Σάββατο, 7 Ιουλίου 2012

Raven part2

Symbolism of Ravens in Norse Mythology

Hugin and Munin (Norse, 'thought' and 'memory') are the twin ravens of Norse mythology. They are the servants of the Norse All-Father, Odin, traveling to bring him reports of the affairs of the world.

The examples above are adapted from a Viking picture stone from Gotland, Sweden, called the "Larbro" stone, which depicts scenes of the Norse Gods and the afterlife.

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QUOTE
General folklore:
A bird of ill omen; fabled to forbode death, and to bring infection and bad luck. Like many other birds, ravens indicate the approach of foul weather. According to Roman legend, ravens were once as white as swans; but one day a raven told Apollo that Coronis, a Thessalian nymph whom he passionately loved, was faithless. The god shot the nymph with his dart; but hating the messenger, turned him black as coal. As a prophet it foretells death but can also be helpful in finding lost property. The bird is a messenger of the sun god Apollo and is an attribute of Athena, Kronos and Aesculapius; it was also a symbol of fertility and as such was invoked at weddings.In Zoroastrianism the raven is a 'pure' bird as it removes pollution and in Mithraism it represents the first grade of initiation. Chinese myth has the three-legged raven in the sun, depicting its rising, noontide and setting. In Hinduism Brahma appeared as a raven in one incarnation. The raven-crow goddess, the Blessed Raven, is important in Celtic lore and has a threefold function as war, fertillty and prophecy. The Raven of Battle, the goddess Badb, represents war and bloodshed and is ill-omened. Morrigan, Bran and Lugh are associated with the raven and the last had two magic ravens similar to those of Odin [The two ravens that sit on the shoulders of Odin are called Huginn and Muninn (Mind and Memory)]. Among Amerindians Raven is one of the chief and most widespread of the trickster-heroes and shape-shifters; he is not only the trickster but also a creator and appears as Raven Man, the Big Grandfather. He was one of the creatures which recreated the land after the Flood and stole the sun. Raven is also a messenger of the Great Spirit.

Trivia:
1. A group of Ravens is a "MURDER."

2. In addition to their NATURAL CALLS, Ravens can also imitate other birds, falling water, and even the melody from a music box or the tinkling of an ice cream truck.

3. In GREEK mythology Apollo considered Raven a prophet as do the the BOROROS of present day Brazil.

4. The TEUTONIC story of Odin had the Raven be the messaager carrier of the gods.

5. SWISS AND DANISH legend has Raven as the hunting helper.

6. TIBETAN religious tradition considers Raven the only messenger of the supreme being.

Odin also has two wolves, Geri and Freki, and two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory). He sends his ravens out every day to gather knowledge for him.


QUOTE
In Norse mythology the omniscient god Odin had a pair of ravens called Hugin (thought) and Munin (remembrance) living upon his shoulders or throne. Each morning they flew around the earth observing everything and questioning everyone, even the dead. During the night they returned to their master and whispered all that they had seen and heard. Sometimes Odin turned himself into a raven.



Raven Banner

It is frequently assumed that the first flag to fly in America was the Raven banner of the Vikings, the first Europeans to discover and settle (though not permanently) in North America. In the preface to the first volume of NAVA's journal Raven the name of the journal is explained. Of the first flag in America it is said: "... it seems probable that this first flag was the most common Norse flag, known as 'Raven, Terror of the Land, or more simply 'Raven."1 The Norse discoverers of America are presumed to have brought with them this flag on their journeys to North America. To support this assumption, it is pointed to the Lothbroc legend and to coins depicting a raven found in England and Ireland.

This line of reasoning is based on the assumption that the most common Norse flag, the one we hear most frequently of, was the flag that was commonly used by Norse seafarers, and so was also used by Leif Ericsson when he discovered America in AD 1000/1001. This assumption is difficult to support.

The medieval sources attribute the Raven banner to a limited number of kings and warlords. Under the Raven banner, these men are almost exclusively operating in the British Isles. Hallvard Trætteberg, the leading Norwegian authority on heraldry and flags, lists six instances where the sources mention the Raven banner.




* The sons of Ragnar Lothbroc carried a Raven banner, Leodbroga, when invading England, about AD 867. The banner had a raven that flapped its wings when signaling victory for the Danes. This is the famous Lothbroc legend.

