Crow symbolism and meanings include adaptability, cleverness, intelligence, teamwork, reciprocity, transformation, and psychic abilities. Crows live on every continent except Antarctica. (And their close bird cousins – jays – exist in South America.) Thus, people around the world are familiar with crows and many are intrigued by them. This is why crow symbolism, meanings, and mythology are topics that interest people from diverse cultural backgrounds. In addition, the crow spirit animal is a sacred animal to those who feel a kinship with these highly intelligent birds. In this post, we’ll explore all aspects of crow symbolism and meanings, including crow spiritual meanings, crow mythology, crow folklore, and more.
Table of Contents
- What do crows symbolize?
- Difference Between Crows and Ravens
- Detailed Crow Symbolism and Meanings
- Crow Mythology and Folklore
- Native American Crow Meanings
- Australian Aboriginal Crow Meanings
- Crows in Greek Mythology
- Crow Symbolism in the Bible
- Crow Meaning in Celtic Mythology
- Crows in Norse Mythology
- Crow Meaning in Asian Cultures
- Crows in Hinduism
- Crow Symbolism in Buddhism
- Crow Spirit Animal
- Crow Power Animal
- Crow Totem Animal
- Crow Dream Meaning
- Crow Tattoo Meaning
- How You Can Help Crows
What do crows symbolize?
Crow symbolism varies from culture to culture. However, here are some of the special qualities that they embody. We’ll go into more detail on these below, plus what the meanings can signify in your life if a crow makes themselves known to you.
- Psychic Abilities
Difference Between Crows and Ravens
Before we kick things off, I thought you might be interested in what the difference is between crows and ravens. These two birds look very much alike and they are often seen together. However, they have some key differences, as well as slightly different symbolism. To begin, these two birds, along with their cousins – rooks, jackdaws, jays, nutcrackers, magpies, treepies, and choughs – are all from the same family of birds called Corvidae. They are also referred to as corvids.1
Crows and ravens are two species of corvids. Ravens are generally larger than crows and tend to travel in pairs with their mate. While crows are smaller and like to congregate in big groups. Though, like ravens, crows pick one mate and they generally stay with them for life.
If you see these birds in flight, a crow’s tail will look like a fan, because all of the tail feathers are about the same length. Ravens, on the other hand, have longer middle tail feathers, so their tails look more like a wedge when they are in flight.
The two birds also make different sounds. Crows make a cawing sound, while ravens make a deeper croaking sound.2
Crows and ravens share some similar meanings in cultural mythology. However, there are also some differences. If you are curious about raven symbolism and the raven spirit animal, please see my dedicated post on raven meanings.
Detailed Crow Symbolism and Meanings
Crow Symbolism: Intelligence and Cleverness
Crows demolish the insult that calling someone a “bird brain” means they’re not very clever. In fact, crows are considered to be among the most intelligent animals on the planet, along with primates, elephants, and cetaceans.
What makes crows so smart? For one, their brains possess a high number of neurons. Those extra neurons are found in the crows’ forebrains, the area of the brain that governs complex cognitive functions.
Crows also exhibit behaviors that are demonstrative of high intelligence, such as making tools, having strong memories (as in the ability to recognize human faces), and using non-verbal forms of communication.3
Crow Fable: The Crow and the Pitcher
There’s a popular Aesop’s fable called “The Crow and the Pitcher” about a crow in the desert who’s thirsty. He comes upon a pitcher of water, but his beak is not long enough to access the water in the pitcher. He realizes that if he tips the pitcher over, he might lose all of the water in it. So, he decides to innovate and starts putting pebbles in the pitcher of water. Eventually, the pebbles displace the water at the bottom of the pitcher, pushing the liquid up to a level where he can drink.4
Enviable Problem-Solving Skills
The spirit of the crow should remind us all to leverage our wits so solve our problems. It’s easy to get emotional when we face challenges in life. The crow reminds us to step back, take a deep breath, cock our heads, and look at the challenge from a different perspective.
Crow Symbolism: Adaptability
While many of us see crows on a regular basis, it’s important that we not take these clever creatures for granted. After all, they have shown an uncanny ability to survive in the human-dominated world, so they must be doing something right. The crow is the embodiment of adaptability and embracing change.
If a crow crosses your path, it could be a sign that you have the ability to handle yourself in any situation – even if you don’t always feel that way. Don’t let sudden upheavals in your life or other people’s drama’s ruffle your feathers. The crow spirit animal helps you to adapt and to soar above the fray, find a safe place to perch, and watch it all unfold.
