Raven Symbolism, Meaning & the Raven Spirit Animal

Raven Symbolism, Meanings, and Spirit AnimalInfused with special powers and mystery, raven meaning and symbolism has entranced people from all over the world for centuries. Indeed, the raven spirit animal is a totem that exists in the mythology of cultures around the world.

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.

In this post, you’ll find a detailed guide on raven meanings, with ideas about what these symbols could mean in your life. To go to a specific section in this post, just click the jump links in the table of contents.

Table of Contents

In Ancient Cultures:

What is the symbolic meaning of a raven?

Raven Symbolism

Your interest in the raven spirit animal is a sign of an elevated level of consciousness. Indeed, it shows that you are in tune with the interconnectedness of life on Earth. Ravens have co-existed with humans for thousands of years, thus they are subjects of mythology and creation stories around the world.

Here are some common meanings and symbols applied to ravens:

  • Intelligence and Cunning

  • Survival and Adaptability

  • Partnerships and Guidance

  • Transformation and Opportunity

  • Third Eye, Prophecy, and Insights

Difference Between Ravens and Crows

"Ravens, Crows, and Magpies" by Wenceslaus Hollar
“Ravens, Crows, and Magpies” by Wenceslaus Hollar. Image: University of Toronto.

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. This family also includes magpies, jays, rooks, jackdaws, nutcrackers, treepies, and choughs. However, even though ravens and crows look a lot alike, there are some differences between the two.

One of the main differences is that a 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 with large groups of birds or with their significant other, ravens and crows are both monogamous and believed to mate for life.

Tail Feathers and Sounds

Another key difference between ravens and crows 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 birds in flight, the raven’s feathers will look like a pointed wedge, while the crows’ look more like a fan.

Ravens and crows also sound different. Ravens make a deep croaking sound, while crows make a cawing sound.

Raven Spirit Animal

Raven spirit animal

The raven spirit animal can be a helpful guide as you navigate your life journey. According to Native American traditions, you don’t necessarily choose your spirit animals; 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 and your soul’s journey as you seek enlightenment.

How do you know if the raven is your spirit animal?

You might already sense that the raven is one of your totem animals. 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, one may have 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 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, so read on!

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

Raven intelligence

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. In fact, the raven, along with their cousin the crow, is considered to be among 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 and tell his mate about the find, and then both will return to the place to eat.

Inventors

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 tied to a perch. In order to access the food, the raven had to figure out how to pull up the string without it dropping when he grabbed the food 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 food.

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.

Clever Tricksters

By the same token, ravens like to steal from each other. They are known to bury food they don’t eat, so other ravens don’t take it. However, they are not above stealing other ravens’ buried treasures. Thus, ravens will also pretend to bury food in one spot, and then sneak away and bury it somewhere else.

Use your wits.

When the raven is one of your spirit animals, you are called upon to rely on your wits in a given situation or when you are faced with a challenge. 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. Even if you feel emotional about a situation, remember to rely on the gift of your intellect to solve your problems.

The raven spirit animal also reminds you to protect your ideas and intellectual property, whatever format 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 a time you’re ready to share them with the world.

Survival and Adaptability

Corvus corax, raven

Ravens exist in a wide range of habitats, from the tundra above the Arctic Circle to the hot dry deserts of the American Southwest. They also live 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. In a world where so many species have died our or are endangered, ravens, like raccoons and coyotes, have managed to thrive in our human-dominated world.

Acrobatics

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.

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 totem also reminds you to be open to new experiences 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 food, trash, frogs, insects, fruits, vegetables, and more.

The raven spirit animal teaches you that every experience you have, whether good or bad, can be used to empower yourself 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

Running Wolf with Raven
“Running Wolf with Raven.” Artwork: Evgeny Hontor, Demiurgus Dreams.

Unlike crows, ravens don’t generally congregate in large groups with other ravens, except when they are 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

If you are very single and feel like you are missing your soul mate, the raven can also be good luck symbol. It never hurts to pray and ask your spirit guides or 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!

Raven in flight with mate

Transformation and Opportunity

In folklore throughout the world, ravens are seen as symbols 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. 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 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

Three-Eyed Raven
Three-Eyed Raven. Artwork: Alice Tams, Birds in Hats.

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 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 in the dream. 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 that we should address. 

Consider some of the common raven meanings and symbols described in this post, and 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, so that we can improve situations and perceptions of them.

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 ravens, and the dream feels very real, it could mean you connected with these souls on the astral plane.

Ravens in Ancient Cultures

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. Here are some raven meanings in some of these cultures.

Native American Raven Symbolism and Meanings

Raven, Native American Artwork
“Raven Quest.” Artwork: Karen Clarkson, Choctaw.

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 rave is seen as powerful entity, and at times a shapeshifter who can transition from animal to human and back.

