Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Ravens, Rooks and Crows

How do you feel about birds associated with folklore and superstition?

There are so many to choose from – owls, crows, doves, Phoenix, seagulls, the albatross. It was hard to choose just one for today’s post but, after some thought, I was drawn to the dark bird of omens.

Ravens have a long-standing kinship with mysticism. In addition to being portrayed as a familiar to witches and wizards, they were also known to be extremely divining. Many Native American tribes regarded them as a “Keeper of Secrets,” wise ones who safeguarded the teachings of magic.

Raven, a man with the head of a bird, brought light into the world and taught its inhabitants how to care for themselves. On the flip side, the raven was also a Trickster initiating change, not always pleasant. I find it interesting the term “rook” made it into our slang as a reference for being swindled. A rook is an old-world type of crow or raven. In reality, these intelligent birds are clever mimics that have been known to learn human words.

When I think of ravens, I’m reminded of an old myth that portrays them as carrying the souls of slain heroes to the Netherworld. I once spun an entire plot thread from that idea and wove it into the background for my lead character. A completely different manuscript included an intricate mythology related to birds with the raven at its heart. So, yeah, my fascination with these large birds is long-standing. They’re ominous, ethereal and strangely beautiful. Edgar Allan Poe did a masterful job of making the raven live evermore.

 “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

In the Bible, Noah sent a raven from the ark in search of ground, but it flew back and forth, unable to find a place to land in a world deluged with floodwaters. Later, he sent the dove which returned with an olive branch. Ravens were also commanded to feed the prophet Elijah and, in the gospel of Luke, we’re reminded that God feeds the ravens though they don’t sow, reap, or have storerooms or barns. The same way God cares for us.

Would I know the difference between a crow and a raven if I saw them? Probably not. I know that ravens are larger and prefer less populated areas, while crows are more apt to hang around cities and urban spaces.

Case in point:  Two weeks ago while visiting my sister, I walked outside to find six or seven crows camped out on the hood and roof of my Chrysler 300. If I’d had a camera, I would have snapped a picture – large black birds on a solid black car. Turns out there must have been something snagged in the wiper blades, which had one handsome gent summoning his cronies to investigate. Before I knew it, my car had become a hangout for a ‘murder’.

Now I like birds, but not that much, so I shooed them away. I kept thinking about the potential damage to my metallic paint should a communal bathroom break ensue. By that time, they’d already made mince-meat of my wiper blades.

It was raining when I left to drive home, so I got a firsthand glimpse of the damage, with my wipers trialing long black threads that looked like ragged feathers. Trickster? Uh, yeah, let’s just tack that name onto crows too, thank you very much!

Despite having my car become the momentary snack of choice, I haven’t lost my appreciation for these mythical sirens of the skies. Whether raven, rook, or crow, I remain beguiled by the magical tricksters and invite you to share your own appreciation or memories of these fantastical birds.

*Note: Verse taken from THE RAVEN by Edgar Allan Poe (public domain)


If you like BLACK birds, make sure you stop back on BLACK Friday 11/23 for your chance to win an Amazon or B&N Gift Card during the BLACK FRIDAY BLOG HOP. There are plenty of other prizes and goodies to be had too ~ it’s definitely worth chirping about!