of bad luck. Finding two crows, however, means good luck. (Three crows mean health, and four crows mean wealth.) Yet spotting five crows means sickness is coming, and witnessing six crows means death is nearby.”

Even within the Christian religion, ravens hold a special significance. While they are referred to as “unclean” within the Bible, Genesis tells us that after the flood waters receded, the raven was the first bird Noah sent out from the ark to find land. Also, in the Hebrew Talmud, ravens are credited with teaching mankind how to deal with death; when Cain slew Abel, a raven showed Adam and Eve how to bury the body, because they had never done so before.

In Britain ravens and crows are everywhere and at this time of year I love seeing and hearing them in the fields and woods near to my home.   For thousands of years they have lived on the ancient temple at Stonehenge acting as unofficial and mysterious guardians of the stones.

It is said the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress. According to the stories, it was Charles II who first insisted the ravens of the Tower be protected. This was against the wishes of his astronomer, John Flamsteed, who complained the ravens impeded the business of his observatory in the White Tower.

Despite the painless clipping of one wing, some ravens do in fact go absent without leave and others have even been sacked. Raven George was dismissed for eating television aerials and Raven Grog was last seen outside an East End pub.

Jubilee and Munin, Ravens, Tower of London.

Jubilee and Munin, Ravens, Tower of London. Photo from Colin @ Wikipedia

Spot the ravens at the Tower

Ravens are actually integral to the Realm at the Tower of London where tt is said the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the resident ravens ever leave the fortress. According to the stories, it was Charles II who first insisted the ravens of the Tower be protected. This was against the wishes of his astronomer, John Flamsteed, who complained the ravens impeded the business of his observatory in the White Tower.

Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill wasn’t willing to take any chances during WW2 for he had the wings of the ravens clipped so they couldn’t fly off should the birds be scared by the ongoing Blitz aerial bombardments of London.

Despite the painless clipping of one wing, some ravens do in fact go absent without leave and others have even been sacked. Raven George was dismissed for eating television aerials and Raven Grog was last seen outside an East End pub.

There are seven ravens at the Tower today – the required six, plus one spare! Their lodgings can be found next to the Wakefield Tower.

These magnificent birds respond only to the Raven Master and should not be approached too closely by anyone else.

Biscuits and blood

The ravens are fed by our Raven Master and dine on a special diet of raw meat, and blood covered bird biscuits. They also enjoy an egg once a week, the occasional rabbit (complete with fur) and scraps of fried bread. Some lucky visitors may witness the ravens snacking – but please be careful and do not feed the ravens yourself, as they can bite if they feel their territory is being threatened.

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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3 Responses to Crows, Ravens & Halloween

  1. Mel & Suan says:

    Seems like ravens are not well respected in most cultures!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mine’s a pint of bitter Raven Grog!

    Liked by 1 person

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