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dragonlady_mothman

Symbolism of Ravens in Norse Mythology

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Hugin and Munin (Norse, 'thought' and 'memory') are the twin ravens of Norse mythology. They are the servants of the Norse All-Father, Odin, traveling to bring him reports of the affairs of the world.

The examples above are adapted from a Viking picture stone from Gotland, Sweden, called the "Larbro" stone, which depicts scenes of the Norse Gods and the afterlife.

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General folklore:

A bird of ill omen; fabled to forbode death, and to bring infection and bad luck. Like many other birds, ravens indicate the approach of foul weather. According to Roman legend, ravens were once as white as swans; but one day a raven told Apollo that Coronis, a Thessalian nymph whom he passionately loved, was faithless. The god shot the nymph with his dart; but hating the messenger, turned him black as coal. As a prophet it foretells death but can also be helpful in finding lost property. The bird is a messenger of the sun god Apollo and is an attribute of Athena, Kronos and Aesculapius; it was also a symbol of fertility and as such was invoked at weddings.In Zoroastrianism the raven is a 'pure' bird as it removes pollution and in Mithraism it represents the first grade of initiation. Chinese myth has the three-legged raven in the sun, depicting its rising, noontide and setting. In Hinduism Brahma appeared as a raven in one incarnation. The raven-crow goddess, the Blessed Raven, is important in Celtic lore and has a threefold function as war, fertillty and prophecy. The Raven of Battle, the goddess Badb, represents war and bloodshed and is ill-omened. Morrigan, Bran and Lugh are associated with the raven and the last had two magic ravens similar to those of Odin [The two ravens that sit on the shoulders of Odin are called Huginn and Muninn (Mind and Memory)]. Among Amerindians Raven is one of the chief and most widespread of the trickster-heroes and shape-shifters; he is not only the trickster but also a creator and appears as Raven Man, the Big Grandfather. He was one of the creatures which recreated the land after the Flood and stole the sun. Raven is also a messenger of the Great Spirit.

Trivia:

1. A group of Ravens is a "MURDER."

2. In addition to their NATURAL CALLS, Ravens can also imitate other birds, falling water, and even the melody from a music box or the tinkling of an ice cream truck.

3. In GREEK mythology Apollo considered Raven a prophet as do the the BOROROS of present day Brazil.

4. The TEUTONIC story of Odin had the Raven be the messaager carrier of the gods.

5. SWISS AND DANISH legend has Raven as the hunting helper.

6. TIBETAN religious tradition considers Raven the only messenger of the supreme being.

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Odin also has two wolves, Geri and Freki, and two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory). He sends his ravens out every day to gather knowledge for him.

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In Norse mythology the omniscient god Odin had a pair of ravens called Hugin (thought) and Munin (remembrance) living upon his shoulders or throne. Each morning they flew around the earth observing everything and questioning everyone, even the dead. During the night they returned to their master and whispered all that they had seen and heard. Sometimes Odin turned himself into a raven.

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Raven Banner

It is frequently assumed that the first flag to fly in America was the Raven banner of the Vikings, the first Europeans to discover and settle (though not permanently) in North America. In the preface to the first volume of NAVA's journal Raven the name of the journal is explained. Of the first flag in America it is said: "... it seems probable that this first flag was the most common Norse flag, known as 'Raven, Terror of the Land, or more simply 'Raven."1 The Norse discoverers of America are presumed to have brought with them this flag on their journeys to North America. To support this assumption, it is pointed to the Lothbroc legend and to coins depicting a raven found in England and Ireland.

This line of reasoning is based on the assumption that the most common Norse flag, the one we hear most frequently of, was the flag that was commonly used by Norse seafarers, and so was also used by Leif Ericsson when he discovered America in AD 1000/1001. This assumption is difficult to support.

The medieval sources attribute the Raven banner to a limited number of kings and warlords. Under the Raven banner, these men are almost exclusively operating in the British Isles. Hallvard Trætteberg, the leading Norwegian authority on heraldry and flags, lists six instances where the sources mention the Raven banner.

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* The sons of Ragnar Lothbroc carried a Raven banner, Leodbroga, when invading England, about AD 867. The banner had a raven that flapped its wings when signaling victory for the Danes. This is the famous Lothbroc legend.

