The Raven - Corvus Corax -
The Common Raven, Corvus corax, is the largest bird of the corvid family, with a body length of 21 inches and a wing span of up to 50 inches, and is without a doubt one of the most resourceful birds around. The raven is the biggest songbird and largest all black bird in the world, and can be found throughout the northern hemisphere regardless the specific living-conditions. Deserts, mountain tops or even cities can all be their habitat. In summer ravens eat seeds, berries and insects, but in winter are reduced to scavenging for instance in garbage dumps, flying along highways and railroad tracks looking for road and train kills or following wolf packs for days waiting for their turn when the wolves make a fresh kill. A very adaptable creature it is not as affected by human presence as is the case with many other birds
Life long mates, raven pairs carry out courtship displays annually to reinforce their bond. If one of the pair should die the survivor will usually find another mate. Pairs begin nesting from early April to late May. The nest the pair build together in coniferous trees is generally a mass of sticks and twigs lined with bark, grass, moss and hair. Although untidy looking in appearance it is very well built and other large birds such as hawks and owls will use the nest in successive years. The raven is very clever in concealing his presence in that dropped sticks from the nest building process are not retrieved as doing so would reveal the nest location. Four to seven greenish eggs are laid and the female, being fed on the nest by the male, incubates her brood for 20 - 21 days. Both parents care for the newly hatched babies and the young fledge at about six weeks of age. The juveniles are extremely noisy and will call for very long periods. Ravens do not undertake long migrations like many birds, but breeding birds usually relocate each year for nesting.
Easily identified by its size and the beautiful metallic sheen of their ebony feathers ravens have long pointed feathers on the throat that create a shaggy appearance. Although ravens are considerably larger than crows, a big crow and a small raven might be a little difficult to tell apart by size alone, especially if the bird is some distance away. Ravens have larger, stouter bills than do crows, and the tip of the upper beak is more downcurved. Ravens also have shaggy throat feathers and a wedge-shaped tail, visible best when the bird is in flight. Crows' tails are more square cut. Flying at a higher altitude they can be mistaken for hawks as they tend to soar more than crows that flap their wings almost continuously. Ravens use many calls to communicate with each other and can imitate other animals, even humans. Their most common call is a long drawn out "croak".
The raven has played a significant role in folklore and religion throughout the world. For instance, the native people of the Pacific Northwest (including Alaska) see Raven as the creator of the world and the bringer of daylight, and Raven also has an important role in the creation myths of the Eskimo/Inuit. Because of the wide distribution of the raven throughout the Northern Hemisphere, its shrewdness and opportunistic behavior around man, its all black color, and relatively large size, it is no wonder that man has developed myths and legends associated with this great bird. In societies throughout the northern hemisphere, the raven has appeared since ancient times as a prophet, a harbinger of death and doom, a messenger, as well as being strongly associated with storms and floods. Since the crow exhibits certain similar traits, folklore involving ravens and crows has intermingled over time in some cultures.
Regarding the association with floods, perhaps the best known is the description of the raven's role on Noah's ark during the flood depicted in Genesis. In this story the raven is sent off by Noah to see whether or not the waters have subsidedóbut the raven never returns. Interestingly, there are stories from North America which closely parallel the earlier Babylonian associations of flood and raven. For example, the Algonquin Indians relate a myth which was recorded in 1634 describing how the sun was hunting with wolves when he entered a lake. The lake overflowed and submerged the world. The sun then asked the raven to search out some dry land to make the world again, but the raven could not find any. The raven appeared in similar myths in other early North American cultures. It seems unlikely these myths stemmed from a Christian influence. The raven-flood creation myths are an example of the apparent diffusion or dispersal of a myth around the world.
