Ravens belong to a family of birds called corvids, which also includes their close relative, the crow. 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 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 showing up again in my life. When I began to study Wicca, 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.
More recently, I’ve written several scenes including ravens in my novel, Song of the Ancients. My Lakota medicine man character, Sinclair, can shapeshift into a raven, and he carves a protection totem for my protagonist, Samantha, that has a raven’s head and
wings atop a woman’s torso.
I'm interpreting the bird’s reappearance 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.
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.
According to legend, the Kingdom of England would fall if the ravens in the Tower of London were removed. During the Second World War, most of the Tower’s ravens perished during bombing raids, leaving only a mated pair, Mabel and Grip, who also flew away to escape the loud explosions. Since the Empire was dismantled shortly afterward, those who are superstitious say history confirms the legend.
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).
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.
Many Native Americans see the raven as a trickster, much like the coyote, except the
raven’s pranks usually end with a positive result. Many tribes honor raven for bringing light to mankind, and they are a common feature on totem poles.
For me, these birds do not represent physical death, but the end of an outgrown way of being that created an obstruction in my life. This process is called “the resolution of opposites.” The presence of the glossy raven says I am being urged to resolve a deep and long-seated conflict in my psyche.
In magic, 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. 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.