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Raven and Crow Symbolism and Meaning

Cynthia is a digital marketer, writer, and artist. She writes about a variety of topics, especially languages, art and culture.

The Remarkable Raven

Years ago in high school, I memorized most of Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Raven." I never gave much thought to the raven of the poem saying, "Nevermore," and the superstitions regarding this animal until the last couple of years.

Then, the raven seemed to become ubiquitous. For some reason, I began to notice it and its behavior a lot more. I am not sure why. Groups of ravens seemed to regularly land in my yard. I even painted an homage to it influenced by Native American artwork.

Being the curious literary type, I began to research more about the history, symbolism, and superstitions surrounding this creature.

The Raven Is Not the Crow

When I began my research, I had no idea that ravens and crows were different. (I admit my lack of scientific prowess here.) I only knew that I preferred to call these black birds ravens and not crows, thinking they were one and the same.

They're not.

In this article, you will find:

  • The differences between crows and ravens
  • Native American symbolism of the raven
  • Celtic symbolism of the raven
  • Superstitions about both crows and ravens
  • Debunking the myths

The Differences between Crows and Ravens

The crow, especially the American crow, is a common bird found throughout North America.

  • They are smaller than the raven, and you see them more frequently around cities.
  • They are rather opportunistic birds, feeding off anything and everything they can find that is edible.
  • They have a rounded tail.

Because of their ability to adapt, crows are often regarded as quite intelligent. They have a different bird call than the call of the raven (click the links to hear their sounds).This bird inhabits North America, although other subspecies inhabit other parts of the world.

The raven, on the other hand, is a larger bird, often rivaling the size of a hawk.

The other morning, a flock of about seven of them were scavenging in my yard. While I watched from the window, I noted their immense size. I knew they were ravens and not crows not only because of their size, but also because:

  • Ravens like to hang out in wilder areas and woodlands. I definitely do not live near a city, and my house is surrounded by national forest.
  • Raven feathers have pointier ends than do crow feathers.
  • They sometimes look quite "ruffly" when they puff up their feathers, commonly called a "ruff."
  • These birds are also found throughout the northern hemisphere.

Native American Symbolism of the Raven

Raven rendition.

Raven rendition.

Native Americans had great respect for this bird.

Several southwestern tribes heralded the raven as the bringer of light that escaped from the darkness of the cosmos. Thus, they associate this bird with creation because it brought light where there was none.

Other tribes looked upon this bird as a trickster or even a shape-shifter because of its high intelligence and ability to adapt to different situations.

Even today Native Americans say they are good signs and counter the effects of bad spirits, such as the owl. They are a sign that danger has passed and will bring good luck.

Because they fly high toward the heavens, they can take prayers from the people to the spiritual realm and, in turn, bring messages back.

Celtic Symbolism of the Raven

Samhain was the Celtic new year, which survives to this day as Halloween.

As part of the Samhain celebration, the goddess Morrigan presides over the festivities, bestowing those born on the holiday with oracular traits. Morrigan assumes the shape of a raven during the celebrations. As such, the bird was believed to have special visionary powers.

Superstitions about Both Crows and Ravens

Many in Western cultures associate the raven (or the crow) with bad luck and death.

This is probably because it swooped down onto military battlefields, picking at the dead. These birds were smart enough to find food wherever and whenever they could, even if the circumstances were quite morbid.

Another reason why ravens and crows may be considered unlucky is that dark-colored animals have often been perceived as threatening or harboring superstition. Think about how Westerners view black cats and darkly-clad witches, or how the villains in many a Hollywood movie—Frankenstein, Dracula, and Voldemort, to name a few—are often dressed in black. It seems it wouldn't be a far stretch to include the dark-colored raven among these dubious ranks.

Debunking the Myths

If you look past the nefarious history of the raven, they are actually pretty remarkable birds.

Did you know that they can be trained to speak?

This is another reason they're often portrayed as seers.

The raven call, "cras, cras," translates as tomorrow in the dead language Latin. So it's not hard to imagine that someone who spoke Latin would make the connection that perhaps this bird was constantly referring to the future.