In Native Americans legends, the raven was considered the wisest of birds, even possessing the ability to speak. This is an interesting parallel with stories from other cultures, such as Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, in which the bird also speaks.

For tribes in the Pacific Northwest, such as the Tlingit, Tahltan, and the Haida People, the raven was depicted 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 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, a tribe from the area that is now British Columbia, the raven was also 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.

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, which is a spiritual dance of protection and resistance against oppression that is shared by many tribes.

The Pathfinder

Just as they help wolves and coyotes find food, ravens helped Native American hunting parties to find bison and other animals. Thus, the raven was seen as a pathfinder. For the Sioux People, the raven was viewed as a savior who could lift ghost dancers up to heaven when the great flood came.

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 attracts 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. The Raven Mockers 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 over 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 into his pipe and walks around the home blowing the 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 in Greek and Roman Mythology

In Greek mythology, ravens are associated with the god Apollo, who was also the god of prophecy. In the story of Coronis, who is Apollo’s lover, Coronis falls in love with a man named Ischys. 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 happens to also singe the feathers of his raven, turning them black.

Raven Omen

Ravens could also be seen as bad omens in both Greek and Roman mythology, as they were associated with death, just as they were in so many other cultures.

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.” Thus, the Romans watched the behavior of ravens in order to tell the future.

Raven in Egyptian Mythology

The ancient Egyptians revered their animal companions. In many Egyptian tombs, the mummies of animal companions are found alongside the mummies of humans. The Egyptian goddess Nepthys, who is the sister of Isis, was the goddess of the dead. Thus, Nepthys is associated with the raven.

Raven Symbolism in the Bible

Ravens (or crows) appear throughout the Bible. In fact, they are the first birds mentioned in the Book of Genesis.

In the story 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 the raven is able to eat carrion from the sea.

After the raven, Noah sends a dove to see if there’s dry land, and at first the dove returns and 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.”

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.

Celtic Raven Symbolism

Ravens in the Tower of London
Jubilee and Munin, two ravens who live in the Tower of London. Photo: Colin.

Ravens figure 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.

Today, ravens roost in the Tower and some believe that if the ravens leave, the city of London will be unprotected. In fact, ravens did leave the Tower of London during WWII and Winston Churchill made sure that some were put back in the Tower to allay Londoners’ concerns.

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 there are references to ravens being used in battles.

Ravens and Celtic Gods and Goddesses

For the ancient Celts, ravens were also associated with battle. Undoubtedly because, as carrion-eating birds, ravens were present at many battle scenes. The Celtic goddess Morrigan, who was the goddess of war and death, is associated with ravens. It was believed that they would assist her in defeating her warriors’ enemies.

The Scottish goddess Cailleach Bheure, is a goddess of rebirth and fertility who is also associated with ravens.

The Celtic god Lugh, who was a sun god and a master of artisans and skills, is associated with the Roman god Mercury. Lugh is also a god of war and often depicted in the company of ravens.

Norse Raven Mythology

Odin with ravens
Odin with is weapons, wolves, and ravens by Wilhelm Wägner, 1882. Image: Carl Emil Doepler.

According to Nordic legends, the god Odin had two companions who were ravens. They were named Munnin and Hugi. These names translate to “Memory” and “Thought” in English. Munnin and Hugi served as Odin’s spies, bringing him news and information about happenings on Earth.

Raven Meaning in Asian Cultures

The Three-Legged Raven

Asian cultures, including Japan, China, and Korea, have myths about a three-legged raven who is associated with the sun. This three-legged raven also symbolizes divine intervention in activities that take place on the Earthly plane.

The Raven in Tibet

Raven artwork in a Tibetan banner
“Attributes of the six-handed Yeshe Gonpo.” Raven artwork in a Tibetan banner. Image: Wellcome Collection Gallery.

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 travels to what is now the Gyalrong district of eastern Tibet.

Ngawang Drakpa plans to build a monastery there, but is unsure about where to place it. As he is scouting around, a raven flies down and grabs his scarf. He follows the raven to a juniper tree, where the raven places the scarf on one of the branches. Thus, the monk saw this as an auspicious sign that this was the right place to build the monastery.

Hindu Raven Mythology

In Hindu culture, the raven helps to link the living with the dead. In the Hindu practice of Shradh, Hindus will feed ravens and crows with the belief that the birds will then bring food to their ancestors who have passed. Hindus vew the raven as a messenger between Earth and the Pitruloka, which is like Heaven in Judeo-Christian beliefs. In fact, it is considered good luck for a raven to eat offerings given to ancestors first, before a group of crows partakes.

Organizations that Protect Ravens

In the United States, ravens are 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.

Even though they are federally protected and are plentiful, like the vast majority of wild animals on our planet, ravens do face threats from human beings. These include being shot at, poisoned, and from ingesting toxins in the environment. They are also threatened by dogs and cats. If you care about ravens, please help to protect them. Here are some organizations and resources that are working to protect ravens and other birds:

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