The Ultimate Guide to Raven Meaning & Symbolism

This is your complete guide to raven meaning and symbolism from the perspective of cultures, spiritual groups, dreams, feathers, seeing one or more ravens together, and so much more. It’s the only guide you need!

Ravens are large, black birds that live in various climates, countries, and environments across the Northern Hemisphere. 

They have a vast habitat range, far more than any other corvid. There are eight raven species, but they are also very visually similar. They have coexisted with humans for thousands of years. Due to their diet, ravens can live in cities, suburbs, and the countryside no matter the country.

While for some, ravens are nothing more than pests, for many others, they have important religious and/or spiritual meanings. Legends and stories about ravens and symbols connected to the birds feature in cultures around the world, from Norse mythology to the legends of various Native American tribes and Celtic myths. 

Raven Spiritual Meaning 

spiritual photo a woman meditating
Image by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER from Pixabay

There are a variety of spiritual meanings associated with ravens. Some of these interpretations are negative, while others are more positive. On the negative side, ravens are thought to symbolize death or impending tragedy. Someone who sees a raven may be about to experience bad luck or loss. 

On the positive side, some cultures interpret a raven sighting as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. They could bring positive change and transformation to your life. 

Ravens are also commonly interpreted as symbols of intelligence. These birds are well-known for their higher-than-average intellectual ability. They can use tools and remember human faces. Therefore, they serve as messengers for the gods or as embodiments of the gods themselves within mythologies. Some of the many meanings, experiences, and symbols associated with the bird include:

  • Bad luck
  • Healing
  • Renewal
  • Rebirth
  • Guidance
  • Messages from beyond 
  • Death/loss
  • War/battle

Raven as a Spirit Animal

raven spiritual meaning
Photo by Qurratul Ayin Sadia on Unsplash

Spirit animals are creatures that individuals feel a particular attachment to, appear in their life repetitively, and act as guides through difficult times. The concept originates in Native American mythology. 

A spirit animal might represent an individual or a larger group or family. They can be any living creature on earth, including a raven. 

If you think that a raven might be your spirit animal, you may need guidance through dark times. This spirit guide is often associated with rebirth, renewal, and healing, despite their darker symbolism in some cultures. The raven is also regarded as a spirit animal that helps reconcile the darkness and light within one person’s mind. 

Raven Symbolism in Different Cultures

Depending on the culture, ravens may mean something different. Let’s look at some of the more popular ones.

Native Americans

dream catcher representing bird meaning to native indians

In Native American culture, there are numerous depictions of the raven. Some stories cast the bird as a bringer of bad luck, death, and darkness. The bird is also regarded as a bearer of magic and, in some legends, plays an integral role in the world’s creation. 

Haida

In Haida stories, the raven often plays the role of the trickster and is one of the most powerful figures in mythology. He can change the world, is mischievous and selfish, and is always looking for ways to sate his hunger. The bird also symbolizes intelligence, cleverness, and creation. The commonly used name for the bird in Haida is Wee’git. 

One of the best-known stories is “Raven and the First Men.” The legend describes Raven alone on Rose Spit beach. He saw a group of clamshells at his feet and small living creatures protruding from them. He coaxed these living things forward, and they became the first Haida on Haida Gwaii. 

Cherokee 

In Cherokee culture, the raven symbolizes death and bad luck. One particularly memorable character, the Raven Mocker, is the most feared of all the witches in Cherokee legend. It appears as an older man or woman before taking to the air and crying out with a raven’s voice. It hunts for sick and dying victims and removes their hearts from their chests. 

In Cherokee culture, if you hear a raven, it indicates that someone in the surrounding area may soon meet their end. 

Asian Cultures

In Asia, ravens have vastly different meanings. From good luck omens to death.

Japan 

The raven is associated with the dead, lost souls, and darkness in Japanese mythology. 

