Messenger of the gods: 4 famous ravens

Messenger of the gods: 4 famous ravens

“And death will smile his barefaced smile, initiating your final anguish. It is not before my arrival, that you will be led to feel the natural serenity of leaving this world… Hear my wings caressing the wind! Hear my cry!”

 

Ravens are intriguing animals.

Because of their black feathers they are associated with darkness and perceived as bad omens. Because of their presence on the battlefields (well, they eat corpses) they became harbingers of death and incarnations of damned souls. They settled deep in human imagination.

No wonder ravens have their worthy place in the mythology.

 

I’m excited to investigate now: where can we meet the most popular raven motifs? What do they have in common? Let’s explore the tale!

 

Why is the raven black?

To discover, why does raven have black plumage, we have to go to ancient Greece, where the following story was told:

Apollo, god of Sun and prophecy, had many lovers. One of them was Coronis, a thessalian princess. Apollo seduced her and departed from the island, yet demanded her faithfulness. He used to send a white raven named Pytho (in those times all ravens were white), to check the obedience of the princess and watch over her. Yet Coronis fell in love with a man called Ischys and betrayed the Sun god. When Apollo heard these news from the raven, he was boiling with rage. This anger struck Pytho as well – his plumage turned black. Apollo killed Coronis, but saved her unborn child – later god of medicine, Asclepius.

 

Two ravens every mythology enthusiast knows

I honestly doubt that there are more famous ravens in mythology than Huggin and Munnin. Those birds belong to the Viking/Teuton god, Odin/Wotan. Name of the former means “Thought”, the later – “Memory”. Again, they serve as messengers. It is tempting to interpret these birds as Odin’s mental powers, especially while reading this famous Edda passage:

Hugin and Munin fly each day

over the spacious earth.

I fear for Hugin, that he come not back,

yet more anxious am I for Munin.

Yet Anthony Winterbourne, who researches Teutonic mythology, states something different and links Huggin and Munnin with Norse fylgja and hamingja concepts of – in a simplified way – guarding spirits. There is also a theory that Odin-shaman together with his two ravens and two wolves (Geri and Freki) embodies the hunter symbiosis between human, raven and a wolf.

Bloody goddess of war

Raven symbolism is widespread in Celtic mythology. However there is one deity we connect with raven imagery immediately – it’s Morrígan. Shapeshifted into a raven or a crow, she flies over the battlefields. Morrígan was believed to control the course of a battle, for she could evoke fear or courage in fighter’s heart. “Phantom queen” is associated with wisdom and prophecy, but we often forget that she’s a goddess of fertility and cycle of life as well. Representing a paramount in Celtic mythology idea of trinity, Morrígan bears three different names. Macha is one of them and links her with land and fertility.

 

Bonus: speaking of the most popular ravens…

…you surely know this guy, right? 😉

5 Replies to “Messenger of the gods: 4 famous ravens”

  1. Hi, Michi! Once again, just a brilliant post. It’s awesome tomdiscover a lot of details I didn,t knew before about those intriguing but awesome animals, the ravens. Well, I must confess I’m a city guy, so it’s not that easy for me to see them live, but I’ve alwaysnfound amazong how they usually appear as messengers in ancient tales. Once again, it’s just incredible how different cultures and stories show them just in the same way! I think I need to spend my near holidays (just the next week) enjoying some reading! Thanks again for opening me this window to new knowledges! Love from your Spanish friend! ❤️😘

  2. Hey, Micha!
    The idea of crows or ravens as the messengers of the gods or the underworld is pretty interesting. People had the same ideas through the ages. A long time ago where the western part of Russia is now, Slavic tribes used to call the crows “birds of wisdom”. Maybe because they had good connection with varyags (Scandinavians). Who knows!
    It is quite fascinating how all the same ideas come to peoples heads.
    Keep your blog going! I would really love to read a little bit more about Celtic mythology.
    Thank you for your posts!
    Vladimir.

  3. Hi Michalina,
    Great insight on this fascinating creature/bird. Are you familiar with the work of Steven Wilson? The timing of this post couldn’t have been more perfect as I’ll be seeing him in concert this upcoming weekend. Anyway, in case you’re not familiar, he wrote and performed a song titled “The Raven That Refused to Sing” released in 2013. Though the song isn’t very celtic and sounds nothing like Eluveitie, it’s incredibly tragic in a very beautiful way. I feel the song serves as a perfect example to the purpose of your blog, how the tales and symbols of the past still resonate with present lives and the things we create.
    You mentioned earlier in this particular entry that ravens can be seen as “incarnations of damned souls.” The Steven Wilson song tells of an old man who lost his sister when they were both young. The old man now lives a secluded life in the woods. One day, he is visited by a raven. He begins to believe the raven is the reincarnation of his sister. When they were young, his sister would always sing to him during troubled times to calm him down. So now the man feels he if is able to get the raven to sing, he can confirm it is indeed his sister returning to him. However, as the song title suggests, the raven refuses to sing. As a result, he is driven desperate and mad as he feels his old days are coming to an end. Here is the story told in the form of an incredible animated music video.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4XevlloPY4
    Again, if you weren’t already familiar with this song, I hope you find it interesting as it is a relatively recent tale yet still maintains some of the themes you mention (ravens as symbols of death and fear, but also courage and life) going back to the older, mythological days.
    Looking forward to any other topics and symbols you know of that still have some relevance to the present,
    Alan

  4. Hi Micha!!

    Quoth the Raven has become one of my favourite live songs since you play it, you all give it something extra that makes it very epic, and Fabi is so intense! I just love it.

    Have you seen American Horror Story? In Asylum (second season) the raven is very significant. The woman in the role of the death always wears very elegant black clothes and when someone is about to die she spreads her (very long!) black wings, that’s something worth to see.

    Of course I know that guy! The Three Eyed Raven, from Game of Thrones! I can’t wait to see the last season, so excited!

    I didn’t know the story about why ravens are black, that’s a heavy one. But I do know many stories about ravens from different places in the world, I guess some they have their origin in ancient times. Let me tell you some of them:

    – There is a myth from the American Indians that tell us about a raven who was flying over the water without finding any place to rest. Then he threw pebbles to create islands and after he created the trees. Animals were living in the forests and fishes in the water. When this raven made the first man and the first woman with wood and clay, the world was finally complete.

    In China (and other countries I believe) the three-legged raven appears many times in the myths and ancient literature. They mention this curious raven called “Yatagarasu”. According to a Japanese myth, a group of warriors was lost on the road when they went from Kumano (actual Wakayama), to Yamato (now Nara), to conquer the city. A huge crow with three legs came flying from the sky and led the group to their destination where the warriors finally achieved their goals. For this story, “Yatagarasu” is known as the animal that leads to victory.

    French legends tell that the crow is the devil’s bird, that stalks the soul when it leaves the body of the usurers and dishonest people.

    Anyhow…it’s obvious to say that ravens are very wise and clever in any culture! To me, one of the most intriguing animals.

    Loved this post and loved to learn a bit more about ravens. Keep it up! 🙂

  5. Micha – I would argue that the work of Anthony Winterbourne is not mutually exclusive of Hugin and Munin as thought and memory. Symbolically Hamingja and Fylgja matches thought and memory – as an event or the present moment (child) is born wrapped in the Hamingja membrane of our thoughts, and the resulting Fylgja afterbirth (memory) is either consumed (remembered) or left to rot (forgotten).

    Ick I don’t feel like remembering stuff now…

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