Feathered Tricksters Since the Dawn of Time
In Celtic mythology, similarly to Scandinavian, two ravens are aspects of the Goddess Morrígan, who flew over battling warriors. And in Welsh mythology, the mythical king of Britain, Brân the Blessed, was represented by two crows or ravens.
A representation of the Goddess Morrigan with a raven. (André Koehne/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
In Norse myths recorded in The Poetic Edda, two ravens named Huginn (spirit) and Muninn (memory) were aspects of the father of all gods, Odin . Flying all over the world (Midgard) they gathered and delivered information for their master Odin. But where in Norwegian mythology ravens were thought of as divine messengers, in Sweden they were the angry ghosts of murder victims and in Denmark they were exorcised spirits.
The one-eyed Odin with his ravens Hugin and Munin and his weapons. ( Public Domain )
The 2013 edition of The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism informs us that in both ancient Hinduism and Buddhism, crows and ravens symbolized ancestral beings, a belief shared on the other side of the world in Australian Aboriginal mythology. Crows were held as being highly-sacred in the Tibetan branch of Buddhism, the Vajrayana, and this bird was seen as “the Vehicle of the Thunderbolt” and the earthly manifestation of Mahakala, the protector and sustainer of righteousness on Earth. In Hinduism they were offered food during Śrāddha, an ancient ancestor ritual still practiced today.
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An Intervening Trickster
There is a tri-pedal jungle raven featured in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese mythologies known as Yatagarasu, Samjokgo, and Sanzuwu, respectively. Said to “divinely intervene” in human affairs, in all three myth systems crows and ravens were symbols of the Sun.
In the ancient Americas the raven/black crow was a popular totem symbol and the bird was most often described as a trickster, a thief of fire, light, and souls.
Japanese tri-pedal crow kamon. Three-legged crow commonly found in mythology and art. (Mekugi/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
If we were to choose the most appropriate Jungian archetype to define the role of crows and ravens in world myths, that would most definitely be the "trickster". It's that well-meaning, but mischievous character the crow who causes action and creates consequences. Without a little trickery and setback, we would hardly appreciate our successes in life so much.
Top Image: Ravens and Crows have been symbols and played a role in myth since ancient times. Source: CC0
By Ashley Cowie
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