* King Canute had a Raven banner made from white silk when he triumphed at Ashington in 1016. The Encomium Emmae, also known as Geasta Cnutonis Regis, says that the King had "...a banner which gave a wonderful omen. I am well aware that this may seem incredible to the reader, but nevertheless I insert it in my veracious work because it is true: This banner was woven of the cleanest and whitest silk and no picture of any figures was found on it. In case of war, however, a raven was always to be seen, as ff it was woven into it. If the Danes were going to win the battle, the raven appeared, beak wide open, flapping its wings and restless on its feet. If they were going to be defeated, the raven did not stir at all, and its limbs hung motionless."3

* Earl Sigurd of the Orkneys had a magical Raven banner made by his mother. She gave him the banner the day before an important battle, saying: "Take @ sign, I have made it for you. It will bring victory to the man it precedes, but death to the man who carries it"4 The banner had a raven that seemed to rise when the wind blew into it Sigurd then fought with the Scottish earl and won three battles. His standard bearers fell. Then, at the battle of Clontarf in Ireland, he had to carry the magical banner himself, and he fell. This was supposedly on Holy Friday in 1014.

* Earl Sigvard of Northumberland was given a banner he called Landeydan (Landwaster, or Terror of the Land) by a mysterious old man he met on a hill top when chasing a dragon. Sigvard died 1055.

* Harald Hardruler, King of Norway, had a sign called Landeydan (Landwaster). The King's saga, Saga of Harald Sigurtharson, tells of a quarrel between Harald and Svein, a Danish king: 'Svein asked Harald what possessions of his he valued most highly. He answered his banner "Land-Destroyer." Thereupon Svein asked what virtue it had to be accounted so valuable. Harald replied that it was prophesied that victory would be his before whom this banner was borne; and added that this had been the case ever since he had obtained it." Then they started to quarrel over whether this could be true.5 Harold invaded England in 1066. He was victorious under the Landeydan at York, but was defeated at Stamford Bridge. There, the hardest battle was fought around the Raven banner.

* William the Conqueror also had a Raven banner at Hastings, according to Trætteberg.



In addition to these descriptions in the literary sources, coins depicting Ravens have been found. Trætteberg mentions a bird on coins made in York, 926-27 and 937. The bird is eagle-like but possibly a raven. Another coin has a triangular banner fringed with bells or strips of some kind and with a rose shaped cross as charge. There is a similar banner in the London coin of Canute, but there is no emblem on this one.

The Raven banner seems to be well documented, both in written sources and on coins. It is mentioned in sources treating events from the mid 800s to 1066. In addition, it is well known that ravens occupied an important place in Norse mythology, the raven being the holy bird of Odin. However, with respect to the Raven banner and the Norse discovery of North America, there are some important misconceptions.

The most important misconception is that the Raven has come to be regarded as the emblem of the Vikings. As a result of this misconception, the banner with magical properties used by kings and warlords is seen as the emblem that any Viking would use to identify himself. In fact, little is known about the use of banners or standards among the Norse. Even though banners or standards are frequently mentioned in sources such as Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla: The History of the Kings of Norway, we are, with a couple of exceptions, never told what they looked hke.6 It could be that Snorri assumed such banners to be commonly known to his readers. However, it could also be that the banners usually carried only a signaling function in war and had no symbolic value.

Further, there seems to be an assumption that the Norse discoverers used flags in much the same way as discoverers centuries later. Note for instance the words used by Smith and Taylor (1946) who says of Leif Ericsson in Vinland: "He is supposed to have planted there the banner of the Vikings, a white flag containing a raven with wings spread."7 Here it seems as if the Raven banner is treated as a modem (national) flag. The Norse knew no common emblem or symbols, as far as we know. Kings and warriors carried signs or banners, especially in war, but we are not told that these signs represented symbolically a territory or a community. Objections should also be raised to the word 'plant', because it seems to reflect the much later practice of colonization and claiming land for a king or a country by planting their flags in new lands. It is not known that the Norse used to do this when taking new land. It is also not known that the Norse used flags on their ships, though we know they used vanes.

It does not seem correct to regard the Raven banner as the common symbol of the Vikings (or as the flag the Vikings would normally carry). The Raven banner is attributed in the sources to a few kings and warlords. We cannot assume that the men participants in the peaceful settlement of the lands in the North Atlantic also carried such banners. These settlers and discoverers set out on their own initiative and were not subject to any king. What we know from the sources is that the Raven banner was primarily used in campaigns in the British Isles. Because of its magic qualities, it was a prized possession. Had such a banner been in the possession of Leif Ericsson, we could expect the Sagas to mention it.

