Indigenous religion of the Crow people
Crow religion is the indigenous religion of the Crow people, Native Americans of the Great Plains area of the United States.
The Crow Deity
In the Crow language the Creator has many names, such as Akbaatatdia (One Who Has Made Everything/Maker of All Things Above), Iichíkbaalee (First Doer/Maker), and Isáahkawuattee (Old Man Coyote). All names refer to a singular, omnipotent god who the Crow believe to have created the universe. This universe is believed to be made up of three worlds, the first is the physical world, thought to be the smallest of all the worlds, the second is the spirit world, and the third is where God alone lives.
Crow creation stories
One of many Crow creation stories for the physical world recalls that Old Man Coyote (OMC) was alone in a large ocean when he saw two male ducks floating upon its surface. In conversation with the ducks the subject turns to what lies beneath the sea. Old Man Coyote encourages one of the ducks to dive, which he does, and after a nervous wait the duck finally surfaces with a root in its beak. Another dangerous dive brings up mud. With this soil Old Man Coyote builds first an island, and then all the lands of the Earth. However the Earth is empty, so Old Man Coyote uses the root to populate the planet with plants and trees. Despite this success the Earth was still not right, it was too flat, so OMC shaped the land to create the rivers, mountains and all geographical features. Again something was missing, Old Man Coyote and the ducks wanted friends, so he moulded Man out of the clay. But Old Man Coyote wanted Man to be happy so he created Women too so that they may be contented together and multiply. He then made female ducks so that ducks may be happy too. The story then develops where Old Man Coyote encounters another Coyote, and they decide to travel together, getting themselves into various situations that eventually creates all animals of the Earth.
In the beginning it is believed that Crows were close to God, praying constantly to show their devotion, however as time progressed Crows forgot to pray and brought misfortune upon themselves. Crows believe that they must rekindle that bond through prayer if they are to be prosperous, many seeking a personal relationship with God to be individually successful.
Crow religious belief
Crows will often use 'Grandmother Earth' as a way of expressing the physical things that God created, as God, although part of the physical world, transcends the first world. Because of this God is often referred to hierarchically as being 'Above,' as in superior, rather than physically in the heavens. As God created everything Crows believe that the power of the Creator is in all things, and therefore, all things in nature are sacred. As God created everything and is therefore omnipresent, Crows are in contact with God during every aspect of their daily lives. It is because of this omnipresence and omnipotence that Crows are religiously tolerant. One example of this tolerance is the overview of the world's religions provided by Thomas Yellowtail, a Crow medicine man and Sun Dance chief. Yellowtail used the metaphor of a wagon wheel to describe religious belief, noting that, each spoke represented a unique people and religion. If one spoke was removed, the wheel would not work, meaning all spokes must be present to form the circle of life. All spokes however are connected to the central beam, the Creator. Therefore, all religions and peoples are connected to God, and all equally valid as ways of establishing a spiritual relationship. As a result, Crows can participate in multiple religions, it is up to individuals to decide which methods they believe to be most effective. What is now considered traditional Crow religious practices were most likely developed sometime between 1725–1770, at a time of great cultural change after the Crow acquired their first horses from the Comanche tribe during the 1730s.
Baaxpée, Xapáaliia and spirits
The sacred power of God is called Baaxpée, meaning "power transcending the ordinary." The physical manifestation of Baaxpée is called Xapáaliia, often referred to as 'medicine,' which represents and acts as a conduit of Baaxpée given to a Crow by God.
For a Crow to acquire Baaxpée they must be given it by a spirit, a Iilápxe, a super-natural patron from the spirit world. As the spirit world is between the physical and the third world where God dwells, spirits are believed to be intermediaries between man and God and are therefore able to bestow Baaxpée. Crows believe that the world is full of spirits which often take the form of animals, with buffalos, birds and bears being especially revered. The stars, as created by God, are also considered highly sacred and their spirits can interact with humans in the same way as an animal patron. The manifestation of the spirit often defines the type of Baaxpée they gift, with an Elk spirit, as a strong and independent animal being associated with bestowing increased strength. A squirrel spirit, as it stores nuts for the winter to feed its family, is believed to do the same for humans, helping the tribe find food. The individual features of each spirit will also influence the type of Baaxpée given, for example a grey haired patron will indicate a gift of longevity. However, there is no set animal patron and Baaxpée for a Crow, each spirit is individual the person that received its vision.
According to the Crows, in the pre-reservation world, there were two primary ways that a Crow may go about acquiring Baaxpée, the first is by going on a vision quest. There are many reasons why a Crow would want to attain Baaxpée through a vision quest, some may be sick and wish to be cured, others may want to gain strength with which to defeat their enemies in battle, and many want to be blessed by God to guide them throughout their life. Generally the Baaxpée a Crow wishes to attain through a vision quest is personal and specific to the individual.
Before embarking upon the quest a Crow might visit a medicine man to help determine what type of Baaxpée would most aid them, and to go over the rites and prayers to ensure their endeavour follows the rituals. For the quest itself, a Crow will go alone to an isolated and prominent place, often the peak of a hill (Crows especially favour the Wolf Mountains), to gain complete solitude for their ritual prayer.
In Crow the ritual is called bilisshíissanne, which translates as 'to fast from water,' as the participant vows not eat or drink for two to three days to show their devotion to God through their sacrifice. Self-mortification is also sometimes practiced, the most common being the removal of a finger, as an offering to God and as sign of their dedication. The purpose of these tortures is to show their willingness to give themselves completely to God and gain the pity of a spirit, a representative of God. When a spirit pities the participant they will induce a vision in which the patron adopts the Crow, bestowing Baaxpée. The relationship between the spirit and a Crow is conceived as being paternal, where the spirit as a father guides the Crow child through life, hence spirits will often be referred to as 'Medicine Fathers.' However the Baaxpée the quester gains is loaned by the spirit, not given entirely, requiring the Crow to pray to their patron to confirm the bonds between them and keep the Baaxpée strong.
Once the quest is complete and Baaxpée gained, the Crow quester would return home, often visiting a medicine man to talk through their vision to fully understand its meaning. To commemorate their experience the quester will create a Xapáaliia to represent their patron, the power they have gained, and to help a Crow in channelling and maintaining their Baaxpée. For the individual the Xapáaliia can be anything they deem sufficient to represent the bond between them and their patron, for example if an eagle was their spirit a Crow may decide to take an eagle's feather as their Xapáaliia. For each Crow their Baaxpée and their vision is unique and cannot be transferred. However the Xapáaliia is a physical, powerful, and sacred object which can be passed between Crows, often bestowed upon death to family members, or given to Crows who cannot receive a vision of their own. If a Crow's Xapáaliia is known to be especially powerful, proven by its ability to influence life, they may find themselves inundated with requests to use it, the decision however it is ultimately up the owner as to who they give it to. The powers that Xapáaliia bestows to its owner usually reflect the pragmatic concerns of a Crow's daily life, whether this be to gain food, good health, wealth or to bring victory over one's enemies. To keep their Xapáaliia pure and their patron happy, it is vital that it does not come into contact with menstruates, if it does, this would offend their Medicine Father and bring disease upon the owner.
The Sun Dance
The second way in which nineteenth century Crows may attempted to gain Baaxpée was through a Sun Dance (aškišširissu-a). Unlike the vision quest the Sun Dance is performed by individuals in a public ceremony for the benefit of the whole tribe, performed to ensure the Crow's links to God remain strong, therefore bringing prosperity and happiness. Leslie Spear believed that the Sun Dance ceremony most likely came from the Cheyenne, Blackfeet and Atsina tribes as these groups had the most complex Sun Dance ceremonies. The Sun Dance was banned on the Crow reservation in 1887 as part of the 'civilising' effort that the Indian Office embarked upon during this era. The practise was revived in 1941 when William Big Day, after having attended a Shoshone Sun Dance where he felt an intense connection, performed the first Crow Sun Dance in fifty-four years, believing that its resurrection would bring happiness to the tribe. The practice grew so that by the 1990s an average of five Sun Dances were conducted each summer. In the late 1980s a Teton-Sioux version of Sun Dance was introduced to the reservation, resulting in some dances displaying a hybrid of Shoshone and Teton characteristics.
