My latest obsession (aside from the acquisition of unique Tarot decks like the StarmanTarot) has been with Crows and Ravens. Since moving to British Columbia, I am keenly aware of the multitude of Ravens and Crows that populate the Okanagan Valley. These birds carry a dubious and dark reputation as thieves, marauders, pests and killers of songbirds. Their feathers appear black, but are actually a diadem of jewel tones that are only seen in bright sunlight. It is for this reason, I’ve recently purchased the Crow Tarot by MJ Cullinane. I’m now totally over the moon for Crows and Ravens and have had some interesting things pop up while surfing the net for this post about my favourite family of harbingers…
The Raven is spoken often of in literature and even has a notorious appearance in the book of Genesis. According to this book of the Bible, Noah sent a Raven out to search for any sign of dry land…It never returned. A while later, a dove was sent out which returned with an olive branch, and later signalled the presence of dry land by not returning to the Ark again.
According to some Talmudic Jews, the Raven symbolizes sexuality, vice and rebellion and although their interpretation refers to the Raven in the male form, however, I am reminded of Lilith who was the first and vilified wife of Adam. Could it be that the dove represents Eve prior to the ‘Fall’?
It’s therefore noteworthy if the first animal to be singled out after the waters begin to subside, the raven, is in fact a snake-like surrogate. While the post-flood world may be a clean slate in some ways, the same challenges and potential for sin that caused downfall the first time are still there, and will require vigilance to overcome.
The above image portrays Lilith as a serpent piercing the heart of Adam (symbolically making Adam mortal) and obviously the evil creature who first awakened Eve. Notice the breasts present on both figures in the image above and below.
Was Lilith a benevolent sister seeking to rescue Eve from her ignorance and a destiny of subservience to man that she herself wilfully rejected? Is this where Lillith becomes the figurative Devil-Woman, forever destined to be the subject of hatred, subjugation and persecution.
It seems Ravens have suffered the same fate of demonization as described in the quoted text below although these demons appear in the masculine form:
“There are a couple different demons that are said to take on the form of a crow or a raven before being ordered into human form by their summoner. Stolas, the 36th demon in the pantheon, will first appear as a raven when summoned. Once he becomes a man, he teaches the arts and astronomy, as well as the properties of precious stones and the healing properties of herbs. Malphas, the 39th demon, appears as a crow and won’t change form until ordered. In his human form, he can build homes and fortifications and can give his summoner a familiar. “
“The 40th in the line of demons, Raum, also takes the form of a crow. Perhaps convenient to his crow form, he can steal valuables from the most protected of places. He is also said to be the destroyer of cities and dignities, he can reveal anything about the past, present, and future, and he can unite enemies.”
One of the peace doves released by the Pope being attacked by a crow…oh the Irony!
Crow as Goddess
The Morrigan of Irish folk-legend appears often as a crow heralding defeat and death in battles. Her name roughly translates into ‘phantom goddess’, and encapsulates my vision of Crows and Ravens as a distinctly pagan feminine energy railing against the masculine energies of the worlds monotheistic religions. The Morrigan is both unity and trinity at once, encapsulating many aspects of the divine feminine (her compassion, wisdom and bloodlust too) and yet is shadowy and ghost-like. Her description as a monster, ghost-like female also called Lillith is mentioned in the Vulgate version of the book of Isaiah:
“The earliest sources for the Morrígan are glosses in Latin manuscripts, and glossaries (collections of glosses). In a 9th century manuscript containing the Vulgate version of the Book of Isaiah, the word Lamia is used to translate the Hebrew Lilith.A gloss explains this as “a monster in female form, that is, a morrígan“. Cormac’s Glossary (also 9th century), and a gloss in the later manuscript H.3.18, both explain the plural word gudemain(“spectres”) with the plural form morrígna. The 8th century O’Mulconry’s Glossary says that Macha is one of the three morrígna.” – Wikipedia (Morrigan)
The Wikipedia page goes on to reference the Morrigan as a sovereign woman (queen?) who transforms herself into a crow or raven:
“The Morrígan’s earliest narrative appearances, in which she is depicted as an individual, are in stories of the Ulster Cycle, where she has an ambiguous relationship with the hero Cú Chulainn. In Táin Bó Regamna (The Cattle Raid of Regamain), Cúchulainn encounters the Morrígan, but does not recognise her, as she drives a heifer from his territory. In response to this perceived challenge, and his ignorance of her role as a sovereignty figure, he insults her. But before he can attack her she becomes a black bird on a nearby branch.“
The shape-shifting of a dark goddess into a bird, like a crow or raven stirs my imagination, and I have perhaps projected some latent aspect of my own psyche into that black feathery form. I find myself marvelling at their personality (cheekiness) and intelligence whenever I have observed them. I believe they carry an ancient knowledge behind those glistening eyes.
I recently observed a Raven pick up a large walnut and take off flying. As it lifted off it quickly dipped its head down so as to transfer the walnut from it’s beak using it’s large taloned feet. Rather than risk dropping it’s treasure, it moved it mid-air to a safer place. Very smart!
Aside from carrying off food and treasure, Ravens and Crows are widely known as the messenger-birds found in many stories and legends (Odin’s Huginn and Muninn and the Raven in E.A. Poe’s poem by the same name). Which brings me to why I wrote this article in the first place. A wonderful Tarot has been created by MJ Cullinane that totally satisfies my love for these wonderful creatures. Each card is a work of art and an ode to to the character of the Crow. Aside from appreciation of the beautiful images of each card I have been impressed by my initial readings which have been, what I call, scary-accurate.
Below I’ve collected cards from various decks I own that have Crow/Raven images. Featured on the outside of the Crow Tarot (available at US Games) box is the High Priestess (Isn’t she lovely?):
Crow cards from my Tarot decks (Below: L to R) Ceccoli Tarot, Celtic Shaman Pack, Sacred Animals Tarot, Wild Unknow Tarot, Mary El Tarot, Mary El Tarot, StarMan Tarot, Wild Unknown
Wild Unknown Tarot, Shaman’s Oracle, Dreams of Gaia Tarot, Wild Unknown Tarot, Dark Angels Tarot, Dark Angels Tarot, ETA Tarot.