Some cultures also associated this bird with light.

I have already mentioned certain Native American tribes that revered this animal as a bringer of light.

In ancient Greek culture, the gods Athena (a goddess of wisdom and watchfulness) and Apollo (the sun deity) kept ravens. These gods turned the birds black when they couldn't keep secrets; they originally had white feathers, according to lore.

Raven - Acrylic on Canvas - 2009

Raven - Acrylic on Canvas - 2009

My Respects

Thus, after reading so much on these beautiful birds, they have earned my respect.

When I see one, I think about them as seers and bringers of good luck.

The other day, when an entire flock was only feet from where I was standing, I immediately felt gratitude for having made it through another year—with a new one about to begin.

Whether they have anything to do with luck is really anyone's guess, but I always smile when I come across these avian creatures now.

© 2011 Cynthia Calhoun

Comments

Peggy Codella on October 25, 2020:

Here is my crow story: When I was pregnant with my second son we were living in cold and snowy Duluth, Minnesota. A crow kept visiting an old tree that winter in my yard. He seemed to be looking at me. Since my first son had a stroke at birth I started to worry that this child would also have problems. Was the crow bringing me bad luck I wondered? I started doing research and read that when a crow visits you again and again you will have something good will occur. I started to calm myself and felt everything was going to be ok with the second child. Fast forward: all was fine. I told my son this story as he grew and started to collect wooden crows and primitive crow art. Twenty-five years later I have a shelf devoted to crows!

Mairead Ashcroft on January 11, 2020:

I have a tattoo of a crow on my forearm. I am a survivor of sexual abuse through the Catholic church and asked for the help of the Celtic triple goddess, the Morrigan, to help me fight my battle. I felt that I needed some assistance from my pagan roots. She brings babies from the underworld into new life and old people back into the underworld through death completing the cycle of life. I human form, she is the goddess of war and strategy. Shape shifting into the beautiful black bird that we know, she will fly vast heights, seeing the big picture of situations. After much anguish and many years of traumatic court and police appointments, I won my case, and Br Bernard Joseph Hartman was put into jail. I did exposure therapy after the case was won by going into the monastery where I was first abused. When I came out, a blue/black crow was luminescent in the sun, sitting proudly on the roof of my car, waiting to welcome me and take me home.

Sally Browning Pearson on July 01, 2019:

Thank you for you article, I learned a lot more about Crows and Ravens. I have recently been painting these birds in my watercolor landscapes. I will now be more discriminating when I depict them. (I always thought they were about the same). I wish I could show you what I painted and get your opinion. Some people say they are too big. ??

Tim on August 17, 2018:

And symbol of the mighty god Odin.

Thought and memory.

Eugenia Duarte on June 27, 2018:

Thank you for sharing. I found it so interesting. I have had 7 to 8 Ravens visiting me for about 5 years straight now. It started with with three beautiful large birds sitting on my fence a few feet away from me. They wouldn’t spook. I left them some peanuts the next day and they came back. Soon it was four, then five and now I see seven to eight. So different they all are. So comical. They hop. Play and hide food in my garden. I love them so much and I miss them if they don’t show up for one day. I’ve given them all names. Of course, it’s the expected but I enjoy calling them Edgar, Allen, Poe, Lenore and the Nevermores.

P.S. I found a ring in the back yard where they play. I don’t know if it is a toy of theirs or if they brought it for me. I took it. They have also left a small egg and one of their beautiful black long feathers. I treasure their gifts.

K. Abbott on May 16, 2018:

Your spirit is brother to the Raven.

It is not in gloom that you will be lost.

But on the brightest day, while soaring high among the cliffs, be cautious not to let your shadow be your guide.

Jerry Casey on March 08, 2018:

Thank you so much for sharing your research on these two birds. I am a descendant of the Crow Nation in Montana. I am always looking for information about the origin of why the Crow Nation picked the name of the Crow.

Carlie on February 06, 2018:

Loved your blog. You are so right, Ravens get a bad rap. To me they represent strength, wisdom and loyalty. They mate for life and bring presents to each other. Also they will leave presents for people who regularly feed them.

