Raven Symbolism (Meanings & Interpretations)

Raven symbolism and the belief in the magical and spiritual powers of this bird appear in several cultures. Ravens are large, black birds with a deep croaking voice. They often appear on the outskirts of human settlements and anywhere scraps of food may be found. Ravens are known for their intelligence and problem solving abilities. They have made many appearances in the mythology of various cultures. 

What Does A Raven Symbolize?

The raven has always been a bird that stood out from the rest because of its large size, deep “voice” and distinctive black feathers. Many cultures have different beliefs about this unique bird. Based on its behaviors, actions, and how it moves through life, we can look at the qualities of a raven and apply their lessons to our own lives.

Here is some of the most common symbolism associated with Ravens:

  • Death and Transformation
  • Partnership
  • Intelligence
  • Adaptability
  • Prophecy and Future Sight

Death and Transformation

Perhaps the first thing you think of when thinking of a raven is a “bad omen” of death. This may be an unconscious association we tend to make due to a combination of their black feathers, mysterious nature, large size and seeing them scavenge meat off of dead animals. Throughout history and in folklore they have been seen as bad luck or a prophecy of death. 

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. When speaking spiritually, death is an agent of transformation. It can mean death of an idea or a state of mind. When negative energies, thoughts, and cycles “die”, we are reborn with new consciousness and the opportunity for new beginnings. If anything from relationships to career to habits is feeling like it’s bringing your energy and happiness down, the raven encourages you to let go of that which does not serve you and start fresh. 

Partnership

While ravens don’t tend to hang out in large groups, they are monogamous with their partner. And unlike many bird species where the female is left to do the work, both parents work together during nesting and raising the young.

In the wild, ravens are excellent at spotting both singular animal carcass and larger animal herds. They will fly over the area and call loudly. This will catch the attention of wolves and other predators which can then hunt or tear open the flesh, and once they are done the ravens will pick up the scraps. They even alerted Native Americans to herds such as bison or elk. 

Because of this ravens have been seen as partner animals, reminding us how to cooperate with each other and work together for a mutually beneficial result. 

Intelligence

Ravens are considered to be among the smartest animals, and even amongst birds they have one of the largest brains. They are one of only a few species we know about that can communicate about places and things that take into account time and distance. For example, one raven may find a source of food, return to its nest and “tell” another raven where to find it. Researchers have also gotten ravens in experiments to troubleshoot a puzzle and solve it in order to earn a food reward, even when it involves using tools or manipulating objects.  

In this way ravens symbolize using your intelligence and wits to face challenges that appear in your life. Sometimes in life we become close-minded, or stuck in a routine, unable to see a way out of negative situations. The raven spirit reminds us to add creativity and ingenuity to our thinking to open up all the possibilities. They can also remind us that in situations where your emotions may be getting the best of you and blocking your ability to solve problems or make decisions, to step back and think critically and logically.

Adaptability

Ravens can be found across a huge array of different habitats, including hot and dry deserts, mountains, beach coasts, cold Arctic tundra, forests and even urban landscapes. They must use their cunning and adaptable nature to learn how to thrive in these varying conditions. For this reason ravens are often a symbol of tapping into you own adaptability when faced with a difficult situation, or a new situation that you are unfamiliar with. Think outside the box.

Prophecy and Future Sight

Perhaps because of their association with death, transformation and intelligence, ravens have often been considered in many cultures as bringers of prophecy. For some they were a messenger between the worlds of the living and the dead. They were also thought to possess the ability to see the future. You have perhaps heard of the three-eyed raven, the third eye being the spiritual eye that can see beyond our five sense. Ravens are often associated with having secret knowledge about the workings of the universe. 

Image: Neal Herbert

What do Dream About Ravens Symbolize?

There are multiple ways to interpret a dream. One intuitive way is to focus on how it makes you feel. When you consider the dream, what emotion comes up for you? Without thinking about it too much, what is the first interpretation that comes to your mind? Don’t discount what your own inner voice tells you.

But of course, we can also look at what others have determined the symbolism of ravens are in dreams. 

Here are some common raven dream associations:

If you are having reoccurring raven dreams and perhaps see them in real life as well, this may be a sign that some chaos is coming in your near future. You will have to deal with unsettling experiences or challenges that may alter the course of your life, it’s up to you to find the positives in this transformation.

