Truth & Myth: Crows & Ravens in The Game of Thrones

The sagas of Westeros, known as A Song of Ice and Fire and adapted into the wildly reknowned Game of Thrones TV series, makes frequent use of Crows and Ravens as omens, messengers and atmosphere. The foundation of the stories, plots and characters also draw heavily from real-world mythologies.  How much of this is fantasy and how much is rooted in truth? Here we examine the many facets of the Westerosi corvid and how it relates to the real-world counterpart – or doesn’t.

 Warning: this post contains mild spoilers if you have not read the books!

 

1Ravens vs Crows

The stories refer to Ravens mainly in the context of messengers, however later on they appear to Sam and Gilly beyond the wall in a massive flock perched in a weirwood tree.  The show also used “Ravens” in their promotional teasers, however the show often interchanges crows for ravens. So how can you tell the difference? Ravens are the largest corvids, and also the largest “songbirds.”  Twice the weight of a common crow at about 3 pounds (1.5kg), they grow to be an average of two feet (60cm) tall and have a wing-span of nearly 3-3.5 feet (1m) . They also have a diamond shape tail rather than the rounded square tail shape of the crow, and shaggy “beard” of feathers just below their heavier, hookier bill.

 

got-three-eyed-crow

2The Three Eyed Crow

Ravens factor into almost every known ancient mythos. The Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Semitic and Siberian legends depict the raven as a messenger of storms or bad weather. In African, Asian and European legends, the raven is an omen of death. In middle-European lore, ravens were often used as exponents of evil (for example in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Macbeth and Othello). In contrast, Norse mythology puts ravens in a place of power and worship, often associated with the god Odin.

Speaking of Odin, many theories and parallels have been drawn between Norse Mythology and the characters, plots and legends in A Song of Ice and Fire.  One such theory compares the Three Eyed Crow, which Bran seeks throughout his story, and Loki, the Norse god.  From what we know of the Three Eyed Crow thus far in the book series, we can assume Brynden Rivers , also known as “Bloodraven” or the” Night’s King”, is the Three Eyed Crow.

So how does he compare to Loki? Dorian the Historian explains on his blog that:

He is an extremely old Targaryen bastard living under the roots of a weirwood tree far beyond the Wall. (Loki lives amongst the trees)

He had been banished and condemned to the Night’s Watch for what was probably the death of Aerion Targaryen. (Loki was blamed for the death of Baldr, a great Viking leader)

He can warg (Loki can shapechange into animals and into the mist)

Baldr’s death(In the book represented by Aerion Targaryen in the World’s history, then repeated again as Joffrey’s death) is seen as the first in the chain of events which will ultimately lead to the destruction of the gods at Ragnarök. Baldr will be reborn in the new world, according to Völuspá. Sound familiar? This is very similar to the prophecy of Azor Azhai, who show watchers think is Stannis Baratheon. So as you can see, the Three Eyed Crow is quite an important symbol and character in both the book and adaptation.

But let’s move on to the warging bit…

 

bloodraven

3Raven Warging

Warging, by definition, is mind control or mind-melding another living thing. Most mythologies involving Ravens also involve shapeshifting, which is conceptually similar. Native American legend tells of Raven shapeshifting into a man, a pine needle and even a wolf.  Japanese mythology has spirits taking Raven form, or women shapeshifting into Ravens. Norse mythology is rife with shapeshifting lore, including Loki as previously mentioned.  While this is a talent hard possessed by real-world human beings, who is to say it isn’t actually possible?

Both Bran and Jon Snow are connected with crows and ravens using their warging ability. We can also assume that Bloodraven makes frequent use of Ravens as his eyes, both in the scene with Sam and Gilly, and as Mormont’s Raven.

 

jonsnow

4Mormont’s Raven

Lord Commander Mormont’s Raven(later becoming Jon’s Raven) stars opposite the Three Eyed Crow as the only other prominent corvid-character in the series. He is abnormally large, extremely old and commands a varied vocabulary.

Ravens live a very long time – from 40 to 80 years, so it is not unusual for Mormont’s raven to have been around as long as Maester Aemon.

Ravens are capable of the most complex vocalizations in the bird kingdom. They make many different kinds of calls varying from a low, gurgling croak to harsh grating sounds and shrill alarm calls. As the show plainly demonstrates, Ravens can be taught a variety of words and phrases, and have even been taught complex forms of communication through reward systems training similar to the methods made famous by Einstein the Parrot. Scientists have placed their vocalizations into as many as 33 different categories based on sound and context!

 

ravens-trash

5Corn?