I am an artist and have a series of paintings all depicting these beautiful creatures in mystical ways.

Thanks for all your good vibes and loving ravens too.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on November 21, 2017:

Peter - your comment was touching. Yes, the loss and grief part of it is true...and yet I find it all so comforting. I wish you a wonderful holiday season - still surrounded by loved ones. Hmm...I think I'd like to memorize this poem again...dunno why but your comment makes me think of it. :)

Peter Dryad on November 21, 2017:

I too memorised "The Raven" some time after my wife passed away. Not many people know the Raven in Poes' poem symbolises loss and grief but when read carefully it is so appropriate. Still I've loved Ravens for many years and I'm glad I found this post.

Veronic on September 28, 2017:

Around the 17, 18th of September I was on vacation. While cleaning up my garden, a raven that I see from time to time was atop an electric pole. I said hello to it and it began it's call. I told it fine and have a good season too. On the 19th I had a massive heart attack (or so they tell me). Drove myself to the hospital got stents put in and haven't seen my raven friend since. I think he just wanted me to know it would be fine.

samuel on July 15, 2017:

in my family we see the ravens and crows as a family symbol, because of our respect to the raven and the fact we are from baltimore

Toby on October 08, 2016:

ravens have always been a bird I loved true it was for the mystery and myth's about these birds but non the less I loved them and knew they were no ill will bringer to this day I love the raven. and the talking thing wild ones can teach them self to ive herd one first hand, it wasn't actually talking but it made the perfect water drip sound and echo multiple times, I stood there watching him/her until it flew again, the same way I was headed weird but cool it was like it was fallowing me

Anita Hasch from Port Elizabeth on August 15, 2016:

Hi, Our neighbors had a crow when we stayed in town. It used to chase the kids if they walked in the street. Could also talk, so maybe it was a raven. They seem to look very much alike.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 17, 2016:

LiliMarlene - I love researching this sort of stuff, too! Thanks for stopping by. :)

Elisabeth Meier on July 17, 2016:

I like ravens too and am working on a story with some ravens playing an important role. Hence, I'm researching and am grateful for all articles and information I can get. Thanks for sharing!

cheryle on May 29, 2016:

i love how you are helping to educate people i am a bird person i worked at indianapolis zoo for many years with penguins and other birds , but i loved our raven and i love crows too . keep doing what you do!

Andrew on January 05, 2016:

I always had bad feelings toward crows. Ravens I kind of grouped in with them I suppose. It was interesting to hear that Ravens had white feathers before they told too many secrets and that Apollo and Athena would/could do that... I have a better perspective. Thank you!

Just Ian ok? on December 23, 2015:

I personally looked this up do to a independent religion...to find the symbolismisitic beliefs about the Raven/ crow as I saw a "sign" let's say.... Which was not a crow but rather a shadow...which is taught in this context means....well long story short is...the symbolism of this sign for me....was I will be safe and well

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on December 12, 2015:

Haha, Casey. Thanks for stopping by! Cheers.

casey on December 11, 2015:

I love this synopsis / article. I'm so happy to know there are so many other corvid lovers out there! Thank you for sharing.

Nathan M from Tucson on November 23, 2015:

Don't see too many ravens around my area, but crows are pretty amazing and smart birds.

annasmom on November 07, 2015:

Yay!!! Everywhere I go, a crow! Love both of these birds! Thanks for the good read!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 11, 2015:

Kristen - thank you! I appreciate the votes and comments. Have a wonderful day!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 05, 2015:

Nice hub on ravens and crows. Very informative with beautiful photos. Great insight on the difference of both birds. Voted up!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on December 09, 2014:

Cheryl - thank you so much! Those differences between the two are interesting, aren't they? Thanks for stopping by!

Cheryl Cuddeback from Forest Hills Queens on December 08, 2014:

Well written and researched. I didn't know there was a difference between the Raven and Crow.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on October 14, 2013:

FlourishAnyway - haha, thank you! I hope you have a wonderful day!

Vicki - hehe, I try, I try. ;)

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on October 13, 2013:

Owl symbolism, now ravens. It's all very appropriate for the pre-Halloween season, methinks!

