Totems are a difficult concept to explain, but you need an understanding of what a totem is before you can understand what it means to follow Raven.
A totem is a spiritual creature, but it is not a god. You do not worship a totem, you follow it. A totem embodies a certain way of life - a representation of a set of ideals. The ideals are usually personified in the form of an animal, but can also be as abstract as the chinook wind, or grandfather thunder.
That is one of the most common phrases I've heard or read about totems. It reflects one of the basic principles of totems - You don't control them, and you can't explain them... but something deep inside you responds to the totem's call. When you follow the way of a totem, it just "feels right".
That isn't to say a totem's way is that of least resistance. Following a totem often puts certain demands or restrictions on you, and it isn't always easy. The Way of a totem is something you aspire to - rather like someone who aspires to live according to a code of honor.
The ideal which a totem calls you to pursue is reflected in the totem's nature. A hawk totem teaches watchfulness, patience, and alertness. A rat totem shows resourcefulness, ingenuity, and survival. Followers of Wolf learn honor, courage, and self-sufficency, as well as the importance of working within a pack. Rabbit shows its followers to listen to everything, watch carefully, and to never underestimate the little things. Raven... well, Raven teaches his children many things.
Raven is a very special totem. They're all special, of course, but Raven holds a unique place in many native myths. Raven is a creator - he is mankind's protector and sometimes saviour. He brought light and fire to the early people so they would not die. He gave them salmon so they wouldn't starve. In some stories, he even brough water to break a terrible drought. He is a cultural hero.
He is also a Trickster. Raven steals from man, and from other spirits. He plays jokes on us, and he laughs at mankind's expense. Sometimes his tricks go awry and he ends up the butt of his own joke, but even then, there is humor.
Raven is a juxtaposition of opposites: A provider and a thief. A hero and a fool. He brought light out of darkness, but he is himself cloaked in midnight black. He is a symbol of dark brooding sadness, and of death, yet he brings life, and unrivalled joy. He is credited with creating the earth and all its mysteries, but even the smallest secret attracts his attention. He is a silent spy, and an unstoppable chatterbox. He is many things.... And sometimes he is nothing.
That is Raven.
Raven's children must understand the value of humor. They need to see the joy which pervades all living things, and bring that joy to others. They also need to develop their sense of curiosity. So many fascinating things happen around us all the time - and raven's children want to know about all of them. They also want to bring things into the light. Some people might not want to see what Raven's brood expose to the bright light of day, though... since many people have secrets which they'd prefer to keep hidden. Those who follow Raven aren't always appreciated for what they do, but they still share a certain satisfaction at a job well done when they make someone stop and reevaluate themselves or the world around them.
Does Raven call to you? http://www.shades-of-night.com/corax/totem.html
Here's a bit more about the Tower of London for reference sake. It also includes the Raven lore.
Haunts of the Tower of London
Ghostly Sights and Legend Connected to London’s Historical Structure
May 1, 2007 Jill Stefko
Phantoms of humans and a spectral bear have been sighted by sentries guarding the Tower and others. Ravens of legend live at the Tower to keep England safe from disaster.
The building of the Tower began during the reign of William the Conqueror, 1066 to 1087. It was built to control and protect London and was erected within ancient Roman walls. In the 1200s, additions were built beyond the walls. The White or Great Tower is the only Norman building still standing.
In addition to the Tower being a fortress, it has been a palace, prison, execution chamber and home of the Royal Menagerie, Royal Mint, Royal Observatory and Public records. It has been an arsenal for armor and weapons and has been and still is where the crown jewels are kept safe.
Who and What are the Ghosts in the Tower of London?
* The first ghost seen in the Tower was Thomas a Becket in the thirteenth century. He was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral when he was the archbishop, but had been a constable of the Tower.
* King Henry VIII was responsible for having two of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, and the Countess of Salisbury and Lady Jane Grey beheaded. Their ghosts have been seen. Boleyn’s spectre is the one most often seen. The ghost of Henry VIII has been sighted floating by a sentry.
* Sir Walter Raleigh who was executed by the orders of King James I has been spotted as have the Lord of Northumberland and his brother.
* The ghosts of King Edward V and brother, Prince Richard who were children when their uncle had them murdered them so he could take the throne as King Richard III, haunt the tower.