  • Illness: ravens often indicated healing to many native peoples, so dreaming of a raven may mean either you or someone you have been caring for is on the road to recovery.
  • An injured raven: a warning that someone is trying to talk you into doing something that you don’t really want to do. You are being naive and easily lead, pay attention to your gut feelings and don’t be coerced.
  • A dead raven: a dead raven in a dream can symbolize an obstacle in your path that you will soon overcome
  • A raven is following you: a warning that someone may be trying to undermine you and block you from getting something you want
  • A raven taking flight: guidance that you need to view things from a different perspective, specifically a “higher” or more logical one removed from strong emotions.
  • Ravens interacting with animals or other people: this is revealing the partnership aspect of the raven and may be telling you in order to move forward with a task or project on your plate, you will need the cooperation of others.
  • Seeing two ravens fighting: a warning to be cautious of your significant other and that something may be wrong in your relationship. 
  • Seeing two ravens watching you: a sense of parental protection and that your family is thinking of you (alive or deceased)

Symbolism in Visits or Encounters with Ravens

Encounters with ravens can mean different things for different people. Some believe that it is a sign of positive change, while others believe they are bad omens. Different cultures have different ways of looking at what raven symbolism means. It is important to pay attention to the context in which you see this bird before you draw any conclusions about its meaning. What were you thinking or feeling right before your encounter? This can give you a clue to its meaning. 

If you see a raven being loud and acting obnoxiously, this may be a message that there is something in your own life you need to speak up about. If a raven startles you with it’s loud call, it may be trying to tell you that you aren’t paying attention to your own inner wisdom and guidance of those who care about you.

Since many believe ravens are symbols of synchronicity and seeing connections in the universe that we do not, coming across a raven may be a sign that something important in your life is about to happen. Pay attention to the people you meet, or conversations that occur within the next few hours.  

If you have been frustrated or feeling stagnant with certain aspects of your life, seeing a raven may mean it’s time to take serious action to transform your situation. The raven spirit reminds you that in order to make a drastic improvement in your life, you must be willing to make a big change, even if it seems daunting at first. 

If you are feeling harried and busy in life, seeing a lone raven can be taken as a reminder to take time out for yourself and some quiet contemplation. Setting time aside to slow down, be mindful and introspective may be just what you need to de-stress and view any problems with fresh eyes. 

When ravens visit, some people believe that they are warning them of coming danger.  This is typically only seen in cultures where the raven is viewed as a negative or dark symbol. They can for-tell of danger coming your way, warn you of a negative person in your life, or that something bad may be about to happen.

Superstitions About Ravens

  • Seeing a raven is considered to be a bad omen.
  • Ravens are seen as messengers of death, both physical or spiritual, both of which can bring transformation
  • Ravens are tricksters who bring struggle into your life, but do so in order to teach you valuable lessons
  • They are thought to have the power to foretell when a battle is about to occur and can predict who will die in a battle. Today this could be a warning of a big blow-up fight between you and someone else, and you may be more apt to lose.
  • Ravens carry dead souls to the otherworld.
  • Whatever luck you have had, it is about to change (for good or ill)
  • If you are single, you will find a partner

Ravens as Spirit Animals and Totems

A spirit animal is an animal that is associated with a particular person’s spiritual journey, or with a specific phase of that journey. They are not chosen by the person, but rather are gifted to them by nature. A totem, on the other hand, is a spirit animal that is chosen by the person and typically remains with them for life.

Spirit animals provide guidance and support to people as they journey through life. They can help people to connect with their intuition and inner wisdom and can teach them about the natural world. Each spirit animal has its own set of teachings and virtues that it can offer to its human companion.

People often find their spirit animals in moments of personal crisis or transformation. It is during these times that the person is open to receiving the guidance of their spirit animal. When someone finds their spirit animal it can be an incredibly powerful and life-changing experience.

Many people believe that we are all born with a certain animal as our spirit animal which is there to guide and protect us during childhood, but as we grow older, this spirit animal often leaves us until it feels like we really need its support (usually at points of crisis or change). When you find your spirit animal, it is usually an incredibly significant and powerful experience that can help you to learn more about yourself and the world.

The raven spirit symbolizes that using your intelligence and the qualities that come from it such as being inventive, resourceful and adaptable, is what you can call upon to steer you though life’s challenges. While you may not always have abundance and exactly what you want, you can tap into your adaptability and resourcefulness to make what you have at hand work for you. 

Like the raven, you may have an air of mystery about you that people can find both intimidating and attractive. Others may view you as wise and come to you to get advice on their problems. 

