Crows & Ravens vs The World

Mobbing behavior by crows and others in the avian family is very common. The crows are reacting to the potential threat another lifeform or (until they quickly figure it out) an object poses as a predator to the adult crows and their offspring. The mobbing often serves to harass the threat into leaving the area. Occasionally, though, a mobbed hawk or owl will turn the tables and attack and kill the crow.

The following video is a chilling example of how a murder of crows will defend its turf, cornering an otherwise formidable opponent using intimidation and force, but the Owl is not about to lose…

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In this clip, the crows are shown displaying a more common dive-and-swoop behavior on a Great Horned Owl that has entered their territory.

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Mobbing is not the only way crows and ravens deal with threats, and there is some speculation that harassment behavior may be more than protecting a flock. There have been documented encounters between Crows, Ravens, Magpies etc  and a variety of natural predators, (the most common being hawks, owls, and cats) but also between the corvids and creatures which would normally not pose any threat to them whatsoever (such as squirrels, rats, smaller birds, or insects). Generally these can be attributed to hunting and scavenging, but not all.

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During some encounters, the crows act as if they are simply doing it for sport, to alleviate boredom, or as a ritual of discovery. Bullying and teasing has been observed in many highly intelligent animals, including ourselves, apes, dolphins, rats, cats, and wolves, lacking the systematic signs of an instinct mechanism (such as those observed in ants). Does this indicate that the sense of self which factors highly into higher intelligence also brings with it the curse of jealousy, intolerance, and greed?

In a tribute to Aesop’s fable of the Jackdaw and the Peacock, this crow attempts to steal a tail feather (or catch a ride)

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All is not lost, however. Our beloved birds are not Hitchcock villains or devious devils looking to lie, cheat and steal at any opportunity. Like humans, corvids adapt to their environments and fortunes, or lack thereof, and as a result have a widely diverse set of skills and behaviors.  They also seem to be particularily fond of, or at least respectful of, the cat.

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…sometimes.

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Raven Poo – Good Luck Omen?

No Pooping Allowed

One of the oddest old adages states that getting a headful of bird poo is actually quite a lucky event. We believe this has more to do with the odds of it occurring (one in a million) than it has anything to do with the conditioning properties of the poo itself.

The amount of luck present in any particular poo seems to be  directly influenced by the type of bird doing the pooping. Since we know corvids are infamous poopers (but not quite as infamous as pigeons which are completely unlucky), it is no surprise that  the Raven is the harbinger of the most auspicious payload.

The Raven is generally considered good luck because of its high intelligence. The larger the quantity of Ravens that poop on you at one time, the larger the amount of your luck. If a person gets pooped on by seven Ravens or more, that person should be jumping up and down in glee…a great day! Getting pooped on by only one Raven, on the other hand, is not so lucky. This is all apparent in the following Folklore Rhyme:

“One Raven for sorrow, Two for joy, Three Ravens for a girl, Four for a boy, Five Ravens for silver, Six for gold, Seven Ravens for a secret never to be told.”

Another variation of this rhyme continues past Seven: “Eight for a Wish, Nine for a Kiss, Ten for a Time, of Joyous Bliss”

The Raven’s good luck image comes partly from it’s association with Heaven. Looking Ahead Under “Riddled Avians”, It Says “Heaven Offers Truth”. In Beowulf, the Raven is proclaimed as having communication with the Heavens: “They slept until the black raven, the blithe-hearted proclaimed the joy of heaven.”

As any person may correctly assume, seeing a bird suddenly fall dead from mid-air is a very ominous sign. This is especially true when it concerns the Raven. In 323 AD, Alexander the Great entered the great city of Babylon and a flock of Ravens fell dead from the sky. A few weeks later Alexander, predictably, was dead.

By Luc Hermans

Now, while we maintain that the pigeon is absolutely the unluckiest bird to have around, Crows and Magpies are popular antagonists of lore.A French saying states that evil priests became crows, and bad nuns became magpies. As the saying goes, “A crow on the thatch, soon death lifts the latch, ” referring to a single crow perched on your roof. Much like the “black cat superstition”, to have a single crow cross the path before you was bad luck. However, if you saw another, then the bad luck was canceled out: “Two crows I see, good luck to me.” The Greeks used to say, “Go to the Crows!” much the same way that we say “Go to Hell!”

Magpies are ominous birds that foretell the future, according to the size of the group that they travel in. Magpies are believe to be cursed by God for not mourning properly and not wearing all black during the Crucifixion. In Scotland, Magpies are thought to be so evil that each has a drop of the devil’s blood under its tongue.

Just Duck Your Head and Make a Wish

However, if either of them so happen to poop on you, consider it a blessing.

Here are some helpful tips on how to protect against crows and magpies:

1. If you are unlucky enough to see a crow or magpie on the road, all is not lost. All you have to do is cross yourself, raise your hat to the bird, spit three times over your right shoulder, and proclaim “Devil, Devil, I defy you!”. Of course, if you don’t have a hat, then your out of luck.

2. if you live in an area were magpies are common, it would be best for you to carry an onion with you at all times.