Be flexible and open to new situations.
Undoubtedly, one of the keys to crows’ survival in environments that are challenging for other animals is that, like coyotes and raccoons, crows are omnivores. Crows will eat anything – from other birds to fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, mice, fish, frogs, carrion, and dog treats. (If you go to dog parks, undoubtedly you’ve seen crows hanging around looking for spare treats.)
This too shall pass.
If the crow was a Sufi poet, he would say to you, “This too shall pass.” The crow reminds you that the one thing we can all be certain about is that things change. Resisting change is like living in a state of denial.
The crow spirit reminds you to be flexible instead of rigid. Be open to new experiences, whether they’re as simple as a culinary experience, trying to learn a new skill, or inviting new people into your life. Sometimes change that you fear or dread can turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to you.
Teamwork and Reciprocity
While ravens tend to stick with their significant other, crows like to gather in large groups, sometimes in the hundreds or even thousands of birds. The term “a murder of crows” is often used to describe these large groupings, possibly because these clever and social birds seem like they’re plotting something when they’re all together.
It’s not by coincidence that Alfred Hitchcock chose large groups of crows to be his main perpetrators in the classic film The Birds. However, in reality, crows are social and playful birds who use over 250 different calls when they’re communicating with each other.5
Loyalty and Lifetime Mates
Yet even though they are highly social and flock together in large groups, crows are monogamous and mate for life.
One of my favorite stories about crows that demonstrates their understanding of teamwork and the concept of give and take is the BBC video “Gift Giving Crows.”
In this documentary, a group of crows regularly bring gifts to a little girl who feeds them:
When the crow is your power animal, you are most likely a person who values relationships. You understand that relationships are the greatest “currency” in life. As the saying goes – It’s not what you know but who you know.
Crows also embody the Japanese proverb that goes, “All of us are smarter than one of us.”
The crow spirit reminds you to nurture your relationships – with your family, your friends, your colleagues, and above all – your significant other.
If you are very independent and/or single, and a crow crosses your path, it could be a sign that one of your soul mates is seeking you. While soul mates can be romantic partners, they can also be close friends, business partners, and family members. The crow spirit animal reminds you that you are not meant to go it alone.
Crow Meaning: Transformation
Throughout the world, the crow has been seen as an intermediary between the material and spirit worlds. As carrion-eating birds, they are often present in times of death, which is the likely reason they are associated with dying. Death is a frightening concept to many of us. And hence, crows are often seen as “scary” birds. However, death is actually a transformation instead of an ending.
This depiction of crows as scary, which has been passed down from generation to generation, is why they are so closely associated with Halloween, graveyards, and the like. In fact, in Swedish folklore, crows were thought to be the ghosts of murdered people who didn’t have a Christian burial. And in Germany, they were thought to contain the souls of the damned.6
The Cycle of Life
However, this negative association of crows is misleading. As carrion-eating birds, crows are an intrinsic part of a healthy ecosystem and the continuum of the cycle of life. For this reason, crows are powerful symbols of transformation.
When you see a crow, think about your life and the positive changes that you would like to set into motion. For every challenge you face, consider it an opportunity to evolve as a human being and as a soul. The crow can be a helpful symbol that serves as a catalyst for positive change in your life.
Like the owl and the raven, the crow also symbolizes psychic abilities. The crow is said to be able to see the past, the present, and the future. If the crow is your power animal, you most likely possess special insights into situations where others may not. It’s important to always use those gifts as a force for good in the world.
Crow Mythology and Folklore
Crows appear in the mythology and folklore of many cultures. What is interesting is that in cultures where people were primarily nomadic and relied on hunting and gathering, crows were seen as positive symbols. However, in cultures that were more agrarian, crows were seen more negatively, possibly because they were disruptive to crops.7 Here are some of the stories and meanings applied to crows in different cultures:
Native American Crow Meanings
Every Native American tribe has their own unique traditions and beliefs, but one thing they all have in common is a deep reverence for animals and the natural world. While crow meanings and legends vary from tribe to tribe, crows are generally seen as powerful beings who are worthy of respect in every tribe.
