Musings on Ravens: Duality

As I have mentioned, this is the season of The Wild Hunt lead by Odin, the Norse All-Father. He had two ravens – Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory) who told him about everything happening on earth. This started my musing on this particular corvid and how ravens differ from crows.

Often mistaken for crow, the raven is not just a big crow. A complex bird in nature and mythology, the raven is noted for her innovative solutions to problems that she encounters. For example, the raven uses stones to crack her nuts. With her diverse language of calls, the raven often engages in wordplay with her friends. Not only that, but she also incorporates the calls of other birds in her “speech”.

When the territories of the crow and the raven overlap, a distinction can be made between the two. Unlike her brother crow, the raven prefers the woods to the cities. She has a greater tolerance for cold than the crow, and can even withstand the Arctic winter. To identify the raven, look at the bird’s tail. The crow has a fantail, the raven a wedge tail. Also, when the raven is cold, she puffs herself up, looking a bit raggedy with a ruff around her neck.

In the areas where only the crow lives, people have attributed him with the raven’s magical qualities. In the areas where only the raven lives, people added the crow’s attributes to the raven. However, the raven is known for shape shifting, which the crow cannot do. More secretive than the crow, the raven is also associated with the night and dark magic. Since she is bigger and stronger than the crow, the raven’s magic is more profound.

The raven’s main food is carrion. Several ravens will flock around a large carcass and pick the bones clean. Because she fed on corpses hanging from gallows, people took the raven to be an evil omen with supernatural powers. In Europe, they believed her to be so evil that they killed the raven before she could do any more harm.

The Norse revered the raven since Odin, their chief God, had two ravens. Among early Christians, the raven was a messenger sent by God to feed the saints in the wilderness. Among the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, the raven was the Great Trickster. She created human beings, and brought fire to them.

People hold opposing views of the raven. She is either a creator of human beings or a harbinger of death. When she is not feeding on corpses, the raven is a messenger to Christian saints. The raven teaches life’s duality. From the light comes the shadow. With joy comes sadness. The raven helps people to embrace life in all of its complexity.


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