Crows and Ravens do love corn, so this is an apt request from the Ravens of this story. The Raven diet is quite variable though, including fruit, nuts, seeds, fish, carrion, trash and an occasional french fry. Ravens are not birds of prey – you don’t need to worry about your dogs or cats roaming the yard unattended, just their food bowls, as Ravens are adept thieves.  Ravens will dig through snow, plastic bags, bins or compost to find their dinner, and may also follow wolf packs,  hunters or fishermen for a meal. Ravens are known to steal the food of many birds and mammals, even from dogs.

 

Michael S Quinton

Michael S Quinton

6Crows & Carrion

As the Game of Thrones is played out, the world is rife with war, plague and death, and thus crows are seen everywhere preying on the spoils. They are seen eating flesh, pecking out eyes and numerous other deeds usually reserved for vultures. This is not far from realistic – although only some kinds of Crow and Raven are known to eat carrion as a matter of course, mainly depending on their environment and options.

In this day and age, we know that crows and ravens often use their amazingly high IQ to manipulate other species where meals are concerned.  They have been observed calling to dogs, wolves or other predators to attract them to a corpse the Raven cannot scavenge or open on their own. This advanced intelligence also allows them to share social and territorial spaces with these kinds of predators without becoming prey themselves.  Ravens and crows have been observed working together to distract a person or animal away from a potential meal so the other can snatch it away.

Historically, crows have been depicted scavenging or circling the dead through many artforms, and have been used in Norse and Tibetan ritual to consume corpses in honor of the dead as vessels for rebirth.

 

Marino Thorlacius

Marino Thorlacius

7Dark Wings, Dark Words

This common idiom in our story refers to Ravens as omens of something bad.  This comparison is used throughout history and mythology as well. Ravens and Crows are famous symbols for death, tragedy and misfortune, which is likely the driving force behind author George R.R Martin’s use of them in the books to foreshadow and set the scene.

 

WhiteRaven

8Raven Messengers

The most prominent role Ravens play in the series is as messengers of their sage-type masters, the Maesters of each keep or castle, and by Sam and Master Aemon on the Wall. This serves both functionally, to get information from one location to another, and figuratively as omens or bearers of often bad news.

While Ravens are super-intelligent, they were likely not used as messengers at any point in history, contrary to the romantic notion put forth in the series. Instead, carrier pigeons were used for their unique navigation and magnetic sensitivity. As ravens are not migratory, they would not make the best homers, although they range for very long distances.

However, Ravens have been noted as useful spy tools, purported as trained eavesdroppers capable of repeating back snippets of conversation overheard by the enemy, or retreiving items.

 

white raven

9White Ravens

Among the vast arsenal of messnger Ravens employed throughout Westeros, the Maesters of the Citadel use a special white raven to distinguish messages coming from the Citadel from other messages.  Not to be mistaken for an albino bird, white ravens are quite real, and are the result of Leucism, a genetic disorder whereby the pigmentation cells are unevenly distributed, hence resulting in patches of feathers looking paler, bleached looking or show white. White ravens are the result of the mating of two common ravens with the same genetic defect. The same pair could produce many generations of white ravens, since common black ravens are monogamous and long-lived.

White Ravens have also been revered in mythology, including the story of Noah’s Ark (later translated into a Dove, which was more of a romanized romantic symbol). The significance of white ravens being used by Maesters of the Citadel could be to symbolically differentiate the messages they carry as being peacful or good, or it could simply be a means for noting importance.

 

wolf_and_raven

10Ravens & Wolves

Dire wolves and common wolves are almost as common as Ravens in A Song of Ice and Fire, with both Nymeria and Ghost in close companion ship with Crows and Ravens throughout their wanderings.

This partnership is common in the real world, too, as both Ravens and Wolves share common habitats. Aside from ravens enterprising on wolves as competent providers of food, Ravens are also extremely playful, earning them the legendary nickname of “trickster.” One of their favorite games is tail-pulling, which has been observed as perpetrated on larger birds of prey, wolves, big cats and even people. In one account, ravens were seen perching on the roof of a local supermarket, waiting for unsuspecting humans to walk by before pushing a clump of snow over the edge to fall on their heads.

North of the Wall, it is easy to imagine Raven playing with Ghost in much the same way.

In what other ways do you notice crows and ravens used in A Song of Ice and Fire, and what significance, if any, do you think they portray?

Read the latest car news and check out newest photos, articles, and more from the Car and Driver Blog.

Karen Bondarchuk Crows: Scavenging Scavengers

Karen Bondarchuk, assistant professor of art, will be one of about 30 members of Western Michigan University’s Gwen Frostic School of Art faculty and staff who’ll display pieces in the annual art faculty exhibit, which opened on Thursday and runs through Dec. 23. The works will range from oil on canvas and mixed media to sculpture and, well, crows.  Karen originally began sculpting the birds from scavenged tire, wood, and polystyrene. “I’d see a heap of tires on the side of the road, and I’d imagine a claw sticking up in the air,” she said. “Crows are scavengers by nature, and so am I.”

