“Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.
― Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven
I decided to blog about the raven, a bird used in many stories and poetry, including the famous poem, “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. There is myths and legends about this bird, all interesting. So grab a cup of coffee or tea, relax, and read what I dug up.
Because of its black plumage, croaking call, and diet of carrion, ravens has long been considered birds of ill omen and of interest to creators of myths and legends.
The raven is the national bird of Bhutan, and it adorns the royal hat, representing the deity Gonpo Jarodonchen (Mahakala with a Raven’s head; one of the important guardian deities of Bhutanese culture.). As a carrion bird, ravens became associated with the dead and with lost souls. In Sweden they are known as the ghosts of murdered persons.
In Irish mythology ravens are associated with warfare and the battleground in the figures of Badb and Morrígan. The goddess An Morrígan alighted on the hero Cú Chulainn’s shoulder in the form of a raven after his death.
Ravens were also associated with the Welsh god Bran the Blessed (the brother of Branwen), whose name translates to “raven.” According to the Mabinogion, Bran’s head was buried in the White Hill of London as a talisman against invasion. The name of the god, Lugh, is also derived from a Celtic word for “raven.” He is the god of the sun, and the creator of the arts and sciences. He is depicted as giant and the King of the Britons in tale known as the Second Branch of the Mabinogi. Several other characters in Welsh mythology share his name, and ravens figure prominently in the 12th or 13th century text The Dream of Rhonabwy, as the army of King Arthur’s knight Owain.
According to legend, the Kingdom of England will fall if the ravens of the Tower of London are removed. It had been thought that there have been at least six ravens in residence at the tower for centuries. It was said that Charles II ordered their removal following complaints from John Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer. However, they were not removed because Charles was then told of the legend. Charles, following the time of the English Civil War, superstition or not, was not prepared to take the chance, and instead had the observatory moved to Greenwich.
The earliest known reference to a Tower raven is a picture in the newspaper The Pictorial World in 1883.  This and scattered subsequent references, both literary and visual, which appear in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, place them near the monument commemorating those beheaded at the tower, popularly known as the “scaffold.” This strongly suggests that the ravens, which are notorious for gathering at gallows, were originally used to dramatize tales of imprisonment and execution at the tower told to tourists by the Yeomen Warders. There is evidence that the original ravens were donated to the tower by the Earls of Dunraven perhaps because of their association with the Celtic raven-god Bran. However wild ravens, which were once abundant in London and often seen around meat markets (such as nearby Eastcheap) feasting for scraps, could have roosted at the Tower in earlier times.
During the Second World War, most of the Tower’s ravens perished through shock during bombing raids, leaving only a mated pair named “Mabel” and “Grip.” Shortly before the Tower reopened to the public, Mabel flew away, leaving Grip despondent. A couple of weeks later, Grip also flew away, probably in search of his mate. The incident was reported in several newspapers, and some of the stories contained the first references in print to the legend that the British Empire would fall if the ravens left the tower. Since the Empire was dismantled shortly afterward, those who are superstitious might interpret events as a confirmation of the legend. Before the tower reopened to the public on 1 January 1946, care was taken to ensure that a new set of ravens was in place.
To the Germanic peoples, Odin was often associated with ravens. Examples include depictions of figures often identified as Odin appear flanked with two birds on a 6th century bracteate and on a 7th century helmet plate from Vendel, Sweden. In later Norse mythology, Odin is depicted as having two ravens Huginn and Muninn serving as his eyes and ears – Huginn being referred to as thought and Muninn as memory. Each day the ravens fly out from Hliðskjálf and bring Odin news from Midgard.
The Old English word for a raven was hræfn; in Old Norse it was hrafn; the word was frequently used in combinations as a kenning for bloodshed and battle.
The raven also has a prominent role in the mythologies of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, including the Tsimishian, Haida, Heiltsuk, Tlingit, Kwakwaka’wakw, Coast Salish, Koyukons, and Inuit. The raven in these indigenous peoples’ mythology is the Creator of the world, but it is also considered a trickster god.[ For instance, in Tlingit culture, there are two different raven characters which can be identified, although they are not always clearly differentiated. One is the creator raven, responsible for bringing the world into being and who is sometimes considered to be the individual who brought light to the darkness. The other is the childish raven, always selfish, sly, conniving, and hungry. When the Great Spirit created all things he kept them separate and stored in cedar boxes. The Great Spirit gifted these boxes to the animals that existed before humans. When the animals opened the boxes all the things that comprise the world came into being. The boxes held such things as mountains, fire, water, wind and seeds for all the plants. One such box, which was given to Seagull, contained all the light of the world. Seagull coveted his box and refused to open it, clutching it under his wing. All the people asked Raven to persuade Seagull to open it and release the light. Despite begging, demanding, flattering and trying to trick him into opening the box, Seagull still refused. Finally Raven became angry and frustrated, and stuck a thorn in Seagull’s foot. Raven pushed the thorn in deeper until the pain caused Seagull to drop the box. Then out of the box came the sun, moon and stars that brought light to the world and allowed the first day to begin.
In the Talmud, the raven is described as having been only one of three beings on Noah’s Ark that copulated during the flood and so was punished. The Rabbis believed that the male raven was forced to ejaculate his seed into the female raven’s mouth as a means of reproduction. Interestingly according to the Icelandic Landnámabók – a story similar to Noah and the Ark, Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson used ravens to guide his ship from the Faroe Islands to Iceland.
* What stories or novels have you read about ravens? Leave a comment so others can find these books and stories too.