One of the oldest symbols in Japanese mythology is the three-legged raven or bird known as Yatagarasu. The story speaks about the three-legged raven as a guide who led Emperor Jimmu from Kumano no Kuni to Yamato no Kuni. If Yatagarasu appears, Japanese stories suggest that divine intervention is taking place. 

China

In Chinese mythology, the raven symbolizes the sun and its three stages (rising, noon, and setting). Other stories present the bird as a bad omen suggesting that loss is right around the corner. In some cultures, the darkly colored bird may be compared with the magpie (which is usually regarded as a symbol of good luck). 

Norse Mythology 

Ravens are a famous symbol in Norse mythology

Primarily, they are associated with the Norse god Odin. In Norse stories, Odin sometimes goes by the name Hrafnaguð, meaning Raven God. His overwhelming wisdom and intelligence throughout Norse mythology are translated to his symbol–the raven and particularly the two ravens he’s said to use as messengers and sources of information on the human world.

The two ravens, Huginn and Munin (or “thought” and “memory”), are often depicted on Odin’s shoulders or flying around his head. They symbolize the meanings of their names, Odin’s wisdom, the intervention of the gods in human affairs, and death. 

The raven appears throughout Norse and Icelandic stories and is commonly associated with battle and blood. As in other cultures, ravens were well-known for their love of carrion. Their presence on and near battlefields help solidify the Norse interpretation of ravens as symbols of the dead. 

Greek Mythology

apollo greek god
Apollo, Greek god. Photo by Qurratul Ayin Sadia on Unsplash

Ravens are symbols of bad news, messengers from the gods, and specifically the god Apollo’s anger. They are also commonly associated with the god Apollo in Greek mythology. One important story describes how ravens used to be white, but after incurring Apollo’s wrath, he turned all ravens black. 

The story describes the princess Coronis who was unfaithful to Apollo and whose infidelity was observed by a raven. Apollo took out his rage on the bird, and from that time on, all crows/ravens were black. 

Celtic Mythology

celtic symbol celtic meaning

Ravens are an incredibly important symbol in Celtic mythology. More often than not, they’re linked to stories of death, loss, and darkness. The death connection, particularly when it comes to battle, is a fairly obvious one. 

Crows, ravens, and other corvids are often seen eating carrion or dead animals, and they would frequent the aftermath of battles. This led to their depiction in Celtic mythology as signs of a doomed battle or an upcoming, terrible loss. 

Ravens are not entirely a bad omen, though. They are also associated with warrior goddesses, some of whom are said to transform into birds, hover over battles, or indicate a warrior’s fate. 

One of the most important examples of raven symbolism in Celtic mythology is within the story of the warrior goddess, Morrighan. She is a shapeshifter, the stories suggest, who is capable of manifesting as a raven, crow, or similar blackbird.

She is associated with war, fate, and victory in battle, and therefore, blackbirds like the raven have come to symbolize the same in Celtic mythology. 

According to legend, Morrighan can appear in the guise of a crow or raven in the middle of a battle and help warriors defeat their enemies. Morrighan is not the only Celtic goddess linked to ravens. Others, like Badb and Macha, are also heavily associated with crows and ravens. 

Ravens are also associated with prophecy and as messengers for the gods in Celtic mythology. In one story, “The Hawk of Achill,” the character Lugh (father to Cuchulainn, who features in some of the most important Celtic legends) is warned of the Formorians’ approach by a raven. In another story, two ravens announce his son’s entrance into Elysium. 

Another god associated with ravens in Celtic mythology is Bendigeidfran, also known as Bran the Blessed. He was known for his large stature, enormous strength, and his ability to continue talking after his beheading. He was buried near the Tower of London, and his head is thought to act as a protective charm over the city.

Raven Religious Meaning 

spiritual meaning through christian bible

The raven is imbued with different meanings in the religions of the world. In Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism, and Hinduism, the raven is considered a sign of wisdom and intelligence, a conduit to the dead, a symbol of arrogance, and a dirty scavenger.

