Raven

They slept until the black raven, the blithe hearted proclaimed the joy of heaven
- Beowulf

European Lore

Since ravens can be taught to speak, and have such a complex vocabulary of their own, they are connected symbolically to both wisdom and prophecy. But in Europe, at least from Christian times, ravens have several strikes against them: black is considered a negative color; ravens are carrion eaters; and they have a symbiotic relationship with man's oldest enemy, the wolf. In many western traditions raven represents darkness, destructiveness and evil. They are sometimes associated with deities of evil and of death. Both witches and the Devil were said to be able to take the shape of a raven.

Northern Europe
The pagan Danes and Vikings used the raven banner on their ships, in Odin's honor. These flags, usually sewn by the daughters of great warriors and kings, were tokens of luck on their voyages. Houses where ravens nested were also thought to be lucky. Odin had two ravens - Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) who flew about the world, delivering messages, gathering knowledge and reporting back to him. One of Odin's many titles is Hrafna-Gud, the God of the Ravens. Odin's daughters, the warlike Valkyres, were sometimes said to take the shape of ravens. In the Elder Edda's cryptic poem, the Grimnismal, a verse refers to Odin's ravens:

Huginn and Muninn, every day
They fly over earthground.
I fear for Huginn,
that he may not return.
But even more, I fear
for the loss of Muninn.

In the Norse shamanic tradition, Odin's ravens represent the powers of necromancy, clairvoyance and telepathy, and they were guides for the dead. This poem expresses a shaman's fear of his loss of magical powers. (Source: The Well of Remembrance by Ralph Metzner, Shambala, Boston, 1994)

Central Europe
On Walpurgisnacht, April 30th, German witches fly to Brocken Mountain in the Harz Mountains for the great witches' Sabbath in the shape of their familiars - ravens and crows.

Western Europe
In Beowulf, an Anglo Saxon poem, is written " . . . craving for carrion, the dark raven shall have its say, and tell the eagle how it fared at the feast, when, competing with the wolf, it laid bare the bones of corpses." In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Lady Macbeth sees the raven as a herald of misfortune as it "croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan."

In England, tombstones are sometimes called "ravenstones".

Among the Irish Celts, Raven was associated with the Triple Goddess, the Morrigan, who took the shape of Raven over battlefields as Chooser of the Slain. She was a protector of warriors, such as Chuhulian and Fionn MacCual. Raven is also the totem of the pan-Celtic Sorceress/Goddess Morgan le Fay, who was also called the Queen of Faeries. In some tales, she is Queen of the Dubh Sidhe, or Dark Faeries, who were a race of tricksters who often took the form of ravens. Irish and Scots Bean Sidhes (Banshees) could take the shape of ravens as they cried above a roof, an omen of death in the household below.

Tha gliocas an ceann an fhitich or Fice ceann na fhitich are Scots Gaelic proverbs meaning "There is wisdom in a raven's head." 

"To have a raven's knowledge" is an Irish proverb meaning to have a seer's supernatural powers. Raven is considered one of the oldest and wisest of animals.

Also a bird of wisdom and prophecy, Raven was the totem of the Welsh God, Bran the Blessed, the giant protector of the Britain, the Isle of the Mighty. After the battle with Ireland, Bran was decapitated, and his head became an oracle. Eventually Bran asked to have his head buried in what is now Tower Hill in London to protect Britain from invasion. Bran's Ravens are kept there to this day, as protection against invasion. During World War II, Tower Hill was bombed, and the ravens were lost. Winston Churchill, knowing full well the ancient legends, ordered the immediate replacement of ravens, and they were brought to Tower Hill from Celtic lands - the Welsh hills and Scottish Highlands.

Raven was the favorite bird of the solar deity, Lugh (Irish/Scots), or Lludd (Welsh) the Celtic God of Arts and Crafts. Lugh was said to have two ravens to attend on all the His needs (similar to Odin and his ravens).

Many Celtic tribes and clans descend from animals. An ancient clan called the Brannovices, the Raven Folk, once existed in Britain. To this day, the Glengarry MacDonalds of Scotland have a raven on their heraldic arms, and their war cry is Creagan-an Fhithich - Raven's Rock, a landmark on their ancestral lands.

The Scottish Goddess of winter, The Cailleach, sometimes appears as a raven. A touch from her brings death.

Giving a child his first drink from the skull of a raven will give the child powers of prophecy and wisdom in the Hebrides.

Scottish Highlanders associate ravens with the second sight. An excellent book on the subject is Ravens and Black Rain: The Story of Highland Second Sight by Elizabeth Sutherland (Corgi Books, Great Britain, 1985)

In Cornwall, as in England, King Arthur is said to live on in the form of a raven, and it is unlucky to shoot one.