* When E. L. Smith was a Keeper of the Crown Jewels, he wrote an account of a weird thing he and his wife saw in the Martin Tower. It was a cylinder that resembled a glass tube filled with white and blue fluid moving about in the room.
* A few days after this incident, it was said a sentry died of fear after seeing a ghost bear in the room where the crown jewels were kept. Others have reported sighting the bear. How does anyone know the sentry saw a bear? Did he tell people before he died?
The accounts of ghostly sightings are numerous. Something is happening in the Tower of London by many accounts. Paranormal phenomena or figments of imaginations?
Tower of London's Legend of the Ravens
Ravens live in the Tower and roam on the grounds. Their legend began during the reign of Charles II in the seventeenth century. One version states that when there are no more ravens in the Tower the White Tower and England will both be destroyed. It has also been said that if anyone harms a raven, she or he will be subject to bad fortune and, possibly death. In some cultures, these birds are death omens as they were for one European royal family.
Hardey and the Raven Master, Derrick Coyle at the Tower of London
Something to share with you all. As you will see though they are all part of the same family: Corvus. Also you might want to chew on this: In mythology Crow was born from a falling star that landed in a volcano, Raven was here when the world was created. Both fly in from the west bearing death however Crow heralds war, where as Raven does not.
The difference between a Rook a Crow and a Raven?
They are different species. See for yourself.
Rook, Corvus frugilegus http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/co…
Carrion crow, Corvus corone http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/co…
Common raven, Corvus corax http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/co…http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/co…
Raven in Mythology
Originally published as "Murders and Unkindnesses" in the Samhain edition of "White Dragon", 1998.
© Samantha Fleming, 1998. Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.
For centuries the corvids, ravens and crows in particular (corvus corax is the Latin name for the common raven and corvus corone for the carrion and hooded crows), have had a special place in the mythology of various cultures. In modern times this fascination has barely diminished. From Edgar Allen Poe's literary classic to the film of James O'Barr's cult graphic novel "The Crow", these birds still exert a powerful hold over the psyche of a significant fraction of the population. The Goths who paint their faces with white make-up and the weekend warriors who expect Raven to take them to the Otherworld to meet the dead do not see the same animal as the farmers who set up decoys in order to shoot large numbers of them every year in late spring. This is, however, typical of a creature that presents a paradox wherever one looks.
Corvids are sociable birds. They tend to form social groups, and this can be seen particularly in the case of rooks, which stay in their flocks all year round. Ravens, the largest of the family, reaching as much as 3 feet from beak to tail, form groups as juveniles, pairing off into lifelong monogamous and extremely territorial relationships at around the age of three. The courtship can involve such fun and games as synchronised snow sliding, and, of course, the synchronised flight test. The corvids can be found all over the world, and are the largest of the passeriformae, or songbirds. The common raven is widely distributed throughout the Northern hemisphere, and the adaptability and intelligence of this family have made it extremely successful.
As far as the mythology goes, the first confusion arises over the distinction between Crow and Raven, at least on the European side of the Atlantic. The two appear, in many instances, to be interchangeable, and the appearance of one or the other in a story depends as much on which author is transcribing it as it does on story itself. Whereas John Matthews 1 gives Bran the raven almost exclusively, Miranda Jane Green 2 ascribes to the God's companion animal either the crow or the raven, much as both authors do for the Morrigan. The confusion on the American side of the Atlantic is not so profound. There is a distinct geographical trend in the likelihood of Raven appearing in a story, and so we will start our examination there.
Whereas ravens appear almost exclusively as signatory animals for deities in Europe, in the shamanic cultures of aboriginal North American tribes Raven appears as deity himself. From a dichotomy of cultures, we reach a dichotomy of characterisation, for Raven in America, particularly the Northwest coast region, is both demiurge and trickster, both hero and villain, and often at one and the same time. Raven appears as simple Raven, as Dotson' Sa (Great Raven), as Nankilstlas (He Whose Voice Must Be Obeyed) and also, in a Tlingit creation myth, as Nascakiyetl (Raven-at-the-Head-of-Nass, the Nass being a river). In nearly every single creation myth of the region I have encountered, Raven, in one of his guises, is either the actual creator of the world, or has a great part to play in it. In many, such as the Tlingit myth just mentioned, Raven appears in more than one of his guises - in this case both as Nascakiyetl, and as Yetl, the Raven. This is possible because of the personification of the animal characters in the culture. Animals can take on human form without a second thought (although Raven is the greatest shapeshifter of them all, being able to change into anyone and anything to get what he wants), and can also lead human style lives. Orca, for instance, is the Chief of his own underwater city, and the drowned go to live there with the killer whales, according to the Haida people.