 

Corvus Deflatus

 

Karen’s current sculpture and drawing work, focused exclusively on crows and ravens, examines the complex, interwoven relationship between humans and corvids.  Her artwork has been exhibited widely in the United States, as well as in Canada, Italy and England.

“Using tire scraps and an automobile headlamp, Autogenesis contemporizes the Haida and Tsimshian myth of the raven stealing the sun. Most traditional Native American and First Nations myths recognize the intelligence of these creatures by ascribing complex attributes to crows and ravens. These myths often include a corvid’s ability to shape-shift, wherein the bird will take on human qualities in order to achieve a goal or procure some desired object (which is typically shiny or luminous). The title alludes to both the process of autogeny (organic organisms developing from inorganic matter) and this raven’s genesis from automobile tires, while the form is suggestive of both a prize trophy head and a portal through which this raven is seemingly unable to pass.”

 

Autogenesis

 

Of her painted body of work, Karen says,”The large charcoal raven portraits in this body of work— Speak, Memory and others—are scaled with the intention of creating a meeting of minds or reciprocity: in as much as we are contemplating these brainy birds, they seem to be equally contemplating us. The stark, high contrast and large scale also demands our attention and consideration (as birds in the corvid family—crows, blue jays, rooks, magpies, jackdaws, ravens, etc.—so often do), while the emphasis on individuality and personality with each portrait challenges the generalities we may have regarding what a raven is. ”

Speak,Memory IV

“The title of this series is from Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiographical memoir called Speak, Memory, and relates to my desire to understand the true nature of these highly intelligent creatures, as well as the futility of my desire to do so. In my ongoing research of crows and ravens, I have had various encounters with verbal corvids, including Julian the incredible talking raven (“who’s a good bird”), Blue, the feisty imprinted blue jay that imitates meowing cats and door alarms, and a cursing green-eyed British jackdaw, and I am struck by the fact that their ability to speak makes these birds even more inscrutable. The language they utter doesn’t speak of them or their memories, but of us and our desire to understand these intelligent creatures on human terms.”

Crow Magnus

 

 

Bondarchuk’s contribution to the art show is a six-foot charcoal-and-ink drawing titled, “In Defense of a Stolen Golfball” which was inspired by a story she heard about ravens stealing balls from a Virginia golf course.

“The ravens were fascinated by the golf balls. In this, the raven is defending itself.”

 

Karen Bondarkchuck’s In Defense of the Golf Ball

 

You may follow Karen by visiting her website at www.karenbondarchuk.com.

 

Crowbergs & Crow Dreams by Meri C Fox-Szauter

Meri C Fox-Szauter has been observing one flock of crows for almost a decade, working from her car studio every day at Acadia National Park, Maine in the North-East USA. Her break through work in drawing crows came a few winters ago when they would land on the asphalt, “…they would fluff out their skirts and become crowbergs. That inspired my series Floating on the Asphalt Sea, which morphed into Winter Crows.”

On the flock, Meri comments,”One of my crows, whom I call Solo boo, stands out in particular and always seems to be separate from the rest of the flock.   He will be the first bird to arrive once I get to my spot each day and will be the one just hanging around while I’m there.   The others in the flock tolerate him, true, but he’s always seemed a bit apart from them all. I’m most pleased to note that in the past two springs, Solo seems to have found a mate.  Now the two of them are the ones I see the most.”

Shelter from Winter Crows

“As I’m sure you know, crows get tucked up under canopy and make this soft oooooh-oooooh sound.  I started responding to that a few years ago, saying boooooo-boooooo, and now the oldest ones greet me (in winter and early spring) with their own variations of the boo-boo sound I make.   Solo boo, is I think the best at it; his booo-boos is the most articulated.   One of the birds just makes the head bob and clicks his beak, but that’s how I know who it is I’m speaking to.”

“The most inspiring thing about this flock (and I’d guess all of them) is how they work together.   There’s always one bird on guard; they have a strategy whenever the resident merlin goes after them, in that one of the crows leads the merlin on a chase with the rest dive bombing the predator.  The only season of the year where they won’t sit around me and preen or allow me to watch is, of course, when the young are out and about (this years batch just screams and hollers when they see me!). This particular flock is comfortable around me enough that in the winter they will sit in the sun around my car while I sit inside it and draw. ”

 

 

Cosmopolitan Crows

 

 

To keep up with Meri and her work, visit her website at www.wallofthorns.com

Raven & Crow Tattoos

For many ancient peoples, the raven is a powerful animal totem, a protector,spirit guide, or god.  He’s a shape-shifting messenger and a symbol of transformation.  Black plumage invokes an air of mistique, secrecy, and elegance. The Raven is also a powerful sun symbol. From the earliest times, raven myths tell of its intelligence and concern for humans.  As we wrote about in Mythological Ravens, and Crows in Celtic Mythology, there are plenty of reasons other than sheer love to get a Crow or Raven tattoo.

