Raven

They slept until the black raven, the blithe hearted proclaimed the joy of heaven
- Beowulf

European Lore

Since ravens can be taught to speak, and have such a complex vocabulary of their own, they are connected symbolically to both wisdom and prophecy. But in Europe, at least from Christian times, ravens have several strikes against them: black is considered a negative color; ravens are carrion eaters; and they have a symbiotic relationship with man's oldest enemy, the wolf. In many western traditions raven represents darkness, destructiveness and evil. They are sometimes associated with deities of evil and of death. Both witches and the Devil were said to be able to take the shape of a raven.

Northern Europe
The pagan Danes and Vikings used the raven banner on their ships, in Odin's honor. These flags, usually sewn by the daughters of great warriors and kings, were tokens of luck on their voyages. Houses where ravens nested were also thought to be lucky. Odin had two ravens - Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) who flew about the world, delivering messages, gathering knowledge and reporting back to him. One of Odin's many titles is Hrafna-Gud, the God of the Ravens. Odin's daughters, the warlike Valkyres, were sometimes said to take the shape of ravens. In the Elder Edda's cryptic poem, the Grimnismal, a verse refers to Odin's ravens:

Huginn and Muninn, every day
They fly over earthground.
I fear for Huginn,
that he may not return.
But even more, I fear
for the loss of Muninn.

In the Norse shamanic tradition, Odin's ravens represent the powers of necromancy, clairvoyance and telepathy, and they were guides for the dead. This poem expresses a shaman's fear of his loss of magical powers. (Source: The Well of Remembrance by Ralph Metzner, Shambala, Boston, 1994)

Central Europe
On Walpurgisnacht, April 30th, German witches fly to Brocken Mountain in the Harz Mountains for the great witches' Sabbath in the shape of their familiars - ravens and crows.

Western Europe
In Beowulf, an Anglo Saxon poem, is written " . . . craving for carrion, the dark raven shall have its say, and tell the eagle how it fared at the feast, when, competing with the wolf, it laid bare the bones of corpses." In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Lady Macbeth sees the raven as a herald of misfortune as it "croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan."

In England, tombstones are sometimes called "ravenstones".

Among the Irish Celts, Raven was associated with the Triple Goddess, the Morrigan, who took the shape of Raven over battlefields as Chooser of the Slain. She was a protector of warriors, such as Chuhulian and Fionn MacCual. Raven is also the totem of the pan-Celtic Sorceress/Goddess Morgan le Fay, who was also called the Queen of Faeries. In some tales, she is Queen of the Dubh Sidhe, or Dark Faeries, who were a race of tricksters who often took the form of ravens. Irish and Scots Bean Sidhes (Banshees) could take the shape of ravens as they cried above a roof, an omen of death in the household below.

Tha gliocas an ceann an fhitich or Fice ceann na fhitich are Scots Gaelic proverbs meaning "There is wisdom in a raven's head." 

"To have a raven's knowledge" is an Irish proverb meaning to have a seer's supernatural powers. Raven is considered one of the oldest and wisest of animals.

Also a bird of wisdom and prophecy, Raven was the totem of the Welsh God, Bran the Blessed, the giant protector of the Britain, the Isle of the Mighty. After the battle with Ireland, Bran was decapitated, and his head became an oracle. Eventually Bran asked to have his head buried in what is now Tower Hill in London to protect Britain from invasion. Bran's Ravens are kept there to this day, as protection against invasion. During World War II, Tower Hill was bombed, and the ravens were lost. Winston Churchill, knowing full well the ancient legends, ordered the immediate replacement of ravens, and they were brought to Tower Hill from Celtic lands - the Welsh hills and Scottish Highlands.

Raven was the favorite bird of the solar deity, Lugh (Irish/Scots), or Lludd (Welsh) the Celtic God of Arts and Crafts. Lugh was said to have two ravens to attend on all the His needs (similar to Odin and his ravens).

Many Celtic tribes and clans descend from animals. An ancient clan called the Brannovices, the Raven Folk, once existed in Britain. To this day, the Glengarry MacDonalds of Scotland have a raven on their heraldic arms, and their war cry is Creagan-an Fhithich - Raven's Rock, a landmark on their ancestral lands.

The Scottish Goddess of winter, The Cailleach, sometimes appears as a raven. A touch from her brings death.

Giving a child his first drink from the skull of a raven will give the child powers of prophecy and wisdom in the Hebrides.