Raven's character is very similar to that of Coyote - indeed, the two appear in stories carrying out very similar roles, the former in the North, the latter in the South. Both Coyote and Raven are driven by greed: Raven's for food, Coyote's for more carnal pleasures. A Tlingit storyteller says that "Raven never got full because he had eaten the black spots off his own toes. He learned about this after having inquired everywhere for some way of bringing such a state about. Then he wandered through all the world in search of things to eat." 3 The journeys of Raven form the basis of most of the myths in the region, and he travels around meeting animals of all descriptions and usually succeeds in contests of wit with them, either destroying and eating them or driving them off and securing their food. The Haida people make a distinction between the first part of the Raven cycle, in which he is truly creative, and the latter part, which consists of stories of his more risible behaviour. Young men are not allowed to laugh during the early part of the cycle, which is referred to as "The Old Man Stories". The Old Man Stories take in the creation of the world, sometimes a complex tale such as in the Tlingit and Tsmishian versions, sometimes a simple one, as in the Haida: "Not long ago no land was to be seen. Then there was a little thing on the ocean. This was all open sea. And Raven sat upon this. He said, 'Become dust.' And it became Earth." They also cover one of the most widely known Raven stories, how he stole the Sun, the Stars and the Moon, and also fire (reflecting on the corvine fascination for shiny objects), and the almost universal flood tale, which brought about the end of the Age of Animal Beings and brings about the Age of Men, for which Raven is invariably responsible.
In this guise, as Great Raven, Dotson' Sa, or Nankilstlas, the irrepressible greed is there, the sarcastic and laconic nature, the almost audible heavy sigh that starts off every conversation (see, for instance, Raven's first words in the story of the whale transcribed by Joseph Campbell 4 ), yet he is a character to be admired and respected, to whom homage is deserving. Although there is no evidence that Raven was ever worshipped, as such, it is said by some that the Northwest peoples did used to leave food out on the beaches for ravens. In this form he is capable of inspiring awe and terror, although always there is that twinkle in the eye and the knowledge that it can be only moments before he says something that will inspire laughter, albeit often irritated laughter as he hits the nail of truth well and truly, and sometimes uncomfortably, on the head. His creative nature usually shows itself through circumstance rather than intent, through the desire to satisfy his own needs, rather than any altruistic principles, but he seems genuinely fond of human beings, as related in "Raven finds the First Men" 5 , amongst others. He is the great shapeshifter, creative magick personified.
In his later, perhaps younger guise, Raven, or Yetl/Yelth, is often the butt of his own jokes; these are the stories in which Raven is often undertaking a position taken by Coyote in the desert and plains regions of the South. In this guise, Raven is at his most devious and tricky, is also cruel, with little thought for anyone or anything other than his own stomach. He will go to great efforts to satisfy his appetite, from tricking his cousin Crow out of his entire Winter's food supply, to tricking Deer into leaping onto some rocks so that he may be devoured, and even tricking an entire tribe into being killed by an avalanche so that he might eat their eyes 6 . He is the Raven at whom the young Haida men are allowed to laugh, but is also the Raven of whom to be most wary. He can be much crueller than his demiurge culture hero self. This Raven will have you in fits of laughter while he distracts you from the fact he is tricking you into doing something for him you may not actually want to do, and which may cost you dearly. This Raven is also a great shapeshifter, and uses his ability to aid him in deceiving others to do as he wishes.
Some of the stories do have Crow as the main character, and the main difference appears to be that Crow stories concern the themes of justice rather than greed, even if justice is not always seen to be done, as in the story of Raven and Crow's Potlatch, mentioned above.
