Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Raven

The raven or crow is woven into superstition, folklore and myth, much more than any other bird. It has always been closely linked with death: a portent of disaster regarded with superstitious dread. This is because of its colour - associated with death – and also its habit of eating carrion and scavenging on battlefields. For example in Celtic culture, Morrigan, the dread Goddess of war and death, often took the form of a crow, and to see her on the eve of a battle foretold one's certain death.

But the associations of this bird are not all negative. In a time when death was not considered the end, merely a transit from one existence to another, often before rebirth into this world, the raven or crow was linked to divine wisdom. What other bird has such an intimate understanding of the machinations of life and death, the two fundamental factors of existence?

Many great folk-heroes were linked to the raven on account of this. Bran the Blessed was a hero-king of Celtic tradition, and his head was said to be buried under what is now the Tower of London, long a sacred spot, as a safeguard against foreign invasion. Bran, in modern Welsh, still means 'crow' or 'raven.' King Arthur was also linked to the raven. A Cornish superstition forbids harming a raven on account that it may be Arthur. This is perhaps linked to the common superstition that to harm a raven is unlucky.

And further afield Odin, chief of the Norse Gods, had two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, meaning 'thought' and 'memory,' who told him everything that was happening in the nine worlds.

The crow was also considered, along with other birds including the swan and goose, to carry the souls of the recently deceased to the next world.

The raven is a symbol of the British soul. Ravens living at the Tower of London are carefully protected, due to a legend dating back to the seventeenth century that if the ravens leave, the kingdom will fall. During the Blitz in 1940, raven numbers were reduced to just one. And remember, this is where the raven-hero Bran's head was buried.

I also have to mention the film The Crow, starring Brandon Lee - another name deriving from 'crow.' This film is based on the surmise that a crow carries the soul to the land of the dead, but if that death was the result of a great wrong, the crow can bring the soul back to put the wrong things right. A strange coincidence: Brandon was tragically killed during the filming process. There is certainly more to this film than at first meets the eye.

And there is more to this bird than meets the eye.

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