Mortal woman Tina discovers she is part of a prophesy that says she and Charun, her demon Familiar, must make love so she can become the witch she is fated to be. If she doesn’t do it and stop the demon army bringing Armageddon to the Mortal Realm on Halloween, she won’t stand a chance in Hell.
A year later, just when Tina and Charun thought it was all over and that their life would be normal—another prophesy pops up. If Lucifer snatches Tina and mates with her before the last chime before midnight of the new year and gets her pregnant with his son, that the real Armageddon would begin, spelling the end of life as they knew it. This time they get help from an archangel, Jacokb, but with demons, Lucifer, and a cute demon bunny with fangs out of a Monty Python nightmare, out to stop them and Heaven not lending a hand, will Tina this time lose the battle and become the mother of the Antichrist and the start of a new Hell on Earth?
Excerpt from The Witch and the Familiar (adult in nature as is the book, so only 18 and older can read):
A year later, Charun stood in front of the mirror on the wall and whispered a few words. The glass warped in and out, becoming something not unlike a television monitor. In it, he saw his witch working in the Cup of Tea and a Book bookstore, handing a bag of books over to a customer.
“She’s gorgeous,” he whispered.
He ached to reach his hand through the glass and finger the long, blonde strands of hair. He itched to stroke the skin of her face and see if it felt as soft as it looked. He took a few steps back, for if he didn’t he would jam his head through the glass and kiss her on the lips. His cock expanded, growing longer and harder than ever before. Lust tore through him like a ravenous animal ready to devour its prey.
The time had come.
About time, too.
Taking spirit form and not looking back, Charun rose from the bowels of Hell to the mortal realm. He touched ground just down the street from Cup of Tea and a Book bookstore and became a handsome, naked man. His staff waved before him like a proud, hissing snake, spitting even as precum beaded at the slit. He shook his head. No, it was too soon for him to assume the man form. He frowned, thinking.
He would become a cat. That would do—for now. Just not a horny tomcat, as the pain of his arousal washed over him. He dodged into a nearby alley and worked his organ, biting his lips when he came.
Withdrawing his hand from his flaccid penis and using the other to prop himself against the building, he spoke in demon, “Denoch er nomonaty.”
A strange feeling slammed into him and he cried out as he dropped to his knees on the pavement. Thrusting out a hand against the ground so he wouldn’t topple over, he began to metamorphose, growing smaller and smaller as he did. Black fur sprouted all over his body and head. His ears sharpened into points and shot up over his head, while his hands and feet became paws edged with sharp claws. Whiskers pinged out of his cheeks, and from his buttocks snaked a long tail. He hunched over and then fell over onto his ass. Within seconds, his metamorphose completed, he was a black cat. Resisting the peculiar urge to wash his face, Charun stretched and rose onto all four paws. He padded over to a puddle of rainwater to inspect the change.
He sat down and viewed his reflection. Not bad looking as far as cats went. Lifting a paw, he splashed his image. Then he trotted to the street and paused to sniff the air. He sneezed as the full force of odors hit him. A multitude of different things, from the smell of blasted sunshine to the grime of city life. The lack of moisture in the air revealed that it would not rain for days. The last time it had stormed was last week. He had arrived a day over.
He needed heavy rain to make his first appearance to his witch, as a reason for her to feel sorry for him and take him in. From what he remembered, she would not leave any animal drowning in a torrential downpour. But, from all the viewing he did of her growing up, he knew she wasn’t an impulsive person, either. She loved animals, but felt that she couldn’t afford one right now in her life. He might end up in an animal shelter. This kind of operation needed the right things in place.
Timing was important, too, even now. His witch’s survival was the true equation here. If she died before he made her a witch, he knew the fate for Earth if the demons took over. There was the matter of his lust for her, too. Relieving it wouldn’t be bad, either.
He cocked his head and twitched his ears. He was a demon with strong magic. Closing his eyes, he let his magic surround him with a shimmering golden light.
Lano’ste. Na la por lestano.
His fur stood on end, crackling. He widened his eyes as the magic burned within and outside with a violent heat close to atomic. It clenched his insides with an excruciating pain. He fell onto his side and barely noticed when it shot away from him, heading toward the blue skies. It dusted the few white clouds drifting along and they became obsidian and pregnant with rain. Still unsteady, he rolled onto his stomach and waited until the power quieted. Charun breathed in the rain’s odor and gave a Cheshire cat grin. He rose to his paws and padded off as the sound of thunder vibrated in the air.
Fuck the weather forecasters and their predictions. With magic, he’d just turned their Doppler radar upside down.
Sapphire Phelan has published erotic and sweet paranormal/fantasy/science fiction romance along with a couple of erotic horror stories. Her erotic urban fantasy, Being Familiar With a Witch is a Prism 2010 Awards winner and a Epic Awards 2010 finalist. The sequel to it is A Familiar Tangle With Hell, released June 2011 from Phaze Books, Both eBooks were combined into one print book, The Witch and the Familiar, and released April 24, 2012. Both her male/male paranormal romance novella, Dark Leopard Magic, second book in the Beast Magic series, and her erotic science fiction vampire paranormal were released as an audio book.
She admits she can always be found at her desk and on her computer, writing. And yes, the house, husband, and even the cats sometimes suffer for it!
Find out more about Sapphire Phelan at http://www.SapphirePhelan.com.
I don’t have any stories with ravens in them, but do check out demon bunnies in my print book published by Phaze Books (ISBN: 978-1-60659-682-1):