Crow Symbolism and Meaning

Cultures around the world have regarded crows as spirit animals associated with magic and mysteries. Crows inspire insights to support intentions. Crows are also a sign of luck, both good and bad.

Crows are also a symbol of trickery. They warn to be aware of deceiving appearances.

When you choose the crow as a totem animal, or it chooses you, it supports you in developing awareness of people and powers beyond yourself.

It gives you tools for personal transformation and a connection with the serendipities of life.

Crows as Symbols

Mystics and spiritualists around the world interpret crows as symbols with both positive and negative meanings. The most common meanings attributed to crows include:

  • Adaptability, flexibility.
  • Destiny and personal transformation, alchemy.
  • Fearlessness, audacity.
  • Intelligence.
  • Metacognition, a higher perspective.
  • Mystery of creation.
  • Destiny, personal transformation.
  • Tricks, manipulation, and mischief.

As a bad omen, crows are associated with death and black magic. Some cultures regarded crows as bringing prophetic insight and an understanding of the process of creation.

The mystical attributes of crows reflect their unusual intelligence

In 2002, a group of ornithologists at Oxford University watched in amazement as a crow they had named Betty grasped a piece of a straight wire with her beak.

Betty then bent the wire around a nearby object to make a hook. Hook in beak, she then used the wire to bring her lunch of pig’s heart into her cage.

At first, the scientists thought that Betty must have been the Albert Einstein of crows. Later, birdwatchers observed dozens of instances of crows making hooks out of twigs.

Crows don’t have what would usually be described as bird brains. Scientists agree that crows have some kind of intelligence on the same level as primates, such as monkeys, gorillas, orangutans, and people.

A crow’s brain is much smaller than a human brain. Crows don’t have a neocortex, the “thinking” part of a human brain.

Nonetheless, crows have many of the same abilities to solve problems and to develop new patterns of behavior that are found in the most intelligent animals.

They quickly learn to identify things (and people) who have threatened them in the past, and they can communicate their discoveries with other crows.

Humans communicate in a language of words. Crows communicate in the language of gestures.

And there has even been a New Caledonian crow named 007, who assembled a simple jigsaw puzzle.

Some other amazing facts about crows include:

  • Crows have the highest brain-to-body ratio of all birds. (Bluejays, jackdaws, magpies, rooks, and ravens are close behind.)
  • Most crows mate for life. Both parents share duties in raising their young.
  • Crows are unusually long-lived birds, sometimes reaching the age of 30 in the wild. A crow in captivity lived to be 59.

On some level, people have recognized the intelligence of crows for thousands of years.

The mindset of other times and other cultures just recorded their observations in mythical terminology.

How our ancestors might have recognized a “message” from crows

Ancient peoples didn’t put crows in cages to see if they could make hooks or give them jigsaw puzzles to solve. They related to crows in an entirely different manner.

A shamanic encounter with a crow might have gone something like this:

You are out walking through nature on your daily route to find berries, edible herbs, edible insects, and maybe catch a few fish. You see a crow overhead. It seems to be following you.

As you walk along, you hear the caws of many crows. You begin to wonder if Nature or the Great Spirit or some other mystical force is sending you a message.

You ask yourself:

  • How many crows seem to be following me? Let’s suppose there are three crows. Three is the number of creativity and new birth.
  • What is the message of the colors of this animal? Crows are black. Black can be a message of birth, protection, or miraculous results. It can also be a sign of secrets or sacrifice. Since there are three crows following you, you interpret their message as there is to be a birth in your family.
  • From what direction did the crows fly to meet you? If they came from the west, from the direction of the setting sun, they were bringing good news. Being greeted by three crows flying from the west is a sign of a fortunate birth.
  • Did the crows fly to your right or to your left? If the crows came in to you left, the baby will be a boy. If they flew in to your right, the baby will be a girl.
  • When the crows passed to you, did they fly on without stopping or did you hear the sounds of a fight? If the crows passed you peacefully, the baby will lead a peaceful life. If the crows encountered a predator, then the baby will live to see war.