The only time at which Raven's position in the Northwest coast culture bears any similarity to that in European culture is in his guise as one of the servants of the medicine lodge tutelary Baxbakualanuchsiwae, the Kwakiutl Cannibal Spirit, whose initiates practise ritual anthropophagy 7 . This is a comparatively recent trend in the culture, and is not widely mentioned.
By comparison, the ravens of European mythology are invariably messengers, or an alternate shape for various deities and spirits, the most widely known being Bran and the Morrigan, and of course Odin.
We are once again confronted by a dichotomy of character when we look at ravens and crows in European culture. Turning first to Odin's ravens. Huginn and Muninn, we see at once a split between active and passive roles. Huginn is Thought, and Muninn is Memory, and Odin sends these two birds off around the world at daybreak, to bring him the daily news. In Grimnismal, Odin says: "For Huginn I fear lest he return not home, but I am more anxious for Muninn". This suggests that Odin valued memory more than thought, the passive act rather than the active, but that is an altogether more complex discussion. Interestingly, Odin's wolves were Geri (no Spice Girl this, however) and Freki, whose names meant 'The Ravener' and 'The Glutton' respectively. Both of these terms are extremely applicable to ravens - ravener derives from raven - and echo the character of Raven in the tales of the Northwest Coast we have already considered. Wolves and ravens have an old and close relationship in the wild. In countries where both animals live together, a great deal of a raven's food comes from scavenging carcasses left by wolves, particularly in winter. Both animals would have been a common sight on the battlefield, scavenging on the bodies of the slain. Corvids were also connected with the Valkyries, as in "choughs of the Valkyries" 8 . Whether chough means chough (Latin name pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), in this case, or is an artistic rendering of raven, it is difficult to say. Valkyries may have been reflections of the "shield-maids" or skjald-meyer of the Huns, and it is worth pointing out that some sources state that the Irish battle Goddesses were not represented by ravens, but by the crow 9 , particularly the hooded crow, or "scald-crow" 10 .
Many of the Celtic goddesses are linked with the raven or crow. In this mythology the goddesses are the aggressive deities, those associated with war and death. Badb, Macha and Nemain are all associated with crows and/or ravens, as is Nantosuelta, a Gaulish water and healing goddess. The wife of the Fomorian sea-god, Tethra, was said to be a crow goddess who also hovered above battlefields, and Scottish myth has the Cailleach Bheure, who often appeared in crow form 11 . The association of the birds with death and war is an obvious reflection of its tendency to eat carrion, plenty of which is to be found in the aftermath of battle. This tendency led, eventually, to the persecution of the raven, as a harbinger of doom and destruction, and also to the common notion in modern European culture that the main attribute of Crow and Raven is their connection with the Otherworld. Upon Cuchulainn's death, the Morrigan perched on his shoulder in the form of a raven
The other main characteristic of Raven in Irish and Welsh myth is that of prophesy. The Morrigan was prone to prophesising, predicting the outcome of battle. King Cormac also came across the Badb as an old woman dressed in red garments (always a bad sign) who explained that she was washing the armour of a doomed king. Raven also acts as a messenger for the Irish/Welsh gods. Bran the Blessed (Bendigeidfran) is perhaps the best known of the Celtic gods associated with the raven, not least because of his association with the Tower of London, where ravens are still kept, wings clipped, in order to assure the safety of the realm. Bran's head, which he ordered to be cut off after being mortally wounded in the foot, is said to be buried i n the White Tower.
In "The Hawk of Achill" Cuchulainn's father, Lugh, is spoken of in association with ravens and crows. Ravens warned Lugh of the Formorians' approach. Ravens tended Cuchulainn when he was very ill, which is about the only time Cuchulainn appears to have had anything approaching a good relationship with the birds, save for when he was announced by two Druidic ravens on his entrance to Elysium 12 . He was responsible for killing a flock of magical sea ravens, which were large and able to swim in the sea (it is possible, from the description, that the birds were, in fact, cormorants, and not ravens at all. Cormorants also have a certain mythology associated with them). Also associated with ravens is the son of Cerridwen, Afagddu, who was also known as Morvran, or Sea Raven. Cerridwen 's intent had been to bestow the gift of Inspiration upon him.