The Raven banner was believed to have magical qualities. It transformed itself in times of war to predict victory for those who carried it. On its way to America, the Raven banner has undergone a second magical transformation, that from a banner of kings and warriors, to the emblem of all Vikings and thus also of a seafarer like Leif Ericsson out on a private mission to find more land suitable for the families of himself and his crew.

OMEN OF DEATH & DIVINE PROVIDENCE

In most parts of the world the raven is considered a prophet and a bad omen. The Arabs call it Abu Zajir which means "Father of Omens." In Ireland it was once domesticated for use in divination practices and the term "Raven's Knowledge" was applied to the human gift of second sight. Ravens deserting their nests were very bad omens and popular superstition declared that if the ravens ever fled the Tower of London, the monarchy would fall. In many areas of the ancient world, the sight of a raven flying to the right was a good omen, whilst a raven flying to the left was an evil one.
Eaters of carrion, ravens were messengers of death, pestilence, and battle. It was believed that these flesh-hungry birds could smell the scent of death upon a person before they died - even through the walls of a house. In paintings, the raven may be seen flying over battlefields, eager to feast on the dead. After the Battle of Armageddon, ravens will descend upon the lands of the wicked (Isa 34:11).
These birds were thought to have a special taste for the bodies of hanged criminals and to enjoy plucking out the eyes of sinners (Prov 30:17). Christians thought they carried off the souls of the damned and associated this bird with the Fall of Man and Satan who blinds sinners, dulls their moral senses, and feasts on their corruption.
Ravens were a symbol of sin especially the sins of gluttony, stealing, and false teaching. They were nicknamed "thieving birds" and Icelandic children were taught that drinking from raven quill straws would cause them to become thieves. Evil priests were said to turn into ravens when they died. To European Christians, this creature is the antithesis of the innocent white dove. But in some African and Native American traditions, he is a beneficent guide whose keen sight allows him to issue warnings to the living and to lead the dead on their final journey.
The raven's cry of "Cras! Cras!" was interpreted by Latin speakers to mean "Tomorrow! Tomorrow!" Therefore it became a symbol of the foolish sinner who puts off conversion. Others, however, found in this cry a symbol of the hope of a new and better day. To North American Eskimos, the raven's cry sounded like "Kak, kak, kak!" which means "a deer-skin blanket." According to their legends, the raven's cries warned people not to forget their blankets when they moved.
Before Noah sent the dove from the Ark, he sent out a white raven to test the waters. Instead of returning to the Ark, this bird "kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth" (Gen 8:7). According to Matthew Henry, this raven's attitude was like that of the "carnal heart" which, instead of seeking rest and refuge in its Savior, "takes up with the world, and feeds on the carrion it finds there." Jewish legend states that Noah's raven was punished for his failure to return to the Ark by being blackened and condemned to eat carrion.
Greeks believed that Apollo turned the raven black when the bird informed him of the unfaithfulness of his lover, Coronis. This episode gave the raven a reputation as a tattler, a spy, and a divulger of secrets. In the Pacific Northwest, the raven's feathers were blackened when his brother-in-law smoked him over a fire as a punishment for his trickery. According to Ukrainian legend, ravens used to have many beautifully colored feathers and a lovely song but after the Fall they started eating carrion. This habit destroyed their voices and blackened their plumage. Their former loveliness is expected to be returned to them when Paradise is restored.
In Norse mythology the omniscient god Odin had a pair of ravens called Hugin (thought) and Munin (remembrance) living upon his shoulders or throne. Each morning they flew around the earth observing everything and questioning everyone, even the dead. During the night they returned to their master and whispered all that they had seen and heard. Sometimes Odin turned himself into a raven.
Ravens are known around the world as shapeshifters and humans are often changed into ravens by an enemy's curse. They are prophets, spell-casters, and messengers of the gods. Gods and goddesses of war and thunder such as Badb have ravens as their attributes. They are early emblems of the Danes and the Vikings.
In spite of its dark appearance, the raven is often a solar symbol. In Greece he was sacred to Apollo, the god of light. In China, a three-legged raven lives in the sun. His legs symbolize dawn, noon, and dusk. There used to be ten sun-ravens but they gave off such intense light and heat that an archer had to shoot nine of them in order to preserve life on earth. A red raven is the emblem of the Chinese Chow dynasty.
