Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bad Luck Files - Crows and Ravens

It is the darkest color, the result of the absence of or complete absorption of light. It is the opposite of white and often represents darkness in contrast with light.

This, my dear Snoopers, is the meaning of the word "Black", according to Wikipedia. Briefly, black isn't a color. Is simply "no color". And this sad characteristic gives black the popularity of being the sign of bad luck and death omens. In my opinion I think black has a very deeper meaning, and especially animals are fantastic in this color. This little intro for telling you not to shake with fear in front of a Black Animals just because you think it'll bring you diseases and disasters. They don't deserve it! But today I'm here to talk about another of the most common animals ever known in history with this problematic issues (and one of my personal favorites). Let's talk about The Raven.

How to describe this wonderful creature without being classy. It's impossible. Mysterious and Rapacious. Shiny black plumage, Pointed beak and haughty look. I think these says it all. Recent research has found some crow species capable of tool use and construction. Crows are now considered to be among the world's most intelligent animals with an encephalization quotient approaching that of some apes. So, first of all, we're not talking about a dumb bird.

Over the centuries, it has been the subject of mythology, folklore, art, and literature. Just to mention the most famous, everybody knows of Edgar Allan Poe's crow, with his "Nevermore". In many cultures, including the indigenous cultures of Scandinavia, ancient Ireland and Wales, Bhutan, the northwest coast of North America, and Siberia and northeast Asia, the common raven has been revered as a spiritual figure, even a god. Believe it or not, it's also the official bird of the Yukon and of the city of Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories.

Unfortunately, as I was saying before, because of its black plumage, croaking call, and diet of carrion, ravens and the crows have long been considered a bird of ill omen and of interest to creators, but also of interesting myths and legends. The most known (this one is mentioned in Alex Proyas' "The Crow" with the talented Brandon Lee) was proposed by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. He thought about a structuralist theory that suggests the raven (like the coyote) obtained mythic status because it was a mediator animal between life and death. And if you talk about crows in Sweden, they'll say something quite similar. Swedish, in fact, thinks ravens are the ghosts of murdered people.

Let’s start with Greek mythology. The classic world associated ravens with Apollo, the god of arts, music, prophecy. They were a symbol of good luck, and god's messengers in the mortal world. According to the mythological narration, Apollo sent a white raven (a crow in some versions) to spy on his lover, Corinus. When the raven brought back the news that Corinus has been unfaithful to him, Apollo scorched the raven in his fury, turning the animal's feathers black. That's why all ravens are black today.

According to Livy,  even the Roman general Marcus Valerius  Corvus had a raven settle on his helmet during a combat with a gigantic Gaul, which distracted the enemy's attention by flying in his face. Well, this can be seen as some kind of cheating, but who cares now…

In the Bible, the Jewish and Christian holy book, ravens are mentioned on numerous occasions throughout the Old Testament. In the Book of Judges, for example, one of Kings of the Midianites defeated by Gideon is called "Orev" (עורב) which means "Raven". In the Talmud, the raven is described as having been only one of three beings on Noah's Ark that copulated during the flood and so was punished. The Rabbis believed that the male raven was forced to ejaculate his seed into the female raven's mouth for reproduction (mouth…really??).  According to the Icelandic Landnámabók - a story similar to Noah and the Ark - Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson (the Iceland version of Noah) used ravens to guide his ship from the Faroe Islands to Iceland, action that Noah also did in the Genesis (he sent both a raven and a dove). In the Book of Kings God commands the ravens to feed the prophet Elijah, and in the New Testament as well, ravens are used by Jesus as an illustration of God's provision.

In Christian middle ages lots of raven-related happenings make it through history. According to the legend of the fourth-century Iberian Christian martyr Saint Vincent of Saragossa, after his execution ravens protected his body from being devoured by wild animals, until his followers could recover it. His body was taken to what is now known as Cape St. Vincent in southern Portugal. A shrine was erected over his grave, which continued to be guarded by flocks of ravens. The Arab geographer Al-Idrisi noted ravens were constantly guarding the site, for which the place was named by him Church of the Raven. King Afonso Henriques (1139–1185) had the body of the saint exhumed in 1173 and brought it by ship to Lisbon, still accompanied by the ravens. This transfer of the relics is depicted on the coat of arms of Lisbon.

A raven is also said to have protected Saint Benedict of Nursia by taking away a loaf of bread poisoned by jealous monks after he blessed it. In the legends about the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, depicting him as sleeping along with his knights in a cave in the Kyffhäuser mountain in Thuringia or Mount Untersberg in Bavaria, it is told that when the ravens stopped to fly around the mountain he will awake and restore Germany to its ancient greatness. According to the story, the Emperor's eyes are half closed in sleep, but now and then he raises his hand and sends a boy out to see if the ravens have stopped flying. So in the ancient times the meaning of this bird was completely different from the modern thoughts. But let's move on...