The Sweat Lodge Ceremony
A smaller, but no less significant ritual, celebrated both in the pre-reservation world and in contemporary Crow society, is the sweat lodge. While this ritual is practiced alone, it is also an important prerequisite to the Sun Dance that tribal members believe purifies the body and prepares the soul for the Sun Dance. This connection is seen in that the Sweat Lodge is often referred to as the 'Little Lodge,' the smaller brother of the 'Big Lodge' in which the Sun Dance is performed. The Sweat Lodge itself in many ways mimics the Big Lodge, being made of twelve poles with the door facing east to welcome the Sun. In the centre of the lodge a 2 ft by 2 ft pit is dug into which hot rocks are placed, heated by a fire to the east of the lodge. An individual is given the duty of placing the rocks in the pit whilst the others sit and pray in silence. The first four rocks must be placed in cross, each to represent the four directions of the wind and the circle of life. Once all rocks are placed the ceremony begins, first an uncounted number of dips of water are placed on the rocks called 'April Showers' to build up the sweat in the lodge. Then the formal four quarters of the ceremony are conducted, with a break in-between each quarter. During the first quarter four dips are placed upon the rocks, the second seven, the third ten, and then the fourth an uncounted 'quarter of a million.' The ceremony is believed to purify the participants, preparing them for the Sun Dance ceremony, which, seen as a form of spiritual endurance and warfare, requires a Crow to be pure to give them spiritual armour.
Although the exact origin of the Sweat Lodge is unknown, it was believed by Thomas Yellowtail to have come from the story of the Seven Bison, their male companion, and their fight against the angry bison Bones Together. In the story each of the Seven Bison charges at Bones Together, but break their legs in their attempts due to Bones Together's pure bone armour. Finally it is the turn of the bison's human ally, who before attacking Bones Together prays to God and is blessed by an eagle, who gives him the Baaxpée to turn into a feather. With this power the man confronts Bones Together, who charges four times, each time missing the man as he turns into a feather and wafts unharmed out of the way as though caught in a breeze. After the fourth charge the man shots an arrow up the rectum of Bones Together, piercing his heart and killing him. Although victorious the man's friends are grievously injured, so together they perform the Sweat Lodge ceremony, which heals all the bison to full strength. Afterwards the Seven Bison transcend into the sky to create the Big Dipper, and the man the Little Dipper. The Sweat Lodge is also mentioned in the story of the Man and the Seven Rams, who, despite his immense ability, respects the Sweat Lodge, recognising its great power.
The Sun Dance lodge: construction and symbolism
Following purification the Sun Dance ceremony can proceed. However first it is necessary to look at the building of the Big Lodge, the Ashé Isée, as this is vital if one is to understand the Dance in context and the complex symbolism involved in its construction. The Lodge acts as the closest building that the pre-reservation Crows had to a church, and is constructed by the community on land owned by the dance sponsor. The sponsor is usually an individual of repute who wishes to receive a particular blessing from God or because they have had a vision instructing them to dance. As sponsor it is their duty to gather all the materials required to build the lodge, to set the dance's overall agenda, and to ensure the dance itself is conducted properly by leading key rituals and songs.
The most important component of the lodge the central pole around which the whole ceremony revolves. A forked tree is chosen by the sponsor and cut down with respect and prayer, if the tree stump exudes sap it is seen as a good omen, and Crows will bless themselves with its excretion. The tree is then taken to the ceremonial site and hoisted into an upright position so that the crotch of the fork faces east. To one of the branches of the fork a white flag is tied, to the other blue, white to represent the earth and blue for the skies, an offering of tobacco is also attached to help Crows communicate with God. Onto the pole three rings are drawn in charcoal to symbolise the number of days in the dance and the three worlds of the Crow universe, the black of the charcoal representing victory. It is in this way that the post becomes a representation of God, a conduit for the Baaxpée to flow into the dancers. To the central pole are also hung the head of a buffalo and the body of an eagle, patrons who will come to life in the minds of the dancers during the ceremony. Around this totem are placed twelve posts of cottonwood, around forty feet from the centre, creating the boundaries of the lodge, with the doorway on the east side. The twelve poles are a physical manifestation of Crow spirituality, which when connected by rafters to the central post, represents the Crow's connection to God, like that of Thomas Yellowtail's wagon wheel. The twelve posts also represent the twelve months of the year in the Crow life cycle, and by forming a sphere, the circle of life itself. For contemporary Crows who believe both in traditional religious ideas and Christianity, the twelve posts symbolise the twelve apostles, and the three rings on the centre pole the three days that Christ spent in his tomb. It is in these way that the Sun dance lodge is designed to focus and channel the Baaxpée of God, giving the Crow participants visions and blessing for the whole tribe.
The Sun Dance ceremony
Once the lodge is constructed the ceremony can begin. Similarly to the vision quest the purpose of the Sun Dance is for a Crow to show their devotion, displaying sacrifice by fasting, and torture by constant dancing, to physically exhaust themselves whilst praying to God, in a lodge heated all day by an intense sun. Traditionally the Sun Dance's primary purpose was to give a mourner God's blessing to take revenge on the tribe that had killed their kinsman, and specifically to enable the participant to harm those individuals responsible for their murder. However, with imposed peace of the reservations the purpose of the ritual had to change, instead there are a variety of reasons for performing a Sun Dance including season renewal, to gain God's blessing, and in rare cases to attain sacred power to help Crows going to war. Although the general aim of a particular Sun Dance may be to bring good luck on the tribe each dancer had their own personal agenda for participating. Some may have wish to receive Baaxpée through dance induced visions whilst others may have wished to cure illnesses, either for themselves or on behalf of a sick family member. Regardless of their motivation all dancers before the ceremony pledge themselves to Sun Dance manikin, promising to dance for the full length of time that has been announced.
During the ceremony the participant made sure to keep their eyes transfixed upon an idol on the pole, as a Crow continuously danced, becoming increasingly fatigued, the figures appear to come alive and dance with them, eventually causing the dancer to collapse and have a vision. If the dancer stared at the head of the Buffalo and danced long enough for the spirit to come alive, it is believed that the patron charged the participant, causing the Crow to have a 'hard fall,' inducing a vision. When a dancer collapsed and entered into a visionary state, other members of the tribe carefully removed them from the ceremony centre, allowing their vision to run its course. When the dancer woke up, they are reinvigorated and quickly re-joined the ritual. To help the dancers attain these visions the drummers play a vital role. Regular rhythms help the dancer to maintain their endeavour, with irregular beatings exhausting the participants. When the drummers see a dancer in the grips of a vision they will increase the strength of their drumming to help them have a 'hard fall.' The Drum chief will often pray for the dancers with the aid of tobacco smoke to help them endure their sacrifice.
While in the nineteenth century, the Sun Dance could extend for several days, today it typically lasts for three days. At the start of each day Crows gathered in the lodge just before dawn facing east to welcome the morning's sun. When the first rays appeared over the horizon Crows performed the Sunrise Ceremony, where the participants of the Sun Dance attempted to absorb the power of the sun whilst praying, dancing, blowing on eagle bone whistles, and singing the Sunrise song. During the Sunrise ceremony it is taboo to walk across the entrance of the lodge as this breaks the connection between the dancers and the sun, if an individual has to move from one side of the lodge to the other the must walk around the rear of the building. For the first day of dancing participants dressed humbly in plain clothing to show their humility to God, on the second day however, as the dancers become increasingly tired, bright coloured clothes, face paint, and their strongest medicines were worn to help them in their spiritual warfare. To aid them through this difficult second day, and in recognition of their sacrifice, members of the tribe offered gifts and words of advice, as well as constructed willow structures in the lodge to shade and support the dancers. Willow is significant as it is associated with coolness, providing symbolic relief for the parched participants. The stalls were often painted in yellow ochre, a colour associated with the eagle which Crows believe to be a messenger to God. It was at noon on the third day that the ceremony typically came to an end, with the breaking of the fast by the drinking of blessed water brought by the women of the tribe. After drinking, prayers were said to thank the dancers for their sacrifice and the whole tribe participated in a great feast. By renewing their connection with God the Sun Dance is believed to bestow God's blessing upon the tribe, bringing them good fortune and happiness for the coming year.
Before the Sun Dance was banned some Crows performed a particular type of self-mortification. Holes would be punctured into the pectoral muscles of the dancers through which rawhide rope would be laced and attached to the pole, the participant would then lean backwards, tightening the rope against their flesh in an act of self-torture. Freedom would only come when the rope had worked its way through the dancer's skin, showing their devotion to God. With the revival of the Sun Dance however this particular practice was not included, and yet it remains one of the enduring images of the Sun Dance to this day.
