Animals and birds are an essential part of nature. They are often featured in art, literature, and religion. The raven has been part of literature and folklore worldwide for a very long time and is said to carry strong symbolism.
This fascinating bird carries deep meaning in Celtic mythology and legend and is believed to be a spiritual messenger between the mortals on earth and the heavenly world. To learn more about Celtic raven symbolism, continue reading the article.
The Celtic raven symbolizes: fate, wisdom, divination, ancestral knowledge, void, and destructive power.
Table of Contents
- Ravens in Celtic Legend
- Raven in Mythology and Folklore
- Raven Symbolism in Literature
- The Meaning of the Raven Calls in Celtic Mythology
- Other Meanings Behind the Raven Symbolism
- Raven Spiritual Meaning
Ravens in Celtic Legend
The ravens in Celtic legend were linked to darkness and death, especially during times of war. The war goddesses were turning themselves into ravens, signaling the warriors’ death in the battle.
Their deep and hoarse croak is often seen as a premonition of bad news and an omen of death. These birds are also said to have ethereal power, straddling between two realms (the living and the dead) and bringing messages from the gods.
Celtic raven symbolism
According to the Celts, the mysterious bird symbolizes fate, wisdom, and divination. The powerful bird is also a symbol of ancestral knowledge, void, and destruction. In Celtic mythology, the raven is associated as a source of power, hovering over battles and bringing messages from the gods.
In Celtic mythology, the raven is a part of many legends. It was often seen as a bad omen, and the cry of the bird was interpreted as the voice of the gods. Another belief in Celtic mythology is that the ravens accompanied the souls of the dead to the afterlife and were sometimes viewed as reincarnated fallen warriors and heroes.
Raven in Mythology and Folklore
The raven has been a prominent figure in Celtic mythology for centuries. The mysterious bird is associated with The Morrigan, the fearsome Celtic goddess of faith and death who symbolizes divination and vengeance. The goddess was believed to transform into a raven and fly over battles, foretelling the outcome on the battlefield.
In Irish Celtic mythology, such lore birds were a symbol of freedom as well as transcendence. The ravens were also associated with Brân the Blessed, the giant king and protector of Britain. During the battle with England, Brân was decapitated, and his head became an oracle.
The tradition states that his head was buried in the now-called Tower Hill of London, and that his ravens were kept there for a very long time as a form of protection against enemy invasion. In Welsh mythology, this totem animal represents the crisis in life that needs to happen in order for something new to start.
Goddesses in Celtic mythology associated with the raven
Along with the crow, the raven is considered a bird of prophecy which is why it is often a part of Celtic folklore. The Goddess Morrigan was prone to predicting the outcomes of a battle.
In fact, many of the goddesses are connected to the raven. One of them is known as Badb (an aspect of the Triple Goddess Morrigan) – the war goddess who is known to take the form of a crow and cause fear and confusion among the soldiers.
King Cormac came across Badb in the form of an older woman dressed in red garments, which was a bad sign. He explained that the goddess was washing the armor of a doomed king.
During a battle, the Goddess Morrigan landed on the shoulder of the Cuchulain, one of the greatest warrior heroes in Irish mythology and legend, who later was mortally wounded.
In Celtic mythology, the raven is also linked with Macha, a goddess of war associated with kinship as well as Nemain, the spirit woman who personifies the havoc of war. The raven is also linked with Nantosuelta, known as the goddess of nature, earth, and fertility.
More about the goddesses associated with the raven
Tethra of the Fomorians is another goddess in Celtic mythology that hovered above battlefields taking the form of a crow. The relation between the raven and war-related death is the bird’s tendency to eat corpses which is present in the aftermath of the battlefield.
The raven is also an animal totem of the Celtic sorceress Morgan Le Fay, known as the queen of faeries. In Celtic tales, the sorceress is the queen of the dark faeries who were recognized as tricksters and often transformed themselves into ravens.
The Irish and Scottish banshees could also transform into ravens. When they cried while standing on a roof, it was an omen of death in the household. This bird was also the favorite of the solar deity Lugh or Lludd, which is the Celtic god of arts. He had two ravens who accompanied him on all of his ventures.
Meaning of the raven in Celtic folklore
An interesting fact is that many Celtic tribes are believed to descend from animals. One of them existed in Britain and was known as The Raven Folk. Cailleach, the Scottish goddess of winter, also appeared as a raven. It was believed that her touch brought death.
This intelligent bird is also said to have healing abilities. Hence, it is believed that the Celtic shamas used the bird’s spirit for healing. When they worked with someone who was ill, the Celts also used the raven’s feathers to cleanse out the negative energy.
Raven Symbolism in Literature
In Celtic mythology and literature, the raven acts as a messenger for the Irish and Welsh gods. Another unusual association of this mysterious bird is with chess. In the prose tale The Dream of Rhonabwy, Arthur, together with Owain ap Urien, were playing a game that resembled chess.