For example, many plains tribes, including the Pawnee, Lakota, and Sioux, as well as other tribes, wear crow feathers when they do the Ghost Dance. The ghost dance is a spiritual dance of protection and resistance against oppression that is shared by many tribes.8
Tlingit and Haida People
The Tlingit People, who hail from the Pacific Northwest, believe the crow helped the Creator to organize the structure of the world and that he possesses the power to free the sun.
The Haida People, also from the Pacific Northwest, said the crow could steal the sun from the sky and give it to the Earth’s people.9
There are other legends, which I’ll describe below, that are similar to this concept of the crow accessing the heat of the sun.
The tribes of the Northwest also viewed the crow as a trickster because he possessed great powers related to creation and could influence outcomes.
The Rainbow Crow
One of my favorite Native American stories is the Rainbow Crow, which is told by the Lenape People, who are from the area that is now the state of Delaware. Indeed, this is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever heard.
When the land grew cold…
A long time ago, when the Snow Spirit appeared, the land made all of the animals very cold. Snow continued to fall on the lands and soon it started to cover the animals, first the mouse, then the rabbit, the deer, and so on. All of the animals held a council meeting to decide who would ask the Creator, who lived in the Heaven far above the Sun, to make the Earth warm again.
Together the animals went one by one as they tried to decide which animal should make the journey. However, with each animal they considered, they realized there would be one problem or another. For instance, they ruled out the owl for fear she might get lost in the light of day. And they ruled out the coyote for fear he might play too many tricks, such as chasing the wind or swallowing the clouds, which would delay his journey.
A Beautiful, Colorful Bird
Finally, a beautiful, colorful bird with a soothing song volunteered to fly to the Creator. This bird was the Rainbow Crow. The animals decided the Rainbow Crow was the perfect animal to fly to the Creator and ask for warmth.
The Rainbow Crow flew and flew and when he got to the heavenly place where the Creator lived, he begged the Creator for warmth for the Earth. Impressed by the crow, the Creator relented and touched a long branch to the Sun, which caught fire. He then put it in the Rainbow Crow’s break.
The Descent Back to Earth
As the Rainbow Crow made his descent back to Earth, the branch continued to burn. The flame grew in the wind, and the branch became shorter. Eventually, the fire singed the Rainbow Crow’s feathers and blackened them with soot. And the smoke from the fire caused his voice to grow hoarse.
When the Rainbow Crow finally got to Earth, he delivered the heat to the animals. Now exhausted, he flew up to a tree and perched on a branch. While the Rainbow Crow was relieved he could warm the other animals, he was disheartened because he thought he was no longer beautiful and could no longer sing. He was now just the Crow.
Taking pity on him, the Creator told the Crow that he would forever be protected from men. His strong wings would give him the means to fly away and his sharp intellect could outwit wicked men who wanted to harm him. The Creator also told the Crow to look at his feathers in the sunlight. There he see millions of tiny rainbows.
Native American tribes have a clan system that is organized around family groups, which are based on the maternal line. Clans serve as a system of community organization, division of labor, and, some historians surmise, they helped to keep gene pools healthy by preventing close relatives from marrying.
Clans also have animals that are associated with them, such as the bear, wolf, or hummingbird, and a number of Native American tribes have crow clans. Tribes with crow clans include the Chippewa, Hopi, Menominee, Caddo, Tlingit, and Pueblo.10
The Crow Nation
The Crow People are an entire Native American tribe who hail from the area that is now the Yellowstone River Valley, which extends from Wyoming to Montana and North Dakota. In their own language, the Crow People are Absaroka, which means “children of the large-beaked bird.”
It’s unclear why the Crow People associate themselves with this particular bird vs. another animal. However, what is clear is that they named their people for a bird, possibly a magpie or jay, which was native in their area long ago, and which is most likely extinct today.11 However, this bird is of the same family as modern day crows, which is Corvidae.
Because crows are associated with the Creator and thus the conception of the Universe, they are considered by many tribes to be the holders of Universal Wisdom and Universal Laws. This means they have knowledge and insights about the physical earthly plane, as well as the spiritual world. It also means they possess the capability to change these laws, and thus affect outcomes.
Because of this wisdom and these special powers, the Native Americans associate crows with healing. This is the root of crow medicine. The crow spirit animal can be summoned when you need a miracle – when you feel the odds are against you, but you can still find the faith to believe in a positive outcome.12
Australian Aboriginal Crow Meanings
The Aboriginal People of Australia also revere the crow. Interestingly, as in Native American legends and others you’ll read about below, the Aborigines have stories about the crow possessing the power to access fire. The crow is also considered a clever trickster in Aboriginal culture.13
There is one Aboriginal crow legend told by the Wurundjeri People. In this story, there are seven sisters. These sisters could be seen in the constellation Pleiades.