Diakaashe, 'he really did it'
Both in the past and the present, performing these rituals without the correct religious attitude would prevent the participant from having any benefit. The greatest gift to God is to do each ceremony with diakaashe, 'he really did it,' that a Crow believed wholeheartedly in God's power, and therefore conducted themselves with sincerity and determination. "If a person expects to receive something great, then that person will probably never receive anything. The Medicine Fathers do not owe anything to anyone. We must realise this and dedicate our lives to living in accordance with the directions given to us from Above – not just once a year, but every day and year after year."
Tobacco is also an important component of Crow religion, the plant being honoured in a Crow sect called the Tobacco Society, the Bacu'sua. Crows believe that tobacco was first discovered by Chief No Vitals at Devils Lake in eastern North Dakota, having been instructed to seek the plant by God, the worship of which would help Crows honour God. Because of this tobacco is perceived as being fundamental to the welfare of the tribe and has been describe by Crows themselves as their 'means of living.' As the plant is especially revered, the Tobacco Society ensures that all the rites and rituals are performed correctly, cultivating it so that the tribe may be successful. When the sacred plant is smoked it is believed that the smoke aids in carrying prayers to God.
For those Crow who consider smoking especially holy there is the Sacred Pipe Society. In this society smoking is performed daily allowing is members to become closer to God. Once the pipe is lit the stem is pointed above as an offering to God, then down to Mother Earth, and finally in all four of the directions of the wind. When the prayers are over the pipe is returned to its special place in the tipi. Thomas Yellow was a proponent of this method of honouring God as he believed it was a way praying as part of a Crow's daily life, which he consider especially important if God is to be properly respected. Yellowtail used Black Elk's description of the sacred pipe to demonstrate what he believed to be the importance of scared pipe to Crows. "With this sacred pipe you will walk upon the Earth; for the Earth is your Grandmother and Mother, and she is sacred. Every step that has been taken upon Her should be as a prayer. The bowl of this pipe is of red stone; it is the Earth… The stem of this pipe is of wood, and this represents all that grows upon Earth… all things of the universe are joined to you who smokes the pipe – all send their voices to Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit. When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything."
Today Crow religion includes more than traditional Crow beliefs. Over the past 100 years, several Christian sects have established themselves amongst the Crow people. The origins of Christianity among the Crows can be traced to the reservation era, when the Crow were confined to a relatively small tract and carefully supervised by white missionaries and government agents. The first and initially most successful Christian denomination were Catholic Jesuits, who established the St. Xavier mission in the Bighorn Valley in 1887 under the leadership of Pierpaolo Prando, after the Catholics had itinerantly preached to the Crow for seven years. Prando was respected by Crows for his determination to learn their language, which allowed him to have conversations with them and enabled him to translate sermons into Crow so that they could understand the Christian God. In October 1888 the Jesuits consolidated their mission with the building of a school, which further brought Crows round to their denomination. Key to the Catholics success was their ability to deal with Crows on their own terms, that the missionaries respected traditional Crow beliefs, even allowing Crow converts to make Christian Xapáaliia.
The Protestants were in the beginning less successful in converting Crows to Christianity. Although supported by the Indian Office in the belief that Protestantism would 'elevate' Crows, the first Unitarian mission established at the Little Bighorn in 1886 by Henry F. Bond failed to win support from the Crow community. Bond practiced a strict form of Protestantism, and therefore refused to acknowledge traditional Crow beliefs and culture, thereby alienating the tribe. The America Missionary Association's mission established in 1895 under James Gregor Burgess also suffered a similar fate. Success came in 1903 however when a Baptist mission was built at Lodge Grass, and a school constructed in 1904 under the leadership of Rev. William A. Petzoldt. This school proved especially popular as it was located in the heart of the Crow community, enabling students to study but stay at home, something which the far away boarding schools of the other Christian missions did not allow. This mission at Lodge Grass proved so successful that the Jesuits, weaken by the withdraw of Indian Office funding to their mission in 1895, established a school there too.
Although these Christian groups met success in converting Crows they found it far harder to get their converts to worship the Christian God exclusively. This resistance was because of the Crow belief system, that Christianity was considered one of many ways to establish a relationship with God, allowing traditional Crow beliefs to coexist with Christian practices. This Crow reluctance was made all the more frustrating for the Christian missionaries with a Crow cultural and religious revival at the turn of the century, pushing what they saw as 'primitive' religion to the fore. The only successful Christians sect to get Crows to worship only God was Evangelicalism, which in the 1980s experienced a religious boom, establishing churches in districts throughout the reservation. Members of these churches rejected any form of traditional Crow religion, however this was the exception to the rule.
Peyote and the Native American Church
Part of a wider spiritual reawakening was the growth of the peyote religion which reached the Crow reservation in 1910. Peyote ceremonies involve the consumption of the dried tips of the peyote Cactus, native to northern Mexico and the far south of the USA. Once eaten the peyote creates feelings of euphoria, visual distortions and a sense of timelessness. The use of peyote in ceremonies originates in pre-Columbian Mexico, with Seventeenth Century accounts by Catholic missionaries recording its use in all night ceremonies by the native peoples of that region. Traditionally peyote is taken for many reasons, some being the desire for longevity and good health, to purify the body and soul, as well as to bring good luck and protection from harm. Although still debated by academics it is believed[by whom?] that peyote ceremonies were brought to the US by the nomadic Apache and Comanche Native Americans who would often travel south of the border to raid and graze their horses. It was the concentration of these native peoples into the reservations of Oklahoma that allowed this indigenous practice to endure and grow. For the first time many tribes were living in proximity, able to communicate with each other as they were forced to learn English to deal with the Indian Office. The US government then further helped peyote rituals by sending Native Americans to boarding schools. The schools were a melting pot of Native tribes, with students sharing their knowledge of the peyote ceremonies. These youths would then go on to be educated and influential members of their tribes, putting them in positions that would allow them to promulgate the use of peyote in their communities. The use of peyote spread so rapidly on the reservations of Oklahoma because it was an element of indigenous culture that had not yet been destroyed by whites, providing Native Americans with an invaluable link with their past.
In 1918 peyote practitioners, facing a government crackdown, organised themselves into the Native American Church, hoping that as a formal organisation the US would be forced to recognize peyote as a legitimate religion. In the Church, members consume peyote and then sing and pray to God throughout the night. The Comanche chief Quanah Parker commented on the difference between the Native American Church and mainstream Christianity, remarking that, "The White man goes into his church house and talks about Jesus, but the Indian goes into his tipi and talks to Jesus."
The Indian Office, believing peyote to be addictive and harmful to 'civilisation', banned the plant's sale in Montana in 1923. When it was found that Crows were driving to Wyoming to get the cactus, a ban on peyote was enacted there in 1929. However, due to the campaigning of Bird Above, who showed that peyote fostered virtue by encouraging monogamy, hard work and temperance, at a time when tests showed the plant not to be addictive, had the ban repealed. The peyote religion proved popular, with despairing missionaries commenting in the 1930s that most of their members would attend Christian sermons and yet practice peyote beliefs. At the turn of the millennium it is believed that around one hundred peyote ceremonies are performed on the Crow reservation each year. Other Native-Christian religions are practiced among the Crow, including a Native form of Pentecostalism which was initially introduced on the reservation by Crow believers in the 1920s, but today has many adherents.
Medicine and healing
The medicine people of the tribe are known as Akbaalia ("healer").
The Mannegishi, also called little people, are bald humanoids with large bulky, pretty eyes and tiny, tan bodies. They were tricksters and may be similar to fairies.
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Crow meaning and symbolism include adaptability, cleverness and intelligence, teamwork and reciprocity, transformation, and psychic abilities. Crows live on every continent except Antarctica. (And their close bird cousins, jays, exist in South America.) So, crow symbolism, meanings, and mythology exist in many cultures around the world. In addition, the crow spirit animal is a sacred power animal to those who feel a kinship with these highly intelligent birds. In this post, you’ll learn about crow symbols and meanings and what they might mean in your life. Plus, you’ll learn about crow spirit animal, crow mythology, and more.
Table of Contents
What do crows symbolize?
