Crows are members of the family Corvidae, also known as the corvids. The corvids include many mostly black birds like crows, ravens, jackdaws, jays, magpies, rooks, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers, which are sometimes collectively known simply as crows.
Crows play a deep role in human mythology and have featured in folklore for thousands of years. As crows and ravens are similar and belong to the same genus Corvus, their role in symbolism overlaps considerably. Still, they’re not the same birds, and symbology does differ across the many types of corvids.
These birds are known for their remarkable intelligence and have been the focus of numerous studies into animal cognition. Studies reveal that crows are not just excellent at solving problems but are also capable of complex abstract thought, which adds to their intriguing status.
This is a guide to crow symbolism.
Different types of Crows (Corvids), symbolise many different things
In modern western culture, crows symbolize death, the afterlife, wisdom, intelligence, adaptability, prescience, fortune, destiny, transformation, and the future. Crow symbolism is both positive and negative, and they’re seen as both good and bad omens depending on where in the world you are.
But what’s remarkable is that crows (especially ravens) have rich symbological meaning in practically every culture and society worldwide, including Ancient Mesopotamian, Mesoamerican, Greek, Roman, Indian and South Asian, Norse, Pacific, Celtic, medieval European, Christian and modern Western cultures.
The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss posited that ravens gained mythical status as they mediate life and death by consuming the flesh of dead animals. These scavengers frequently appear next to death, which, combined with their intelligent behaviors, captures the human imagination.
Ravens have rich symbolic meanings across pretty much every culture around the world
Death is one of the most common denominators of crow symbolism. Crows, ravens, and many other corvids are scavengers and appear next to dead animals, hence why they’re often linked with death itself.
Serbian and other old European writings and poems frequently refer to the crow as a symbol of death. For example, in Swedish folklore, ravens are the ghosts of people murdered without a proper Christian burial, and, in old German storytelling, they’re seen as damned souls.
In Celtic folklore and mythology, ravens are associated with the goddess Morrigan, who is associated with death and war, and guard the natural environment. In Welsh mythology, ravens and crows are associated with the warrior god Brân the Blessed, which means "crow" or "raven."
In Central Asian folklore, e.g., Yakut mythology from Turkey, ravens are seen as evil spirits of death, war, and violence.
After battle, crows and other corvids arrive in their droves to feed upon the flesh of the dead. It’s often said that where death goes, crows follow.
A pair of Jackdaws perched on top of a gravestone
Ravens and crows are frequently associated with prescience, fortune telling, or the future. For example, the Norse God Odin sacrificed an eye for wisdom and instead relied on two ravens for sight, Huginn and Muninn, who flew across the world and delivered him information. Their names roughly translate as 'thought' and 'memory.'
They’re also associated with the Greek god Apollo, who sent a white raven as a messenger. Apollo sent the white raven with his lover Coronis to keep an eye on her. The raven watched Coronis fall in love with a man named Ischys, and when Apollo was informed, he cursed Coronis and scorched the white raven’s feathers, turning them black.
In native or indigenous American and Canadian mythology, e.g. the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw of British Columbia, ravens were used in divination rituals.
In the Bible, ravens are often associated as messengers. In the Old Testament, the crow is depicted as Noah’s helper. Book of Genesis 8:6-7 reads;
“After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.”
The Bible also refers to crows in resilience, strength, survival, and uncleanliness. Judaism refers to crows and ravens as both dark entities and unclean due to their proximity to death.
Common Raven in flight
Ravens and crows were frequently linked with intelligence long before we empirically proved how clever they are.
Our understanding of crow intelligence stretches back to Aesop, a slave, and storyteller who lived in ancient Greece around 620 and 564 BCE. Aesop’s short story “The Crow & the Pitcher” tells of a thirsty crow that dropped stones into a pitcher until the water level was raised high enough for it to drink. This is a pretty accurate portrayal of crow intelligence.
Ravens and crows are also connected to wisdom and intelligence in Native American and Indian folklore. For example, in Indian mythology, a crow called Kakabhusandi sits on the branches of a wish-fulfilling tree called Kalpataru, and another crow was blessed with foresight by Lord Rama.
Crows are also mentioned in Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism, where the Dharmapala (protector of the Dharma), called Mahakala, is represented by a crow in one of his earthly forms.
Hooded Crow looking for food in the fields during the spring
According to English legend, the English Kingdom will fall if the ravens of the Tower of London die or are removed. It’s said that there have been six ravens in the tower for several centuries.
Charles II allegedly ordered their removal following complaints from the Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. Someone informed Charles of the legend, and he decided against it and moved the Royal Observatory to Greenwich instead.
During WW2, the Tower’s ravens mostly died through shock, leaving a final mated pair called “Mabel” and “Grip.” Mabel then flew away, leaving Grip depressed, who then flew away himself, leaving no ravens remaining. It was reported in many newspapers that cited the legend.
The British Empire was dissolved and dismantled not long after, which many thought gave credence to the legend. In 1946, new ravens were installed and looked after by the Ravenmaster.
Close up of an American Crow foraging for food at low tide
In modern spiritualism, crows and ravens are seen to symbolize transformation, prescience, destiny, intelligence, fearlessness, mystery, flexibility, adaptability, and perspective. They also have some negative connotations, such as manipulation, deceit, bad luck, and mischief. As totem animals, crows and ravens evoke mystery, resilience, intelligence, and magic.
Noticing ravens and crows in your day-to-day life is said to evoke spiritual shifts, adaptation, and change. People say that noticing crows or ravens should prompt one to consider changing their life or taking new risks.
Crows are linked with death, so they’re often seen as a bad omen. For example, seeing a flock of crows near your house might signify inclement death or doom. However, the overriding sentiment behind crows in modern spiritualism is positive.
American Crow in flight
Black cats are sometimes viewed as an omen of bad luck or death. They’ve become associated with Halloween and witchcraft. Crows are viewed as magical and are also associated with death. To see two together is said to be magically compelling and may symbolize mortality, ancestry, and the future.
Crows and magpies are both corvids and are often seen together, as both are diurnal scavengers that share similar habitats.
Seeing these two birds together doesn’t have any particular symbolic meaning, but in Chinese culture, the crow symbolizes bad fortune and deceit. A common ancient Chinese proverb reads, “it is better to be an honest crow than a deceitful magpie.”
Magpies are seen as a good luck charm, so this proverb is suggesting that even despite that, it’s still better to be honest.
Jackdaw perched on a branch
Where crows are common, you might cross their path quite regularly. Spiritualists say that crow encounters indicate forthcoming change, and their presence gives you time to prepare for whatever lies ahead.
On the positive side, this change might be powerful, profound, and life-changing, moving you further toward your destiny. On the negative side, the change might be dark and undesirable, such as misfortune or death.
Some say that bird feathers are gifts from angels. A crow feather is sometimes said to represent dark magic, death, and the unknown.
Crows in dreams symbolize forthcoming change, adaptability, intelligence, wisdom, and acceptance. But they’re also said to represent the shadow self, e.g., one’s darker alter ego, embodying feelings of shame, guilt, or self-loathing.
Recognizing crows and ravens in one’s life is often said to evoke the need for changes that are both in and out of our control.
Close up of a Magpie perched on a branch
Crows, as spirit or totem animals, are advocates of change and transition. Their presence and knowledge of the future help us get in touch with our inner desires to help us fulfill our destiny.
If you relate to ravens or crows, this says that you’re an intelligent individual with excellent intuition. Spiritualists say crows and ravens encourage us to look ahead and be bold in change, to take risks and to go forth in life with honesty and resilience.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.