While the crow may not have the exotic flair of the flamingo or the colorfulness of the hummingbird, underneath the onyx depths of those shiny black feathers is a bird brain beyond compare. Deeply intelligent beings, the crow has much to teach us. Thus, crow meaning and symbolism have riveted people’s attention for thousands of years. If the crow spirit animal resonates with you, then read on, because those who study crows gain insights to ancient wisdom.
If you’re intrigued with crows and find yourself wondering about their daily lives and behaviors, by all means, explore this curiosity. A sense of wonder about animals is a sign of an elevated level of consciousness because it shows you are in tune with the interconnectedness of life on Earth and the greater Universe. Crow symbolism and meanings vary in different cultures and in different circumstances, but there are some commonalities. Here are a few:
Cleverness and Intelligence
Teamwork and Reciprocity
Difference Between Crows and Ravens
Before we kick things off, I thought it would be important to distinguish between crows and ravens. 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.
Crows and ravens are two species of corvids. Ravens are generally larger than crows and tend to travel in pairs. While, crows are smaller and stick to larger groups of crows.
If you see these birds in flight, a crow’s tail feathers will look like a fan, because all of the tail feathers are about the same length. Ravens, on the other hand, have longer middle feathers in their tails, so their tail feathers look more like a wedge when they are in flight.
The two birds also make different sounds, according to the Audubon Society. Crows make a cawing sound, while ravens make a deeper croaking sound. Crows and ravens share much of the same meanings in ancient folklore, but for this post, I’ll focus on crows. And if you’d like to read about ravens, please visit my raven spirit animal post.
Crow Spirit Animal
The crow spirit animal is a powerful guide, according to Native American and other traditions. In Native American culture, you don’t necessarily choose your spirit animals; rather, they choose you. And you can have more than one. For Native Americans, spirit animals might choose you on a vision quest or in another powerful experience that affects the course or your life and thus your spiritual journey.
If a crow makes him or herself known to you, whether in real life or through art, the media, or elsewhere – pay attention. There are no coincidences. Your spirit animal serves as a guide, bringing you messages from the Universe to help guide you on your human life path and in your soul’s journey.
How do you know if the crow is your spirit animal?
If you’re wondering if the crow is one of your spirit animals, consider the questions below. And as you read this post, you’ll learn more about crows, so it may become even more clear to you – or it could become clear that the crow is a power animal for someone close you to. If you already know this about crows, you may learn some new things in this post that further guide you on your life path. There is always more we can learn from these wise beings. And if you are curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal quiz and read the detailed spirit animal guide.
Questions to consider:
- Were you especially interested in crows as child?
- Has a crow somehow made himself or herself known to you, whether it’s by flying in front or over you in real life or in art, the media, or some other way that riveted your attention?
- Do you feel a connection to crows, and do you experience a feeling of wonder when you see them or hear about them?
- Has a crow or crows entered your dreams?
- Are there stories, books, or movies that involved crows that had a strong impact on you and stayed with you?
- Have your friends or family ever described you as insightful or even psychic?
- Are you usually the first one to come up with the answer to a question or problem?
- Do you have a large group of friends you like to hang out with?
- Are you willing to try new things, such as exotic foods or strange experiences?
Only you can truly know if the crow is one of your power animals. You may be a person who doesn’t think much about crows, but then one suddenly crosses your path and has a powerful effect on you. Animal spirits can be both obnoxious and subtle. It’s up to you to pay attention and explore their meaning in your life.
Crow Symbolism and Meaning
Here are some crow meanings and what they could symbolize in your life.
Intelligence and Cleverness
Crows demolish the insult that calling someone a “bird brain” mean’s 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 numbers of neurons. These extra neurons are found in the crows’ forebrains, the area of the brain the 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.
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 is 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 over the pitcher, he might lose all of the water in it. So, he decides to innovate and starts putting pebbles into 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.