Preliterate peoples often had an in-depth understanding of how to read the signs of nature by the appearance of animals.

They didn’t just pay attention to the kind of animal they encountered. They would consider the number of animals they met. They would consider subtle differences in coloration.

They would weigh the significance of direction and whether the movement of the animals was interrupted.

You might argue that if primitive people just had TV and the Internet, they wouldn’t have created an understanding of totems to keep themselves amused.

But both ancient and modern people attach significance to the appearance of animals such as the crow.

Pre-modern people sometimes did, like modern people, interpret the appearance of crows as a sign of bad luck.

But they had a rich understanding of symbols in nature that could provide many possible interpretations of that bad luck.

They believed they were tapping into the potent intelligence of crows to create a useful understanding of their world. A portent of bad luck always came with suggestions about how to change it.

Crows in Native American symbolism

Native Americans took a view of crows differently from the rest of the world.

While most cultures associated crows primarily with bad luck, Native American tribes associated them with good luck.

The Absaroka (pronounced ab-SOR-ka) people even called themselves “children of the large-beaked bird,” which French explorers interpreted as “Crow.” The Crow tribe continues today in Montana.

Native American and First Peoples folklore focused on the intelligence of crows. They developed a system of consulting crows for wisdom in times of need. Entire tribes organized to become parts of a “crow clan,” including the Hopi, the Chippewa, the Pueblo people of Colorado and New Mexico, the Tlingit tribe, the Menominee tribe, and the Caddo people.

Native Americans were not put off by the fact that crows eat the remains of dead animals left by other predators. Bald eagles and bears show the same behavior. Native American and First Peoples tribes understood that consuming carrion was part of the circle of life.

Not all Native American stories refer to the bird we identify as the row. Some stories seem to refer to a kind of cross between a crow and a related species, the raven. But the two birds share similar intelligence and play similar roles in the wild.

Crows in Celtic symbolism

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Celtic peoples also had a take on crows that differed from most other cultures. Celtic legends also ignore the darker symbolism surrounding crows. In Celtic stories, crows symbolize prophetic knowledge, individualism, and a disregard for what other people think. Crows embody a combination of skill and ability.

Celtic stories also described crows as a clairvoyant. Celtic storytellers would say that crows carried stories between their wings.

Pre-Christian Celts honored crows with a connection to the deity of the sun and creation, named Lugus. This is another refutation of the connection of crows and darkness. The connection between crows and Lugus was so significant to the Druids that killing a crow was a high crime.

It was in Irish storytelling, however, that the mythology of the crow was especially well-developed.

The Legend of the Morrigan

Irish mythology saw the crow as a manifestation of the Morrigan (in Irish, Moroghan), the phantom or the Great Queen. Morrigan was a goddess of strife, warfare, and sovereignty, who spoke of battlefields as her gardens.

Morrigan was also known as Macha, Nemain, Anann, Fea, and Badbh, meaning crow.

In legend, she would fly over a battlefield to encourage her soldiers and to bring fear to the enemy. Since the number three was sacred to the Irish people, she was also depicted as three sisters, or as one goddess in three aspects, maiden, mother, and crone.

Irish also has Macha as the wife of Nuada, the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Celtic deities. Macha was also the mother of Nuada’s four sons.

Macha fought beside Nuada at the Battles of Moytura while Morrigan flew overhead in the form of a crow. Morrigan cast spells that brought down a rain of fire and blood and then a poisonous fog on the enemies of Nuada.

Morrigan, of course, could easily have been understood as existing as a warrior queen and a crow at the same time.

Morrigan is also mentioned in the ancient Irish Tain Bó CuailngeQueen Medbh’s famous Cattle Raid of Cooley, In which Morrigan shapeshifts into an eel, a wolf, and a cow, as well as her more usual crow.

