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Crows and Rooks and Ravens Oh my!

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As I have neglected my blogs namesake{s} in posts so far I thought I would remedy the situation in a small Corvidae way.

Why was a raven like a writing desk? there was no definitive answer from the Hatter or Alice,  I’m  just happy to see my favorite birds popping up in one of my favorite books.  But one explanation could be  because Poe wrote on both – that is, Edgar Allen Poe wrote ‘The Raven‘, and therefore wrote on {the subject of} ravens, but he also wrote on a writing desk, we presume, literally.


“Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’ ”  – Edgar Allen Poe    Illustration by Gustave Dore

>Vincent Price in 'The Raven', 1963<br /><br /><br /><br />
     Vincent Price in ‘The Raven’, 1963  Photo: REX FEATURES

From Poe to the mythological duo of Odin fame corvids appear regularly in film, literature and art, they have a whole mythology of their own which inspires illustrators and authors worldwide. 

Odin with Huginn [thought] and Muninn [memory], also pictured are the wolves which  accompany him.

Wolves and ravens are often seen to have a symbiotic relationship in nature.  In countries where both animals live  a great deal of a raven’s food would come from scavenging carcasses left by wolves, particularly in winter.

As far as mythology goes on the European side of the Atlantic the crow and the raven seem to be interchangeable, and invariably messengers, or an alternate shape for various deities and spirits, the most widely known being Bran and the Morrigan, and of course Odin. They are  seen as bearers of prophecy, particularly in Irish and Welsh myth.

A bird of many sides both comedic yet intelligent, their ‘human’ characteristics not always endearing them to us as a race, their hoarse cry an omen of death for Viking races, and yet at other periods in history almost revered, because of their courtship rituals and monogamous nature the Greeks for example invoke the crow as a symbol of marriage and love.  They appear in rhymes and songs from the Arapaho Indians to the Scottish borders, they were buried with the Celts and  protected at the Tower of London.   They have been studied  both scientifically and artistically and appear in films as diverse as Dumbo – offering support and understanding  in his search for flight, to the film of James O’Barr’s cult graphic novel “The Crow”, guiding the dead hero in his search for revenge.

On  the American side of the Atlantic there is a distinct geographical trend in that it will be a raven and not a crow that appears in myth, often a symbol in shamanistic rituals – he is Loki, the Trickster, both hero and villain, often at the same time, and in the shamanic cultures of aboriginal North American tribes Raven appears as an actual deity. 


Dancer wearing raven mask with coat of cormorant skins during the numhlin ceremony. Image by Edward C. Curtis from the Library of Congress

The Twa Corbies (or The Two Ravens)

The Twa Corbies (or The Two Ravens) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Arthur Rackhams “The Twa Corbies

Curious Corvid”  by Miranda Jones – find out more about her work here.

Corvid, 2011 Photo: Tessa Angus  (<a href=index.php?pid=40&nid=2&sid=2011&work_id=62>More information</a>)

Corvid, 2011 by Kate MccGwire  photograph Copyright Tessa Angus .

The artist has this to say about her work ” I am fascinated with how ancient superstitions can affect how we regard objects today for example, crows have been linked over the centuries with witchcraft and evil although witchcraft is no- longer feared – or apparent the distrust and feeling that crows are evil still remains and most of us are totally unaware of why we feel like that”   you can see and find out more here at her web site.


About aalid

Book loving, craft obsessed, retro, library working, slightly geeky female. Probably old enough to know better but refusing to learn, persistantly looking for the aesthetically pleasing in life to cheer up my apparently miserable face! The Mage and Raven is my bookshop - it doesnt exist - except for inside my brain.

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