Christianity

In Christianity and the Bible, the raven plays an interesting, if minor role. In the story of Noah’s ark, the bird did not return to the ark like the rest of the animals but instead fed on the corpses left over from the flood. The bird is considered evil and dirty and a symbol of failing God. Ravens are regarded as arrogant and impudent in the Bible.

In the Bible, one memorable story describes Elijah being fed twice a day by ravens. He trusts God and is rewarded for accepting this unusual source of food. The birds are represented negatively in the story as dirty scavengers. 

Tibetan Buddhism 

In Tibetan Buddhism, the raven is the protector of wisdom and a guide. It symbolizes intelligence and plays an important role in the story of Ngawang Drakpa from the 15th century. The story goes that a raven stole the monk’s scarf and guided him to a juniper tree, where the monk found the perfect place to build a monastery.

Hinduism 

In Hinduism, the raven is linked to the dead. There are several stories about how feeding ravens in Hindu culture is a way of bringing food into the afterlife and to ancestors who have passed away. The birds are also viewed as messengers between Earth and the Pitruloka

Ravens in Dreams

People believe that dreams about ravens symbolize everything from misfortune to positive change. Depending on the various circumstances of your life and your dream, they can also symbolize failure and communication with the afterlife. Here are a few scenarios you might encounter and what they’re thought to symbolize: 

A Dream With a Single Raven 

You may be on the verge of important news. This could be positive or negative. You might find out that something good is about to happen or that something terrible has happened to you or someone you love. 

A Dead Raven In a Dream 

A dead raven, in contrast to a live one, is usually regarded as positive. An injustice you suffered may be corrected, or someone who doesn’t like you might change their opinion. They are generally regarded as good luck and as indicators that your life is going to change for the better. 

A Raven Caws In Your Dream

If you hear or see a raven caw in your dream, it means that change is on the way and that you’ll have the courage to stand strong in the face of hardship. It is a reminder that you need to be strong to make it through a particularly tough time in your life. 

A Dream About a Flock of Ravens

If you see a flock of ravens in your dream, it’s thought to symbolize changes, for the positive, in your career. You might find yourself succeeding faster than you thought, getting a promotion, raise, or simple praise from your boss. 

An Injured Raven In a Dream

If you see an injured raven, it means that you may be in danger. Specifically, you may be in danger of your lack of knowledge. As symbols of intelligence, injured or dying ravens are sometimes interpreted as signs of arrogance or ignorance in the face of hardship. 

Dream Glossary suggests that they are a sign that you need to start learning from your mistakes and that someone may try to influence you negatively with their own beliefs. 

What Does It Mean When You See a Raven? 

Many people regard raven sightings as a sign of impending change or loss. Some people believe seeing a raven is a sign of an upcoming opportunity that you’ll have the chance to take advantage of. 

Some cultures regard raven sightings as proof that a deceased loved one is nearby or a sign that death is around the corner. If you see a raven, you might also find yourself experiencing instances of bad luck. They are also considered a sign that you need more guidance in your life. 

Is Seeing a Raven An Omen? 

Some people believe that seeing a raven is an omen of bad luck and loss. Symbolism is very complex and changes from person to person and culture to culture, but most people see ravens as negative. In some cultures, seeing a raven fly over your home symbolizes death. Some believe that finding a dead raven is a symbol of good luck. 

While many interpretations of raven sightings suggest that bad omens are around the corner, seeing two ravens is often regarded as an indicator of magic nearby, friendship, and even love. Others suggest that seeing two ravens means that two deceased loved ones are watching over you. 

What Does a Raven Feather Mean?

a raven feather beside shells
Raven feather. Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

Raven feathers are symbols of change and transformation. They are iridescent and change shade in the light. This has led to interpretations of the feathers as signs that the person who finds one should embrace change in their life. 