Morrigan was also credited as a prophetess, a seer of the future.

This queen of crows was very busy in Irish mythology.

Crows in Dream interpretation

In the modern world, we don’t incorporate ancient mythologies into our daily living. We aren’t close enough to nature to read portents in the birds of the sky. But we still have dreams.

What does seeing a crow in your dream mean?

The most common interpretation of seeing a crow in a dream is as a bad omen. Crows in your dreams are supposed to be a message of impending grief or regret. But another interpretation of seeing a crow in your dream is a sign of intuition of wisdom.

If the image of a bird truly is a message from your subconscious, in our culture that message is most commonly traffic between the living and the dead.

Death is the ultimate transformation of the current life. A “little death” may simply mean leaving some current aspects of your life behind.

What the crow is doing when you dream about it may also be a message from your subconscious.

A crow in flight may be a message that there are hidden, emotional concerns demanding conscious attention. A crow in the middle of a feast may be a prediction of wealth.

Crows in your dreams or in your waking 3D life may be a warning of duplicitous people around you. Crows are a symbol of transformation that includes the transformation of truth into lies.

Crows in a mystical sense would be the first to know if a person around you has “transformed” into an unreliable partner.

Or, if these interpretations don’t fit, you may just need to trust your intention to understand your dream.

When you meet crows in your dreams or in your waking world, it’s safe to treat them as a due to looking for changes. Whether these changes are positive or adverse is ultimately up to you.

Crows in Biblical symbolism

There are no verses in either the Jewish scriptures or the Christian Bible that directly refer to a word for a bird that modern scholars would translate as “crow.”

However, there are many references to “ravens.” Some scholars believe that the terms for this bird in Hebrew and Greek referred to either kind of bird.

Here are a few examples.

Luke 12:24

“Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!”

In Luke 12:24, Jesus is instructing the disciples to be as free from worry as the “lilies of the field” and the ravens//crows.

Leviticus 11:15

“every raven in its kind”

In Leviticus 11:15, Moses is telling the people of Israel not to eat ravens or crows.

1 Kings 17:4

“It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.”

Ravens and crows provided food for the Prophet Elijah during a great drought.

Genesis 8:7

“and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth.”

Noah sent a crow out of the ark to scout for dry land.

Deuteronomy 14:14

“and every raven in its kind”

In this verse, the people of Israel are told not to eat ravens/crows, ostriches, gulls, or screech owls.

Psalm 147:9

“He gives to the beast its food,

And to the young ravens which cry.”

This psalm, sung in worship, refers to God’s taking care of crows.

Proverbs 30:17

“The eye that mocks a father

And scorns a mother,

The ravens of the valley will pick it out,

And the young eagles will eat it.”

Here the raven/crow is the instrument of a curse on those who dishonor their parents.

Song of Solomon 5:11

“His head is like gold, pure gold;

His locks are like clusters of dates

And black as a raven.”

This love song between a bride and groom compares beard hair to crow feathers. There are some other references to black as crow feathers hair that more squeamish translations of the book of the Bible do not translate exactly.

Isaiah 34:11

“But pelican and hedgehog will possess it,

And owl and raven will dwell in it;

And He will stretch over it the line of desolation

And the plumb line of emptiness.”

This is a prophecy of doom for Israel, stating their land would become the domain of ravens and crows.

Job 38:41

“Who prepares for the raven its nourishment

When its young cry to God

And wander about without food?”

After God asks the long-suffering Job what he knows about sea monsters, the subject turns to how well Job understands the ways God takes care of crows. The point is that God takes care of all of God’s creatures.

1 Kings 17:6

“The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook.”

The Prophet Elijah is miraculously sustained by crows and ravens.

The Bible refers to ravens and crows as the tools of Higher Power, rather than having higher powers of their own. But the Bible also warns the people of Israel not to hunt them.

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