Crow symbolism varies from culture to culture, but here are some commonly shared crow meanings, with details on each below:
- Teamwork and Reciprocity
- Psychic Abilities
Difference Between Crows and Ravens
Before we kick things off, I thought it would be important to distinguish between crows and ravens. These two birds look very much alike and are often seen together, but they’re different, nonetheless. To begin, these two birds, along with their cousins – rooks, jackdaws, jays, nutcrackers, magpies, treepies, and choughs – are all from the same family of birds called Corvidae. They are also referred to as corvids.
Crows and ravens are two species of corvids. Ravens are generally larger than crows and tend to travel in as a pair with their mate. While crows are smaller and like to congregate in big groups.
If you see these birds in flight, a crow’s tail will look like a fan, because all of the tail feathers are about the same length. Ravens, on the other hand, have longer middle tail feathers, so their tails look more like a wedge when they are in flight.
The two birds also make different sounds. Crows make a cawing sound, while ravens make a deeper croaking sound.
Crows and ravens share some similar meanings in cultural mythology. However, there are also some differences. If you are curious about raven symbols and meanings and the raven spirit animal, you can read that post here.
Detailed Crow Symbols and Meanings
Crow Symbolism: Intelligence and Cleverness
While the crow may not have the exotic flair of the flamingo or the colorfulness of the hummingbird, underneath the onyx depths of those shiny black feathers is a bird brain beyond compare.
Crows demolish the insult that calling someone a “bird brain” mean’s they’re not very clever. In fact, crows are considered to be among the most intelligent animals on the planet, along with primates, elephants, and cetaceans.
What makes crows so smart? For one, their brains possess a high numbers of neurons. Those extra neurons are found in the crows’ forebrains, the area of the brain the governs complex cognitive functions.
Crows also exhibit behaviors that are demonstrative of high intelligence, such as making tools, having strong memories (as in the ability to recognize human faces), and using non-verbal forms of communication.
The Crow and the Pitcher
There’s a popular Aesop’s fable called “The Crow and the Pitcher” about a crow in the desert who’s thirsty. He comes upon a pitcher of water, but his beak is not long enough to access the water in the pitcher. He realizes that if he tips the pitcher over, he might lose all of the water in it. So, he decides to innovate and starts putting pebbles in the pitcher of water. Eventually, the pebbles displace the water at the bottom of the pitcher, pushing the liquid up to a level where he can drink.
Enviable Problem-Solving Skills
The spirit of the crow should remind us all to leverage our wits so solve our problems. It’s easy to get emotional when we face challenges in life. The crow reminds us to step back, take a deep breath, cock our heads, and look at the challenge from a different perspective.
Crow Symbolism: Adaptability
While many of us see crows on a regular basis, it’s important that we not take these clever creatures for granted. After all, they have shown an uncanny ability to survive in the human-dominated world, so they must be doing something right. The crow is the embodiment of adaptability and embracing change.
If a crow crosses your path, it could be sign that you have the ability to handle yourself in any situation – even if you don’t always feel that way. Don’t let sudden upheavals in your life or other people’s drama’s ruffle your feathers. The crow spirit animal helps you to adapt and to soar above the fray, find a safe place to perch, and watch it all unfold.
Be flexible and open to new situations.
Undoubtedly, one of the keys to crows’ survival in environments that are challenging for other animals is that, like coyotes and raccoons, crows are omnivores. Crows will eat anything – from other birds to fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, mice, fish, frogs, carrion, and dog treats. (If you go to dog parks, undoubtedly you’ve seen crows hanging around looking for spare treats.)
This too shall pass.
If the crow was a Sufi poet, he would say to you, “This too shall pass.” The crow reminds you that the one thing we can all be certain about is that things change. Resisting change is like living in a state of denial.
The crow spirit reminds you to be flexible instead of rigid. Be open to new experiences, whether they’re as simple as a culinary experience, trying to learn a new skill, or inviting new people into your life. Sometimes change that you fear or dread can turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to you.
Teamwork and Reciprocity
While ravens tend to stick with their significant other, crows like to gather in large groups, sometimes in the hundreds or even thousands of birds. The term a “murder of crows” is often used to describe these large groupings, possibly because these clever and social birds seem like they’re plotting something when they’re all together.
It’s not by coincidence that Alfred Hitchcock chose large groups of crows to be his main perpetrators in the classic film The Birds. However, in reality, crows are social and playful birds who use over 250 different calls when they’re communicating with each other.
Crows collaborate with each other to drive other birds, such as hawks and owls, away from their territory. In addition, they’re known to seek out other crows to notify them about good food sources.
Loyalty and Lifetime Mates
Yet even though they are highly social and flock together in large groups, crows are monogamous and mate for life.
One of my favorite stories about crows that demonstrates their understanding of teamwork and the concept of give and take is the BBC video “Gift Giving Crows.”
In this documentary, a group of crows regularly bring gifts to a little girl who feeds them:
When the crow is your power animal, you are most likely a person who values relationships. You understand that relationships are the greatest “currency” in life. As the saying goes – It’s not what you know but who you know.
Crows also embody the Japanese proverb that goes, “All of us are smarter than one of us.”
The crow spirit reminds you to nurture your relationships – with your family, your friends, your colleagues, and above all – your significant other.
If you are very independent and/or single, and a crow crosses your path, it could be a sign that one of your soul mates is seeking you. While soul mates can be romantic partners, they can also be close friends, business partners, and family members. The crow spirit animal reminds that you that we are not meant to go it alone.
Crow Meaning: Transformation
Throughout the world, the crow has been seen as an intermediary between the material and spirit worlds. As carrion-eating birds, they are often present in times of death, which is the likely reason they are associated with dying. Death is a frightening concept to many of us. And hence, crows are often see as “scary” birds. However, death is actually a transformation instead of an ending.
This depiction of crows as scary, which has been passed down from generation to generation, is why they are so closely associate with Halloween, graveyards, and the like. In fact, in Swedish folklore, crows were thought to be the ghosts of murdered people who didn’t have a Christian burial. And in Germany, they were thought to contain the souls of the damned.
The Cycle of Life
However, this negative association of crows is misleading. As carrion-eating birds, crows are an intrinsic part of a healthy ecosystem and the continuum of the cycle of life. For this reason, crows are powerful symbols of transformation.
When you see a crow, think about your life and the positive changes that you would like to set into motion. For every challenge you face, consider it an opportunity to evolve as a human being and as a soul. The crow can be a helpful symbol that serves as a catalyst for positive change in your life.
Like the owl and the raven, the crow also symbolizes psychic abilities. The crow is said to be able to see the past, the present, and the future. If the crow is your power animal, you most likely possess special insights into situations where others may not. It’s important to always use those gifts as a force for good in the world.
Crow Spirit Animal
Your spirit animal serves as a guide in your life, bringing you teachings and messages from your spirit guides to help you as you navigate your life path here on Earth and throughout your soul’s journey.
In Native American cultures, your spirit animal chooses you during a vision quest, a meditation, or another powerful experience that impacts the course of your life. You may already know that the crow is one of your spirit guides. Or perhaps a crow has suddenly made themselves known to you in a way that riveted your attention. Either way, it’s important to learn all you can about these deeply intelligent birds. This will help you to feel your interconnectedness with the Universe more deeply and expand your level of consciousness.
If you are curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal quiz and read the detailed spirit animal guide.
Crow 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, mediate on the attributes that the power animal represents. For example, you can summon the crow power animal when you:
- Are facing a problem in your life and you can’t seem to come to a resolution. The crow power animal reminds you to not get overly emotion and to you use your wits!
- Feel alone and want to attract your soul mate or a team of people who can help to enrich your life.
- Want to hone your intuition and expand your psychic abilities.
In Native American cultures, animal totems hold the protective powers of the animal they represent. Thus, the crow totem is a helpful symbol sharpening your wits and using your brain power to solve problems and make life better. In addition, the crow totem is a good luck symbol for attracting supportive, like-minded people in your life and for gaining deeper intuitive insights.
Crow Symbolism in Cultural Mythology
Crows appear in the mythology and folklore of many cultures. What is interesting is that in cultures where people were primarily nomadic and relied on hunting and gathering, crows were seen as positive symbols. However, in cultures that were more agrarian, crows were seen more negatively, possibly because they were disruptive to crops. Here are some of the stories and meanings applied to crows in different cultures:
Native American Crow Meanings
Every Native American tribe has their own unique traditions and beliefs, but one thing they all have in common is a deep reverence for animals and the natural world. While crow meanings and legends vary from tribe to tribe, crows are generally seen as powerful beings who are worthy of respect in every tribe.
