Ravens and crows belong to a family of birds called corvids. Ravens are bigger than crows, and they tend to be shaggier looking because of the fluffy scruff on their breast. But the easiest way to tell a raven from a crow is by the bill and the tail. The crow’s bill is sharp and short; the raven’s is slightly hooked. The tail of a crow in flight is cropped, while the raven’s is a diamond shape. A crow speaks in a harsh, loud “caw,” while the raven’s call is a softer, “kruk,” or even a chuckle.
Ravens and crows both eat a varied diet, but they prefer carrion. They are often companions of the coyote and wolf, working with the pack. A wolf, with claws and teeth, can tear open a fresh kill for the birds, who patiently wait their turn. In exchange, ravens fly ahead of a hunting pack and lead them to a potential victim.
I love corvid medicine and I’m happy it’s in my life. When I first began to study witchcraft, the raven was the first animal guide to appear to me in meditation, and the living birds were everywhere: on camping trips, hikes, scavenging in dumpsters, even nested in the stadium lights at my son's high school football field.
I’ve written several scenes including ravens in my novel, Song of the Ancients.
I'm interpreting the bird’s presence en force in my life as a sign that those scenes are on track.
These intelligent and mysterious birds are powerfully associated with witchcraft and magic. Unfortunately, they’ve also developed a rather sinister reputation as harbingers of death. Granted, part of that reputation is earned.
The ancient Celts associated ravens with The Morrigan, Goddess of death and battle, and also a shapeshifter. When warriors saw a raven on the battlefield, they knew The Morrigan was watching…waiting to mark the dead.
The History Channel’s series “Vikings” features the Norse God Odin’s two ravens in its opening credits. Their names are Huginn (meaning thought) and Muninn (meaning memory). These ravens are not just Odin’s pets; they are his informants, roving the upper and lower worlds to observe and report back at sunset. Viking leader Ragnar Lodbrok had a banner embroidered with a raven. It was said if this banner fluttered Lodbrok would carry the day, but if it hung lifeless the battle would be lost.
Just to be safe, before the tower reopened to the public in 1946, raven residents were re-established. Six ravens currently reside at the Tower. To prevent the birds from flying away, their feathers are trimmed by the royal Raven Master (no, it doesn't hurt them). They are fed raw meat and biscuits soaked in blood, as well as eggs and the occasional rabbit (fur and all). Despite the trimmed wing, some ravens do in fact go absent without leave and others have had to be sacked. Raven George was dismissed for eating TV aerials and Raven Grog was last seen outside an East End pub.
For me, these birds do not represent physical death, but the end of an outgrown way of being, a rigid or deprecating belief that is creating an obstruction in my life. This process is called “the resolution of opposites.” The presence of either glossy black bird says I am being urged to resolve a deep and long-seated conflict in my psyche.
In magic, Raven and crow bring different messages. Raven speaks of the process of life, death and continual change. It signals the end of one part of life and beginning of something new. Crow addresses the magic within everyday life and reinforces the laws of the Creator.
If a raven guide appears to you, turn your focus inward. He is guardian of our fears, and to see one in a dream is a message it’s time to examine what scares you. He will show you how to go into the dark of your shadow self and bring out the light, resolving inner conflicts that have long been buried.
Everything has its own energetic spirit, including negative self-talk. Consider any negative thoughts you hold about yourself. Is it a long list? “I don’t measure up.” Or, “I don’t have the talent/drive/money/time to do what my heart desires.” Or, “they’ve never loved me. I’m a disappointment to them.” What energy is creating these disabling beliefs? What new action will dispel them?
Just as the raven is often a silent observer, you may need to observe your environment, the people in it, and your own actions and attitude, to discover the true source. Your behavior is a deep and complex tapestry woven over the expanse of your entire lifetime, so don’t expect change overnight. It takes time to untangle the knots you’ve spent years making. But that’s what raven magic is all about.
Crow is the guardian of ceremonial magic and healing, and he will be present around any healing circle. Crow guides you to improve your physical environment, such as enabling you to dispel “dis-ease” or illness. He is also the sacred keeper of the law, indicating you have an instinct for right and wrong beyond the laws created in human culture. With crow as your totem, you must be willing to walk your talk, to speak your truth, to know your life’s mission, and to balance past, present and future in the now. Put aside your fear of being a solitary voice and “caw” the shots as you see them. When you learn to allow your personal integrity to be your guide, your sense of isolation will vanish.
Beware of converting completely to the outlaw however. If you rebel simply to break rules, the only loser is you. If you are lying to yourself on any level, you are ‘eating crow.’ Contrary crow reminds us that Divine Law is NOT simply passing judgment. Divine Law in magic is having an open and forgiving heart, a true tongue, a respect for all living creatures, and a peaceful mind.
To understand the flight and call of raven or crow, listen for their song near dawn or in the late afternoon. Enter a place of stillness within to hear and accept what they have to tell you.