While they play, the messengers declare that Arthur’s men attacked Owain’s 300 ravens. Owain told them to retaliate, after which the ravens began attacking the men unmercifully. One of the pieces in chess is “the rook,” which is another member of the crow family known as Corvus frugilegus.
Arthur was not killed, but he was turned into a raven, which is mentioned in Don Quixote by Servantes. In the novel, it is also said that it’s unlucky to shoot a raven. He is associated with the cult of Mithras, a cult organization that had several ranks the worshippers could go through, and the first rank was known as the raven.
In the poem The Hawk of Achill, the ravens warn Lugh, Chuchulain’s father, about the Fomorians, which is a supernatural race in Irish mythology. The ravens are also associated with Morvran, the son of the enchanted Cerridwen, also known as the Sear Raven.
Ravens in fairy tales and folklore
In the book Fairy Legends of South Ireland, the leprechaun is properly spelled préachán, which means “the raven.” In the book Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales, a man turns himself into a raven to avoid being attacked by ravenous dogs.
In the Scottish fairy tale The Battle of the Birds, there is a fierce battle in which all of the creatures have left the battlefield or have died, except for the raven and a snake. The raven leads the son of the king over the glens and mountains. On the third day, the raven disappeared, and a boy was sitting in its place.
The boy tells the king’s son that a druid put a curse on him and turned him into a raven. However, the king’s son saved his life and lifted the curse. In Celtic folklore, the ravens are also seen as guardian angels. Many Celtic tales also represent the raven as having human abilities.
“You have a raven’s knowledge.” – Scots Gaelic
“If bad be the raven, his company is no better.” – Scots Gaelic
“The raven is fair when the rook is not by.” – Danish
Proverbs in books
“A departing soul sometimes took on the form of a raven.” – Survival and Belief among Celts, George Henderson.
“The raven, the crow, and the serpent have appeared as transformed beings of superior power.” – Popular Tales of West Highlands, J.F. Campbell.
“What is blacker than a raven? There is death.” – Popular Tales of West Highlands vol I, J.F. Campbell.
The Meaning of the Raven Calls in Celtic Mythology
The ancient Celtic people interpret the calls from a raven as a type of guidance in life. They were connected to nature and were able to understand the rustling of the leaves and the sounds from wildlife as their own language and interpret the sounds into cosmic messages.
The Celtics believed that if a raven caws above someone’s head, it means that they will have company. If the animal releases a loud “graw!”, the meaning is unexpected company. Similarly, sounds like “gehaw!” mean unwelcome company.
They also believed that specific sounds from a raven could signal that a lover would come or someone would come to collect a debt.
In addition to the sound, the tribes that originated from Central Europe believed that the direction in which the raven was going could symbolize a warning. Their interpretation was the following: “If the raven flies toward the East, you will get news that you have been waiting for a long time”.
When the raven flies to the North, you will need to focus on matters in the household. However, if the black-feathered bird goes to the south, it means that you need to bring your loved ones closer, whereas if it is headed to the west, you need to prepare for drastic changes in your life.
Other Meanings Behind the Raven Symbolism
The black and majestic bird is a complex symbol. Its eccentric habits have led people to see them as tricksters, which is often depicted in literature. Since this bird was often present on the battlefield, the ancient Celts believed that the bird was often associated with battles, death, and destruction.
In some stories, the raven is seen as the messenger bringing news of upcoming doom, while in others, as an indicator of war. Another association of the raven is magic and mystery. In Celtic stories, the raven can transform into many forms, including humans.
In these tales, the fascinating bird also possesses magical powers and is associated with witches and wizards. The raven symbolism varies between Celtic stories, and in some of them, the black bird is a guide and a protector. In other cases, the mysterious bird represents chaos and the strength of a warrior.
In the Welsh myth, the raven is connected to Bendigeidfran ap Llyr, also known as Brân the Blessed, who is the lord of the otherworld.
Raven Spiritual Meaning
The mysterious bird carries heavy symbolism in various cultures, including the one of the Celts. The raven is also known to carry spiritual meaning. For instance, the visit of a raven is a sign that you need guidance in life.
A raven in a dream might indicate that you fear the future and that some kind of disaster is about to happen. Dreams of ravens can signify something mysterious and unknown that you will need to confront to see things more clearly.
People whose spirit animal is the raven are intelligent, creative, and curious. They are also gifted with insight and are good at interpreting hidden meanings from different situations.
For centuries, the raven has been part of the mythology of different cultures. Its symbolism in various cultures and traditions. For many, the mysterious creature foretells bad fortune to come, while for others, the bird is a positive sign symbolizing rebirth.
In earlier times, the raven was said to be a divine being and was associated with death and bad news. In mythology, black birds were considered aspects of the goddess Morrigan, and they often appeared to signalize the outcome on the battlefield.
Eventually, the ravens became creatures of prophecy and divine messengers. With time, many other religions were influenced by the Celtic beliefs, and this mysterious and intelligent bird continues to fascinate even today.
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