Few other creatures on this planet have so many myths, legends, and stories associated with them than Ravens. Ravens, and their cousin Crow, have been the subject of admiration and fear for millennia. Many of these fears are simply a misunderstanding of a creature who is highly intelligent and adaptable and who flies along the liminal space between life and death.
I have a deep admiration for ravens. I spend a lot of time watching them and getting to know them. They are one of my closest spirit companions, and they’ve taught me a great deal. I’d like to share a bit about what I’ve learned about them.
Physical Characteristics & Personality
People often confuse ravens for their smaller cousins, the crows. Ravens and crows, though similar, are quite different from one another. Both are in the same family of birds along with magpies, rooks, and jackdaws, but all of them are different in both appearance and behavior.
Crows tend to live in large, intricate social groups that can number in the hundreds or even thousands. Crows are extremely adaptable and can thrive virtually anywhere. Ravens, on the other hand, are mostly solitary, though they can live in small communities if it serves them well. Ravens, while also adaptable, tend to live near places that have forests, trees, grasslands, high deserts, and coastal areas.
Crows tend to be on the smaller side compared to ravens, whose wingspan can be nearly twice as large as a crow’s. Ravens can weigh up to twice as much as a crow, and they can be 7-10” taller than a crow on average. Ravens tend to have thicker beaks, and can have scruffy-looking feathers under their chins. A raven’s call is much deeper, almost like a croak, whereas a crow’s is more high pitched.
You can also see differences in their flight, as ravens can soar and crows must constantly be flapping their wings to stay in the air. Ravens also have longer primary feathers and wedge-shaped tails. Both are extremely intelligent. They can engage in problem solving, use tools, and play. They can be taught to speak just as well as parrots can, in some cases. Both also tend to be scavengers.
There are myths, stories, and legends associated with ravens from around the world. Odin, from the Norse pantheon, has a pair of ravens, Huginn and Munnin (Thought and Memory), that serve as his eyes and ears. Each day, they bring him news and keep him informed as to what’s going on in the world.
In the first book of the Christian Bible, Genesis, Noah released a raven from the ark to see whether or not the flood waters have receded. It did not return, and it was assumed the raven had found a source of food or perhaps land. In another instance in the bible, God commanded ravens to feed the prophet Elijah.
In the Celtic pantheon, many deities are associated with Ravens, but the best known is the Morrigan. She is Queen of the Ravens and also Goddess of Death. The idea of ravens picking clean the corpses on a battlefield may have something to do with ravens later being seen as dark omens of death, but the reality is that they play a crucial role in the cycle of life and death. They are misunderstood creatures. Stories have also been written from the dark ages and middle ages (and prior) that describe witches having the ability to shapeshift into ravens.
Certain indigenous cultures in the Americas associate ravens with being a trickster spirit, while others say they created the world out of the darkness. One such story from the Puget Sound area describes raven carrying a stone, and one day it became tired of carrying the stone, so it decided to drop it, and from here the land was formed on which we now live.
Ravens know how to get what they want. They will find a way, whether it’s through problem solving, tool, or trickery, to get what they’re looking for. I’ve watched many ravens use tools to crack open a crab shell to get to the meat. I’ve seen them drop nuts from a high distance and/or bang it against a hard surface in the hopes of cracking it open. They’re masters of manifestation and magick! No wonder they’re often portrayed with witches! (Also because of their association with divination, intuition, and psychic abilities.)
Ravens have an association with healing and healing magick. Raven teaches the lesson of being able to go within yourself, face the darkness (your shadow), and come out of that. It’s also a lesson of strength and adaptability. The black color reflects this, as does the close care they can show their companions.
Raven can also be a guide in doing any kind of self-exploration or shadow work. Their black feathers (though I’ve seen that, in some light, they appear dark shades of green, grey, and purple) also connect them to protection magick. They truly exist within the liminal space between life and death.
They’re also good for magick involving shapeshifting or masking. Ravens can excellently mimic the sounds of other birds (even smaller songbirds) or even human speech. Despite their large size, they are good at disappearing and blending in when they don’t want to be seen. They can also be little actors, acting like they’re not paying attention to you, when in reality they are watching every single move you make. They are the sentinels of nature, sitting high up in the trees and soaring through the air. They’re always watchful!
They are incredibly playful, teaching the message that you shouldn’t forget to have fun. Ravens love to play. They will soar with the wind, do a swirling dive, and then ride the wind back up higher. They will sometimes fly in pairs and do a swirling dance as they fly together. They pick up sticks and fly around with them while their companions chase them. They’ll pick up a rock, fly around with it for a while, drop it, and then go fetch it and repeat the same thing. Be more like Raven – take time to enjoy life along your journey!