Ravens are often solitary and as a raven spirit you also often crave solitude. You are able to enjoy our own company and often prefer to be alone rather than always surrounded with business and noise. 

A raven totem is said to appear in life when you need a spiritual rebirth. It is a sign to make time to contemplate your spiritual side, meditate and seek quiet to tune back in with your life. This inner searching will allow you see the areas where you need to clear the negativity out of your life to let the light in. 

The raven totem also symbolizes healing. It can appear in your life when there is something unhealthy you need to get rid of, and encourage you to act immediately. An important lesson is coming that you will need to embrace in order to cleanse, recover, and move on. 

Call on the raven spirit when you need spiritual guidance or need courage to work through a dark time. Remember that true transformation takes work and is often a struggle, but the raven will guide you through. 

Spiritual and Cultural Meanings of Ravens

The common raven is found across North America, Europe and parts of Asia, so it is no surprise that many cultures were able to develop their own mythology surrounding this mysterious bird. 

Totemic ravens Tlingit – Haida style (Alaskan tribes) | image by Wonderland via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Raven Symbolism in Native American Cultures

There is so much lore surrounding the raven amongst Native American tribes that we can barely scratch the surface here! Some tribes believed the raven to be a deity, the creator of earth, light and consciousness. Other tribes saw them as a symbol of balance between life and death, dark and light. In Navajo mythology, two ravens observed cawing at each other near the village was a premonition that soon there would be suffering, followed by joy, often in the form of family relationships, personal journeys or healing ceremonies. To many they were good omens and meant death or defeat of their enemies. In some tribes they were viewed as a trickster spirit, and seeing them meant the coming of mischief or chaos. Ravens were also seen as protectors, teachers, or keepers of secrets. 

Ravens in Greek and Roman Mythology

The Greeks associated the raven with Apollo, the god of sun and light. The story goes that Apollo is in love with a princess named Coronis, and he sends his divine messenger, a white raven, to guard her. Coronis ends up falling in love with a mortal, prince Ischys, and betrays Apollo. Apollo’s raven sees this and brings the news back to Apollo of what she has done. Apollo is enraged, and is so angered that his raven did not peck out the eyes of Ischys that he hurls a curse at it, and his solar flames turn the raven black. 

The Greeks and Romans often believed seeing a raven was back luck and a bad omen, usually associated with death. Although the Romans also considered the raven to have third-eye abilities and be able to see the future. They would study the behavior of ravens as a form of divination.

Ravens in Ancient Egypt

The Egyptian goddess of the dead, Nephthys, is often associated with crows and ravens. She is often depicted as a woman with falcon-wings, however she often has a crow or raven companion, and is sometimes represented by their symbol. 

Ravens in the Bible

Ravens pop up in some interesting places in bible stories. In the book of Genesis, after 40 days of the flood Noah sends a raven to find dry land. The raven does not return so Noah assumes that, because the raven is able to eat carrion from the sea, suitable land has not yet emerged. After the raven, he sends a dove who retrieves the olive branch, a much more well-known part of the story. 

In one story the ravens are shown as providers, as God tells the prophet Elijah that ravens will feed him. Book of Kings 17:4, “You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”

Ravens in the Qur’an 

Also showing the associations with ravens and the dead, in the Qur’an’s version of the story of Cain and Abel, it is a raven that teaches Abel how to bury Cain after he kills him. 

Ravens in Welsh Folklore

In Welsh and Celtic mythology, Bran the Blessed or King Bran was a well known figure. The name Bran in Welsh is typically translated as crow or raven. There are many tales of the large, fierce King Bran and his sister Branwen. In one, Branwen was married to a king in Ireland who mistreated her, and Bran is fatally wounded rescuing her. He instructed his men to cut off his head and take it to London, burying it on the White Hill in the direction of France so he could always keep an eye on the coastline in defense of his people. Today that spot on White Hill is approximately where the Tower of London stands.

Jubilee and Munin, Ravens at the Tower of London | image by User:Colin via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Today there are several captive ravens kept at the Tower as part of a tradition that they protect not only the tower but the crown. If the ravens are lost or abandon the tower, it is believed the crown will fall and Britain with it. This superstition likely harkens back to Bran the raven king. 

Ravens in Celtic Mythology

The ancient Celts believed in a shape-shifting goddess called The Morrigan. She was the goddess of war, fate and death, presided over freshwater rivers and lakes, and was the patroness of the night, prophecy, and magic. During war, she would hover over the battlefield in the form of a raven or crow, fortelling or influencing which side would be victorious or doomed. 