Among the natives of the North American Pacific Coast, Raven is a hero, messenger, creator of the world, thief, and trickster. He taught the first humans how to care for themselves and make clothes, canoes, and houses. His position in Native American folklore is similar to that of the wily coyote. Some say he was born of the primordial darkness; others that he was born in the coffin of his dead mother and nourished on her entrails. He was a provident creator who brought sunlight, vegetation, animals, and the tides into the world for the benefit of humankind. He took the animals two by two onto a raft, after the manner of Noah, in order to save them from a great flood. After all the good he had done for humankind, Raven wished to marry a woman but the men refused to allow this. In revenge, Raven created mosquitoes from crushed leaves to pester them for all time. When Raven brought light to mankind, they were so frightened by it that they scattered to all corners of the world.
The raven is a symbol for solitude and an attribute of several saints whom ravens fed in the wilderness, including St. Anthony Abbot, St. Paul the Hermit, and St. Benedict. Although the raven itself was considered unclean, God sent ravens to feed Elijah the Tishbite by the brook Cherith during a long drought (1 Ki 17:6; Lev 11:15; Deu 14:14). The raven has long been a symbol of divine providence (Psa 147:9; Job 38:41). Many remember the Lord's command to consider the sparrow and the lilies, but the words, "Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them," are seldom brought to mind (Lk 12:24). In the Song of Solomon, the Beloved's locks are "black as a raven" (Song 5:11).
The raven symbolizes filial gratitude and affection, wisdom, hope, longevity, death, and fertility. In alchemy, it represents change and the advanced soul dying to this world. It remains a frequently used symbol in modern magic, witchcraft, and mystery.
Like the larger raven, the symbolic crow is associated with the sun, longevity, beginnings, death, change, bad luck, prophecy, and Christian solitude. It, too, is considered a messenger of the gods. Among ancient Greeks and Romans there were some who considered the crow a bad omen and the raven a good one.
White or albino crows were so prized that fowlers tried to change the color of their baby crows by soaking them in various deadly formulas. Among the Celts, the white crow was the emblem of the heroine, Branwen. Her heroic brother, Bran, was pictured as a raven. In North America, the Kiowas taught that the white crow turned black from eating snake eyes.
In the telling of myths and legends, the crow frequently took the place of the raven. This is the case in most of the Northwest Pacific myths recorded above and in the story of Apollo and Coronis. The Irish war-goddess, Badb, often took on the shape of a crow. In classical mythology, this bird is an attribute of Cronus or Saturn and Athena, the goddess of wisdom, victory, and the arts.
The crow is associated with motherly love and spiritual strength. It was believed that fairies turned into crows in order to cause trouble. In heraldry, a crow was used to indicate a dark person such as a Moor or a Saracen. In Egypt, two crows, like two doves, were an emblem of monogamy.
Christians consider the crow an emblem of the Virgin Mary. The words, "I am dark, but lovely...because the sun has tanned me," are believed to mean that the light or love of God has so shown upon her that she is burned and purified as if by a mighty sun or fire (Song 1:5-6).
These verses also make the crow a symbol of the Church which says, "Do not look upon me [with scorn], because I am dark, because the sun has tanned me. My mother's sons were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept" (Song 1:6). These verses are interpreted by the Church as a plea that potential converts not be discouraged by the sight of a sinful, suffering, harassed, or persecuted Church, but instead realize that the Refiner's fire and forgiveness has made her darkness more beautiful than the virginal purity implied by the whiteness of a dove.
The beautiful song of the blackbird makes it a symbol of temptations, especially sexual ones. The devil once took on the shape of a blackbird and flew into St. Benedict's face, thereby causing the saint to be troubled by an intense desire for a beautiful girl he had once seen. In order to save himself, St. Benedict tore off his clothes and jumped into a thorn bush. This painful act is said to have freed him from sexual temptations for the rest of his life.
Like the crow and the raven, the blackbird is considered a bad omen. However, the sight of two blackbirds sitting together is a symbol of peace and a good omen.