* King Canute had a Raven banner made from white silk when he triumphed at Ashington in 1016. The Encomium Emmae, also known as Geasta Cnutonis Regis, says that the King had "...a banner which gave a wonderful omen. I am well aware that this may seem incredible to the reader, but nevertheless I insert it in my veracious work because it is true: This banner was woven of the cleanest and whitest silk and no picture of any figures was found on it. In case of war, however, a raven was always to be seen, as ff it was woven into it. If the Danes were going to win the battle, the raven appeared, beak wide open, flapping its wings and restless on its feet. If they were going to be defeated, the raven did not stir at all, and its limbs hung motionless."3

* Earl Sigurd of the Orkneys had a magical Raven banner made by his mother. She gave him the banner the day before an important battle, saying: "Take @ sign, I have made it for you. It will bring victory to the man it precedes, but death to the man who carries it"4 The banner had a raven that seemed to rise when the wind blew into it Sigurd then fought with the Scottish earl and won three battles. His standard bearers fell. Then, at the battle of Clontarf in Ireland, he had to carry the magical banner himself, and he fell. This was supposedly on Holy Friday in 1014.

* Earl Sigvard of Northumberland was given a banner he called Landeydan (Landwaster, or Terror of the Land) by a mysterious old man he met on a hill top when chasing a dragon. Sigvard died 1055.

* Harald Hardruler, King of Norway, had a sign called Landeydan (Landwaster). The King's saga, Saga of Harald Sigurtharson, tells of a quarrel between Harald and Svein, a Danish king: 'Svein asked Harald what possessions of his he valued most highly. He answered his banner "Land-Destroyer." Thereupon Svein asked what virtue it had to be accounted so valuable. Harald replied that it was prophesied that victory would be his before whom this banner was borne; and added that this had been the case ever since he had obtained it." Then they started to quarrel over whether this could be true.5 Harold invaded England in 1066. He was victorious under the Landeydan at York, but was defeated at Stamford Bridge. There, the hardest battle was fought around the Raven banner.

* William the Conqueror also had a Raven banner at Hastings, according to Trætteberg.

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In addition to these descriptions in the literary sources, coins depicting Ravens have been found. Trætteberg mentions a bird on coins made in York, 926-27 and 937. The bird is eagle-like but possibly a raven. Another coin has a triangular banner fringed with bells or strips of some kind and with a rose shaped cross as charge. There is a similar banner in the London coin of Canute, but there is no emblem on this one.

The Raven banner seems to be well documented, both in written sources and on coins. It is mentioned in sources treating events from the mid 800s to 1066. In addition, it is well known that ravens occupied an important place in Norse mythology, the raven being the holy bird of Odin. However, with respect to the Raven banner and the Norse discovery of North America, there are some important misconceptions.

The most important misconception is that the Raven has come to be regarded as the emblem of the Vikings. As a result of this misconception, the banner with magical properties used by kings and warlords is seen as the emblem that any Viking would use to identify himself. In fact, little is known about the use of banners or standards among the Norse. Even though banners or standards are frequently mentioned in sources such as Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla: The History of the Kings of Norway, we are, with a couple of exceptions, never told what they looked hke.6 It could be that Snorri assumed such banners to be commonly known to his readers. However, it could also be that the banners usually carried only a signaling function in war and had no symbolic value.

Further, there seems to be an assumption that the Norse discoverers used flags in much the same way as discoverers centuries later. Note for instance the words used by Smith and Taylor (1946) who says of Leif Ericsson in Vinland: "He is supposed to have planted there the banner of the Vikings, a white flag containing a raven with wings spread."7 Here it seems as if the Raven banner is treated as a modem (national) flag. The Norse knew no common emblem or symbols, as far as we know. Kings and warriors carried signs or banners, especially in war, but we are not told that these signs represented symbolically a territory or a community. Objections should also be raised to the word 'plant', because it seems to reflect the much later practice of colonization and claiming land for a king or a country by planting their flags in new lands. It is not known that the Norse used to do this when taking new land. It is also not known that the Norse used flags on their ships, though we know they used vanes.

It does not seem correct to regard the Raven banner as the common symbol of the Vikings (or as the flag the Vikings would normally carry). The Raven banner is attributed in the sources to a few kings and warlords. We cannot assume that the men participants in the peaceful settlement of the lands in the North Atlantic also carried such banners. These settlers and discoverers set out on their own initiative and were not subject to any king. What we know from the sources is that the Raven banner was primarily used in campaigns in the British Isles. Because of its magic qualities, it was a prized possession. Had such a banner been in the possession of Leif Ericsson, we could expect the Sagas to mention it.

The Raven banner was believed to have magical qualities. It transformed itself in times of war to predict victory for those who carried it. On its way to America, the Raven banner has undergone a second magical transformation, that from a banner of kings and warriors, to the emblem of all Vikings and thus also of a seafarer like Leif Ericsson out on a private mission to find more land suitable for the families of himself and his crew.

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I once heard something about the relevence of ravens being carrion birds in Norse mythology. I don't recall exactly, but I think it was related to why they sit on Odin One-Eye's shoulder and whisper what they see in the world in his ears.

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yes it is true that ravens were thought to be the messengers for the norse regarding the events and issues throughout the world

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