The most important thing to consider prior to running down to the tattoo shop is what the bird will look like, and who the best artist is for your budget and ability to travel. Tattoos are absolutely forever, so you want to be sure yours is amazing!  Below are a few pointers:

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  • Research your bird choice thoroughly. There is nothing worse than seeing Ravens that are really Choughs (Choughs have orange feet, Ravens don’t)
  • If using a photograph as reference for your artist, it is best to email the photographer for their blessing.
  • If using artwork as reference, you absolutely must get permission from the original artist. This goes double if your tattooer is going to change it at all.
  • Strive for originality. While wonderful galleries exist online such as this one, it is better to think up your own design than get one ‘out of the book’.
  • Decide on a location that will allow your Crow or Raven to breathe. The back, sides, chest, and shoulder are the best.

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To help further inspire you, we have put together a huge Crow and Raven Tattoo Gallery here. (I’ve even snuck a shot of Clara’s raven in there on page 4!)

Crow Tattoo on our reader Christina

Do you have a tattoo you would like to share with our readers? Send it to our wonderful mailbird cawcaw at avesnoir.com!

Here are our ten favorites from the gallery. Choosing was tough!

V

The Chimney Cleaners – Jackdaws on the Roof

Both in the air and on the ground there is an irrepressible jauntiness about jackdaw movements. Yet perhaps the most useful distinguishing feature of this intensely sociable bird is its voice. The full range of calls is complex, although the best known is a monosyllabic, almost dog-like yap, of which the first part of the name is descriptive.

Jackdaws make another loud, resonant alarm note, an almost rook-like grating caw, and it is supposed that the bird’s old name of ‘daw’ is onomatopoeic of this sound. Another middle English word for the bird, Ca or Co is the origin for places such as Kaber in Cumbria, Caville in east Yorkshire and Lancashire’s Cawood.

Despite their wider reputation for guile and itelligence, jackdaws are well known for making heavy weather of the nest itself. They drop sticks into the cavity to make the foundations of the nest.

Sometimes it happens that a nice looking hole communicates with some bigger space below, and the sticks simply drop through. But once the birds have chosen a hole they may continue bringing and dropping in sticks for day and days until a really enormous pile accumulates.’In Hampstead, the workmen removed two or three cartloads of sticks from the towers, where a colony had nested, some people have been known to ‘harvest’ their jackdaw nests as kindling.

Enjoy our featured photographers this week in our nesting Jackdaws series:


By Law Keven

By cazjane97

by Chris Bolton

by Emma Rathbone

By Taco Meeuwsen

By Margareta Starring

 

Beth Surdut Fine Feathered Art

Santa Fe artist and writer Beth Surdut has always lived by water — Hawaii, New England and Florida — and at first, Santa Fe didn’t seem appealing.

“It doesn’t have an ocean,” Surdut explained. But then she visited and “was completely interested and enchanted.”

The landscape and the ever-present ravens fascinated her the most, leading to her move here and the creation of a visual storytelling project called Listening to Ravens, which includes drawings, each of which is accompanied by a myth or story.Surdut is looking for Santa Feans who have raven stories to share with her that will be included in her new project.

“I call it story-catching,” Surdut said about giving people an opportunity to tell their stories.

If you want one of these one of a kind gems for your own, check out Beth’s Esty shop here.  All of Beth’s drawings, along with their corresponding stories, can be found on her blog.  Have a Raven story to share with her? Leave a comment below or contact her through her blog.

Aves Artist: Helen Janow Miqueo

Featuring bold, colorful, original modern & whimsical art, we bring you some giclee prints and abstract paintings by contemporary artist Helen Miqueo:
http://ny-image3.etsy.com/il_fullxfull.145761343.jpg
“I have an incredible experience every time I take a brush in my hand. Every painting I do is Me with somebody else’s heart and soul. I see invisible seas, I smell the fragrance of distant flowers, and hear the sounds of mysterious lands. When I open my eyes wide: I am a stranger, I am a wanderer and a child. I am an artist.”

Bird Paintings Landscape Sky Art

Giclee Art Print Tree of Life

Visit her blog or view more from the gallery

The Raven Diaries

Rick and Diana Boufford are a grassroots on fire for live couple who dedicate large amounts of their time to documenting Ravens  in Utah, Catalina, and more. Their love for all things living is portrayed through the relationships and lives of ravens and all the different kinds of animals we share territory with.  They are currently hard at work on their debut documentary film The Raven Diaries, which you can preview below.

Check out more at The Raven Diaries website