Crows and Ravens:

Although crows and ravens are part of the same family (Corvus), they’re not exactly the same bird. Typically, ravens are quite a bit bigger than crows, and they tend to be a bit shaggier looking. The raven actually has more in common with hawks and other predatory birds than the standard, smaller-sized crow. In addition, although both birds have an impressive repertoire of calls and noises they make, the raven’s call is usually a bit deeper and more guttural sounding than that of the crow.
Both crows and ravens have appeared in a number of different mythologies throughout the ages. In some cases these black-feathered birds are considered an omen of bad tidings, but in others they may represent a message from the Divine. Here is some fascinating crow and raven folklore to ponder:
In Celtic mythology, the warrior goddess known as the Morrighan often appears in the form of a crow or raven, or is seen accompanied by a group of them. Typically, these birds appear in groups of three, and they are seen as a sign that the Morrighan is watching – or possibly getting ready to pay someone a visit.
In some tales of the Welsh myth cycle, the Mabinogion, the raven is a harbinger of death. Witches and sorcerers were believed to have the ability to transform themselves into ravens and fly away, thus enabling them to evade capture.
Crows sometimes appear as a method of divination. For the ancient Greeks, the crow was a symbol of Apollo in his role as god of prophecy. Augury – divination using birds – was popular among both the Greeks and the Romans, and augurs interpreted messages based on not only the color of a bird, but the direction from which it flew. A crow flying in from the east or south was considered favorable.
The Native Americans often saw the raven as a trickster, much like Coyote. There are a number of tales regarding the mischief of Raven, who is sometimes seen as a symbol of transformation. In the legends of various tribes, Raven is typically associated with everything from the creation of the world to the gift of sunlight to mankind. Some tribes knew the raven as a stealer of souls.
For those who follow the Norse pantheon, Odin is often represented by the raven – usually a pair of them. Early artwork depicts him as being accompanied by two black birds, who are described in the Eddas as Huginn and Muinnin. Their names translate to “thought” and “memory”, and their job is to serve as Odin’s spies, bringing him news each night from the land of men. In parts of the Appalachian mountains, a low-flying group of crows means that illness is coming – but if a crow flies over a house and calls three times, that means an impending death in the family. If the crows call in the morning before the other birds get a chance to sing, it’s going to rain. Despite their role as messengers of doom and gloom, it’s bad luck to kill a crow. If you accidentally do so, you’re supposed to bury it – and be sure to wear black when you do!
Even within the Christian religion, ravens hold a special significance. While they are referred to as “unclean” within the Bible, Genesis tells us that after the flood waters receded, the raven was the first bird Noah sent out from the ark to find land. Also, in the Hebrew Talmud, ravens are credited with teaching mankind how to deal with death; when Cain slew Abel, a raven showed Adam and Eve how to bury the body, because they had never done so before.
For centuries the corvids, ravens and crows in particular (corvus corax is the Latin name for the common raven and corvus corone for the carrion and hooded crows), have had a special place in the mythology of various cultures. In modern times this fascination has barely diminished. From Edgar Allen Poe's literary classic to the film of James O'Barr's cult graphic novel "The Crow", these birds still exert a powerful hold over the psyche of a significant fraction of the population. The Goths who paint their faces with white make-up and the weekend warriors who expect Raven to take them to the Otherworld to meet the dead do not see the same animal as the farmers who set up decoys in order to shoot large numbers of them every year in late spring. This is, however, typical of a creature that presents a paradox wherever one looks.