Scottish Highlanders associate ravens with the second sight. An excellent book on the subject is Ravens and Black Rain: The Story of Highland Second Sight by Elizabeth Sutherland (Corgi Books, Great Britain, 1985)

In Cornwall, as in England, King Arthur is said to live on in the form of a raven, and it is unlucky to shoot one.

"Have not your worships read the annals and histories of England, in which are recorded the famous deeds of King Arthur, whom we in our popular Castilian invariably call King Artus, with regard to whom it is an ancient tradition, and commonly received all over that kingdom of Great Britain, that this king did not die, but was changed by magic art into a raven, and that in process of time he is to return to reign and recover his kingdom and scepter; for which reason it cannot be proved that from that time to this any Englishman ever killed a raven?"
- Don Quixote by Cervantes

The Welsh Owein had a magical army of ravens.

In Welsh folklore, the raven is also an omen of death. If the raven makes a choking sound, it is a portent of the death rattle. A crying raven on a church steeple will "overlook" the next house where death will occur. A raven could smell death and would hover over the area where the next victim dwelt, including animals. Ravens were heard to "laugh" when someone was about to die. Welsh witches, and the Devil, would transform themselves into ravens.


Swift, swift, you dragons of the night, that dawning

May bear the raven's eye

Cymberline, by William Shakespeare

Symbolism

Raven is a contrary spirit. On the negative side, Raven represents the profane, the devil, evil spirits, the trickster and thief, war and destruction, death and doom, the void.

Yet in many cultures Raven also represents deep magic, the mystery of the unknown, death and transformation, creation, healing, wisdom, protection, and prophecy.

Raven is both the symbol of the sun, and the symbol of a moonless night. She is the birth giving light in the center of our galaxy, and the black hole in the center of the universe, to which we are all traveling to our eventual extinction.

Raven is the fatal touch of the Calleach in winter, the wisdom of Odin, the vessel of prophecy given to a seer, the mighty protector of the Western Isles, and the healing message of an Indian shaman.

Raven is a complex bird, both in nature and in mythology.

Naming

You might want to choose a Ravenish magical name. There are many names associated with Raven from the differing traditions. Below is a list of European names:

Name
Meaning
Language

Corvin, Corwin, Corwun, Korwin and Korun
Raven's Friend
Anglo Saxon

Corvinna, Corwinna
Raven's Friend (fem.)
Anglo Saxon

Jay
a Corvid name
Anglo Saxon

Raaf
Raven
Dutch

Fiach Dubh
Raven
Irish

Hrabin
Raven
German

Korakas, Korax
Raven
Greek

Corvus, Corvi and Corvinus
Raven
Latin

Hraefn
Raven
Old English

Hrafn
Raven
Old Norse

Ravn
Raven
Norwegian

Corbie 
Raven
Broad Scots

Fhithich
Raven
Scots Gaelic

Bertrand
Bright Raven
Teutonic

Brainard
Fierce Raven
Teutonic

Ingram
Ing's Raven
Teutonic

Bran
Raven
Welsh

Brandon
Raven
Welsh

Branwen, Branda, Brenda
Bran's sister
Welsh

Cigfran
Raven
Welsh

Tokens and Artwork:

When choosing a totem, find a symbol to represent that totem and keep it on you, or in a sacred place in your home. (For instance, I always wear a silver raven ring). This token will help you to communicate with your totem, and it will protect and guide you both in magical and mundane affairs.

It is illegal to hunt and kill ravens and crows in the United States, under the Endangered Species Act. Keeping ravens and crows as pets are also illegal.

Raven artwork is all around us. In the northwest Indian and Alaskan cultures, Raven is the Creator Deity. Native American artists have created artifacts, T-shirts, emblems, and all sorts of sacred raven art.

Raven and Crow are favorite subjects in traditional Chinese and Japanese art. I have found raven paintings by local Japanese and Chinese artists in San Francisco.

Raven art is catching on in Western Culture, especially among Celtic and Norse style artists. I now find ravens in jewelry, decals, T-shirts, and altar cloths, available from vendors in local craft fairs, Scottish and Celtic Games, Scandanavian festivals, Renaissance fairs and other historical re-enactment fairs. You'd be surprised where you can find ravens. I have found wooden and metal ravens in antique stores. Halloween is an especially good season to find raven designs sold as decorations. Many artists and craftspeople are open to suggestion, and available for commissions. The more people that ask for raven designs, the more they will show up in the marketplace! If you have a favorite local artist - commission him/her to do a raven design!