For example, many plains tribes, including the Pawnee, Lakota, and Sioux, as well as other tribes, wear crow feathers when they do the Ghost Dance. The ghost dance is a spiritual dance of protection and resistance against oppression that is shared by many tribes.
Tlingit and Haida People
The Tlingit People, who hail from the Pacific Northwest, believe the crow helped the Creator to organize the structure of the world and that he possesses the power to free the sun.
The Haida People, also from the Pacific Northwest, said the crow could steal the sun from the sky and give it to the Earth’s people.
There are other legends, which I’ll describe below, that are similar to this concept of the crow accessing the heat of the sun.
The tribes of the Northwest also viewed the crow as a trickster because he possessed great powers related to creation and could influence outcomes.
The Rainbow Crow
One of my favorite Native American stories is the Rainbow Crow, which is told by the Lenape People, who are from the area that is now the state of Delaware. Indeed, this is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever heard.
When the land grew cold…
A long time ago, when the Snow Spirit appeared, the land made all of the animals very cold. Snow continued to fall on the lands and soon it started to cover the animals, first the mouse, then the rabbit, the deer, and so on. All of the animals held a council meeting to decide who would ask the Creator, who lived in the Heaven far above the Sun, to make the Earth warm again.
Together the animals went one by one as they tried to decide which animal should make the journey. However, with each animal they considered, they realized there would be one problem or another. For instance, they ruled out the owl for fear she might get lost in the light of day. And they ruled out the coyote for fear he might play too many tricks, such as chasing the wind or swallowing the clouds, which would delay his journey.
A Beautiful, Colorful Bird
Finally, a beautiful, colorful bird with a soothing song volunteered to fly to the Creator. This bird was the Rainbow Crow. The animals decided the Rainbow Crow was the perfect animal to fly to the Creator and ask for warmth.
The Rainbow Crow flew and flew and when he got to the heavenly place where the Creator lived, he begged the Creator for warmth for the Earth. Impressed by the crow, the Creator relented and touched a long branch to the Sun, which caught fire. He then put it in the Rainbow Crow’s break.
The Descent Back to Earth
As the Rainbow Crow made his descent back to Earth, the branch continued to burn. The flame grew in the wind, and the branch became shorter. Eventually, the fire singed the Rainbow Crow’s feathers and blackened them with soot. And the smoke from the fire caused his voice to grow hoarse.
When the Rainbow Crow finally got to Earth, he delivered the heat to the animals. Now exhausted, he flew up to a tree and perched on a branch. While the Rainbow Crow was relieved he could warm the other animals, he was disheartened because he thought he was no longer beautiful and could no longer sing. He was now just the Crow.
Taking pity on him, the Creator told the Crow that he would forever be protected from men. His strong wings would give him the means to fly away and his sharp intellect could outwit wicked men who wanted to harm him. The Creator also told the Crow to look at his feathers in the sunlight. There he would be see millions of tiny rainbows.
Native American tribes have a clan system that is organized around family groups, which are based on the maternal line. Clans serve as a system of community organization, division of labor, and, some historians surmise, they helped to keep gene pools healthy by preventing close relatives from marrying.
Clans also have animals that are associated with them, such as the bear, wolf, or hummingbird, and a number of Native American tribes have crow clans. Tribes with crow clans include the Chippewa, Hopi, Menominee, Caddo, Tlingit, and Pueblo.
The Crow Nation
The Crow People are an entire Native American tribe who hail from the area that is now the Yellowstone River Valley, which extends from Wyoming to Montana and North Dakota. In their own language, the Crow People are Absaroka, which means “children of the large-beaked bird.”
It’s unclear why the Crow People associate themselves with this particular bird vs. another animal. However, what is clear is that they named their people for a bird, possibly a magpie or jay, which was native in their area long ago, and which is most likely extinct today. However, this bird is of the same family as modern day crows, which is Corvidae.
Because crows are associated with the Creator and thus the conception of the Universe, they are considered by many tribes to be the holders of Universal Wisdom and Universal Laws. This means they have knowledge and insights about the physical earthly plane, as well as the spiritual world. It also means they possess the capability to change these laws, and thus effect outcomes.
Because of this wisdom and these special powers, the Native Americans associate crows with healing. This is the root of crow medicine. The crow spirit animal can be summoned when you need a miracle – when you feel the odds are against you, but you can still find the faith to believe in a positive outcome.
Australian Aboriginal Crow Meanings
The Aboriginal People of Australia also revere the crow. Interestingly, as in Native American legends and others you’ll read about below, the Aborigines have stories about the crow possessing the power to access fire. The crow is also considered a clever trickster in Aboriginal culture.
There is one Aboriginal crow legend told by the Wurundjeri People. In this story, there are seven sisters. These sisters could be seen in the constellation Pleiades.
In the winter, food was scarce and the people did not have fire. So, they were forced to eat only raw food. As a result, many of the people got sick. However, the seven sisters were well-fed. So, Waa, the crow began to observe them.
He noticed that the sisters used sticks to dig for honey ants to eat. When Waa looked more closely, he saw that that sticks were glowing red with fire, so the sisters were able to cook the food they ate.
Now Waa knew that the seven sisters were fearful of snakes. So, he found some baby snakes and placed them in a log and sealed it up. Waa then told the sisters that honey ants were in the log.
The sisters used their digging sticks to open the log. But when they did, the snakes sprang out and the sisters jumped, dropping their sticks. Waa then swooped in and grabbed the sticks and flew off. However, when he did, the sticks charred his feathers and blackened them with soot.
Crows in Greek Mythology
Apollo and Crows
In ancient Greece, the crow was sacred to the god Apollo. According to one myth, Apollo had a white crow whom he left with his lover Coronis. In truth, Apollo wanted his crow to keep an eye on her. As luck would have it, Coronis fell in love with a man named Ischys.
The crow told Apollo of the affair between Coronis and Ischys. Enraged, Apollo first directed his anger at the crow because he had expected the crow to peck out the eyes of Ischys. Apollo was so enraged that he threw a fiery curse at Coronis, which singed the crow and turned his feathers black.
Here and Crows
The Greeks also associated crows with the goddess Hera. Not only were crows known to be monogamous, they were also seen on battlefields. Thus, it was fitting that the Greeks paired them with their goddess of war and marriage.
At one time the goddess Athena was also associated with crows. However, she found them to be too mischievous and cunning. So, instead she chose the solemn owl to be her companion.
The Romans took part in a spiritual practice called augury, which interpreted omens by the behavior or birds. In fact, the term is based on the word “auspices,” which comes from Latin word auspicium, which means “one who looks at birds.” Thus, the Romans watched the behavior of crows closely. In particular, they believed that the direction that crows flew had symbolic meaning.
Crow Symbolism in the Bible
Crows appear in the Bible frequently. In the story the Great Flood, after 40 days, Noah sends a crow (or raven or, more likely, an ancestor of modern-day corvids) to find dry land after the flood. The crow does not return, so Noah assumes that suitable dry land has not been found, as the crow is able of eating carrion from the sea.
After the crow, Noah sends a dove to see if there is dry land. At first the dove returns and Noah thinks there is still probably no suitable land on which to dock the ark. But a week later, when he sends the dove out again, she returns with a freshly plucked olive branch, and Noah realizes that the Earth is finally habitable again. However, the crow is forever considered to be selfish for not flying back and telling Noah the state of things.
Crows are given a bad rap in other parts of the Bible as well, notably when they are depicted as unclean because they eat carrion. This irrational fear was undoubtedly one of the reasons why crows came to be associated with the occult and death.
Crow Meanings in Celtic Mythology
For the Celts, crows were sacred. They were associated with the god Lugh, who was a warrior deity, a craftsman, and a protector.
The Celts also associated crows with the goddess Morrigan, who was believed to shapeshift into a crow. As the goddess of war and death, Morrigan was said to fly over battlefields while screeching to encourage her warriors and strike fear into the hearts of their enemies.
Crows in Norse Mythology
According to Scandinavian folklore, the god Odin had two companions, Hugi and Munnin, which translates to Thought and Memory. Hugi and Munnin were crows (or ravens) who flew over the Earth and brought tales of the world back to Odin.
Crow Meaning in Asian Cultures
Crows didn’t fare very well in Chinese mythology. As with many other cultures, the Chinese associated crows with the sun and fire. In one story, the Earth originally had 10 suns, which were embodied by 10 crows. One day, all 10 of the suns decided to rise at once, and they began to scorch the Earth. So, the gods sent their most experience archer, Houyi, who shots down all of the crow suns except one.