Raven in Mythology

 
Corvids are sociable birds. They tend to form social groups, and this can be seen particularly in the case of rooks, which stay in their flocks all year round. Ravens, the largest of the family, reaching as much as 3 feet from beak to tail, form groups as juveniles, pairing off into lifelong monogamous and extremely territorial relationships at around the age of three. The courtship can involve such fun and games as synchronised snow sliding, and, of course, the synchronised flight test. The corvids can be found all over the world, and are the largest of the passeriformae, or songbirds. The common raven is widely distributed throughout the Northern hemisphere, and the adaptability and intelligence of this family have made it extremely successful.
As far as the mythology goes, the first confusion arises over the distinction between Crow and Raven, at least on the European side of the Atlantic. The two appear, in many instances, to be interchangeable, and the appearance of one or the other in a story depends as much on which author is transcribing it as it does on story itself. Whereas John Matthews 1 gives Bran the raven almost exclusively, Miranda Jane Green 2 ascribes to the God's companion animal either the crow or the raven, much as both authors do for the Morrigan. The confusion on the American side of the Atlantic is not so profound. There is a distinct geographical trend in the likelihood of Raven appearing in a story, and so we will start our examination there.
Whereas ravens appear almost exclusively as signatory animals for deities in Europe, in the shamanic cultures of aboriginal North American tribes Raven appears as deity himself. From a dichotomy of cultures, we reach a dichotomy of characterisation, for Raven in America, particularly the Northwest coast region, is both demiurge and trickster, both hero and villain, and often at one and the same time. Raven appears as simple Raven, as Dotson' Sa (Great Raven), as Nankilstlas (He Whose Voice Must Be Obeyed) and also, in a Tlingit creation myth, as Nascakiyetl (Raven-at-the-Head-of-Nass, the Nass being a river). In nearly every single creation myth of the region I have encountered, Raven, in one of his guises, is either the actual creator of the world, or has a great part to play in it. In many, such as the Tlingit myth just mentioned, Raven appears in more than one of his guises - in this case both as Nascakiyetl, and as Yetl, the Raven. This is possible because of the personification of the animal characters in the culture. Animals can take on human form without a second thought (although Raven is the greatest shapeshifter of them all, being able to change into anyone and anything to get what he wants), and can also lead human style lives. Orca, for instance, is the Chief of his own underwater city, and the drowned go to live there with the killer whales, according to the Haida people.
Raven's character is very similar to that of Coyote - indeed, the two appear in stories carrying out very similar roles, the former in the North, the latter in the South. Both Coyote and Raven are driven by greed: Raven's for food, Coyote's for more carnal pleasures. A Tlingit storyteller says that "Raven never got full because he had eaten the black spots off his own toes. He learned about this after having inquired everywhere for some way of bringing such a state about. Then he wandered through all the world in search of things to eat." 3 The journeys of Raven form the basis of most of the myths in the region, and he travels around meeting animals of all descriptions and usually succeeds in contests of wit with them, either destroying and eating them or driving them off and securing their food. The Haida people make a distinction between the first part of the Raven cycle, in which he is truly creative, and the latter part, which consists of stories of his more risible behaviour. Young men are not allowed to laugh during the early part of the cycle, which is referred to as "The Old Man Stories". The Old Man Stories take in the creation of the world, sometimes a complex tale such as in the Tlingit and Tsmishian versions, sometimes a simple one, as in the Haida: "Not long ago no land was to be seen. Then there was a little thing on the ocean. This was all open sea. And Raven sat upon this. He said, 'Become dust.' And it became Earth." They also cover one of the most widely known Raven stories, how he stole the Sun, the Stars and the Moon, and also fire (reflecting on the corvine fascination for shiny objects), and the almost universal flood tale, which brought about the end of the Age of Animal Beings and brings about the Age of Men, for which Raven is invariably responsible.
In this guise, as Great Raven, Dotson' Sa, or Nankilstlas, the irrepressible greed is there, the sarcastic and laconic nature, the almost audible heavy sigh that starts off every conversation (see, for instance, Raven's first words in the story of the whale transcribed by Joseph Campbell 4 ), yet he is a character to be admired and respected, to whom homage is deserving. Although there is no evidence that Raven was ever worshipped, as such, it is said by some that the Northwest peoples did used to leave food out on the beaches for ravens. In this form he is capable of inspiring awe and terror, although always there is that twinkle in the eye and the knowledge that it can be only moments before he says something that will inspire laughter, albeit often irritated laughter as he hits the nail of truth well and truly, and sometimes uncomfortably, on the head. His creative nature usually shows itself through circumstance rather than intent, through the desire to satisfy his own needs, rather than any altruistic principles, but he seems genuinely fond of human beings, as related in "Raven finds the First Men" 5 , amongst others. He is the great shapeshifter, creative magick personified.
