Raven and Crow Gods and Goddesses
Origin of Animal Deities
Gods and goddesses of the ancient world often held a connection with certain animals. Some say this is because the beliefs of our ancestors were animistic, meaning to believe everything in nature has consciousness and/or a soul. This would include animals. Wildlife was thought of as sacred in ancient times, and there are scholars who believe ancient land guardian spirits were once worshiped by tribes and would eventually rise to become great gods and goddesses. To find an image of a god or goddess in the likeness of an animal was commonplace. Some of the more obvious animal-god connections can be seen on the ancient temple walls in Egypt. For example, the ibis-headed god Thoth. Or the hawk-headed god Horus.
Some of the smartest and most mischievous creatures in nature are the crow and raven. Dating back thousands of years are stories of these cunning blackbirds. All over the world, shamans of each culture have revered the raven for its intelligence, but also for their curiosity and confidence. Raven medicine is strong medicine, or so they say. Unfortunately, ravens and crows are sometimes feared or considered nuisances because of superstition. But if we study the raven and crow, we can learn much to apply to our own lives and spirituality. The gods knew the raven and crow were special animals.
Baba Yaga: Slavic Hag Turns Crow
Baba Yaga is a popular folkloric figure in Slavic countries who is thought to have once been venerated in ancient times as a goddess. Baba Yaga is depicted as an ugly old hag who lives in a hut in the woods. Her wooden cottage has a chicken foot for the foundation, and Baba Yaga herself flies around in a mortar with a pestle in hand. One of the well-known tales featuring Baba Yaga is Baba Yaga and Vasalisa the Fair. In this tale, a young woman is forced to go into the forest at night by her wicked stepmother. She's asked to go to Baba Yaga and ask for light to light their cottage. The young woman finds Baba Yaga and impresses her with her humility and hard work, and Baba Yaga rewards her with a lit torch with a skull on the end. She takes this to her stepmother and stepsisters and the torch turns the three wicked women into ash. Vasalisa goes on to marry the king after another turn of events. Baba Yaga's role in this story and in many others is the feared, trickster witch who grants blessings to those who prove themselves worthy.
In the tale of Vasalisa and Baba Yaga, three horsemen are key components so we can assume horses are one of Baba Yaga's animal companions. But in another version of the same tale, Baba Yaga transforms into a crow in the end. A crow fits Baba Yaga's personality - wise yet still a trickster and unpredictable in her actions. Baba Yaga's domain over the forest also means she's a protector of forest wildlife, which would include blackbirds such as crows and ravens.
Bran: The Welsh Crow King
Bran the Blessed is well-known in Welsh mythology as a king and giant of Britain in ancient times. Bran's name translates to "crow" in Welsh, though some debate with its original etymology persists. Bran's sister, Branwen, was married off to a king of Ireland who eventually Bran finds out is mistreating her. When the men go to rescue her, many die and Bran is mortally wounded. He requests for his men to sever his head and take it to the White Tower in London and point it east. This is so Bran could forever watch the coastline for invaders.
Being that Bran's name is used for crow in Welsh, Bran is associated with crows and ravens in folklore. There is a theory that the White Tower in London used to be where the Tower of London stands today. And, the ravens that seem to keep watch over the Tower of London are said to be drawn there by Bran or are possibly his soul in a different form.
Dhumavati: The Hindu Crow-Rider
Dhumavati is the Hindu goddess of "the void", which is the place before the existence of time and the place after time ends. She is associated with death and therefore transformation, as many of her drawings and paintings depict her on a cremation ground and often she looks like death itself (decaying teeth, long fingernails, hag-like in appearance). She carries the horn of the death god Yama, and sometimes wears a garland of severed heads. So it comes as no surprise that Dhumavati's animal guardian is a scavenger bird - the crow. Dhumavati is depicted as either riding a large crow or being pulled in a chariot by two blackbirds. Crows are known to be scavengers on the battlefield, and hence are associated with death gods and goddesses in ancient times.
The Morrigan: Irish Celtic Crow Goddess
The Morrigan is an Irish Celtic goddess with the ability to shapeshift. She was known as the Phantom Queen and the Great Queen. She is the daughter of Ernmas, one of the Tuatha de Danann, and is also said to be one of a trinity of sisters. The sisters' names are typically Macha, Badb, and Nemain. The Morrigan is most well-known for being a warrior and fate goddess, often predicting death on the battlefield. She will shapeshift into the form of any animal she chooses in the moment, including a wolf, eel, and the crow. In the Irish myth The Ulster Cycle, she shifts into the form of a crow on a few occasions. While she is known for her role in battle, there are those who also say she is an earth and fertility goddess and values sovereignty above all else. The fact that The Morrigan shifts into the form of a crow while on the battlefield shows her dominion over death, as the crow feeds on carrion and turns death into fuel for life.
Nephthys: Egyptian Crow Goddess of the Dead
A pattern emerges with crow and raven gods and goddesses - crows and ravens have guardianship over the dead; therefore, many of the gods of the dead are related to crows. Nephthys, the Egyptian Goddess of the Dead, is no exception. She too bears the crow as one of her symbols. Nephthys, the daughter of Geb and Nut, married her brother Set (which was common in many ancient pantheons) who was the god of disorder, the desert, and storms. Nephthys would become impregnated by Osiris, Set's brother, and bear Anubis, the god of the mummification and the dead.
While Nephthys is mostly depicted as a woman with falcon-wings, the crow appears in some places throughout ancient Egypt as her companion. She is a goddess of the dead and therefore oversees funerary rituals. Nephthys represents part of the life cycle that is death, while her sister Isis represents birth.
Odin: The Allfather and His Ravens
Odin is the Allfather in Norse and Germanic mythology. He has dominion over many aspects of life: death, knowledge, healing, writing, royalty, and chaos. He is illustrated as an old man with one eye, a cloak, and a staff and is typically flanked by wolves, bears, or ravens. He is credited with the discovery or invention of the runic alphabet, which was a variety of letters used to write in Germanic languages prior to the Dark Ages. The myth is a part of the Poetic Edda (documented Norse mythology from the Middle Ages) and tells of Odin hanging upside down from a tree for nine days, and in sacrificing of himself he is given the runes as a divine reward.
The Allfather has two ravens named Huginn and Muninn. These two large blackbirds are said to be the messengers of Odin, and bring him information from all over the world. Because of his close association with Huginn and Muninn, Odin is called the "raven-god" in the Prose Edda. Huginn's name means thought, while Muninn's name means mind, attesting to the idea that Odin is the wise god of the Norse and Germanic tribes. The raven is an intelligent bird, let's not forget, so it comes as no surprise that the god of wisdom's familiars are a pair of divine ravens.
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© 2018 Nicole Canfield