In the winter, food was scarce and the people did not have fire. So, they were forced to eat only raw food. As a result, many of the people got sick. However, the seven sisters were well-fed. So, Waa, the crow began to observe them.
He noticed that the sisters used sticks to dig for honey ants to eat. When Waa looked more closely, he saw that the sticks were glowing red with fire, so the sisters were able to cook the food they ate.
Now Waa knew that the seven sisters were fearful of snakes. So, he found some baby snakes and placed them in a log and sealed it up. Waa then told the sisters that honey ants were in the log.
The sisters used their digging sticks to open the log. But when they did, the snakes sprang out and the sisters jumped, dropping their sticks. Waa then swooped in and grabbed the sticks and flew off. However, when he did, the sticks charred his feathers and blackened them with soot.14
Crows in Greek Mythology
Apollo and Crows
In ancient Greece, the crow was sacred to the god Apollo. According to one myth, Apollo had a white crow whom he left with his lover Coronis. In truth, Apollo wanted his crow to keep an eye on her. As luck would have it, Coronis fell in love with a man named Ischys.
The crow told Apollo of the affair between Coronis and Ischys. Enraged, Apollo first directed his anger at the crow because he had expected the crow to peck out the eyes of Ischys. Apollo was so enraged that he threw a fiery curse at Coronis, which singed the crow and turned his feathers black.15
Here and Crows
The Greeks also associated crows with the goddess Hera. Not only were crows known to be monogamous, they were also seen on battlefields. Thus, it was fitting that the Greeks paired them with their goddess of war and marriage.16
At one time the goddess Athena was also associated with crows. However, she found them to be too mischievous and cunning. So, instead she chose the solemn owl to be her companion.
The Romans took part in a spiritual practice called augury, which interpreted omens by the behavior of birds. In fact, the term is based on the word “auspices,” which comes from the Latin word auspicium, which means “one who looks at birds.”17 Thus, the Romans watched the behavior of crows closely. In particular, they believed that the direction that crows flew had symbolic meaning.18
Crow Symbolism in the Bible
Crows appear in the Bible frequently. In the story of the Great Flood, after 40 days, Noah sends a crow (or raven or, more likely, an ancestor of modern-day corvids) to find dry land after the flood. The crow does not return, so Noah assumes that suitable dry land has not been found, as the crow is able to eat carrion from the sea.
After the crow, Noah sends a dove to see if there is dry land. At first the dove returns and Noah thinks there is still probably no suitable land on which to dock the ark. But a week later, when he sends the dove out again, she returns with a freshly plucked olive branch, and Noah realizes that the Earth is finally habitable again. However, the crow is forever considered to be selfish for not flying back and telling Noah the state of things.19
Crows are given a bad rap in other parts of the Bible as well, notably when they are depicted as unclean because they eat carrion. This irrational fear was undoubtedly one of the reasons why crows came to be associated with the occult and death.20
Crow Meaning in Celtic Mythology
For the Celts, crows were sacred. They were associated with the god Lugh, who was a warrior deity, a craftsman, and a protector.21
The Celts also associated crows with the goddess Morrigan, who was believed to shapeshift into a crow. As the goddess of war and death, Morrigan was said to fly over battlefields while screeching to encourage her warriors and strike fear into the hearts of their enemies.22
Crows in Norse Mythology
According to Scandinavian folklore, the god Odin had two companions, Hugi and Munnin, which translates to Thought and Memory. Hugi and Munnin were crows (or ravens) who flew over the Earth and brought tales of the world back to Odin.23
Crow Meaning in Asian Cultures
Crows didn’t fare very well in Chinese mythology. As with many other cultures, the Chinese associated crows with the sun and fire. In one story, the Earth originally had 10 suns, which were embodied by 10 crows. One day, all 10 of the suns decided to rise at once, and they began to scorch the Earth. So, the gods sent their most experience archer, Houyi, to shoot down all of the crow suns except one.24
One Chinese fairy tale that portrays crows positively, however. The story explains why there are some days you can see crows in the sky and other days that you don’t. In the story of the Weaving Maiden, you don’t see crows in the sky when they are busy forming a magical bridge that allows the Weaving Maiden to meet her lover.25
The Japanese view crows as messengers from the spirit world. They also see them as positive symbols of transformation and rebirth.26
Crows in Hinduism
Crows are viewed positively in Hindu culture. Because they have powerful memories, they are seen as messengers from one’s ancestors. Some believe that crows carry the souls of the recently deceased. Because of this, when Hindu practitioners perform the act of Shraaddha (giving thanks) during the period of Pitru Paksha, which is a period of honoring one’s ancestors, they will often feed the crows.