In the end, getting pooped on by a bird does not necessarily mean good luck. It’s very important to look up and see what kind of bird has left you this present. A Raven or an Owl is more often than not a good sign. Magpies and Crows, on the other hand…we can’t be certain, so just duck your head and make a wish!


Ravens in Native American Culture

Raven is a Native American god called by many different names by many different tribes.

The symbolic meaning of the Raven in Native American  lore describes the raven as a creature of metamorphosis, and symbolizes change/transformation.

In some tribes, the Raven is considered a trickster because of its transforming/changing attributes. This is especially true for the  Haida tribe, who claim he discovered the first humans hiding in a clam shell and brought them berries and salmon.

Each  tribe had a name for the bird and because of its non-secretive habits, it is one of the most familiar birds to the casual observer. The Sioux tell the story of how a white raven used to warn buffalo of approaching hunting parties. The buffalo would then stampede, and the hunters would be left hungry. Eventually, an angry shaman threw the bird into the fire which turned it black.

Often honored among medicine & holy men of tribes for its shape-shifting qualities, the Raven was called upon in ritual so that visions could be clarified.  Native holy men understood that what the physical eye sees, is not necessarily the truth, and he would call upon the Raven for clarity in these matters.

Foremost, the Raven is the Native American bearer of magic, and a harbinger of messages from the cosmos.  Messages that are beyond space and time are nestled in the midnight wings of the Raven and come to only those within the tribe who are worthy of the knowledge.

The Raven is also a keeper of secrets, and can assist us in determining answers to our own “hidden” thoughts.  Areas in our lives that we are unwilling to face, or secrets we keep that harm us – the Raven can help us expose the truth behind these (often distorted) secrets and wing us back to health and harmony.

Although there is no evidence that Raven was ever worshiped, as such, it is said by some that the Northwest peoples did used to leave food out on the beaches for ravens. In this form he is capable of inspiring awe and terror, although always there is that twinkle in the eye and the knowledge that it can be only moments before he says something that will inspire laughter. His creative nature usually shows itself through circumstance rather than intent, through the desire to satisfy his own needs, rather than any altruistic principles, but he seems genuinely fond of human beings, as related in “Raven finds the First Men”, amongst others.

In his later, perhaps younger guise, Raven, or Yetl/Yelth, is often the butt of his own jokes; these are the stories in which Raven is often undertaking a position taken by Coyote in the desert and plains regions of the South. In this guise, Raven is at his most devious and tricky, is also cruel, with little thought for anyone or anything other than his own stomach. He will go to great efforts to satisfy his appetite, from tricking his cousin Crow out of his entire Winter’s food supply, to tricking Deer into leaping onto some rocks so that he may be devoured, and even tricking an entire tribe into being killed by an avalanche so that he might eat their eyes.

He is the Raven at whom the young Haida men are allowed to laugh, but is also the Raven of whom to be most wary. He can be much crueler than his demiurge culture hero self. This Raven will have you in fits of laughter while he distracts you from the fact he is tricking you into doing something for him you may not actually want to do, and which may cost you dearly.  Some of the stories do have Crow as the main character, and the main difference appears to be that Crow stories concern the themes of justice rather than greed, even if justice is not always seen to be done, as in the story of Raven and Crow’s Potlatch, mentioned above.

The only time at which Raven’s position in the Northwest coast culture bears any similarity to that in European culture is in his guise as one of the servants of the medicine lodge tutelary Baxbakualanuchsiwae, the Kwakiutl Cannibal Spirit, whose initiates practice ritual anthropology. This is a comparatively recent trend in the culture, and is not widely mentioned.

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Haida Raven Mask

In Raven stories told by the Tlingit and other tribes along the Pacific coast and Canada, Raven likes to cause trouble for humankind, but his actions often end up benefiting us.

In the Haida legend “How Raven Gave Light to the World”, Raven wants to steal the boxes that hold the stars, Moon, and Sun for himself but the people ultimately benefit from his trick when the light is mistakenly released into the sky.  The Inuit tell a slightly different version in which the young girl swallows a feather and later gives birth to the raven, whom she later entertains by giving him her father’s relic. In breaking the relic, light is let into the world.

In our new column, Raven Lore, we will be sharing with you the wonderful stories passed down through various native cultures in America and beyond. We hope you enjoy them!

Tiffany Bozic

If there is an artist alive today that shares the vision of this site so perfectly, it is Tiffany Bozic.  Her art is a divine marriage of science and haunting symbolism, provoking and sometimes Gigeresque. More wholesome influences such as John James Audubon and Ernst Haeckel are not lost on us however – each piece presents a delicate beauty wherein the macabre is seen by only the curious.

From her biography:

“Tiffany Bozic has spent the majority of her life living with and observing the intricacies of nature. Having grown up on a farm in Arkansas, she was inspired by the natural world at an early age. Blending her external observations with the internal world has led her to refine a distinct style. Her work often incorporates richly pigmented acrylic paint on solid maple wood panels. “

Below, “No Ones Fault But My Own” depicts three magpies perching upon some rather intestinal branches above a fallen dove. This and other works from her Bedtime Stories series were shown at the Kinsey/ DesForges Gallery in 2008.