In his later, perhaps younger guise, Raven, or Yetl/Yelth, is often the butt of his own jokes; these are the stories in which Raven is often undertaking a position taken by Coyote in the desert and plains regions of the South. In this guise, Raven is at his most devious and tricky, is also cruel, with little thought for anyone or anything other than his own stomach. He will go to great efforts to satisfy his appetite, from tricking his cousin Crow out of his entire Winter's food supply, to tricking Deer into leaping onto some rocks so that he may be devoured, and even tricking an entire tribe into being killed by an avalanche so that he might eat their eyes 6 . He is the Raven at whom the young Haida men are allowed to laugh, but is also the Raven of whom to be most wary. He can be much crueller than his demiurge culture hero self. This Raven will have you in fits of laughter while he distracts you from the fact he is tricking you into doing something for him you may not actually want to do, and which may cost you dearly. This Raven is also a great shapeshifter, and uses his ability to aid him in deceiving others to do as he wishes.
Some of the stories do have Crow as the main character, and the main difference appears to be that Crow stories concern the themes of justice rather than greed, even if justice is not always seen to be done, as in the story of Raven and Crow's Potlatch, mentioned above.
The only time at which Raven's position in the Northwest coast culture bears any similarity to that in European culture is in his guise as one of the servants of the medicine lodge tutelary Baxbakualanuchsiwae, the Kwakiutl Cannibal Spirit, whose initiates practise ritual anthropophagy 7 . This is a comparatively recent trend in the culture, and is not widely mentioned.
By comparison, the ravens of European mythology are invariably messengers, or an alternate shape for various deities and spirits, the most widely known being Bran and the Morrigan, and of course Odin.
We are once again confronted by a dichotomy of character when we look at ravens and crows in European culture. Turning first to Odin's ravens. Huginn and Muninn, we see at once a split between active and passive roles. Huginn is Thought, and Muninn is Memory, and Odin sends these two birds off around the world at daybreak, to bring him the daily news. In Grimnismal, Odin says: "For Huginn I fear lest he return not home, but I am more anxious for Muninn". This suggests that Odin valued memory more than thought, the passive act rather than the active, but that is an altogether more complex discussion. Interestingly, Odin's wolves were Geri (no Spice Girl this, however) and Freki, whose names meant 'The Ravener' and 'The Glutton' respectively. Both of these terms are extremely applicable to ravens - ravener derives from raven - and echo the character of Raven in the tales of the Northwest Coast we have already considered. Wolves and ravens have an old and close relationship in the wild. In countries where both animals live together, a great deal of a raven's food comes from scavenging carcasses left by wolves, particularly in winter. Both animals would have been a common sight on the battlefield, scavenging on the bodies of the slain. Corvids were also connected with the Valkyries, as in "choughs of the Valkyries" 8 . Whether chough means chough (Latin name pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), in this case, or is an artistic rendering of raven, it is difficult to say. Valkyries may have been reflections of the "shield-maids" or skjald-meyer of the Huns, and it is worth pointing out that some sources state that the Irish battle Goddesses were not represented by ravens, but by the crow 9 , particularly the hooded crow, or "scald-crow" 10 .
Many of the Celtic goddesses are linked with the raven or crow. In this mythology the goddesses are the aggressive deities, those associated with war and death. Badb, Macha and Nemain are all associated with crows and/or ravens, as is Nantosuelta, a Gaulish water and healing goddess. The wife of the Fomorian sea-god, Tethra, was said to be a crow goddess who also hovered above battlefields, and Scottish myth has the Cailleach Bheure, who often appeared in crow form 11 . The association of the birds with death and war is an obvious reflection of its tendency to eat carrion, plenty of which is to be found in the aftermath of battle. This tendency led, eventually, to the persecution of the raven, as a harbinger of doom and destruction, and also to the common notion in modern European culture that the main attribute of Crow and Raven is their connection with the Otherworld. Upon Cuchulainn's death, the Morrigan perched on his shoulder in the form of a raven
The other main characteristic of Raven in Irish and Welsh myth is that of prophesy. The Morrigan was prone to prophesising, predicting the outcome of battle. King Cormac also came across the Badb as an old woman dressed in red garments (always a bad sign) who explained that she was washing the armour of a doomed king. Raven also acts as a messenger for the Irish/Welsh gods. Bran the Blessed (Bendigeidfran) is perhaps the best known of the Celtic gods associated with the raven, not least because of his association with the Tower of London, where ravens are still kept, wings clipped, in order to assure the safety of the realm. Bran's head, which he ordered to be cut off after being mortally wounded in the foot, is said to be buried i n the White Tower.