Crows are also associated with Hindu gods and goddesses, including Sani, who rules the planet Saturn. Sani is a hot-tempered but highly intelligent deity. And the mother goddess Dhumavati, who is portrayed as a crone, or old woman, is associated with crows and is sometimes depicted as riding on a crow.27
Crow Symbolism in Buddhism
In Tibetan Buddhism, the crow is associated with the deity Mahakala, which means the Great Black One.” Mahakala is viewed as a protector, particularly of wisdom.28
In one Buddhist story, a 15th century monk named Ngawang Drakpa traveled to what is now the Gyalrong district of eastern Tibet. His intention was to build a monastery there, but he was having trouble deciding on the location. As he was pondering, a crow flew down and grabbed the scarf from around his neck. The monk followed the crow to a juniper tree, where the crow placed the scarf on one of the branches. The monk saw this as an auspicious sign that this was the right place for the monastery.29
Crow Spirit Animal
Your spirit animal serves as a guide in your life, bringing you teachings and messages from your spirit guides to help you as you navigate your life path here on Earth and throughout your soul’s journey.
In Native American cultures, your spirit animal chooses you during a vision quest, a meditation, or another powerful experience that impacts the course of your life. You may already know that the crow is one of your spirit guides. Or perhaps a crow has suddenly made themselves known to you in a way that riveted your attention. Either way, it’s important to learn all you can about these deeply intelligent birds. This will help you to feel your interconnectedness with the Universe more deeply and expand your level of consciousness.
Crow Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can inspire you with their most dynamic traits. So, if you want to transform an area of your life, meditate on the attributes that the power animal represents. For example, you can summon the crow power animal when you:
- Are facing a problem in your life and you can’t seem to come to a resolution. The crow power animal reminds you to not get overly emotional and to use your wits!
- Feel alone and want to attract your soul mate or a team of people who can help to enrich your life.
- Want to hone your intuition and expand your psychic abilities.
Crow Totem Animal
In Native American cultures, animal totems hold the protective powers of the animal they represent. Thus, the crow totem is a helpful symbol sharpening your wits and using your brain power to solve problems and make life better. In addition, the crow totem is a good luck symbol for attracting supportive, like-minded people in your life and for gaining deeper intuitive insights.
Crow Dream Meaning
Dreams are personal to every dreamer, so I never try to apply specific meanings to every dream about crows. However, when analyzing your dream, it’s important to consider the emotions you felt in the dream, whether it was wonder, fear, anger, or some other emotion. Your feelings will help you to understand the nature of a matter that you should address in your conscious state.
In addition, consider your own personal feelings about crows. To some, crows are disturbing, while to others, they are fascinating. From there, you can layer in some of the commonly shared meanings and symbols applied to crows and see if anything resonates. For example, crows as symbols of transformation could mean that a change is about to happen in your life, or a sign that you are in a process of self-transformation.
Crow Tattoo Meaning
A crow tattoo is a powerful symbol that shows you are in tune with your intuitive powers. It can also mean you value cleverness and like to indulge your sense of curiosity. Tattoos are personal to each individual. However, better understanding crow symbolism and mythology can hopefully imbue your tattoo with deeper meaning.
How You Can Help Crows
While you might consider crows to be plentiful, especially if you live in an urban setting, like the vast majority of wild animals on our planet, crows face threats. In fact, two species of crows are on the Endangered Species List: the Hawaiian crow and the Mariana crow.30 If you care about crows and other birds, please do what you can to help protect them. Here are some organizations that look out for crows and other birds:
- Audubon Society
- Defenders of Wildlife
- The Alalā Project
- San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
- Institute for Wildlife Studies
You might like these other articles on UniGuide:
- Single Black Crow Meaning
- Two Crows Meaning
- Three Crows Meaning
- Black Butterfly Meaning
- White Wolf Meaning
- Black Cat Meaning
- Angel Number Quiz
- Eagle Meaning