One Chinese fairy tale that portrays crows positively, however. The story explains why there are some days you can see crows in the sky and other days that you don’t. In the story of the Weaving Maiden, you don’t see crows in the sky when they are busy forming a magical bridge that allows the Weaving Maiden to meet her lover.
The Japanese view crows as messengers from the spirit world. They also see them as positive symbols of transformation and rebirth.
Crows in Hinduism
Crows are viewed positively in Hindu culture. Because they have powerful memories, they are seen as messengers from one’s ancestors. Some believe that crows carry the souls of the recently deceased. Because of this, when Hindu practitioners perform the act of Shraaddha (giving thanks) during the period of Pitru Paksha, which is a period of honoring one’s ancestors, they will often feed the crows.
Crows are also associated with Hindu gods and goddesses, including the Sani, who rules the planet Saturn. Sani is a hot-tempered but highly intelligent deity. And the mother goddess Dhumavati, who is portrayed as a crone, or old woman, is associated with crows and is sometimes depicted as riding on a crow.
Crow Symbols in Buddhism
In Tibetan Buddhism, the crow is associated with the deity Mahakala, which means the Great Black One.” Mahakala is viewed as a protector, particularly of wisdom.
In one Buddhist story, a 15th century monk named Ngawang Drakpa traveled to what is now the Gyalrong district of eastern Tibet. His intention was to build a monastery there, but he was having trouble deciding on the location. As he was pondering, a crow flew down and grabbed the scarf from around his neck. The monk followed the crow to a juniper tree, where the crow placed the scarf on one of the branches. The monk saw this as an auspicious sign that this was the right place for the monastery.
Crow Dream Meanings
Dreams are personal to every dreamer, so I never try to apply specific meanings to every dream about crows. However, when analyzing your dream, it’s important is to consider the emotions you felt in the dream, whether it was wonder, fear, anger, or some other emotion. Your feelings will help you to understand the nature of a matter that you should address in your conscious state.
In addition, consider your own personal feelings about crows. To some, crows are disturbing, while to others, they are fascinating. From there, you can layer in some of the commonly shared meanings and symbols applied to crows and see it anything resonates. For example, crows as symbols of transformation could mean that a change is about to happen in your life, or a sign that you are in a process of self-transformation.
A crow tattoo is a powerful symbol that shows you are in tune with your intuitive powers. It can also meant value cleverness and like to indulge your sense of curiosity. Tattoos are personal to each individual. However, better understanding crow symbolism and mythology can hopefully imbue your tattoo with deeper meaning.
Organizations that Protect Crows
While you might consider crows to be plentiful, especially if you live in an urban setting, like the vast majority of wild animals on our planet, crows face threats. In fact, two species of crows are on the Endangered Species List: the Hawaiian crow and the Mariana crow. If you care about crows and other birds, please do what you can to help protect them. Here are some organizations that look out for crows and other birds:
Defenders of Wildlife
The Alalā Project
San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Institute for Wildlife Studies
Birds are peaceful, free, and inspirational animals. Every time we catch ourselves looking at a bird, we also find answers to dilemmas popping in our minds. It’s almost like these birds know our distress and gives us the answers we need. However, not all birds represent the same thing. This is probably why people find the knowledge of bird symbolism so important.
Of all the colorful birds singing their melodious songs, one bird sticks out like a sore thumb. May be for its looks, it may be for its rough song, but the crow is a bird that puzzles all. It makes many wonder about the crow symbolism.
What do these birds signify? What does a black crow mean? What can we expect when we see a black crow?
We answer all these questions and more in this article.
Table of contents
Crow Symbolism and Meaning
Often confused with ravens, people usually think crows represent bad luck. However, that is not what crows symbolize.
What Do Crows Symbolize?
Crows symbolize transformation and change. They are watchful creatures that have a sharp and powerful foresight. If you cross a crow and think of it as an adverse outcome, then you must remember that this is just one of the many possible results. You can tap into the potent power of this bird to transform the bad into foresight or something useful.
The crow represents change or transformation. But much more than that, it refers more to a spiritual or emotional change. These intelligent birds give us valuable insight into situations around us and help us adapt as needed.
Related: 12 Tips on How To Attract Crows to Your Backyard
Crow Native American Symbolism
The symbolism of the Crow took a brighter turn in mainstream thought when people explored Native American beliefs about the bird. They always believed crows to be cleansers of both land and mind. We can see echoes of this belief in their folklore, where they portray the intelligence of the crow as their main feature.
The Native American crow meaning is different from the rest of the world. While the rest of the world largely saw them as a dark omen, they consider them to be a sign of good fortune. To this day, they hold steadfast to this belief every time a crow crosses their path.
The culture of Native Americans had many crow clans and tribes who used to consult the crow for a word of wisdom in times of need. The crow clan included the following tribes:
- The Hopi tribe – their crow clan was known as Ungwish-eungwa or Angwusngyam
- The Chippewa tribe – their totem and crow clan was called Aandeg
- The Pueblo tribe of New Mexico
- The Tlingit tribe
- The Menominee
- The Caddo tribe
These tribes and clans are aware that crows eat carrion, but they are also mindful that so do many other animals like bears or bald eagles. This is known to many as the circle of life, which is why they choose to look past it.
When referring to a crow, the Native American folklore seems to talk about an animal that is a fuse between a crow and its cousin, raven. The confusion is understandable considering their quite similar features.
Related: Bird Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)
Crow Christianity Symbolism
We see the confusion between crows and ravens increase in Christian belief. Although there is no mention of the word “crow” in the bible, Robert Young’s “analytical concordance to the bible” includes and explains many entries. The LL.D Dr. Young explains these entries concerning the original words in the Greek and Hebrew bible and middle age Christianity.
The difference between them both, however, is that ravens are much bigger and shinier than crows. When explaining the crow’s spiritual meaning, he somewhat overlooks this difference.
The primary symbolism of crows and ravens in Christianity is often related to one of the following things:
- The reference to Noah releasing a raven/crow from the Ark to see if the water from the flood had subsided or not, only for the bird not to return.
- The community associates crows with death because of their color and their feeding style.
- In contrast to other birds, people identify crows as being earthly. They spend most of their time on the ground, close to their feed, instead of flying in the air.
Related: Why Do Crows Gather? (Everything You Need to Know)
Crow Celtic Symbolism
Like the Native Americans, Celtics also debunk the dark symbolism surrounding this bird. The Celtic crow symbol stands for individuality, prophetic knowledge, and a complete disregard for what others think. The crow embodies a combination of abilities and skills, mostly.
Celtics also deeply honor crows as a sign sent to them by prophets or oracles in a practice of clairvoyance. The Celts so believed the crows carried secrets between the feathers of their wings.
The Celtic crow significance is so prominent that they believe these birds have a connection with the deity of creation and sun, Lugus. This, again, is a direct contradiction of the crow’s common reputation as a sign of darkness. The importance and significance of crow symbolism were so renowned that killing a crow was considered a felony under the druidic rule.
We should take a leaf out of the Celt’s perspective and understand the importance of these black-feathered messengers. We can also do well by learning from the crows themselves. They teach us so much from accepting our own individuality to not caring about what anyone else thinks. If we manage to develop that kind of gumption in our attitude, we should thank crows for that.
Crows in Dreams
Many consider seeing a black crow in a dream as a bad omen. While it may be true that they represent foreshadowing of sadness or grief, it is not the only black crow meaning. Seeing these intelligent creatures can even be a sign of wisdom or intuition.
Dream interpretation specialist says that dreaming about a bird usually means a message from your subconscious. They also attribute much deeper meaning to a crow’s appearance in our dreams, since crows can fly between the land of the living and the dead. Seeing a crow in your dream can signify your thoughts and feelings about your life, transformation, and death.
The meaning of seeing a crow in your dream can also depend on what the crow is doing. If you see a crow in flight, that means some hidden issues in your subconscious mind are demanding attention. If you don’t bring these issues to the surface, you will have difficulty moving forward. If you see a crow in the middle of a feast, then that means usually means your current course of action will bring you great wealth. In other words, you need to trust your intuition.
Apart from the sub-conscious interpretations, mystics say that seeing crows in your dream is also a sign of positive change, especially when you see them following or watching you. However, seeing a crow in an unclear position can be a warning. You need to evaluate your current course of action to make sure you don’t end up with disappointment.