In "The Hawk of Achill" Cuchulainn's father, Lugh, is spoken of in association with ravens and crows. Ravens warned Lugh of the Formorians' approach. Ravens tended Cuchulainn when he was very ill, which is about the only time Cuchulainn appears to have had anything approaching a good relationship with the birds, save for when he was announced by two Druidic ravens on his entrance to Elysium 12 . He was responsible for killing a flock of magical sea ravens, which were large and able to swim in the sea (it is possible, from the description, that the birds were, in fact, cormorants, and not ravens at all. Cormorants also have a certain mythology associated with them). Also associated with ravens is the son of Cerridwen, Afagddu, who was also known as Morvran, or Sea Raven. Cerridwen 's intent had been to bestow the gift of Inspiration upon him.
A rather bizarre association is that of ravens and chess. In the Welsh "The Dream of Rhonabwy", Owain ap Urien and Arthur were playing a game which is thought to have been a chess equivalent. Three hundred ravens are mentioned in this tale as belonging to Owain, a gift from Cenferchyn. Arthur's men attacked the ravens during play, and eventually Owain told them to retaliate, upon which they attacked Arthur's men unmercifully. One of the pieces in chess is, of course, the rook, another member of the crow family (corvus frugilegus).
In Cervantes' "Don Quixote", the hero says that Arthur was not killed at all, but was turned into a raven. Arthur is also sometimes associated with the cult of Mithras, which was popular with the Roman legions. The cult organisation was based upon seven ranks that a worshipper could pass through, and the first of these was Raven. The raven, reprising his most common role in terms of masculine European mythology, was Ahura-Mazda's messenger and represented Mercury. Initiates are shown on frescoes and mosaics as holding a cup and the caduceus 13 . Also along these lines, Lugus was a Gaulish god of intelligence, and a mighty warrior. A relief from Senlis shows Lugus with ravens and geese, and the ravens appear to be speaking to him. Both Lugus and Odin are also linked with the Roman Mercury, bringing us to the connection between ravens and the art of the healer.
In nearly all cultures, the raven or crow was originally white. In one of the Greek tales, Coronis, the daughter of Phlegyes was pregnant by Apollo. Apollo left a white crow (or raven) to watch over her, but, just before the birth, Coronis married Ischys. The crow informed Apollo of this, and Apollo was not impressed. He killed Coronis and Ischys, and turned the crow black for being the bearer of bad news. Luckily, Apollo retrieved the unborn child at the funeral, for the child became Aesclepius, the father of medicine.
It is worth mentioning in passing Raven and Crow's appearances in other cultures, if only briefly.
Dwarves that live on the slopes of Kilimanjaro 13 are supposed to lay out bits of meat in banana-groves when sacrificing to their ancestors, and these bits of meat roll down the slopes and turn into white-necked ravens. In Japanese mythology, the Karasu tengu, or minor tengu, is a supernatural being with the head and wings of a black crow. They serve Daitengu, which are fallen yamabuse (monks), tall men with big noses and red faces who can create tornadoes using fans of bird feathers they carry in their sandals. Raven appears as one of the forms of the god Ninsubur in Semitic tales, and the raven, crow and rook all appear in the flood tale of Siberian myth, not one of them returning to the ark, as they were far too busy eating carcasses of drowned animals. For this they were cursed, as the dove was blessed for bringing back a twig, although it seems obvious that there had to be land somewhere if there were carcasses lying around. The Russian Lapps tell tales of the Seide, which are invisible spirits that have the power, like the dead, of appearing in the form of birds. They relate how a Seide often flew up out of a chasm in the mountains in the shape of a raven 14 .
It seems obvious, taking all these things into consideration, that the reputation of crow and raven for being dark messengers of doom, and concerned solely with death and destruction and the more black side of nature is ill-deserved. They do serve as couriers, it is true - an old Scots metaphor for death is talk of someone as having gone "awa' up the Crow Road" - but Raven has his wily beak into nearly everything, from the birth of medicine to the game of chess. The only thing you can be sure of with this character is that he is to be found at the extremities. In Haida mythology, it is even one of Raven's guises who determines the length of life of a new-born child. The constancy of Raven is his quest to fulfil an appetite - whether this be food, news, the sight of the slain on the battlefield, spirits of the dead for the Underworld, healing or prophecies of the future. The appetite is sometimes Raven's, sometimes that of the deity he signifies, but the appetite is always there. He is a creature of need, of want, of greed and gluttony, and can also demonstrate a possessive and jealous nature, but from that need and want, from the satisfaction of that appetite, great acts of creativity arise. Those acts of creativity, his greatest acts of magic, are not usually under his control, are not generally by his design, but arise through his attempts to satisfy the hunger he has. The animal seeking to sate his hunger on the dead, linking him with the Otherworld, is one and the same as that which tries to fill his belly with the farmer's crops, linking him with the 12-bore shotgun.
Raven can do almost anything, and will, but only if he gains by it. His smaller cousin, Crow, is a much more merciful and fair character. His concern is with justice, albeit oft times extreme justice, and he tempers Raven's greed in the European myths. Raven, in particular, is a creature of paradox, and to take him at face value is to ignore his devious nature.
One last point. The collective nouns for crows and ravens are murder and unkindness respectively. You have been warned.