Ravens in Norse Mythology

In Norse mythology Odin, the all-father, had two raven companions named Munnin (“Memory”) and Hugi (“Thought”). They worked as Odins spies, keeping him informed of the news and happenings on earth and in all realms. The ravens sat on his shoulders, and each morning would take off to fly around the world gathering the knowledge and wisdom of the day, then return and night to whisper what they had gathered in his ears. This boosted his reputation as as the “all-knowing” father.   

Norse God Odin with his 2 Ravens and 2 Wolves | image by [insert author] via WikiCommons

The Raven in Japanese Mythology

In Japanese mythology, Yatagarasu is a three legged raven (or crow) that is said to have led Emperor Jimmu and is looked at as evidence of divine intervention or “the will of heaven” being inserted into earthly affairs. This three legged raven is considered to inhabit and represent the sun. The image of the three-legged raven has been seen throughout pre and post war Japan, and persists today on the uniforms of the national soccer team. 

The Raven in Tibetan Buddhism

In general, Tibetans view the raven a symbol of future success and protector of wisdom. There is a story of a 15th century Tibetan Buddhist monk, Ngawang Drakpa, who was traveling in hopes of building new monasteries. He felt the region of Gyalrong in eastern Tibet was special, but did not know the exact location he wanted to use for the monastery.

During one of his scouting walks, a raven flew down to him, grabbed his scarf, and carried it to the branch of a juniper tree. The monk took this as a sign that this tree was an auspicious location for building the monastery. The Dhe-Tsang Monastery was built on this site, and because the tree was chosen by the raven and seen as an emanation of the protector Mahakala, the tree’s branches were trimmed and the prayer hall build around it, rather than cutting it down. 

The Raven in Hindu Mythology

Some Hindu’s practice Shradh, a period of time where homage and respect is paid to ancestors through offerings of food and prayers. As part of Shradh, food may be offered to ravens and crows, with the belief that the birds will then bring the food to their ancestors who have passed. Another instance where we see ravens considered to be messengers between the earthly world and the spirit world. 

Raven Tattoo Symbolism

As we have shown, ravens have so many meanings across cultures that run the gamut from darkness to light, negative to positive. So the raven tattoo can really have any meaning that resonates with you. Some of the most common meanings of raven tattoos are:

  • Many people interested in Norse culture may choose to get a tattoo of Odin’s two ravens, symbolizing gathering truth and knowledge. 
  • It’s association with the sun and divine intervention, light-bringers
  • Wisdom, intelligence, cleverness and resourcefulness
  • Prophecy, the third-eye, unlocking secretes, spiritual discovery
  • Transformation of mind and spirit
  • Omens and harbingers, of good or ill
  • Death, both physical and spiritual
  • Messengers between the living and the deceased

Are Ravens Good Luck?

There is no one answer to this question, as the symbolism of ravens varies depending on the culture. Some people believe that ravens are good luck, while others believe that they are a sign of bad news or death.

Whether or not ravens are considered to be good luck depends on personal beliefs and opinions.

Although ravens are not always considered to be good luck, they do have many positive symbolic meanings that are associated with them. Because of its dark black color and ominous appearance, many believe the raven to symbolize mystery, power, magic, knowledge, independence, disruption, or defiance. 

Some compare the symbolism of ravens to that of the eagle, which is often considered a sign of strength and courage. Similarly, raven symbolism may also be associated with the Goddess Morrigan, who is believed to have both positive and negative associations depending on whether she appears as Badb or Nemain.

In Irish mythology, the Goddess Morrigan is generally viewed as a positive symbol, representing power and magic. However, she is also associated with the destructive powers of war. In this context, raven symbolism can represent her madness or fury in battle. 

Today, rather than viewing the raven as an omen of physical, literal death, we can view them as omens of death in the form of change and transformation. 

Conclusion

Ravens, an indigenous species in many countries of the northern hemisphere, have a long history of mythology and folklore across all cultures who encountered them. While they are often thought of as harbingers of death, evil, darkness and negativity, that is only a small part of their story. Many cultures also has positive associations with their intelligence and connected them to the sun and the divine. No matter which way you lean, it’s clear ravens have many lessons to teach us and their mysterious nature can help us unlock our own spiritual growth. 

About Mary Richardson

Mary is an outdoor enthusiast, nature lover, and amateur birdwatcher that enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.