Overall, crows are a symbol of transformation. It is up to you to notice the nature of change. Was it a positive one? An adverse one? Or something that is yet to happen?
Related: What is a Group of Crows Called & Why? [Murder Background]
Crow Encounters and Omens
What does it mean when you see a crow?
Encountering a crow is more of a message then a sign of something. This message can be a piece of advice, an omen, or a warning depending whose path it crosses. For you to decipher what it means for you, you need to take a much more in-depth look into it. This is because these intelligent birds are known for their trickery. Therefore, the answers won’t come quickly to you. However, once you do realize the meaning of the message, it’s all worth it.
Crows can also be a warning of the presence of duplicitous figures around you. They are a symbol of transformation and intuition; this is why they are the first to know if a person around you has “transformed.” You should also trust your instinct to see what is not right around you.
Crow Mythology and Folklore
You will find both sad and happy tales in Crow mythology and folklore. Some stories praise the intelligence of crows while others dispute over the bird’s dark omens.
Native American Mythology:
Native American mythology emphasizes the intelligence of crows. Some tribes believe it to be a trickster, recounting many of its tales of mischief. Whereas other tribes believe it as a happy sign thinking that it was the wisdom of crows that brought down fire from heaven.
In Celtic mythology, Morrighan, the warrior goddess, often assumes the form of a crow or is accompanied by a group of them. It is said that when you see a group of three crows approaching, it is a sign of her watching. Perhaps this is from where the 3 crows meaning came.
In Welsh mythology, witches and sorcerers could transform themselves into crows or ravens, enabling them to avoid capture. The bad reputation of witches was placed with these intelligent birds, making them a harbinger of death.
In Greek mythology, the intelligence of crows links them to Apollo because of his gift of prophecy.
In Chinese mythology,elders often depicted crows with the sun. Chinese people usually take crows as a sign of good luck, but its meaning changes only when one happens to hear the song of a crow.
Crow Spirit Animal
When you have the spirit animal crow, you have the unusual ability to see far beyond all that is apparent.
The crow is an intelligent creature that has a high power of observation and intuition that many other animals lack. They lend us the same characteristics by giving us the power of insight that is usually accurate. In short, the crow’s spiritual meaning is that of insight, which is hard to come by in any other animal.
Crow Totem Animal
People with a crow totem are well-known for their creative and handiwork nature. They don’t need to be artistic, but they can take bits and pieces of anything and transform it into something useful. In any complex or challenging situation, you can count on a crow animal totem person to come up with an unorthodox solution.
People with a crow totem are a weird breed. They have this unusual ability to display extreme personalities like tense and easygoing to frustrating and helpful. This ability enables them to shift from one personality trait to another as need be. Not many people have the empathy or insight developed so much as to not only understand and perceive the situation but also to modify oneself in accordance with it; this is exceptional.
People with a crow animal totem have a lot of personal integrity. They are not only insightful but also mindful of their actions and opinions. As a result, they embrace life’s mission and walk the talk. They shift from one life change to another with effortless ease. Like the crows, these people have an eye for spotting opportunities and swoop in as soon as they see one.
Taking after their crow totem, which builds their nests in tall trees, these people have perspective unlike any other about their surroundings.
All of these traits enable people with crow animal totem to be watchful of predators and intruders.
Crow Power Animal
In addition to the qualities mentioned above, crows provide very potent power of protection. These intelligent birds are very protective of their territories and their nests. They manage to ward off trespassers that are much bigger than themselves.
This power, when transferred to a human, means not only your loved ones but also yourself and your possessions too. This can be anything from something that is rightfully yours to any object that you own. These power animals help us keep our things safe and sound.
Crow power animal is particularly helpful when you are most in need of creativity, especially when you face a life-or-death situation. These birds can help you think outside the box, mainly when your survival depends on it.
Crow Tattoo Meaning
Crows are very smart, intelligent, and very creative. Yet, many tattoo experts admit that people readily subject the crow symbol as a dark, mystical, or ominous sign. They also say that although it has a significant positive meaning, it usually gets second billing to its dark side.
However, we see different black crow meanings throughout different cultures. For instance, the middle ages considered spotting a dead crow as a sign of good fortune, and the Chinese considered it a loving symbol representing the creative side of people.
When a person gets inked with a crow symbol, it usually is a representation of a personality that greatly affected them. The detailed interpretation of the crow tattoo lies in the intricacy of the design.
One crow may represent a bad omen, a good luck sign, may mean good health, may stand for increasing wealth, could represent severe sickness, and even may represent death.
Many people say that we carry the symbols that we tattoo on ourselves to our afterlives. Make sure you are taking the right message with you when you cross. We suggest you choose the design of your crow tattoo very carefully as minor details can completely change the meaning. Form love, future, and wisdom, you can very quickly end up with something akin to a bad omen with a single mistake.
To conclude, it is pointless to fear a crow when you see it or hear it cawing. A crow cawing meaning is not one of bad news. Instead, it means something new is about to happen to you. Trust these intelligent birds and their keen sense of foresight. Try to understand what the crow is trying to tell you and prepare for it. You can form a deep connection with the bird and revel in its wisdom and outstanding traits.
Related: How to Befriend Crows? (Step-By-Step Guide)
A Look at the Powerful Native American Crow Medicine
“If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher
Crows have a bad reputation; depicted as as a scavenger, a bad omen or the harbinger of death in many myths and legends worldwide. According to folklore crows are responsible for escorting the dead to the underworld.
In Christian tradition, the crow is considered evil, the opposite of the dove. They pluck out the eyes of sinners and carry the spirit of the damned to its final destination. The crow of the Bible was selfish because it did not return word of the new world to Noah at the time of the great flood.
In Celtic mythology, the crow is associated with death and destruction especially in warfare and times of battle. Many Celtic goddesses such as Badb took on the form of the crow during war.
In Greek mythology the crow was white but because of its betrayal to god Apollo he was punished and cursed so that its feathers were scorched.
However,the crow is no bird brain. Research has shown that they are capable of remembering faces. The crow recognizes those who are kind to him. They are part of the song bird family although not known for singing.
Because of the complex structure of his voice box, the crow can mimic the sound of other birds, animals, car alarms and even human voices. They are omnivorous and can easily adapt to their surroundings, therefore enabling their survival.
Crow Symbolism in Native American Culture
In many Native American tribes the crow is revered as the sacred keeper of law; an oracle of divination and magic and a symbol of rebirth and change. They are a powerful spirit guides and the message of their medicine should not be ignored despite the negative myths surrounding the crow.
The Native American practice of animal medicine embraces the idea that when an animal crosses our path, whether in waking life or in a dream, its message to us has the power to heal by bringing aspects of ourselves to consciousness.
What is Crow Medicine?
Crow medicine or as the Cherokee call it, Koga Nvwati, gives us the ability to make decisions, open ourselves to change and experience magic in the world around us. The crow is a shapeshifter, thought to dwell in both the physical and the spiritual world simultaneously.
Their message offers insight into our core beliefs and values. They have known darkness and are willing to guide us through our own in order to bring us to a higher perspective. When crow appears in your life, it may be that you are at a crossroad.
Perhaps you have been questioning yourself or fearing the future or the unknown. Crow reveals the authenticity you carry within. He awakens our intuition and his medicine gives strength to speak our truth and in doing so bring about the change that is desired.
Crow medicine is available to all that seek its wisdom. When crow appears in your life, ask yourself what is it that requires change? Are you being true to yourself?
Communicate with crow and ask him to guide you into the darkness of your mind and bring light to the areas that need refinement. Be ready to listen and open to transformation.
Those with the gift of Crow medicine; should also study the raven. Although related, these birds have slightly different meanings and offer variant messages. The raven is referred to as the secret keeper and in some native folklore is a key player in the story of creation.
By escaping the darkness of the cosmos, Raven brought light to all of mankind. In other tribes, Raven is considered a Trickster: causing confusion and chaos. If raven comes into your life, it is time to examine your fears and what is holding you back from achieving your goals.
Bird medicine is sacred to native culture because of its link to the divine. They are spiritual messengers with the gift of flight. Understanding these messages is the secret to unlocking our full potential as beings and discovering our own subconscious gifts. They should not be ignored, as we have much to learn.
