Infused with special powers and mystery, raven symbolism and meanings have entranced people from all over the world for centuries. Raven symbols include intelligence, adaptability, partnerships, guidance, transformation, and prophecy. And the raven spirit animal is a totem that exists in the mythology of cultures around the world.
In this post, you’ll find a detailed guide on raven symbols, with ideas about what these signs could mean in your life. You’ll also learn about raven mythology and more.
Table of Contents
- What does the raven symbolize?
- Detailed Raven Meanings and Symbols
- Raven Spirit Animal
- Ravens in Ancient Mythology and Folklore
- Native American Raven Meanings
- Raven Totem
- Greek and Roman Mythology
- The Raven in Egyptian Mythology
- Raven Meanings in the Bible
- Celtic Raven Symbolism
- Norse Raven Mythology
- Asian Raven Meanings
- Three-Legged Raven in Japan, China, and Korea
- The Raven in Tibetan Buddhism
- Hindu Raven Mythology
- Raven Dream Meaning
- Raven Tattoo
- Organizations that Protect Ravens
What does the raven symbolize?
Ravens exist for themselves. They are not here for us. Yet, they have much to teach us. Like their close cousin the crow, the raven is a deeply intelligent being. When the raven is your spirit guide, you are blessed with the capacity for powerful insights. If you are fascinated with ravens, by all means explore that sense of wonder. The raven can help to guide you on your soul’s journey.
Here are some commonly shared raven meanings:
- Intelligence and Cunning
- Survival and Adaptability
- Partnerships and Guidance
- Transformation and Opportunity
- Third Eye, Prophecy, and Insights
Difference Between a Raven and a Crow
In some ancient stories, it’s difficult to determine whether the story is depicting a raven or a crow – or a common ancestor of both species. Both birds are from a family of birds called Corvidae, or corvids.1 This family also includes magpies, jays, rooks, jackdaws, nutcrackers, treepies, and choughs. However, even though the raven and the crow look a lot alike, especially with their shiny black feathers, there are differences between the two.
One of the main differences is that ravens are generally larger than crows. In addition, ravens tend to hang out in pairs, sticking with their mate. While crows prefer to congregate in large groups. However, whether they spend time in large groups or with their significant other, both of these birds are monogamous and believed to mate for life.
Tail Feathers and Sounds
Another key difference between the raven and the crow is the shape of their tail feathers. Ravens have longer middle tail feathers, while crows’ are all the same length. So, if you see the two black birds in flight, the raven’s feathers will look like a pointed wedge, while the crow’s will look more like a fan.
The noises that ravens and crows make also different. The raven will make a deep croaking sound, while the crow makes a cawing sound.2
Detailed Raven Meanings and Symbols
Here are some meanings and symbols that are applied to ravens and what they could mean in your life.
Intelligence and Cunning
The raven’s brain is among the largest of any bird species, and they possess an extraordinary number of brain cells compared to the brains of other birds.3 In fact, the raven, along with their cousin the crow, is considered to be one the most intelligent animals on the planet, on par with wolves, coyotes, and primates.
The biologist Bernd Heinrich and linguist Derek Bickerton theorize that ravens are one of only four animals, which includes humans, bees, and ants, that demonstrate the capacity to communicate about objects and events that are distant in space or time. For example, when a raven leaves his roost and finds a food source, he will return to his nest to tell his mate about the find, and then both will return to the place to eat.4
Like the chimpanzee, the raven has also been shown to create and manipulate tools, thus they are sometimes described as “inventors” by animal behaviorists. For example, in one study, researchers tied food to the end of a string, which they then tied to a perch. In order to access the treat, the raven had to figure out how to pull up the string without it dropping when he grabbed the reward with his beak. So, the raven figured out how pull the string up in bits at a time, then stand on the string after each section was pulled, until the string was short enough that she could access the treat.
Ravens are also known to be quite cunning. In fact, they are opportunists. Young ravens are especially curious and they’re attracted to shiny objects. Like dogs who love to play chase when one who has a toy, ravens like to collect the shiny objects they find. Some biologists believe this is to show off to other ravens. A raven will also hoard objects in a cache.
By the same token, ravens like to steal from each other. Like a baboon who caches food, the raven will bury food they don’t eat, so other ravens don’t take it. However, they are not above stealing other ravens’ buried treasures. So, a raven will also pretend to bury items in one spot, and then sneak away and bury it somewhere else.5
Use your wits.
When the raven is your spirit animal, you are called upon to rely on your wits in a given situation or when you are faced with a challenge in your life. Often in life, we can go on automatic pilot, accepting things the way they are, or thinking we don’t have the capacity to change them. The raven spirit animal tells you that with innovation and creative thinking, you can influence outcomes that affect the course of your life. Even if you feel emotional about a situation, remember to rely on the gift of your intellect to solve your problems. This is how you gain deeper intelligence and wisdom.
The raven spirit guide also reminds you to protect your ideas and intellectual property, whatever form they take. Whether it’s your creativity, your work product, or even your aspirations, you have no obligation to share them! You are entitled to protect your “cache” of dreams and ideas until the time when you’re ready to share them with the world.
Survival and Adaptability
The shiny black raven can survive and thrive in a wide range of habitats, from the tundra above the Arctic Circle to the hot dry deserts of the American Southwest. The raven also thrives in forests, mountains, on the coast, and in the urban jungle.
The raven has shown an uncanny ability to adapt, survive, and even thrive in a wide range of conditions.6 In a world where so many species have died out or are endangered, ravens, like raccoons and coyotes, have managed to thrive in our human-dominated world.
Therefore, ravens are powerful totems for dealing with an unusually challenging environment, whether it’s your home or work environment or even unfamiliar territory.
The raven is quite an agile flyer. They can perform complex aerobatics in the air, including rolling, tucking their wings and diving, and playing with objects by throwing them into the air then swooping down the catch them.7
When the raven is your totem animal, you should have the confidence that you can handle whatever life throws your way. Even if it’s a painful or less than ideal situation, by being agile and using your wits, you can survive and push through any situation to get to better days ahead.
Be open to new experiences.
The raven spirit also reminds you to be open to new experiences in your life and to not fear change. One of the reasons that ravens are so enduring is that they’re omnivores. They will eat anything, from carrion to other birds and their eggs, to human garbage, frogs, insects, fruits, vegetables, and more.
The raven spirit animal teaches you that every experience you have in life, whether good or bad, can be used to enrich your life and create a better future. No one enjoys terrible experiences, whether heartbreaking, abusive, or disappointing. But it’s up to you to decide if those experiences will poison you or be used to nurture your growth. The raven says that you can find nourishment in every situation and use any challenge to evolve and become the person you want to be.
Partnerships and Guidance
Unlike crows, ravens don’t generally congregate in large groups with other ravens, except when they’re juveniles seeking a mate. In general, they spend most of their time with their mate, as ravens are monogamous and mate for life.
A pair of ravens will work together to set up their nest and raise their young until they’re ready to go off on their own. Ravens also interact with other species in symbiotic relationships.
For example, a raven will alert a pack of wolves or coyotes if they see a carcass of another dead animal. When the canines tear open the carcass, it makes it easier for the raven to access the meat. (Similarly, as you’ll see in the section on ravens in Native American culture below, ravens also helped people to hunt in the same way by alerting them to herds of bison and elk.)
For these reasons, the raven is seen as a symbol of partnership. This could be a romantic partnership or some other collaboration, such as a creative or business partnership. The raven spirit animal tells you to seek out partners who complement you, creating a 1 + 1 = 3 scenario. The raven understands the concept of reciprocity, or give and take.
Good Luck in Finding a Mate
If you are single and feel like you are missing a soul mate in this lifetime, the raven can also be a good luck symbol for finding the right lifetime partner. It never hurts to pray and ask your spirit guides and your Higher Power to help you find your soul mate. If you see two ravens, it can be a sign that your soul mate is also looking for you.
Transformation and Opportunity
In folklore throughout the world, the raven is seen as a symbol of change, as well as opportunity. They are also seen as intermediaries between the material and spirit worlds. Because they eat carrion, ravens have long been associated with death and even bad luck. So, it’s understandable that many find them scary. However, on a spiritual level, death is not an end but a transformation to another state of existence and consciousness.
The following video is not about ravens, however, I wanted to include it here because it addresses this concept of death as transformation. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh talks about this concept in a way that I found very comforting. This video is from Plum Village.
While death is one of the ultimate transformations in a soul’s journey to enlightenment, there are also smaller transformations that occur throughout one’s lifetime here on Earth.
When you consider the raven, think about your life and the areas that you want to transform and improve. This could be something small, like changing a habit, or it could be something greater, such as your career, a move, getting out of an unhealthy relationship, or overcoming an addiction. The raven symbol can serve as a catalyst for positive change in your life.
Third Eye, Prophecy, and Insights
In the TV series Game of Thrones, ravens are central to the plot. In fact, the name of the main character Bran means “raven” in Welsh. Author George R. R. Martin is an expert on mythology, and in many cultural traditions, the raven is seen as a source of insight and knowledge.
The Three-Eyed Raven
The three-eyed raven is symbolic for the raven having supernatural powers, including the gift of foresight. The third eye is a symbol of extra-sensory perception. The Irish say that a person who possesses a “raven’s knowledge” has “the sight” or the gift of prophecy.
Edgar Alan Poe’s The Raven
In Edgar Alan Poe’s poem The Raven, which was inspired by yet another piece of literature – Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty, the raven is at first disturbing, but then provides important insights. Indeed, in both stories, the raven expands the main characters’ level of consciousness.
If the raven is your spirit animal, you have the gift of insight into situations where others may be in the dark. When you have this kind of heightened awareness, including psychic abilities, it’s imperative that you use these gifts to be a force for good in the world. Always ask God, or your Higher Power, to walk in their light, so that you can use your gifts as a healing and loving force in the world.
Raven Spirit Animal
The raven spirit animal can be a helpful guide as you navigate your soul’s journey. According to Native American traditions, you don’t necessarily choose your spirit animal; instead, they choose you. And you can have more than one. For Native Americans, a spirit animal will choose you when you are on a vision quest or in another powerful experience that affects the course or your life.
If a raven captures your attention, whether in real life or through art, the media, or elsewhere – take note. There are no coincidences. Your spirit animal serves as a guide, bringing you messages from the Universe to help guide you on your life path as you seek enlightenment.
How do you know if the raven is your spirit animal?
You might already sense that the raven is your power animal. If that’s the case, you may learn some new things in this post that give your deeper insights. There is always more we can learn from these wise beings. And if you’re still wondering, consider the questions below and read more about the raven in this post. Hopefully you will have some “aha” moments! If you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take the spirit animal test on UniGuide.
Questions to consider:
- Were you especially interested in ravens as child?
- Has a raven made himself or herself known to you, whether by croaking at you from a perch, hopping nearby, or by flying directly in front of you? Or, has one riveted your attention in art, the media, on a piece of jewelry, or in some other way?
- Do you feel a connection to ravens, and is your interest piqued when you see them or hear about them?
- Has a raven entered your dreams?
- Are there stories or movies with a raven or ravens that had a strong impact on you and stayed with you?
- Have your friends or family ever described you as insightful or even psychic?
- Do you prefer spending one-on-one time with your significant other or a best friend vs. going to parties or places with large groups?
If you answered yes to the majority of these questions, you are likely a raven person.
Ravens in Ancient Mythology and Folklore
There are roughly ten subspecies of ravens and they inhabit countries mainly in the Northern Hemisphere. Because of their wide range, stories and folklore with ravens can be found in many cultural traditions.
Native American Raven Meanings
Each Native American tribe has their own set of creation stories and traditions. But one set of beliefs they all share is a reverence for animals and the natural world. Throughout Native American culture, the raven is seen as a powerful entity. At times, they are a shapeshifter who can transition from bird to human and back.
In Native American legends, the raven was considered the wisest of birds, even possessing the ability to speak.8 (This is an interesting parallel between Native American legends and stories from other cultures, such as Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, in which the bird also speaks.)
Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest, such as the Tlingit, Tahltan, and the Haida People, depicted the raven as a smart trickster who protected good people and who could outsmart his enemies.
The Tlingit and Haida People
For the Tlingit People, there are numerous raven stories. Indeed, the shiny black raven is seen as a creator spirit, who is present for the creation of everything, from daylight to fresh water to the oceans’ tides.
For the Haida People, who hail from the area that is now British Columbia, the raven was a creator as well as a healer and magician. In fact, the raven is seen as having brought the sun, moon, stars, fire, and fresh water to the world.9
Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni
For the tribes of the American Southwest, including the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni, the raven is a sacred being in the Ghost Dance. This dance is a spiritual ritual for protection and resistance against oppression that is shared by many tribes.
For the Sioux People, the raven was viewed as a savior who could lift ghost dancers up to heaven when the great flood came.10
Just as they help wolves and coyotes find food, ravens helped Native American hunting parties to find bison and other animals. For this reason, the raven was seen as a pathfinder.
Cherokee Raven Legend
The Cherokee have a number of creation stories about the raven. One popular story is that of the Raven Mocker. In Cherokee culture, if a person falls sicks, their illness can attract bad spirits who will come and try to hasten the person’s death. One of these evil spirits is the Raven Mocker (Kâ’lanû Ahkyeli’skï), who tries to rob people of their life.
While the family and friends of the sick person may not see these evil spirits (and there can be more than one), they won’t know why their loved one is getting sicker. Meanwhile, the Raven Mocker will try steal the heart from the ill person’s chest. And if they are successful, they will sew up the wound so the family doesn’t know what happened.
Only a medicine man can drive the Raven Mockers away. The medicine many must watch over the ill person. And if they do die, the medicine man must watch the person until they are buried to ensure the Raven Mockers don’t steal the heart.
The medicine man also puts four stakes in the ground around the ill person’s home. He then puts sacred tobacco in his pipe and walks around the home blowing protective smoke. Then he waits. If a Raven Mocker comes, one of the stakes will fly up like an arrow and destroy it.
The raven totem represents the protective powers and insights of this beautiful black bird. This totem serves as a powerful symbol for transformation, intelligence, and fine tuning your third eye. Like the eagle totem, the raven is also a symbol for long-term success in love and finding devoted and faithful partnerships.
Greek and Roman Mythology
The ancient Greeks associated the raven with the god Apollo. Naturally, Apollo was the god of prophecy. In the story of Coronis, who is Apollo’s lover, Coronis falls in love with a man named Ischys. Feeling suspicious, Apollo sends his white raven to spy on Coronis. The raven notifies Apollo that Coronis is romantically involved with Ischys, which enrages Apollo. So, the sun god throws a fiery curse at Coronis, which also happens to singe the feathers of his raven, turning them black.
Both the ancients Greeks and Romans believed that seeing a black raven was a bad omen and a sign of bad luck. Like so many other cultures, they associated the raven with death.
Although they considered them to be bad luck at times, the ancient Romans monitored the behavior of ravens as they thought it could tell them about the future. The ancient Romans used a divining method called augury, which interpreted omens by the behavior or birds. The term “augury” is loosely derived from Latin word “auspicium,” which means “one who looks at birds.”11
The Raven in Egyptian Mythology
The ancient Egyptians revered their animal companions. In fact, in many Egyptian tombs, the mummies of animal companions are found alongside the mummies of humans. The Egyptians regularly connected their deities with animals. In fact, many were part animal and part human. The Egyptian goddess Nepthys, who is the sister of Isis, was the goddess of the dead.12 It’s clear that the ancient Egyptians also connected the raven with death, as they associated Nepthys with this intelligence black bird.
Raven Meanings in the Bible
Raven and (or crow) symbolism appears throughout the Bible. In fact, the raven is the first bird mentioned in the Book of Genesis.
In the story of the Great Flood, after 40 days, Noah sends a raven (or crow or, more likely, an ancestor of modern-day corvids) to find dry land after the flood. The raven does not return. So Noah assumes that suitable dry land has not been found, as he knows the raven is able to eat carrion from the sea.
After the raven, Noah sends a dove to see if there’s dry land. At first, the dove returns. So, Noah realizes there is still no suitable land on which to dock the ark. But a week later, he sends the dove out again and she returns with a freshly plucked olive branch, so Noah realizes that the Earth is finally habitable again.13
Elsewhere in the Bible, in the Book of Kings 17:4, God tells the prophet Elijah that the ravens will feed him: “You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”14
And in the story of Cain and Abel, it is the raven who teaches Abel how to bury his brother Cain after he kills him.15
Celtic Raven Symbolism
The raven also figures prominently throughout ancient Celtic and English mythology. Brân the Blessed, or King Brân, is a character in Welsh mythology whose name means “raven.” (Notably, he shares his first name with Bran Stark, the character in Game of Thrones.)
According to ancient legend, Brân the Blessed was a fierce warrior who was beheaded. Legend has it that his head is buried beneath what is now the Tower of London, facing France. Brân’s head is thought to protect the city of London.
To this day, ravens roost in the Tower. Londoners believe that if they leave, the city of London will be unprotected. In fact, the ravens did leave the Tower during WWII. So, Winston Churchill ensured ravens were put back in the Tower to allay Londoners’ concerns.16
In the King Arthur legends, there is much mystery around how and where King Arthur died and was buried. One legend has it that he died at Avalon and was turned into a raven. And in the 13th century Welsh story The Dream of Rhonabwy, Rhonabwy dreams that King Arthur talks to him and he mentions ravens being used in battles.17
The Raven and Celtic Gods and Goddesses
For the ancient Celts, the raven was associated with battle. Undoubtedly because, as carrion-eating birds, ravens were often present at battle scenes. The Celtic goddess Morrigan, who was the goddess of war and death, is associated with ravens. The Celts believed the ravens assisted her in defeating her warriors’ enemies.
The Celts associated the Scottish goddess Cailleach Bheure, who was the goddess of rebirth and fertility, with ravens.18
In addition, the Celts connected their god Lugh, who was a sun god and a master of artisans, skills, and warfare, with ravens.19
Norse Raven Mythology
According to Nordic legends, the god Odin had two raven companions whom he called Munnin and Hugi. These names translate to “Memory” and “Thought.” Munnin and Hugi served as Odin’s spies, bringing him news and information about happenings on Earth.20
Asian Raven Meanings
Three-Legged Raven in Japan, China, and Korea
Asian cultures, including Japan, China, and Korea, have myths about a three-legged raven whom they associated with the sun. This three-legged raven also symbolized divine intervention in activities that take place on the Earthly plane.21
The Raven in Tibetan Buddhism
The Tibetans view the raven as an auspicious bird and a protector of wisdom. In a Tibetan Buddhist story from the 15th century, a monk named Ngawang Drakpa travelled to what is now the Gyalrong district of eastern Tibet.
Ngawang Drakpa planned to build a monastery there, but was unsure of where to place it. As he was scouting around, a raven flew down and grabbed his scarf. Ngawang followed the raven to a juniper tree, where the raven placed the scarf on one of the branches. So, the monk saw this as an auspicious sign that this was the right place to build the monastery.22
Hindu Raven Mythology
In Hindu culture, the raven helps to link the living with the dead. In the Hindu practice of Shradh, Hindus feed ravens and crows. They do so because they believe the birds will then bring food to their ancestors who have passed.
Hindus view the raven as a messenger between Earth and the Pitruloka, which is like Heaven in Judeo-Christian beliefs. In fact, the Hindus consider it good luck if a raven eats offerings given to their ancestors first, before a group of crows partakes.23
Raven Dream Meaning
If you dream of a raven, it’s important to analyze the emotions you felt in the dream. These feelings will give you insights into what the raven may symbolize for you. For example, did you feel fear or joy? Anxiety or wonder? Dreams can reveal things that we’re not actively addressing in our conscious, awake state – but which we should address.
Consider some of the common raven meanings and symbols described in this post. Then, reflect on the areas of your life that they might relate to. Even anxious dreams can be gifts. They can prompt us to take the time to be objective observers of our own thoughts. Then, we can improve situations without getting pulled in every direction our thoughts take us.
Many psychic mediums say that you should pay particular attention to your vivid dreams. If you dream of people you know or a pet (living or who have passed), as well as creatures like a raven, and the dream feels very real, it could mean you have connected with these souls on the astral plane.
A raven tattoo tells the world that you believe in the magic and mystery of life, and that you are also deeply connected to the metaphysical realm. It can also demonstrate that you are a person who embraces change. Or that you are undergoing your own personal transformations. Tattoos are obviously deeply personal. But hopefully delving into the multi-faceted cultural belief around these intelligent birds will imbue extra meaning into your tattoo.
Organizations that Protect Ravens
In the United States, the raven is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This means that you cannot legally kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, transport, or export these birds, their parts, eggs, or nests, except under the terms of a valid Federal permit.24
Thankfully, ravens are federally protected and their numbers are plentiful. However, like the vast majority of wild animals on our planet, ravens still face threats from human beings. These include being shot at, poisoned, and ingesting toxins in the environment. Both pet and feral dogs and cats also threaten raves. If you care about ravens, please help to protect them. Here are some organizations that are working to protect ravens and other birds:
- Institute for Wildlife Studies
- Audubon Society
- Defenders of Wildlife
- The Alalā Project
- San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
- Institute for Wildlife Studies