When the crow is your spirit animal, you are blessed with creative problem-solving skills. The crow reminds you that if you get into a bind, remember to always use your wits. Even in emotional situations, where you may feel like you’re not thinking clearly or don’t know how to handle the problem in front of you, the crow reminds you to step back, take a deep breathe, cock your head, and look at the challenge from a different perspective. You have the brain power to handle you’re the situation! When you have the crow on your side, you can always rely on your intellect to create better outcomes for yourself and your loved ones.
While many of us see crows on a regular basis, it’s important that we not take these clever beings 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 embracing change.
The crow spirit reminds you that you can handle yourself in any situation. Don’t let sudden upheavals or other people’s drama’s ruffle your feathers. The crow spirit helps you to soar above the fray, then find a safe place to perch, and watch it all unfold. The reminds you to not be too rigid. Be like a branch that sways in the wind vs. one that remains so stiff it breaks.
Open in 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 have a dog and go to dog parks, no doubt 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, 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. But in reality, crows are social and playful birds who use over 250 different calls when they’re communicating with each other.
Crows collaborate with each other to drive other birds, such as hawks, away from their territory, and they’ve been known to seek out other crows to notify them about good food sources.
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 team work 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 one of your power animals, you are most likely a person who values relationships. You understand that relationships are the greatest “currency” in life. After all, it’s not what you know or who your know. There is a Japanese proverb that goes, “All of us is smarter than one of us.” And this is very much in line with the philosophy of crows.
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 single, and the crow crosses your path, she may be reminding you that we are all looking for our soul mates. While soul mates can be romantic partners, they can also be close friends, business partners, and family members. The crow spirit tells you that you don’t always have to go it alone. Your helpers live and they are seeking to connect with you as you are to them.
In both modern and ancient cultures 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, which can be a frightening concept to many.
This depiction of crows as scary, which has been passed down from generation to generation, is why you see them on store-bought Halloween decorations today. Indeed, in ancient 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.
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, indeed, the continuum of the cycle of life. For this reason, crows are powerful symbols of transformation.
We are all here on Earth to learn and evolve. As souls, all of us are seeking enlightenment, whether we are proactive about it or not. While death is one of the ultimate transformations in your soul’s journey to enlightenment, there are also smaller transformations that occur throughout your lifetime here on Earth.
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. Thus the crow can be a symbol that serves as a catalyst for positive change in your life.
Like the owl, the crow is a symbol for psychic abilities. If the crow is one of your power animals, you possess special insights into situations where others may not. The crow is said to be able to see the past, present, and future – as they have a special awareness of time happening all at once. When you have a heightened awareness of situations, including the gift of prophecy, it is essential that you always act with good and loving intentions in your heart. It’s important to view your gifts as a serious responsibility.
Always ask God, or your Higher Power, to walk in their light and to use your gifts as a positive, healing, and loving force in the world.
Crow Meaning and Symbolism in Ancient Cultures
Crows have existed on every continent except Antarctica and South America, though jays, who are in the same family of birds as crows, do exist in South America. Thus crow symbolism and meanings can be found in cultures all over the world.
What is interesting is that in ancient cultures where people were primarily nomadic and relied on hunting and gathering, crows were seen as positive symbols. But in cultures that were more agrarian, crows were seen more negatively, possibly because they were disruptive to crops. The following are stories, legends, and meanings about crows throughout the world.
Native American Crow Meaning
Every Native American tribe has their own unique traditions and beliefs, but one thing they have in common is a deep reverence for animals and the natural world. While crow legends and the meaning of a crow in a person’s soul journey will vary from tribe to tribe, crows are seen as powerful beings who are worthy of respect across all Native American cultures.
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.
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.
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 read. I will tell a version here, and you can read a more detailed story here. Plus, there are a number of books about this story.
When the land grew cold…
In the ancient days, 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, and then the rabbit, 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 rules 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 brow, the Creator relented and touched a long branch to the Sun and 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 and get shorter and 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. But, exhausted, he flew up to a tree and perched on a branch. 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 escape and his sharp intellect could outwit wicked men who wants to do him harm. The Creator also told the Crow to look at his feathers in the sunlight. There he would be 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 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.
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 to North Dakota. In their own language, the Crow People are Absaroka, which means “children of the large-beaked bird.”
