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Your Weekend Creature Comforts: The Raven and Crow

Sorry I missed last weekend folks. It’s been a crazy, haunted month but I am super glad to be bringing you another terrific weekend post on a creature with just as much symbolism as the dragon. Today we are going to talk about the infamous ravens and crows of fantasy, and how it has integrated itself in to so many cultures and stories as birds that means something.

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Not surprisingly, if you google Raven the first thing to come up is the famous poem by Edgar Allen Poe. Despite that his squawking bird repeating the phrase “Nevermore” again and again seemed so powerful, he actually chose the raven as the main bird character simply because of its ability to mimic speech despite being what he thought was an otherwise unintelligent species. Boy did Poe get it wrong, as ravens are incredibly intelligent beyond their ability to mimic human speech.

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Ravens were in fact one of the first species of bird that we proved could use tools. Crows are a very closely related species that is just a bit smaller than the raven though shares many of their attributes. They are incredibly problem-solvers, rivaling any trained parrot. And their memories are quite impressive. Ravens will commonly remember where other ravens have stored food for later consumption so that they can steal it. But this behavior is so common among ravens those “hiding” their food have learned to pretend to hide non-existent food in order to fool onlookers.

Sadly one of the most common depictions of ravens or crows in mythology is that of an omen of death or disease. That is because of their common consumption of carrion like vultures, and their all black color. It is true that ravens can be scavengers of dead carcasses, but I will point out that the bald eagle is just as commonly a culprit of this act, though their symbolism is much more glorified with their striking colors. Some cultures think that these birds are ghosts of dead loved ones, but most commonly they are just a symbol of bad luck and ill will to come.

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It was in ancient Norse mythology that ravens took on a new purpose: they were messengers for the gods. Odin was known to have two ravens as assistants that would fly through the world and bring back information they collected to their god. This was also the first time the raven was depicted in a decent light and when they started to be used in house sigils.

Many of the Native American tribes also thought fondly of the raven and the crow. One tribe even made the raven their creator god. But now let’s look at some more recent depictions of ravens in literature and film.

The majority of fantasy novels seem to refer to crows and ravens as omen of poor fortune as well. And their intelligence enables them to be commonly used messengers. The famous line “Dark wings, dark words” is said again and again in Game of Thrones in reference to the raven or crow bringing bad news from somewhere else in the kingdom. And that three-eyed crow is definitely an ominous character that shows up again and again. He’s an important character that I am sure we will learn more about as the series unfolds.

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While I am not a gamer, it makes me happy that the majority of references to crows and ravens in games like Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons are about their intelligence, and they are frequently used as familiars or assistants in those games. Much like the side kick of many a wicked witch or sorcerer, think Malificent or The Evil Queen from Snow White.

Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell is a recent novel written by Susanna Clarke in which the triumphant magician king of the novel uses ravens in most of his appearances for dramatic effect. That too is something that occurs in other storylines like in Warcraft where the wizard Medivh can turn himself in to a raven.

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I had almost forgotten about the reference to ravens from Harry Potter. Hogwarts has an entire house named “Ravenclaw” whose students are known for their wit, learning, and wisdom, much like their animal counterpart.

Overall I like to think of ravens and crows as smart birds that bring good fortune to us in many ways. But just like with black cats, many will disagree. I say, more crows and ravens for me to all those who shun them from their lands. Besides, they make a beautiful stark contrast to my white wolves, no pun intended to you Game of Throners.

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Posted on November 1, 2014, in Creature Comforts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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