Ravens are mystical creatures which play a pivotal role in the second book (not yet published) of the Urweltchronicles book series. The Lioness and the Faery Enchantment introduces you to Corvidia, the Royal Faery Seer’s raven. Corvidia assists Phineas Treadworthy in divining the future of the Faery Realm of Urwelt. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about ravens and placing one as a character in the center of the action in my second book.
Called the black-winged messengers of gods, ravens have been venerated by many civilizations and myths, from Native American to Egyptian, as well as, the Celtic lands of England and Wales where they figure prominently in the Arthurian legends. Ravens are not only one of the most intelligent creatures on earth but have many similarities in social structure with humankind. Due to their high emotional intelligence, they have come to symbolize a depth and intensity of feeling, especially around death. They mate for life and ritually mourn the loss of one another. They would rather die alone that mate again.
They live in close family groups and can be jealous and aggressive when protecting their own. In short order, they can pick the latch of their cages and often play hide and seek with bright shiny objects. They are able to interact with humans in a give and take manner and attach themselves to one person, so if you have an opportunity care for a raven, it is a lifelong commitment. As a result, ravens are highly conscious and thus capable of individual decisions requiring respect for themselves and their actions. In a nutshell, they are highly evolved beings ensouled in black plumage cloaks.
The Raven in Celtic Lore
The Celtic people have long attributed mystical qualities to domestic and wild animals alike. The Raven is no exception. Ravens brought good fortune while others served as supernatural agents of tests posed by god and goddesses and the faery people of the Otherworld. Due to its dark black color and carrion habits, ravens were often linked with mystical shapeshifting and death, especially death on the battlefield where they behaved as scavengers after a bloody fray.
Celtic goddesses are often associated with sexual potency and the Land but also war and death representing the darker side of the mother goddess. Morrigan decided the fate of warriors on the battlefield decreeing who would die in battle. She was said to metamorphose into a raven to hover over the battlefield as a harbinger of death. The raven was emblematic of Morgan in King Arthur’s legends and served as her totemic beast and was also a frequent symbol of “Dark Women of Knowledge” or otherworldly priestesses.
Celtic legendary seers used observations from nature to divine the future and the affairs of humankind. Augury by means of birdsong or flight patterns figured largely in Celtic divination., especially among the Druids of Celtic lore. The croaking sounds of ravens were another means by which divination was accomplished. Different kinds of croaks (from bacach, bacach or gradh, gradh to grob, grob) meant various types of visitors would be coming. The croaking of ravens was also viewed as a bad omen of things to come.
The world of Faery, called the Green World or Otherworld, is inhabited by birds and animals which are part of the human world as well. Therefore, they often perform the function of linking the two worlds. A raven is one such creature that indicates an opening between the two worlds. Those who are aware of that connection will know that the veil is about to be lifted to allow the seeker to pass into the Otherworld.
Bran the Blessed, a giant of superhuman strength figures in the second branch of the Mabinogion, the earliest prose literature of Celtic legends and mythology of Wales complied from earlier oral traditions. Bran, meaning “raven” in Welsh, was beheaded and possibly buried under the Tower of London where it acts as a protective symbol of Britain. This legend serves as the root of the tradition in Great Britain that for as long as the ravens are kept in the Tower, the kingdom will be safe.
Ravens figure prominently in the story of The Dream of Rhonabuwy, one of the last links to the Celtic bardic tradition, while anticipating the Arthurian romance legends to come. Arthur is portrayed as preparing for the battle with the Anglo-Saxons with much infighting among the Celts beforehand. Amidst this infighting, Arthur and Owein played a board game similar to chess. While Owein’s army, consisting of three hundred ravens, grew restless, Arthur and Owein played on. Arthur’s men were soon harassed by ravens, who then began to massacre the birds. Owein gave permission to counterattack and so many men were killed by the ravens that Arthur would have been hard pressed to defend his land. Owein finally relented when Arthur insisted he call off his birds. Cornish folklore also speaks of Arthur becoming a raven upon death, perhaps to watch over the ghosts of warrior knights slain on his battlefields.