While many modern depictions of ravens focus on its more negative qualities, such as an association with death and illness, the raven is also known its wisdom and knowledge. The negative perception of the raven is very likely due to medieval conceptions of ravens appearing in battles and the perceived omens that arose from their presence amongst fallen soldiers. However, the raven also has many positive connotations in cultures all over the world, such as intelligence and wisdom. As a result, legends of ravens can be somewhat ambivalent, alternating between death and darkness and ancient wisdom. Here are some of the common meanings of a raven in mythology, folklore, and dreams.
The basic symbolic meaning of the raven can be fairly complex. Owing to a conflicted mythological history, ravens can be seen as embodying both the best and the worst life has to offer.
They are known as harbingers of death, destruction, and sickness, while also being bearers of truth and wisdom. As said earlier, the raven is a carrion feeder, meaning that they often feed off of dead carcasses, like vultures. In medieval times, after a battle, when many soldiers have fallen, or after something like a plague, ravens were commonly seen flocking around the dead to feed. It was through this way that they became omens of death.
Ravens however have also been widely known for their intelligence, and some can even be trained with the power of speech (immediately understandable to anyone who has heard the loud and proud vocalizations of a raven). They have the reputation for being one of the most intelligent birds in nature.
Many cultures have used ravens as messengers and oracles that can see into the future. They also have been seen as messengers of their divine knowledge - bridging the gap between our world and the spiritual world.
Ravens therefore have something of a paradoxical and dichotomous nature in virtually every culture they appear in. This gives them an almost transcendent and mystical quality that can be hard to ignore for those who encounter them as symbols, emblems, or metaphors.
Ravens have several key qualities that make them a highly distinctive and fascinating animal symbol in our dreams. As messengers from the gods, they often can serve as guides in your dreams, especially to the parts of your unconscious that are considered dark and unknown, and perhaps even repressed and hidden. Seeing a raven in your dream may represent going through a sacred journey that leads you closer to yourself. You may be going through some transition or a period of discovery.
Cultural interpretations of the raven can vary significantly while also having an underlying consistency.
Norse mythology portrayed ravens as comforters and messengers on the battlefield who conveyed kind words and sympathy to the wounded and dying warriors. They were also associated with the god Odin, often depicted with two ravens on his shoulders, who were named Huginn and Muninn (thought and memory), who were his eyes and ears.
In Greek tales, the ravens were once white but were rendered black by Apollo as punishment for their inability to keep secrets for the gods.
The Bible tells a story of Noah sending a raven to scout out the flood. When the raven failed to return, the Old Testament tells of God punishing the raven by turning its feathers black. This could be one of the strongest reasons for negative portrayals of ravens in western culture.
Native American conceptions of ravens tended to be far more and even overwhelmingly positive. In native folklore, ravens have been seen as bringers of light and the conquerors of destructive forces of nature. Some native american tribes have even said that ravens brought the light to the sun and thus are responsible for the pleasures of daylight.
Famed psychologist Carl Jung told of ravens as symbols of the dark, shadowy side of consciousness. They are the representative of the part of our mind that we can not directly see or experience and that must be communicated in the form of dreams and fantasies.