Published on February 4, 2008
Symbolism and crows: Symbolism and crows The use of crows in mythology, folklore, poetry and film, and in relation to the book Cold Mountain. Crows in popular superstition: Crows in popular superstition Crows have been used for the purpose of divination since the time of ancient Rome. * Finding a dead crow on the road is good luck. * Crows in a churchyard are bad luck. * A single crow over a house meant bad news, and often foretold a death within. "A crow on the thatch, soon death lifts the latch." * It was unlucky in Wales to have a crow pass you by. However, if two crows passed you by, the luck was reversed. "Two crows I see, good luck to me“. * In New England, to see 2 crows flying together from the left was bad luck.. When crows were quiet and subdued during their midsummer's moult, some European peasants believed that it was because they were preparing to go to the Devil to pay tribute with their black feathers. * Often, 2 crows would be released together during a wedding celebration. If the two flew away together, the couple could look forward to a long life together. If the pair separated, the couple might expect to be soon parted, too. * In Chinese mythology a 3-legged crow was used to represent the Sun (because 3 was the number for light and goodness, which the sun was the embodiment of). Counting Crows: Counting Crows Ornithomantic European crow augury by which future events are divined by the number of crows seen at a given time. The custom of counting crows led to the development of divinatory rhymes: One for sorrow, two for mirth, Three for a wedding, four for a birth, Five for silver, six for gold, Seven for a secret not to be told. Eight for heaven, nine for hell, And ten for the devil's own sel'. One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding, four for birth, five for rich, six for poor, Seven for a witch In literary and fanciful usage, the collective noun for a group of crows is a murder. However, in practice most people - especially scientists - use the more generic term flock. Mythology and folklore : Mythology and folklore Crows, and especially ravens, often feature in legends or mythology as portents or harbingers of doom or death, because of their dark plumage, unnerving calls, and tendency to eat carrion. They are commonly thought to circle above scenes of death such as battles. The Child ballad The Three Ravens depicts three ravens discussing whether they can eat a dead knight, but finds that his hawk, his hound, and his true love prevent them. There were three ra'ens sat on a tree, Down a down, hey down, hey down, They were as black as black might be, With a down. The one of them said to his mate, Where shall we our breakfast take? With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down Down in yonder green field, Down, a down, hey down, hey down, There lies a knight slain 'neath his shield, With a down. His hounds they lie down at his feet, So well they do their master keep, With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down. His hawks they fly so eagerly, Down a down, hey down, hey down, No other fowl dare come him night, With a down. Down there comes a fallow doe As great with young as might she go With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down She lifted up his bloody head, Down a down, hey down, hey down, And kissed his wounds that were so red, With a down. She got him up upon her back, And carried him to earthen lake, With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down She buried him before the prime Down a down, hey down, hey down, She was dead herself ere e'en-song time, With a down. God send every gentleman, Such hawks, such hounds, and such a leman. With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down Slide5: The crow’s depiction of evil has led to some exaggeration of their appetite. In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Omen II and Exorcist: The Beginning, crows are shown tearing out people's eyes while they are still alive. Eric Draven (Brandon Lee), a rock musician, and his fiancée Shelly are brutally murdered by thugs representing depraved master criminal Top Dollar (Michael Wincott). One year later, Eric is brought back to life - and guided by a crow - so that he can seek vengeance on these scummy lowlifes. The comic book and film is based on the old belief that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can't rest. Then sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right. There is a quote in the film that goes: “Suddenly I heard a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. You heard me rapping, right?” Slide6: The quote is based on a poem by Edgar Allen Poe - The Raven. Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore. Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he; But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door - Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door - Perched, and sat, and nothing more. Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore, `Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven. Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore - Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!' Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.' Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly, Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore; For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door - Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door, With such name as `Nevermore.' But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only, That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered - Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before - On the morrow will he leave me, as my hopes have flown before.' Then the bird said, `Nevermore.’ Slide7: In Native American folklore, Crow is often seen as a similar trickster to Coyote. However, Crow's tricks tend to be more out of malice and they rarely (if ever) are portrayed as a hero. One possible explanation for this is that crows are often considered a pest to crops, which the tribes who came up with the stories featuring Crow needed to survive. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Chaldean myth, the character Utnapishtim releases a dove and a raven to find land, similar to what Noah does in the book of Genesis. However, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the dove merely circles and returns. Only then does Utnapishtim send forth the raven, who does not return. Utnapishtim concludes from this that the raven has found land, which is why it hasn't returned. This would seem to indicate some acknowledgement of crow intelligence, which may have been apparent even in ancient times, and to some might imply that the higher intelligence of crows, when compared to other birds, is striking enough that it was known even then. Slide8: In occult circles, distinctions are sometimes made between crows and ravens. In mythology and folklore as a whole, crows tend to be symbolic more of the spiritual aspect of death, or the transition of the spirit into the afterlife, whereas ravens tend more often to be associated with the negative (physical) aspect of death. Another reason for this distinction is that while crows are typically highly social animals, ravens don't seem to congregate in large numbers anywhere but a) near carrion where they meet seemingly by chance, or b) at cemeteries, where large numbers sometimes live together, even though carrion there is no more available (and probably less attainable) than any road or field. Amongst Neopagans, crows are often thought to be highly psychic and are associated with the element of ether or spirit, rather than the element of air as with most other birds. This may in part be due to the long-standing occult tradition of associating the colour black with "the abyss" of infinite knowledge (Akasha is the Hindi/Sanskrit word meaning "aether" - personification of the "upper sky", space and heaven - in both its elemental and mythological senses. In Hinduism it is one of the Panchamahabhuta, or "five great elements."), or perhaps also to the more modern occult belief that wearing the "colour" black aids psychic ability, as it absorbs more electromagnetic energy, since surfaces appear black by absorbing all frequencies in the visible spectrum, reflecting no colour. Gods and goddesses associated with crows and ravens : Gods and goddesses associated with crows and ravens These include the eponymous Pacific Northwest Native figures Raven and Crow (Raven, the spirit of the raven bird, is a trickster god in the mythology of various native peoples of northwest North America, including the Haida, Kwakiutl and Tsimshian). Notable stories tell of him creating the human world, stealing and releasing the sun, and of him tempting the first humans out of a clam shell. There are also the ravens Hugin and Munin, who accompany the Norse god Odin, the Celtic goddesses the Mórrígan and/or the Badb (sometimes considered separate from Mórrígan), and Shani, a Hindu god who travels astride a crow. In Greek mythology, it was believed that when the crows gave bad news to the goddess Athena, she flew into a rage, and cursed their feathers to be black.