While it’s not known why the Crow People are associated with a bird vs. any other animal, what is clear is that they are named for a bird, possibly a magpie or jay that was native in their area long ago, and which is most likely extinct today. 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, and they possess the capability to change these laws, and thus effect outcomes.
Because of this wisdom and these special powers, crows are associated with healing. This is the root of crow medicine. The crow spirit 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.
Crow Meaning to Australian Aboriginal People
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.
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. Consequently, many of the people would get 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 that 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 chard his feathers and blackened them with soot.
Crows in Greek Mythology
In ancient Greece, the crow was sacred to the goddess Hera and the god Apollo. In one Greek myth, Apollo’s lover Coronis falls in love with Ischys. Apollo has a white crow whom he has left with Coronis to keep an eye on her.
The crow tells Apollo of the affair between Coronis and Ischys. Apollo is enraged and first directs his anger at the crow because he expected the crow to peck out the eyes of Ischys. Apollo is so enraged that he throws a fiery curse at Coronis, which singes the crow and turns his feathers black.
Crows are also associated with the goddess Hera. Because crows are monogamous and were often on the scene after battles, it is fitting that they were paired with the goddess of marriage and war.
The goddess Athena was also at once associated with crows, but she found them to be too mischievous and cunning, and instead chose the solemn owl to be her companion.
The ancient Romans took part in a spiritual practice called augury, which interpreted omens by the behavior or birds. In fact, the term is based on the word “auspices,” which comes from Latin word auspicium, which means “one who looks at birds.” Thus, the Romans watched the behavior of crows closely. In particular, they believed that the direction that the crows flew had symbolic meaning.
Crows in the Bible
Crows appear in the Bible frequently. In the story 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 of eating carrion from the sea.
After the crow, Noah sends a dove to see if there is dry land, and at first she returns and Noah realizes 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 realized that the Earth is finally habitable again. However, the crow is forever considered to be selfish for not flying back and telling Noah.
Crows are given a bad rap in other parts of the Bible as well, where they are depicted as unclean because they were carrion birds. This irrational fear was undoubtedly why crows were associated the occult and death.
Crow Symbolism in Celtic Mythology
For the ancient Celts, crows were sacred. They were associated with the god Lugh, who was a warrior god, a craftsman, and a protector.
Crows were also associated with the goddess Morrigan, who was believed to shapeshift into a crow. Morrigan was the goddess of war and death. In ancient Celtic stories, she was said to have flown over battlefields while screeching to encourage her warriors while striking fear into the hearts of enemies.
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 who flew over the Earth and brought back tales of the world to Odin.
Crow Meanings in Asian Cultures
Crows did not fare very well in ancient Chinese mythology. As with many other ancient cultures, crows were associated with the sun and fire in ancient China. 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, who shots down all of the crow sun except one.
However, there is one Chinese fairy tale that explains why there are days that you don’t see crows in the sky, and that is the story of the Weaving Maiden. In this story, crows form a magical bridge that allows the Weaving Maiden to meet her lover.
In Japan, crows were seen as messengers from the spirit world. They were also viewed as positive symbols of transformation and rebirth.
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 even 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 the god Sani, who rules the planet Saturn. Sani is a hot-tempered but highly intelligent god. 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.
Crows 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.
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 exact location. As he was pondering, a crow flew down and grabbed this scarf of 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 spot for the monastery.
“It is not necessary for eagles to be crows.”
– Sitting Bull
“Animals are certainly more sophisticated than we used to think. And we shouldn’t lump together animals as a group. Crows and chimps and dogs are all highly intelligent in very different ways.”
– Alison Gopnik
“What the Danes left in Ireland were hens and weasels. And when the cock crows in the morning, the country people will always say ‘It is for Denmark they are crowing. Crowing they are to be back in Denmark.’”
– Lady Gregory
“’As the crow flies’ – a popular and picturesque expression to denote a straight line.”
– William Henry Maule
“The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark when neither is attended.”
– William Shakespeare
Organizations that Protect 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. If you care about crows and other birds, please help to protect them. Here are some organizations and resources that are doing so: