Raven symbolism and meanings include intelligence, adaptability, partnerships, guidance, transformation, and prophecy. Insightful and mysterious, the raven has fascinated people from cultures around the world for centuries.
In this post, we’ll explore all facets of raven meaning and symbolism, including raven spiritual meaning, the raven spirit animal, and what a raven appearing in your life might mean. We’ll also delve into the raven mythology and folklore.
Table of Contents
- What does a raven symbolize?
- Detailed Raven Symbolism and Meanings
- What does it mean if you see two ravens?
- Raven Mythology and Folklore
- Native American Raven Meanings
- Ravens in Greek and Roman Mythology
- The Raven in Egyptian Mythology
- Raven Meanings in the Bible
- The Raven in Celtic Mythology
- Ravens in Norse Mythology
- Three-Legged Raven in Asian Mythology
- Ravens in Hinduism
- The Raven in Tibetan Buddhism
- 3 Raven Spiritual Meanings
- Raven Spirit Animal
- Raven Power Animal
- Raven Totem Animal
- Raven Dream Meaning
- Raven Tattoo Meaning
- How You Can Help Ravens
What does a raven symbolize?
Here are some high-level raven meanings. We’ll go into detail on these throughout this post:
- Intelligence and Cunning
- Survival and Adaptability
- Partnerships and Guidance
- Transformation and Opportunity
- Third Eye, Prophecy, and Insights
But first, what’s the difference between a raven and a crow?
Before we get started, you might be wondering what the difference is between a raven and a crow. Indeed, the two birds are closely related and they do share some symbolic meanings.
Indeed, in some stories, such as some Native American legends and the story of Noah’s Ark, it’s difficult to determine whether the story is depicting a raven or a crow – or a common ancestor of both species. And in most cases, it’s ok if it’s either one! But from a biological viewpoint, there are some differences between the two.
Both of these black birds are from a family of birds called Corvidae, or corvids. This family also includes magpies, jays, rooks, jackdaws, nutcrackers, treepies, and choughs.1 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.
In addition to size and social behavior, 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 are also different. The raven will make a deep croaking sound, while the crow makes a cawing sound.2
Detailed Raven Symbolism and Meanings
Now that we have that settled, here are some meanings and symbols that are applied to ravens and what they might signify in your life:
Intelligence and Cunning
The raven is considered one of the smartest birds. In fact, the raven’s brain is among the largest of any bird species. Ravens also happen to 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, not only one of the smartest birds, but also 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. Then both will return to the place to eat.4
Hence, the raven is a powerful symbol for using the gift of your intellect!
Raven Symbolism: The Art of Invention
Like the chimpanzee, the raven can also 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 to pull the string up in bits. Then, she would stand on the string after each section was pulled to hold it in place. Finally, the string was short enough for her to access the treat.
Ravens are also known to be quite cunning. In fact, they’re opportunists. Young ravens are especially curious, and they are 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, even taunting other ravens when they have one. Some biologists believe this is to show off to other ravens.
Raven will also hoard objects in a cache. Like a baboon who caches food, the raven will bury food they don’t eat, so other ravens don’t take it.
However, ravens aren’t above stealing other ravens’ buried treasures. Yet, clever ravens are on to this kind of trickery. So, they will pretend to bury an item in one spot. Then, they will sneak away and bury it somewhere else.5
Use your wits.
Because the raven symbolizes intelligence and cleverness, they remind us to use our wits.
When the raven is your spirit animal, you are being 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 is also a reminder to protect your ideas and intellectual property, whatever form they take. Whether it’s your creativity, your work product, or even your aspirations, you are under 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.
Raven Meaning: 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.
Masters at Acrobatics
In addition to their impressive brainpower, the raven is quite an agile flier. 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 to the catch them.7
Thus, 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 have the capacity to push through any challenges so you can come out ahead.
Be open to new experiences.
In addition to being intelligent and agile, another reason that ravens are so enduring is that they’re omnivores. Like their blue corvid cousin, the blue jay, a raven will eat anything, from carrion to human garbage, frogs, insects, fruits, and vegetables – even other birds and their eggs.
Thus, ravens symbolize the idea of open-mindedness and embracing new experiences.
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 bad experiences, whether heartbreaking, stressful, abusive, or disappointing. But it’s up to you to decide if those experiences will poison the rest of your life 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 chicks 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 read about 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 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 says to seek out partners who complement you. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and the partner who balances you is worthy of your time and energy! After all, this is how you create 1 + 1 = 3 scenarios. Furthermore, the raven understands the concept of reciprocity, or give and take.
What does it mean if you see two ravens?
If you see two ravens together, they are likely a bonded pair. Thus, seeing two ravens is always a good omen for a romantic relationship or other long-term partnerships.
If you are single and feel like you are missing your soulmate in this lifetime, seeing two ravens is good luck for connecting with your lifetime partner. Indeed, seeing two ravens can mean your soulmate is looking for you.
Raven Meaning: Transformation and Opportunity
In folklore throughout the world, the raven is a symbol of change and 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. Indeed, ancient people saw carrion birds as scary.
However, on a spiritual level, death is not an end but a transformation to another state of existence and consciousness.
While death is one of the ultimate transformations that occurs on our soul’s journey to enlightenment, there are smaller transformations that occur throughout one’s lifetime.
So, if a raven appears to you, consider the areas in your life 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, moving, 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. Thus, he is familiar with the fact that in many cultural traditions, the raven is seen as a source of insight and knowledge.
The Three-Eyed Raven
In the Game of Thrones, the three-eyed raven is a central character and concept. Indeed, a three-eyed raven represents the idea that ravens have supernatural powers, including the gift of foresight.
The third eye is the instrument for taking in extra-sensory perceptions. In fact, the Irish say that a person who possesses a “raven’s knowledge” has “the sight” or the gift of prophecy.
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
The famous poem The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe, was inspired by another acclaimed piece of literature – Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty. In both tales, the raven is at first disturbing to the character who interacts with him. But then he provides important insights. Indeed, the raven expands both of 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 Mythology and Folklore
Because ravens live in a wide range of environments, they appear in the mythology and folklore of many cultural traditions. Here are some of those stories:
Native American Raven Meanings
Every 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 spiritual entity. Indeed, many tribes see the raven as a shapeshifter who can transition from bird to human and back.
In many Native American legends, the raven is the wisest of birds, even possessing the ability to speak.8 (In fact, this is an interesting parallel between Native American legends and stories from other cultures, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, in which the intelligent black bird is capable of human speech.)
Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest, such as the Tlingit, Tahltan, and the Haida depict the raven as a smart trickster who protects good people and who outsmarts his enemies.
Raven in Tlingit and Haida Culture
The Tlingit People of the Pacific Northwest have numerous raven legends. And the raven totem animal is an important spiritual guardian in their culture. Indeed, the shiny black raven is one of their creator spirits, who was present during the creation of everything – including daylight, fresh water, and the oceans’ tides.
For the Haida People of British Columbia, the raven is a creator spirit as well as a healer and a magician. In fact, according to Haida legends, the raven 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 protector spirit and a sacred being in the Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dance is a spiritual ritual for protection and resistance against oppression. It is shared by many tribes.
For the Sioux People of the Great Plains, the raven is a savior who can lift ghost dancers up to heaven when there are floods.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 is also seen as a pathfinder in Native American Culture.
Cherokee Raven Legend
The Cherokee have a number of creation stories about the raven. One popular story is the Raven Mocker.
In Cherokee culture, if a person falls sick, 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 to steal the heart from the ill person’s chest. And if they’re 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 man must watch over the ill person. And if they do die, the medicine man must oversee 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.11
Ravens in 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 sent his white raven to spy on Coronis.
The raven notified Apollo that Coronis was romantically involved with Ischys, which enraged Apollo. So, the sun god threw a fiery curse at Coronis, which also happened to singe the feathers of his raven, turning them black. Thus, this is why the raven has black feathers.
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, the Greeks and Romans associated the raven with death.
However, although they considered them to be bad luck, the ancient Romans monitored the behavior of ravens because they thought they could tell them about the future.
The Romans used a divining method called augury, which interpreted omens by the behavior of birds. The term “augury” is loosely derived from Latin word auspicium, which means “one who looks at birds.”12
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, and many were part animal and part human.
The Egyptian goddess Nepthys, who is the sister of Isis, was the goddess of the dead.13 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 (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.
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
The Raven in Celtic Mythology
The raven also figures prominently throughout Celtic and English mythology. For example, Brân the Blessed, or King Brân, is a character in Welsh mythology whose name means “raven.” He is also sometimes referred to as a raven god. (Notably, he shares his first name with Bran Stark, the character in Game of Thrones.)
According to the ancient tale, 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 of London. Indeed, Londoners believe that if the ravens 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.