Images and Resources:
Crow Art by Bouvette
Crow Art by Susan Seddon-Boulet
Crows remember faces
Mythology native american crow in
Meaning of the Crow Symbol
Native American Indians were a deeply spiritual people and they communicated their history, thoughts, ideas and dreams from generation to generation through Symbols and Signs such as the Crow symbol. Native American symbols are geometric portrayals of celestial bodies, natural phenomena and animal designs. The meaning of the Crow symbol signifies wisdom. According to Native American legends and myths some tribes believed that the Crow had the power to talk and was therefore considered to be one of the wisest of birds. The sacred bird of the famous Ghost Dance was the crow. The Ghost Dance Religion used it as a symbol of the past when the crow had acted as a pathfinder for hunting parties. The feathers of the crow adorned their clothes and each dancer was to wear one eagle feather or one crow feather in their hair, The Sioux believed that when the great, final flood came to earth that the crow feathers would lift the ghost dancers from the ground to the safety of the heavens. For additional information refer to Power Animals.
Sioux Ghost Dance
The Crow Symbol - Meaning
There were so many tribes of Native American Indians it is only possible to generalise the most common meaning of the Crow symbol or pattern. Native Indian symbols are still used as Tattoos and were used for a variety of reasons and depicted on numerous objects such as tepees, totem poles, musical instruments, clothes and War Paint. Indian Tribes also used their own Colors for Symbols and designs depending on the natural resources available to make Native American paint. For additional information please refer to the Meanings of Bird Symbols.
Native American Indians - Crow Symbol
Native American Indians had a highly complex culture, especially those who lived on the Great Plains.
Their religion was dominated by rituals and belief in a spiritual connection with nature and these beliefs were reflected in the various symbols they used such as the Crow symbol.
The clothes, tepees and all of his belongings was decorated with art and included symbols depicting his achievements, acts of heroism, his various spirit guides or the most important events in his life. Every symbol used by an American Native Indian had meaning which can be accessed from Symbols and Meanings.
- The Crow symbol of Native Americans
- Meaning, symbolism and interpretation of the Crow symbol
- Interesting facts and info for kids and schools
- Pictures, meanings, patterns and designs of symbols
- Native American Crow symbol meaning
Pictures and Videos of Native Americans
Crow. Discover the vast selection of pictures which relate to the History of Native Americans and illustrate many symbols used by American Indians. The pictures show the clothing, war paint, weapons and decorations of various Native Indian tribes that can be used as a really useful educational history resource for kids and children of all ages. We have included pictures and videos to accompany the main topic of this section - Crow. The videos enable fast access to the images, paintings and pictures together with information and many historical facts. All of the articles and pages can be accessed via the Native Indian Tribes Index - a great educational resource for kids.
The Magic of Crows and Ravens
Both crows and ravens have appeared in a number of different mythologies throughout the ages. In some cases, these black-feathered birds are considered an omen of bad tidings, but in others, they may represent a message from the Divine. Here are some fascinating crow and raven folklore to ponder.
Did You Know?
- Crows sometimes appear as a method of divination and prophecy.
- In some mythologies, crows are seen as a sign of bad things to come, but in others they are considered to be messengers from the gods.
- Crows often appear as trickster characters in folklore and legend.
Although crows and ravens are part of the same family (Corvus), they’re not exactly the same bird. Typically, ravens are much bigger than crows, and they tend to be a bit shaggier looking. The raven actually has more in common with hawks and other predatory birds than the standard, smaller-sized crow. In addition, although both birds have an impressive repertoire of calls and noises they make, the raven’s call is usually a bit deeper and more guttural sounding than that of the crow.
Ravens & Crows in Mythology
In Celtic mythology, the warrior goddess known as the Morrighan often appears in the form of a crow or raven or is seen accompanied by a group of them. Typically, these birds appear in groups of three, and they are seen as a sign that the Morrighan is watching—or possibly getting ready to pay someone a visit.
In some tales of the Welsh myth cycle, the Mabinogion, the raven is a harbinger of death. Witches and sorcerers were believed to have the ability to transform themselves into ravens and fly away, thus enabling them to evade capture.
The Native Americans often saw the raven as a trickster, much like Coyote. There are a number of tales regarding the mischief of Raven, who is sometimes seen as a symbol of transformation. In the legends of various tribes, Raven is typically associated with everything from the creation of the world to the gift of sunlight to mankind. Some tribes knew the raven as a stealer of souls.
"In Native American folklore, the intelligence of crows is usually portrayed as their most important feature. In some tribes, the crow is conflated with the raven, a larger cousin of the crow that shares many of the same characteristics. In other tribes, Crow and Raven are distinct mythological characters. Crows are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures."
Some of the tribes with Crow clans include the Chippewa, the Hopi, the Tlingit, and the Pueblo tribes of the American Southwest.
For those who follow the Norse pantheon, Odin is often represented by the raven—usually a pair of them. Early artwork depicts him as being accompanied by two black birds, who are described in the Eddas as Huginn and Munnin. Their names translate to “thought” and “memory,” and their job is to serve as Odin’s spies, bringing him news each night from the land of men.
Divination & Superstition
Crows sometimes appear as a method of divination. For the ancient Greeks, the crow was a symbol of Apollo in his role as god of prophecy. Augury—divination using birds—was popular among both the Greeks and the Romans, and augurs interpreted messages based on not only the color of a bird but the direction from which it flew. A crow flying in from the east or south was considered favorable.
In parts of the Appalachian mountains, a low-flying group of crows means that illness is coming—but if a crow flies over a house and calls three times, that means an impending death in the family. If the crows call in the morning before the other birds get a chance to sing, it’s going to rain. Despite their role as messengers of doom and gloom, it’s bad luck to kill a crow. If you accidentally do so, you’re supposed to bury it—and be sure to wear black when you do!
In some places, it's not the sighting of a crow or raven itself, but the number that you see which is important. Mike Cahill at Creepy Basement says,
"Seeing just a single crow is considered an omen of bad luck. Finding two crows, however, means good luck. Three crows mean health, and four crows mean wealth. Yet spotting five crows means sickness is coming, and witnessing six crows means death is nearby."
Even within the Christian religion, ravens hold a special significance. While they are referred to as “unclean” within the Bible, Genesis tells us that after the flood waters receded, the raven was the first bird Noah sent out from the ark to find land. Also, in the Hebrew Talmud, ravens are credited with teaching mankind how to deal with death; when Cain slew Abel, a raven showed Adam and Eve how to bury the body, because they had never done so before.
- Feher-Elston, Catherine. Ravensong: a Natural and Fabulous History of Ravens and Crows. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005.
- Sinn, Shannon. “The Raven and Crow of the Celts - Part I: Myth and Legend.” Living Library, 23 Mar. 2018, https://livinglibraryblog.com/the-raven-and-crow-of-the-celts-part-i-myth-and-legend/.
- Starovecká, Zuzana. “Ravens and Crows in Mythology, Folklore and Religion.” Perspectives, https://perspectiveszine.webnode.sk/news/ravens-and-crows-in-mythology-folklore-and-religion/.
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The story of the Rainbow Crow is a supposed Lenape legend, symbolizing the value of selflessness and service. However, the Lenape origins of this myth are denied by the Lenape-Nanticoke Museum, which attributes the myth to a recent modification of a Cherokee story known as the "First Fire". And in fact, the museum states that the crow has no significant role in traditional Lenape culture. No source for a Lenape version of this story is known to exist prior to a 1989 book of the same name supposedly "retold" by Penguin Random House author Nancy Van Laan. Nancy ultimately attributes this story to a Chief Bill "Whippoorwill" Thompson.
After a long period of cold weather, the animals of the community become worried. They decide to send a messenger to the Great Sky Spirit to ask for relief. The Rainbow Crow, the most beautifully feathered bird, offers to make the arduous journey. He travels safely, and is rewarded by the Great Spirit with the gift of fire. He carries the gift in his beak back to his people, but upon his return, he does not appear to be the same bird that he once was. The fire has scorched his plumage black, with only hints of his previous color, and his voice has been made rough and hoarse by the smoke. In this way, his sacrifice is commemorated.
Another name for Rainbow Crow is Many Colored Crow. This is in reference to the iridescent feathers created from the fire that scorched his plumage black, with only hints of his previous color that reflect when sun light strikes them.
This legend is the basis of multiple American animated short films, including one by online media platform HitRecord and another by Baobab Studios titled Crow: The Legend, with singer John Legend voicing the titular crow.