According to Germanic population, Odin was often associated with ravens. Examples include depictions of figures often identified as Odin appear flanked with two birds on a 6th-century bracteate and on a 7th-century helmet plate from Vendel, Sweden. In later Norse mythology, Odin is depicted as having two ravens Huginn and Muninn (on the right you can see them with the respective ancient runes) serving as his eyes and ears – Huginn being referred to as thought and Muninn as memory. Each day the ravens fly out from Hliðskjálf and bring Odin news from Midgard. The Old English word for a raven was hræfn; in Old Norse it was hrafn; the word was frequently used in combinations as a kenning for bloodshed and battle.
As you can see in this representation of Huginn and Muninn, the raven was commonly used by the Vikings. Ragnar Lodbrok, another ruler of the Viking age, had a raven banner called Reafan, embroidered with the device of a raven. It was said that if this banner fluttered, Lodbrok would carry the day, but if it hung lifeless the battle would be lost. King Harald Hardrada also had a raven banner, called Landeythan (land-waster). The bird also appears in the folklore of the Isle of Man, a former Viking colony, and it is used as a symbol on their coat of arms.

Now it's time for the Celtic Traditions. In Irish mythology ravens are associated with warfare and the battleground in the figures of Badb and Morrígan. The goddess An Morrígan alighted on the hero Cú Chulainn's shoulder in the form of a raven after his death.

Ravens were also associated with the Welsh god Bran the Blessed, whose name translates to "raven". According to the Mabinogion, Bran's head was buried in the White Hill of London as a talisman against invasion. Also the name of another god, Lugh, is also derived from a Celtic word for "raven". He is the god of the sun, and the creator of the arts and sciences. He is depicted as giant and the King of the Britons in tale known as the Second Branch of the Mabinogi. Several other characters in Welsh mythology share his name, and ravens figure prominently in the 12th or 13th century text “The Dream of Rhonabwy”, as the army of King Arthur's knight Owain.

According to legends, the Kingdom of England will fall if the ravens of the Tower of London are removed. It had been thought that there have been at least six ravens in residence at the tower for centuries. It was said that Charles II ordered their removal following complaints from John Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer. However, they were not removed because Charles was then told of the legend. Charles, following the time of the English Civil War, superstition or not, was not prepared to take the chance, and instead had the observatory moved to Greenwich. In fact the earliest known reference to a Tower raven is a picture in the newspaper The Pictorial World in 1883. This and scattered subsequent references, both literary and visual, which appear in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, place them near the monument commemorating those decapitated at the tower, popularly known as the “scaffold.” 

This strongly suggests that the ravens, which are notorious for gathering at gallows, were originally used to dramatize tales of imprisonment and execution at the tower told to tourists by the Yeomen Warders. There is evidence that the original ravens were donated to the tower by the Earls of Dunraven, perhaps because of their association with the Celtic raven-god Bran. However wild ravens, which were once abundant in London and often seen around meat markets feasting for scraps, could have roosted at the Tower in earlier times.

During the Second World War, most of the Tower's ravens perished through shock during bombing raids, leaving only a mated pair named "Mabel" and "Grip". Shortly before the Tower reopened to the public, Mabel flew away, leaving Grip alone. A couple of weeks later, Grip also flew away, probably in search of his mate. The incident was reported in several newspapers, and some of the stories contained the first references in print to the legend that the British Empire would fall if the ravens left the tower. Since the Empire was dismantled shortly afterward, those who are superstitious might interpret events as a confirmation of the legend. Before the tower reopened to the public on 1 January 1946, care was taken to ensure that a new set of ravens was in place. Well, let's put it this way: England will fall without ravens over the London Tower. See how important they were... So far we've listed deviating opinions. But it's not over yet...

Most of the people who considered crows a bad omen probably have never been to South Asia, where things are a little bit different. There the crowing of crows is considered an omen. It means that a letter ( or news ) will come from relatives not heard for long, or that some unexpected guests/ visitors will arrive. Experienced oldsters can distinguish the exact type of message by the way the crow hops,or walks, on the roof, wall, etc. or from the exact tone and style of the crowing. Also low flying crows across one's path is considered an omen, this one interpreted as favourable or not, depending on the direction it crosses. Anyway, It is a sign of change. All that you have been working for and toward is now coming to fruition. Alternatively is giving you clear messages and guidance as to what your next steps are. Pay attention to your thoughts, and to the omens around you. The messages are clearer now than they have ever been. Crow as a messenger could also be letting you know that it’s time to step back – re assess where you are at and take stock of your own dreams and aspirations. Being clear about our own desires is key in manifesting our intentions.

But we can fly even higher with the help of the Natives of North America. In fact, the raven in these indigenous peoples' mythology is the Creator of the world, but it is also considered a trickster god. In Tlingit culture, there are two different raven characters which can be identified, although they are not always clearly differentiated. One is the creator Raven, responsible for bringing light to the darkness. The other is the childish raven, always selfish and hungry. When the Great Spirit created all things he kept them separate and stored in separated boxes. The Great Spirit gifted these boxes to the animals who existed before humans. When the animals opened the boxes all the things that comprise the world came into being. The boxes held such things as mountains, fire, water, wind and seeds for all the plants. One such box, which was given to Seagull, contained all the light of the world. Seagull coveted his box and refused to open it, clutching it under his wing. All the people asked Raven to persuade Seagull to open it and release the light. Despite begging, demanding, flattering and trying to trick him into opening the box, Seagull still refused. Finally Raven became angry and frustrated, and stuck a thorn in Seagull's foot (a version of the battle between them was portrayed by Bill Reid in the sculpture in the first pic on the right). Raven pushed the thorn in deeper until the pain caused Seagull to drop the box. Then out of the box came the sun, moon and stars that brought light to the world and allowed the first day to begin.


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