The word cunning could have been created for the Corvidae family. Crows are adaptive, intelligent, and abundant; they are found pretty much everywhere in all kinds of habitats. They are also very social creatures. We use the phrase “as the crow flies” to describe a direct path, a reference to the crow’s ability to go anywhere and do anything.
Most crows eat carrion; they do not kill. Rather, they dine on the remains of animals, or the leftovers of other predators. Crows waste nothing. They serve an important function in the cycle of life, cleaning up and contributing to the easier decomposition of a corpse. This behavior associates them with death in general, as a prophesier of doom and war. In fact, the collective noun for a group of crows is a “murder” of crows.
Crows are often associated with gods and goddesses of war. This is, no doubt, a direct link to the presence of crows at battlefields, ready to dine upon the dead.
The relationship with war and death also underlies the crow’s connection to the Otherworld. The crow is sometimes perceived as a harbinger of death as well. The Scots have a term for death: “going away up the Crow Road.” In Hindu belief, crows serve as intermediaries who bring offerings of food and water to deceased ancestors on the anniversary of the relative’s death, a practice of expressing gratitude known as ’Srˉaddha. In ancient Egypt, however, the crow was a symbol of faithful love because of the bird’s monogamous nature.
One of the most famous tales from Aesop’s Fables is that of “The Crow and the Pitcher.” A crow, half dead with thirst, discovers a jug that has only a little bit of water left in it. Unable to reach the water by sticking his head inside, the crow thinks for a moment, then picks up a pebble and drops it into the jug. He repeats this action over and over until the level of the water has risen to the brim of the jug, allowing him to dip his beak in and drink. The moral encoded in the fable teaches that one can accomplish a seemingly impossible task with a series of small actions. However, the story also illustrates the crow’s ability to problem solve and use what tools are at hand to achieve a specific purpose.
Omens and divinatory meaning: How canny are you? How inventive can you be when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge? The crow urges you to think outside the box, to examine what tools and skills you have at your disposal, and to apply them in perhaps unconventional ways to achieve your goals.
The crow also teaches you about change. Change is not to be feared; it is part of the natural course of things. The death or end of one thing signifies the birth or beginning of another. Crows teach you about cycles, too. They are carrion birds, and help you to remember that even in death there is something that feeds life. Death is not loss; it is transformation. If you are having trouble handling some sort of change in your life, call on the crow to be your companion through it.
The crow, like the raven, is often portrayed as a trickster figure in Native American mythology. The crow reminds you to have fun while you’re working to understand life and how you fit into the cosmos, which can too often be an overly serious enterprise. Are you denying yourself the opportunity to play?
Excerpted from Birds: Explore the Symbology and Significance of These Divine Winged Messengers (Adams Media, a division of F+W Media, Inc.; January 2012), by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
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