Raven art can also be found in several tarot card decks - including The Medicine Cards and The Druid Animal Oracle. Pull these cards out and use them in meditation, trance work, spirit guide work.

Sacred Times

Raven represents winter, because of their ability to endure the cold. My husband, who was stationed in Greenland with the Army in the 1960's, saw only two animals the year he was there - arctic foxes and ravens!

Raven also represents night, their ebony plumage reminding us of the Dark Moon. Raven magic is very potent at this time of month when the majesty of the starry universe unfolds above us. Raven is an ideal guide on the path of the deepest mysteries.

And in Eastern traditions, Raven represents the sun - rising, noon and setting.

The intelligence and adaptability of Raven really makes Her an appropriate totem for any time or season.

Astral Travel

There are many chants and songs that can be used to invoke Raven.

A traditional Scottish chant to shapeshift into a crow (for astral traveling), while holding a crow or raven's feather: (From the witch trial of Isobel Gowdie)

I shall go into a crow

with sorrow and such and a black thraw

And I shall to in the Devil's name

Until I come home again!

To change back:

Crow, crow, crow God,

Send Thee a black thraw

I was a crow just now

But I shall be

in a woman's likeness even now

Crow, crow, crow God,

Send Thee a black thraw!

Prophecy and Divination

I have fled in the shape of a raven of prophetic speech.

- Taliesin

To invoke Raven as bird of prophecy, you can use the old English rhyme used to interpret omens by the number of ravens, crows, or rooks seen in a flock:

One for bad news,

Two for mirth.

Three is a wedding,

Four is a birth.

Five is for riches,

Six is a thief.

Seven, a journey,

Eight is for grief.

Nine is a secret,

Ten is for sorrow.

Eleven is for love,

Twelve - joy for tomorrow.

Keep a raven feather or artifact with your divination tools. Ravens especially preside over dark tools such as dark mirrors and onyx scrying balls, but can be used with any tool.

Dreamwork

Raven is an excellent dream guide. Most Native American craft stores will sell dream wheels (or you can make your own). Attach a raven feather or artifact to the wheel and hang it over your bed. Powerful and prophetic dreams will come your way.

Magic Circles

When drawing a circle using Raven imagery, clothe yourself in dark flowing robes. In the Morganian tradition of Wicca, the Raven priestess circles the perimeter nine times in honor of the nine priestesses of Avalon.

Adding raven feathers to your tools (for instance attaching the black feathers to your wand, staff, athame, shield, drum, pentacle) or crafting your tools in the shape of ravens is a powerful way to use Raven Magic. I have also worn a raven mask when drawing down the Raven Goddess, Morgan.

Trance:

Use Raven to guide you into trance. There are many poems and songs dedicated to Raven that you can use to guide you.

Invocation of Raven

by Susa Morgan Black

Morgana of the Dark Moon Night
Onyx bird, bold in flight

Raven, come to us now!

Keeper of the sacred well

Where the faerie spirits dwell

Raven, come to us now!

Guardian of the Blackthorn Tree

Home of the feared Banshee

Raven, come to us now!

Teacher of warriors, and of sex,

spells that heal and spells that hex

Raven, come to us now!

Bean Sidhe by the river bed

Washing shrouds of the newly dead

Raven, come to us now!

Twin birds of memory and thought

Who brought the knowledge Odin sought

Raven, come to us now!

Raven with his bag of tricks

Always getting in a fix

Raven, come to us now!

Stalwart guardian of the Land

The sacred bird of mighty Bran

Raven, come to us now!

Wise One of the Second Sight

Who foretells our human plight

Raven, come to us now!

Raven, Oldest of us All

Watch over us and hear our call

Raven, come to us now!

Healing

Bird whose magic is revealing

The hallowed mystery of healing

-smb

Both Celtic and Druid SlĂ naighear (Healer) and Native American shamans use Raven's spirit for healing, especially long distance healing. When doing a healing circle for an absent friend, the energy can be sent in the form of a raven.

If you are working directly with someone who is ill, you can use raven feathers to stroke their body, collecting and drawing out the negative energy, to be shaken out and cleansed later. Raven is powerful medicine.

Protection

The dead are lying in the field,

Oh, hear Her Kraaak and cry!

The gaping wounds, a raven's yield,

She comes hungry from the sky.

- The Morrigan by S. Black

In nature, Ravens will mob their enemies if they come too near their nest. Ward your home or business against malefactors with the spirits of warrior ravens, like Owein's Raven Army, the Morrigan, or the Valkyres. When you invoke their fearless spirits, nothing can prevail against you.