A rather bizarre association is that of ravens and chess. In the Welsh "The Dream of Rhonabwy", Owain ap Urien and Arthur were playing a game which is thought to have been a chess equivalent. Three hundred ravens are mentioned in this tale as belonging to Owain, a gift from Cenferchyn. Arthur's men attacked the ravens during play, and eventually Owain told them to retaliate, upon which they attacked Arthur's men unmercifully. One of the pieces in chess is, of course, the rook, another member of the crow family (corvus frugilegus).
In Cervantes' "Don Quixote", the hero says that Arthur was not killed at all, but was turned into a raven. Arthur is also sometimes associated with the cult of Mithras, which was popular with the Roman legions. The cult organisation was based upon seven ranks that a worshipper could pass through, and the first of these was Raven. The raven, reprising his most common role in terms of masculine European mythology, was Ahura-Mazda's messenger and represented Mercury. Initiates are shown on frescoes and mosaics as holding a cup and the caduceus 13 . Also along these lines, Lugus was a Gaulish god of intelligence, and a mighty warrior. A relief from Senlis shows Lugus with ravens and geese, and the ravens appear to be speaking to him. Both Lugus and Odin are also linked with the Roman Mercury, bringing us to the connection between ravens and the art of the healer.
In nearly all cultures, the raven or crow was originally white. In one of the Greek tales, Coronis, the daughter of Phlegyes was pregnant by Apollo. Apollo left a white crow (or raven) to watch over her, but, just before the birth, Coronis married Ischys. The crow informed Apollo of this, and Apollo was not impressed. He killed Coronis and Ischys, and turned the crow black for being the bearer of bad news. Luckily, Apollo retrieved the unborn child at the funeral, for the child became Aesclepius, the father of medicine.
It is worth mentioning in passing Raven and Crow's appearances in other cultures, if only briefly.
Dwarves that live on the slopes of Kilimanjaro 13 are supposed to lay out bits of meat in banana-groves when sacrificing to their ancestors, and these bits of meat roll down the slopes and turn into white-necked ravens. In Japanese mythology, the Karasu tengu, or minor tengu, is a supernatural being with the head and wings of a black crow. They serve Daitengu, which are fallen yamabuse (monks), tall men with big noses and red faces who can create tornadoes using fans of bird feathers they carry in their sandals. Raven appears as one of the forms of the god Ninsubur in Semitic tales, and the raven, crow and rook all appear in the flood tale of Siberian myth, not one of them returning to the ark, as they were far too busy eating carcasses of drowned animals. For this they were cursed, as the dove was blessed for bringing back a twig, although it seems obvious that there had to be land somewhere if there were carcasses lying around. The Russian Lapps tell tales of the Seide, which are invisible spirits that have the power, like the dead, of appearing in the form of birds. They relate how a Seide often flew up out of a chasm in the mountains in the shape of a raven 14 .
It seems obvious, taking all these things into consideration, that the reputation of crow and raven for being dark messengers of doom, and concerned solely with death and destruction and the more black side of nature is ill-deserved. They do serve as couriers, it is true - an old Scots metaphor for death is talk of someone as having gone "awa' up the Crow Road" - but Raven has his wily beak into nearly everything, from the birth of medicine to the game of chess. The only thing you can be sure of with this character is that he is to be found at the extremities. In Haida mythology, it is even one of Raven's guises who determines the length of life of a new-born child. The constancy of Raven is his quest to fulfil an appetite - whether this be food, news, the sight of the slain on the battlefield, spirits of the dead for the Underworld, healing or prophecies of the future. The appetite is sometimes Raven's, sometimes that of the deity he signifies, but the appetite is always there. He is a creature of need, of want, of greed and gluttony, and can also demonstrate a possessive and jealous nature, but from that need and want, from the satisfaction of that appetite, great acts of creativity arise. Those acts of creativity, his greatest acts of magic, are not usually under his control, are not generally by his design, but arise through his attempts to satisfy the hunger he has. The animal seeking to sate his hunger on the dead, linking him with the Otherworld, is one and the same as that which tries to fill his belly with the farmer's crops, linking him with the 12-bore shotgun.