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 13, 2013:

Very interesting hub! I enjoyed your combination of ornithology, literature and symbolism from different cultures. So appropriate, too, for this time of year.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 27, 2013:

Mel - thank you! They really are a lot like us, aren't they? I love our avian friends - all of them. ^_^ Have a wonderful day!

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on May 24, 2013:

I love how you approach this subject from both a mythological and ornothological perspective as well. I am fascinated by the entire family of the corvids. They are extremely intelligent omnivores, and in that they are a lot like us. Great Post!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on September 09, 2012:

Anna - I'm very glad that you enjoyed this and that your assessment was indeed correct. I appreciate your comments and feedback. Have a great day!

Anna on September 09, 2012:

I have found that crows and ravens are fascinating birds. Thank you for sharing this information. I happened to find a crows feather on the ground the other day, and was delighted. I felt that the Native American Culture would think that they would bring good luck. And to find out that it also means light was also enlightening. I was happy to know that I was right about it meaning good luck.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 30, 2012:

Perry - well, hang on to those. :D

Perry the Cat from Mouskin, Texas on July 29, 2012:

well, eight

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 29, 2012:

Perry - I'm sure you've got nine lives. I'm not too worried. LOL

Perry the Cat from Mouskin, Texas on July 29, 2012:

Thanks! I'm working on it.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 29, 2012:

Haha, Perry. Stay safe! :)

Perry the Cat from Mouskin, Texas on July 28, 2012:

Yikers! Get behind the dogs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 28, 2012:

HOOO HOOO HOOO - said the owl. MEOW MEOW MEOW - said the kitty. Then they stormed the house where Perry the Cat lives. :D

Perry the Cat from Mouskin, Texas on July 28, 2012:

or a late night snack? Yeah, he's a real hoot!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 28, 2012:

Perry the Cat - he who knows about owls is wise indeed. I'm thinking that since owls are nocturnal and cats are nocturnal, that perhaps Perry the Cat has an owl friend. :)

Perry the Cat from Mouskin, Texas on July 28, 2012:

Thoughtsandwiches, the hoot of an owl three nights in a row is a harbinger of death. Romans believed if you nailed a dead owl to your home overnight it kept death at bay. But mostly they are thought of as beneficial (they eat vermin), wise and helpful. The owl was Athena's personal bird. In England the screeching of a barn owl indicates an impending change in weather conditions.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 28, 2012:

ThoughSandwiches - I LOVE that username. Crows in the city? I'm surmising that that's probably what you've been seeing. The ravens really are markedly bigger. Poe's poem...oh, how I love that poem. I'm sure psychological types would have a heyday with that, but well...hehe.

Owls - well, now you've given me a hub idea. I'm going to have to leave you hanging for a little while and I will let you know on that. I will give you a tidbit: some cultures believe the owl is an omen of death; others think it warns of danger, and still others revere it. Hehe...but I'll have a hub on it within the week. :)

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on July 27, 2012:

Cyndi,

Well being that I am a city boy...I must presume that I have been seeing crows my whole life. This is a very interesting article! I knew that the Native Americans referenced then as "The Trickster" but little else. Like you, Poe's poem has been my benchmark of knowledge.

Thanks!

Thomas

PS...Question: Is the Owl known as a bad spirit? I kind of dig owls.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on June 30, 2012:

That Grrl - hehe, they are so fun to watch, aren't they? I'm so intrigued by them. Though they're common, they have an uncommon smartness about them. They are also such opportunists. Thanks for coming by! Hubhugs!