My Story with Raven
Where I live now near the Pacific coast, there is a colony of 25-30 ravens that I have come to love and build a relationship with. I sort of accidentally discovered them while exploring the local natural areas shortly after moving to my current location. I began spending time observing them, and I would simply sit and watch them unobtrusively. To me, it’s just as interesting, sometimes even more so, than sitting and watching my favorite show on Netflix or Hulu.
They’ve shown me that they are just as curious to learn about me as I am them. I talk to them and make clicking sounds at them, and one of the larger, older ravens has, on more than one occasion, mimicked the clicking sound I make. I’ll never forget the first time one of the young ravens, who I endearingly named Felix, approached me on his own accord and touched my finger.
I was sitting down and watching them one day, at which point they had become comfortable enough to be within 10ish feet of me without being afraid. There were probably 10-12 of them around me within 10-20 feet. As I often did, I talked to them and made clicking noises.
One raven in particular, who was still young, became curious and started hopping towards me slowly. He’d tilt his little head, stare at me, and hop a little closer. I let my elbow rest on my leg but extended my hand towards him. He kept coming closer and closer to me until he was immediately in front of me. His little beak touched the end of my finger, and he tilted his head to the side and looked at me for a moment before going back to his business.
The next time that I visited, I did a similar sort of thing where I sat and watched them, and they came close once again. This time, though, there were suddenly 8 ravens in front of me, 3 of which came right up to me as Felix had done, all at the same time. I was amazed, though incredibly grateful to have had the honor of being so close yet again.
I have not taken the initiative to touch them or pet them, as I don’t want to scare them. I let them come to me and do as they wish, if they so choose, and then I let them go about their day. I have, however, fed them by hand.
It’s something I don’t do regularly, as I don’t want them to become reliant on humans for food, but as a bond-building exercise, it was a magickal experience. I went to visit them on Thanksgiving Day of this past year and fed them pieces of meat – they love crab. There are plenty of crab there along the coast, and the ravens don’t have trouble finding creative ways to crack open the shells to get to the meat.
At first, they were a little bit shy to take any food from me, but once the first one did, the entire colony of them – all 25 or 30 of them (it’s hard to count them when they move around) – gathered around. I tossed food to some, who would then take off with it before one of their buddies stole it, and I hand-fed 8 of them. By the time I ran out of food, my hands were numb from the cold, foggy air, so it was good timing.
I’ve had an intense fascination with corvids (ravens, crows, magpies, rooks, and other birds that belong in the same family) since I was a child. In the rural Midwest, we only had crows, but we had lots and lots of them. I can remember as a child going out in the spring and fall and seeing hundreds of crows flying overhead. I would spend an unusual amount of time watching them. I was afraid of about every animal at that time. Birds were the exception to that, however.
As I mentioned, it was upon moving to California that I finally had a chance to learn about the crows’ larger cousins, the ravens. I always had a fascination with them in magazines, documentaries, and pictures that I found, but we never had them in the part of the Midwest I grew up in.
I’ve always loved learning about them and studying them. I’ve had the opportunity to meet the Ravenmaster, Christopher Skaife, the man whose charge is to take care of the ravens at the Tower of London. He wrote a book which I have listed in resources and recommended readings at the end of this article. I highly recommend it! It talks about the history and myths surrounding the ravens at the Tower of London as well as their personality and how he goes about caring for them. Very interesting!
Now that I’m so close to them in physical proximity and have the opportunity to learn about them, I consider it an honor to have gotten so close to my feathered companions here on the Pacific coast. They’re highly intelligent, playful, resourceful, and wicked curious. I’ve learned a great deal about the power of observation, resourcefulness, and the importance of taking the time to play.
Energies/Themes: Magick, death, psychic senses, intuition, prophecy, omens/messages, divination, wisdom, knowledge, the mind, memory, intelligence, introspection, battle/war, change, communication, crossroads, consciousness, journeying, healing, thought, growth, protection, the underworld, the spirit world, shamanic work, visions, manifestation, observation,
Plants/Herbs: Aspen, Oak
Crystals/Stones: Obsidian, Quartz, Onyx
Colors: black, dark blue, dark purple, dark green, dark grey
Zodiac: Gemini, Libra
Planetary: Saturn, Sun, Venus, Moon
Time/Season: Winter, Winter Solstice, Night, Day
Numbers: 2, 3, 13
Deities: The Morrigan, Odin, Freyja, Badb, Macha, Ameratsu, Cailleach, Rhiannon, Maeve, Athena, Apollo, Lugh, Asclepius, Mars, Danu
Recommended Readings & Resources
Birds: A Spiritual Field Guide by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
Animal Speak by Ted Andrews
Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Correspondences by Sandra Kynes
Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife