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Are Ravens A Bad Omen? – Stories From Mythology And Folklore

Mythology and folklore from across the globe are stuffed with myths and legends about the raven. Ravens are part of the Corvid family of birds, along with crows, rooks, magpies and more.

Throughout history, this large mystical black bird has often been seen as an evil omen that can bring bad luck and even death. Some saw these birds as tricksters and others as messengers from the gods.

Ravens were also well known to give people that unnerving sense of being watched. And sometimes ravens would bring with them an eerie atmosphere of foreboding. Shakespeare would often write about ravens in his plays when he wanted to create a feeling of threat or give a warning about the future.

Even the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland gets in on the weird and wonderful raven action, asking the answer-less riddle “why is a raven like a writing desk?”. And Charles Dickens? Well he went the extra mile by keeping ravens as pets and naming them all Grip! What an odd bloke!

We’ve scoured through ancient folklore and gathered together some of the best myths about ravens from history. We’ve gathered some of the most peculiar and captivating ones right here for you to have a read of:

Norse Mythology - Huginn and Muninn:

Norse Mythology is stuffed with ravens, crows and all things corvid. Ravens turn up in stories of the Valkyries, the women who decide which warriors go to Valhalla. And there’s even stories of a giant raven-like bird that can cause death just by looking into its eyes (what the pooping poop?!)!

Huginn (whose name means “Thought”) and Muninn (whose name means “Memory”) were two raven helpers who served the Norse god Odin as his spies. Odin and his ravens got along very well together because both were very intelligent and both were known to hang around amongst the dead warriors on the battlefield once the combat was over. Quite an acquired taste!

The ravens, Huginn and Munnin, would fly around the world tree, watching, listening and gathering information. They would return to their master, perch on his shoulder and whisper into his ears about all of the day’s latest gossip. Puny mortals like you and I would have to hope that the ravens didn’t spot us doing something that would anger Odin, because there would be no stopping the news getting back to his ears. Then we’d be in big trouble!

Native American Mythology – The Raven Who Stole The Sun

A Native American Ceremonial Raven Mask - Native American Collection, Peabody Museum

The raven is an incredibly important figure in the mythology and culture of Native Americans and Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. In these legends, the raven is both a trickster character and also the creator of light. The creation myth varies slightly between tribes and cultures, but they all include the raven vowing to steal the light of the universe.

According to the myth, in the beginning, the world was in complete darkness and the raven was sick of bumping into things all the time in the shadows. And who can blame him! He heard that an old man had all of the light in the entire universe trapped inside a box and decided to nab it.

The raven transformed himself into the old man’s grandchild and begged to see inside the boxes on the old man’s shelves. The raven explored the first and second boxes, which contained the stars and the moon, both of which he very kindly flung into the sky (much to the old man’s annoyance). Then he opened the third box, which contained the sun. The raven transformed back into a bird and grabbed the sun in its beak (careful! That stuff’s hot!). He escaped from the old man and placed the sun in the sky so that everybody could enjoy its light.

British Legend - The Ravens of the Tower:

Jubilee & Munin - Two ravens from the Tower of London. Credit - Colin Wikipedia Commons

If you visit the Tower of London, you may be lucky enough to spot the corvids who, according to myth, prevent the British Monarchy from falling into disaster. Yes, you read that right! According to the legend, there must be at least six ravens who live at the Tower of London at any one time, otherwise both the Tower and the Crown would fall.

Nobody is quite sure when this raven superstition began. It could have happened at any time in the Tower’ 900 year history since it was built by William the Conqueror around 1066-1067. But it was Charles II who cemented the myth when an astronomer complained about the birds getting in the way of his observations at the Tower’s Royal Observatory. Charles II nearly ordered the birds to be cleared from the Tower when he was warned of what could happen if the birds left. The king decreed that at least six ravens must be kept in the Tower at all times for the protection of the land and crown!

Ancient Greek Mythology - Apollo’s Bumpy Relationship With Corvids:

Apollo hanging out with one of his corvid friends. Or could it be one of his corvid foes? Credit Zde

Apollo, one of the most important of the Ancient Greek gods, had a very mixed relationship with corvid birds. He once got really mad with a crow for not doing as he asked. He grabbed the bird round the scruff of its neck and lobbed it so hard into the heavens that it smashed into the sky and became a constellation of stars! Yowch!

The Greek word for crow (corone) actually comes from the name of a Thessalian princess called Coronis. Oh and Coronis also just happened to be Apollo’s girlfriend. And the crow that Apollo chucked into the heavens really hard? That might have actually been poor Coronis. In some versions of the myth, Coronis ended up being turned into a bird after the last time she’d upset Apollo by breaking up with him. Note to self, never break a god’s heart and definitely don’t tell them you’re planning to marry someone else!

And to add insult to injury, Apollo also took his anger out on his friend, the raven. This beautiful bird with snow-white feathers, was besties with Apollo and served as a messenger, telling the god all the latest news. But when the raven told Apollo that his sweetheart had decided to marry someone else, Apollo got so angry that he burned all of the raven’s feathers, turning them soot-black.

The lesson to this story? Don’t hang around Apollo if you’re a bird.


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