Crow: Legend and Lore

Crows have long been feared and maligned throughout history. A distant cousin of the raven, the crow is smaller, has a smaller beak, and a distinct “caw” call. Crows are often seen as a harbinger of death and doom. Many believe it is the reason a group of crows are called a, “murder.”

These birds are vastly intelligent as opposed to other birds. They’ve been known to peck out the eyes of lambs to get to the brain. Many scientists believe crows can remember different human faces and have the capacity to carry a grudge.

Scientists also say it’s common for these birds, like humans, to have regional dialects in their calls. The species has developed many mental abilities no other animals currently possess.

Some species have learned to use breadcrumbs as a way to catch fish. Many are actively gathering, hiding, and storing food in preparation for changing seasons. The New Caledonian Crow even crafts is own tools to use daily in its search for food.

They have found their way into a variety of mythologies that span the globe. In fiction, Charles Dickens described one as, “the sedate and clerical bird,” when he wrote The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Edgar Allan Poe’s most popular poem is titled, The Raven.

Beyond the label of being a carrier of death, they have many different purposes in the mythologies around the world.

  • In Irish mythology, crows are associated with Morrigan. She is the goddess of war and death. The Irish also have a saying, “You’ll follow crows for it.” This meant you’re going to miss something when it’s gone.
  • In Cornish folklore, crows are always associated with the supernatural world and should be greeted properly.
  • In Wales, it is bad luck if a single crow crosses your path, but two crows always reverse bad luck.
  • In Somerset, Western England, people carried onions to ward off bad luck from crows and magpies.
  • Norse mythology states that crows, or ravens, carry information from this world to Odin.
  • The Aborigines in Australia believe crows are tricksters.
  • In Greek mythology, the crow is seen as a troublemaker among the gods.
  • People who follow Hinduism often view crows as their ancestors.
  • The French once believed that evil priests were doomed to be crows while evil nuns were doomed to be magpies.

Our own folklore in America is likewise filled with theories and supposition regarding the crow. Here are some of our common legends:

  • Coming across a dead crow in your path (or road) is a sign of good luck.
  • In New England, two crows flying from a leftward direction is always an ominous sign of ill-luck.
  • In many places, crows in a churchyard are perceived as bad luck. If you see a crow fly over a house, death will soon visit it.

Whatever we believe about them, crows are a staple in the folklore and history of our communities, as well as the world.

 

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