The association of the raven in the flood-creation story also points out its significance as a messenger. In Norse mythology, Odin's two ravens, Hugin and Munin, Thought and Memory, flew around the world every day to learn of the day's news and then returned to Odin to report to him. In Tibetan legend the raven is the messenger of the Supreme Being, and the Irish felt the bird to be omniscient, using phrases like raven's knowledge to mean seeing all and knowing all. There are examples from Germany, India, Siberia, Iceland, and elswhere where people are advantaged by speaking with these birds or eavesdropping over the conversation of ravens.
Beyond any doubt, the raven is considered first and foremost a bird of evil. Its resonant kaw has signaled pending doom throughout history in societies north of the equator. We speak admiringly of a pride of lions, or kindly of a charm of finches, but a terror of ravens and a murder of crows? Somehow it does not seem fair, although opportunistically scavenging and feeding on dead animals makes the association with death obvious. During the military invasions and plagues throughout Europe in earlier centuries, the raven dined on human corpses, and they apparently loitered near the sites designated for human executions. The word ravenstone means a place of execution in old English. The Germans have a word, rabenaas, meaning raven's carrion, denoting a person who should be hanged. It is not implausible for people to extend the association with death to one where the birds can fortell the coming of tragedy. If a bird can predict tragedy, then it can likely predict good as well, and peoples from many cultures have acknowledged the raven's powers of augury and associated the bird with ghosts and the supernatural. For instance in Germany, ravens were thought to be damned souls. On the other hand, King Arthur supposedly disguised himself as a raven when he traveled about; to kill a raven was very bad luck. That ravens have strange and forboding powers can be documented as far back as the ancient Semite tribes of the Middle East and in Greek mythology dating to hundreds of years before Christ.
In any case, it is truly remarkable to consider that the raven could have been at the center of mankind's earliest thoughts on the origin of the earth, and that a raven creation myth subsequently spread around the world. Such a tribute! For sure it is a bird that has evoked strong emotions, thoughts, and stories throughout time.
Raven as a totem
Raven is a special totem. They are all special, of course, but Raven holds a unique place among totems. He is considered by many to be the creator, and sometimes saviour, of man. According to legends, he made mankind, he brought them salmon to eat, he stole fire from the sun so mankind wouldn't freeze, he brought them water to drink during a drought, and he taught man to enjoy life. Raven is a cultural hero - a creator... and a trickster. Raven's mischief is legendary among the native tribes of the northwest. He is always playing tricks, changing shape, and never quite who or what or where you expect him to be. With such a complicated, shifting totem, it's not surprising that different people have different interpretations of Raven's personality and gifts. Still, several main themes come up when you look at Raven. Here are a few of the main aspects of this complex totem.
- The Creator Aspect: Raven is seen as giving life. He is primarily a helping, nurturing spirit. There is also a certain amount of self-sacrifice in his actions. He does what he does to ensure the happiness of others.
- The Trickster Aspect: Raven is associated with joy and laughter. He is known to play tricks, but they are usually beneficial ones, teaching people to laugh at their own follies.
- The Great Magician: Raven is seen as a shape-changer. He has the power to alter form, and to bring great changes in people's lives. He can also see through false forms, lies, and the tricks of others.
- The Seeker of Secrets: Raven has a great sense of curiosity. He is a gatherer of information, and a sharer of secrets. The search for the Truth is predominant.
- The Juxtaposition of Opposites: Raven is a contradiction. He is both black and white, joy and sorrow, saviour and nemesis. He is about both knowledge and secrets. He can be, and not-be.
Qabbalic Analysis of Raven as a male name: Your name of Raven gives you a clever, logical mind, and you could do almost anything you put your mind to. Because of your ability to analyze a situation or problem quickly, you could develop a superior air towards those who are slower in their thinking. You have always taken your responsibilities seriously and can be depended upon to do a good job. You are very independent and like to make your own decisions without interference from others. You have the ability to provide quick sound answers to the problems of others. This trait coupled with your desire to help could sometimes cause you to be thought of as interfering. You are very self-confident and not inclined to lose your head in a crisis. You are prone to take life too seriously and a weakness of this name is excessive worry over problems and responsibilities.