Raven can do almost anything, and will, but only if he gains by it. His smaller cousin, Crow, is a much more merciful and fair character. His concern is with justice, albeit oft times extreme justice, and he tempers Raven's greed in the European myths. Raven, in particular, is a creature of paradox, and to take him at face value is to ignore his devious nature.
One last point. The collective nouns for crows and ravens are murder and unkindness respectively. You have been warned.
1. (e.g.) John Matthews (1991): "The Celtic Shaman". Element Books, Earth Quest Series.
2. Miranda Jane Green (1993): "Celtic Myths". British Museum Press
3. Hartley Burr Alexander (1930): Mythology of All Races ,Vol X , North American, p258. Cooper Square Publishers, New York
4. Joseph Campbell (1968): "The Hero With a Thousand Faces". Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XVII
5. As transcribed by Eldrbarry at http://www.seanet.com/~eldrbarry/rabb/rvn/
See also John E.Smelcer's "The Raven and the Totem", Anchorage, Alaska: A Salmon Run Book (1992)
7. Hartley Burr Alexander (1916): Mythology of All Races ,Vol X , North American, p248. Cooper Square Publishers, New York
8. John Arnott MacCulloch (1911): "The Religion of the Ancient Celts", Edinburgh
9. Miriam Robbins Dexter (1990): "Whence the Goddess - A Source Book". Pergamon Press, Athene Series
10. John Arnott MacCulloch (1930): Mythology of All Races, Vol II, Eddic, Cooper Square Publishers, New York
11. Marion Davies (1998): "Sacred Celtic Animals", Capall Bann
12. John Arnott MacCulloch (1930): Mythology of All Races, Vol III, Celtic, Cooper Square Publishers, New York
13. Alice Werner (1930): Mythology of All Races, Vol VII, African, Cooper Square Publishers, New York
14. Uno Holmberg (1930): Mythology of All Races, Vol IV, Finno-Ugric, Cooper Square Publishers, New York
Ritual of the Raven
Just wanted to quickly interject that I do not condone the killing of Ravens. I posted this as a historical piece and if anyone is interested in preforming it is my recommendation that you sew a symbolic cloth Raven for these purposes. Thank you - Slaying Crow
Invocation of Raven by Susa Morgan Black
They slept until the black raven,
the blithe hearted
proclaimed the joy of heaven
Odin had two ravens - Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) who flew about the world, delivering messages, gathering knowledge and reporting back to him. One of Odin's many titles is Hrafna-Gud, the God of the Ravens. Odin's daughters, the warlike Valkyres, were sometimes said to take the shape of ravens.
"To have a raven's knowledge" is an Irish proverb meaning to have a seer's supernatural powers. Raven is considered one of the oldest and wisest of animals.
Both Celtic and Druid Slànaighear (Healer) and Native American shamans use Raven's spirit for healing, especially long distance healing. When doing a healing circle for an absent friend, the energy can be sent in the form of a raven.
If you are working directly with someone who is ill, you can use raven feathers to stroke their body, collecting and drawing out the negative energy, to be shaken out and cleansed later. Raven is powerful medicine.
Onyx, Jet, Aqua Aurora, Hematite, Ruby, Garnet
At Oxford University in England, ornithologists conducted an unusual experiment with two New Caledonian Crows named Betty and Abel, reported in the August 9, 2002 issue of the journal Science. They placed a tiny bucket of meat inside a pipe, and left two pieces of wire in their cage, one hooked and one straight, to see if the birds would choose the hooked wire to retrieve the bucket of meat, proving that birds were "tool users" on a par with higher levels of animal intelligence.
"We were delighted and extremely surprised" reported Alex Kacelnik, one of the bird experts studying the crows, when Abel stole the hooked wire from Betty, and rather than giving up, Betty "modified" the straight wire into a hooked wire, and was thus able to hook the bucket, pull it up, and retrieve her snack. This elevates ravens from "tool users" to "tool makers", which places them on a par with primates.
According to neurologist Stanley Cobb, birds do not have a complex cerebral cortex, such as mammals do, but rather, they have developed their hyperstraiatum, a part of their forebrain, that can carry out complex functions. Corvids, especially Ravens, Crows, and Magpies, have the largest brain size (i.e. the largest number of brain cells) among birds, including the largest hyperstriatum.