Laura Brown from Barrie, Ontario, Canada on June 29, 2012:

We have a family of crows living in the woods behind the house this year. They make pretty good neighbours.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 12, 2012:

Glad to know that, Perry. I'm glad it's coming to light - my heart broke seeing all the abandoned pets after Hurricane Katrina. I'm so glad you are highlighting this. :)

Perry the Cat from Mouskin, Texas on April 12, 2012:

Just thought I'd let you know, mom and I just wrote an article on disaster planning for people with pets. If you've got a cat, you might need to read it. The federal government in the US has just recently realized the importance of integrating pet planning into the big picture.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 12, 2012:

Perry - that's okay. Pepe the cat ate a vole and offered it up to me. Um...appetizing. Icky. Hehe. Hopefully he'll develop a better rapport with the voles. :)

Perry the Cat from Mouskin, Texas on April 12, 2012:

Cats and intelligent birds can get along. Most birds though are a bit feather brained. And bullies, too. But I haven't eaten any... lately. :D

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 12, 2012:

Perry - great to see you! Meeeooww! Hehe. Did you see the video about the kitty and the bird (crow)? So cute, no? See? Cats and birds can get along. :) Thanks, Perry.

Perry the Cat from Mouskin, Texas on April 12, 2012:

Excellent article, beautiful paintings, even if they are about birdies. (Remember, I am a cat) I'm going to read the selling paintings hub you wrote as well. Keep writing, you little hub nugget!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 12, 2012:

Ruby - I just love your enthusiasm! Thank you so much for the kudos and shares. It's refreshing to sense your love of learning, art and appreciation for animals. Thank you so much for stopping by here, too. (HUGS)

Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on April 11, 2012:

We have these birds in common my friend. I am so glad I came across this Hub. Your art work is awesome. This raven one is so beautiful. Sharing this one too, adding the link to my raven poem. Thank you for such great information.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 29, 2012:

Perry the Cat - thank you for stopping by and reading. :) I can tell you're a fellow animal lover. (HUGS)

Perry the Cat from Mouskin, Texas on March 28, 2012:

Very interesting article.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 27, 2012:

@ aviannovice: :)

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 27, 2012:

Oh, indeed! I have much to tell

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 27, 2012:

aviannovice - given your username, I would venture to guess that our avian friends also know they have a voice and friend in you. :)

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 27, 2012:

I am never far...

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 27, 2012:

Sounds good, aviannovice. =) Good to see you again.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 27, 2012:

I will do that, thanks!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 24, 2012:

aviannovice - I look forward to that hub! Let me know and I'll link it with my hub. :) I love all the different birds. Even the most common birds - seagulls, magpies, pigeons - they all are beautiful and they all fascinate me. :)

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 24, 2012:

I, too, am a bird person, especially fascinated with eagles(whom I have worked with) and ravens(when in the state of Maine) as they guarded my house when I was away. I will get to it eventually, but stay tuned for my own piece on ravens and their wisdom.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on January 31, 2012:

Before doing this hub, I did too. :) Except, I always preferred to use the word "raven" just because it's so much more poetic. Thanks again, alocisin. Always good to see you!!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on January 31, 2012:

I always thought they were the same, so thanks for pointing out the differences. Voting this Up and Useful.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on January 21, 2012:

Seeker7 - thank you for sharing your insights. I, too, love all animals and strive to help others to see how amazing they are - so that all of humanity can respect them and prevent any one of them from becoming extinct. Thank you for the votes. You, too, have written beautiful hubs! :)

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on January 21, 2012:

This is a beautiful hub. It took me a lot of years as well, but I did eventually learn to tell the difference between the crow and the raven. I have crows in the garden but out in the countryside, especially the wooded areas, we have ravens. It's great to have both of them so close. I saw one documentary on the crow and it showed them using tools (a small twig) to dig out grubs from inside a rotting tree trunk. I was fascinated watching them. Not only that, but you saw the adult teaching a younger one how to do it. They said it takes the birds about 2 years to learn the skill, but learn it they do.

You hub was a thoroughly enjoyable and fascianting read. Voted up + awesome!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on January 01, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by, moonlake. :) I may not know you personally, but I know you're a wonderful person to go out and care for wildlife like that. You're cool. :)

moonlake from America on December 31, 2011:

My son has Ravens nesting in his trees all the time. One morning he called and told us a Raven nest had fallen and there were baby Ravens every where. He wanted us to come and get them. I'm the bird lady in this house. I went down there and only found one live baby, the rest were dead. We took the raven to the Wildlife Center so they could take care of him.

The eagles here often go after the Raven nest and tear them down. We think that's what may have happened.

Good Hub.