Finding a raven feather is also thought to symbolize one’s ancestors watching over them, protection from magical forces, and (because of the birds’ intelligence) wisdom. Other interpretations of a raven feather include: 

  • A symbol of courage in the face of danger
  • A symbol of impending change or loss
  • A symbol of your ancestors protecting you
  • A symbol of positive healing and renewal 

What Does it Mean When You See a Raven During the Day? 

When you see a raven during the day, you soon experience an important change in your life. Raven sightings are common, and this is only one of the many possible interpretations for seeing a single raven while going about your day-to-day life. 

Other interpretations include a raven indicating that you may need guidance, be dealing with darker impulses, have ancestors watching over you, that magic is nearby, and that you may need to take the time to heal. 

When you see a raven during the day, consider your personal life and whether or not any of these varied interpretations might apply to your situation. While many interpretations are overwhelmingly negative, seeing a raven can be an incredibly positive experience that inspires renewal and healing. 

What Does it Mean When a Raven Caws? 

More often than not, a raven or crow cawing is associated with warnings of danger. If you hear one, keep an eye on your surroundings, as many believe that they’re a sign of bad luck and loss. The sound of a raven in some cultures indicates misery and terror. 

More positive interpretations associate a raven’s caw with a message from a god or gods, the afterlife, or someone you’ve recently lost. It may indicate that you’re going to have a good day rather than a particularly terrible one and/or indicate your connection to the spiritual world. 

Some believe that the sound of a raven reminds you to embrace change in your life, stand up for yourself, speak up, and trust your instincts and intelligence.  

Number of Ravens Meaning

meaning of 5 ravens
Photo by Qurratul Ayin Sadia on Unsplash

Seeing 1, 2, 3, 4, and more ravens have traditionally been interpreted differently. While there are varying ideas about what seeing different numbers of ravens means, the most commonly accepted interpretations are considered below: 

One Raven 

If you see a single raven, it may indicate that an important change is around the corner in your personal life, that someone you love may pass away, that you are soon to encounter bad luck in your life, or that you require guidance. 

Two Ravens

Seeing two ravens is believed to be a sign that two deceased loved ones are watching over you, perhaps grandparents, friends, or parents. Another common meaning is that you’re about to encounter a change in your love life or an indicator that you should remember to value your loved ones. 

Three Ravens 

Seeing three ravens is commonly interpreted as a sign of renewal and change. It’s also interpreted as a sign of your spiritual knowledge or a reminder to remain in touch with the spiritual world. Three ravens may also mean that you are a particularly sensitive and thoughtful person and that you should continue fostering that side of yourself. 

Four Ravens 

If you see four ravens, it’s a powerful reminder of the changing universe. You need to look for other signs in your life that change is coming or some strong magic is present. It’s a sign that you should be attentive daily, stay in touch with your spiritual self, and keep your friends close. 

Five or More Ravens

If you see five or more ravens in your daily life, they may be there to remind you of your past and commitments and as a sign of the universe’s power in your life. In some cultures, five ravens are a sign of leadership. You may need to take on a leadership role or find yourself in a situation where your leadership is desperately needed. 

Conclusion 

Ravens are interpreted in a few common ways throughout history, across various mythologies, religions, and cultures. 

Their extreme intelligence, mixed with their darker habit of feeding on carrion, has led to contrasting interpretations that have led many to wonder about the true meaning of raven sightings, feathers, dreams, and what it means if you think a raven is your spirit animal.

Many people see ravens as signs of bad luck, loss, war, and death. But, others see them as indicators of healing and renewal. 

Depending on your perspective, you may feel like ravens are the perfect symbol of both light and dark. If you feel like the raven is your spirit or totem animal, you may be someone who needs guidance in their life, is on a path towards a healthier future, or is very aware of the spiritual world. 

More than 25 years ago, Tammy put her first bird feeder outside her kitchen window. Since then she learned how to attract wild birds to her backyard. Studying the meaning & symbolism of wild birds is also a passion of hers.