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 both war and death, is associated with ravens. The Celts believed the ravens assisted the warrior goddess as she helped them defeat their enemies.
The Celts also associated the Scottish goddess Cailleach Bheure, who was the goddess of rebirth and fertility, with ravens.18
Furthermore, they connected their god Lugh, who was a sun god and a master of artisans, skills, and warfare, with ravens.19
Ravens in Norse Mythology
In Norse mythology, the god Odin had two raven companions whom he called Munnin and Hugi. These names translate to “Memory” and “Thought.”
According to Nordic legends, Munnin and Hugi served as Odin’s spies, bringing him news and information about what was happening on Earth.20
Three-Legged Raven in Asian Mythology
A number of Asian cultures, including Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, have myths about a three-legged raven whom they associated with the sun. According to these myths, the three-legged raven played a role in divine intervention in activities that took place on Earth.
Notably, in Japanese mythology, seeing a raven, whom they called Yatagarasu, was confirmation of the will of the divine in a particular matter. Hence, the mascot for the Japanese national soccer team is a raven (or crow.)21
Ravens in Hinduism
In Hinduism, the raven can transcend the land of the living and the dead. In fact, 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.22
The Raven in Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetans view the raven as an auspicious bird and a protector of wisdom.
In fact, in a Tibetan Buddhist story from the 15th century, a monk named Ngawang Drakpa traveled to what is now the Gyalrong district of eastern Tibet.
Ngawang Drakpa planned to build a monastery there, but he 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.23
3 Raven Spiritual Meanings
In conjunction with what has been referenced above, here are some raven spiritual meanings:
- Intuition – Because the raven is so closely associated with clairvoyance and prophecy, on a spiritual level, they remind us of our own ability to connect with our Higher Power and higher spiritual entities through our own minds.
- Spiritual Guidance – As they are associated with insight and guidance, the raven is also a symbol for spiritual education. We are all works in progress. Learning about spirituality from more enlightened souls can lead to our own spiritual growth.
- Spiritual Transformation – As a powerful symbol of transformation, the raven also embodies the idea of shifting consciousness and opening our minds to greater awareness as we navigate our spiritual journey.
Raven Spirit Animal
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 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.
In addition, for many of us, we simply feel a powerful kinship with certain animals. Some of us have felt this our entire lives. Or we have an encounter with a particular animal who has an indelible impact on us.
As mentioned above, raven people are deeply insightful. People who know you well will probably describe you as intelligent and innovative. They might even claim you are intuitive, even psychic.
Additionally, when the raven is your spirit animal, you are likely a person who is extremely devoted to your mate, or, as Nat King Cole sang, when you fall in love, it will be forever.
If you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take the spirit animal test on UniGuide.
Raven 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 raven power animal when you:
- Are facing a problem in your life and you can’t seem to figure out how to tackle it. The raven power animal reminds you to not get overly emotional. Take a step back, re-analyzes, and to use your wits!
- Are looking for your romantic soulmate or want your existing relationship to withstand the test of time. The raven power animal is good luck for long-term relationships!
- Want to hone your intuition and expand your psychic awareness.
Raven Totem Animal
Animal totems embody the protective powers of the animal they represent. Thus, the raven totem animal is a helpful symbol for when you’re going into a situation where you will be challenged intellectually. The raven is good luck for being sharp-minded!
In addition, the raven totem is also a good luck symbol for romantic relationships and other partnerships that you want to withstand the test of time.
Finally, the raven totem animal is a helpful talisman for transformation, intelligence, and fine tuning your third eye.
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 an anxious raven dream can be a gift. It can prompt you to take the time to be an objective observer of your own thoughts. Then, you can improve situations without getting pulled in every direction your thoughts might take.
In addition, many psychics and 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) and the dream is particularly vivid and memorable, it can mean that you connected with the spirit of that loved one. Ravens, in particular, are closely associated with the metaphysical. So, raven dreams can signify that you connected with others on the astral, or another spiritual, plane.
Raven Tattoo Meaning
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 learning more about the symbolic meaning of ravens and delving into the multi-faceted cultural beliefs about these deeply intelligent birds will imbue your tattoo with extra meaning.
How You Can Help 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. It also means that you cannot possess raven feathers unless you are a Native American and use them in religious ceremonies.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. These include being shot at, poisoned, and from ingesting toxins in the environment. In addition, both pet and feral dogs and cats threaten raves. If you love ravens, please do what you can 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
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