"Have not your worships read the annals and histories of England, in which are recorded the famous deeds of King Arthur, whom we in our popular Castilian invariably call King Artus, with regard to whom it is an ancient tradition, and commonly received all over that kingdom of Great Britain, that this king did not die, but was changed by magic art into a raven, and that in process of time he is to return to reign and recover his kingdom and scepter; for which reason it cannot be proved that from that time to this any Englishman ever killed a raven?"
- Don Quixote by Cervantes

The Welsh Owein had a magical army of ravens.

In Welsh folklore, the raven is also an omen of death. If the raven makes a choking sound, it is a portent of the death rattle. A crying raven on a church steeple will "overlook" the next house where death will occur. A raven could smell death and would hover over the area where the next victim dwelt, including animals. Ravens were heard to "laugh" when someone was about to die. Welsh witches, and the Devil, would transform themselves into ravens.


Swift, swift, you dragons of the night, that dawning

May bear the raven's eye

Cymberline, by William Shakespeare

Symbolism

Raven is a contrary spirit. On the negative side, Raven represents the profane, the devil, evil spirits, the trickster and thief, war and destruction, death and doom, the void.

Yet in many cultures Raven also represents deep magic, the mystery of the unknown, death and transformation, creation, healing, wisdom, protection, and prophecy.

Raven is both the symbol of the sun, and the symbol of a moonless night. She is the birth giving light in the center of our galaxy, and the black hole in the center of the universe, to which we are all traveling to our eventual extinction.

Raven is the fatal touch of the Calleach in winter, the wisdom of Odin, the vessel of prophecy given to a seer, the mighty protector of the Western Isles, and the healing message of an Indian shaman.

Raven is a complex bird, both in nature and in mythology.

Naming

You might want to choose a Ravenish magical name. There are many names associated with Raven from the differing traditions. Below is a list of European names:

Name
Meaning
Language

Corvin, Corwin, Corwun, Korwin and Korun
Raven's Friend
Anglo Saxon

Corvinna, Corwinna
Raven's Friend (fem.)
Anglo Saxon

Jay
a Corvid name
Anglo Saxon

Raaf
Raven
Dutch

Fiach Dubh
Raven
Irish

Hrabin
Raven
German

Korakas, Korax
Raven
Greek

Corvus, Corvi and Corvinus
Raven
Latin

Hraefn
Raven
Old English

Hrafn
Raven
Old Norse

Ravn
Raven
Norwegian

Corbie 
Raven
Broad Scots

Fhithich
Raven
Scots Gaelic

Bertrand
Bright Raven
Teutonic

Brainard
Fierce Raven
Teutonic

Ingram
Ing's Raven
Teutonic

Bran
Raven
Welsh

Brandon
Raven
Welsh

Branwen, Branda, Brenda
Bran's sister
Welsh

Cigfran
Raven
Welsh

Tokens and Artwork:

When choosing a totem, find a symbol to represent that totem and keep it on you, or in a sacred place in your home. (For instance, I always wear a silver raven ring). This token will help you to communicate with your totem, and it will protect and guide you both in magical and mundane affairs.

It is illegal to hunt and kill ravens and crows in the United States, under the Endangered Species Act. Keeping ravens and crows as pets are also illegal.

Raven artwork is all around us. In the northwest Indian and Alaskan cultures, Raven is the Creator Deity. Native American artists have created artifacts, T-shirts, emblems, and all sorts of sacred raven art.

Raven and Crow are favorite subjects in traditional Chinese and Japanese art. I have found raven paintings by local Japanese and Chinese artists in San Francisco.

Raven art is catching on in Western Culture, especially among Celtic and Norse style artists. I now find ravens in jewelry, decals, T-shirts, and altar cloths, available from vendors in local craft fairs, Scottish and Celtic Games, Scandanavian festivals, Renaissance fairs and other historical re-enactment fairs. You'd be surprised where you can find ravens. I have found wooden and metal ravens in antique stores. Halloween is an especially good season to find raven designs sold as decorations. Many artists and craftspeople are open to suggestion, and available for commissions. The more people that ask for raven designs, the more they will show up in the marketplace! If you have a favorite local artist - commission him/her to do a raven design!

Raven art can also be found in several tarot card decks - including The Medicine Cards and The Druid Animal Oracle. Pull these cards out and use them in meditation, trance work, spirit guide work.

Sacred Times

Raven represents winter, because of their ability to endure the cold. My husband, who was stationed in Greenland with the Army in the 1960's, saw only two animals the year he was there - arctic foxes and ravens!

Raven also represents night, their ebony plumage reminding us of the Dark Moon. Raven magic is very potent at this time of month when the majesty of the starry universe unfolds above us. Raven is an ideal guide on the path of the deepest mysteries.

And in Eastern traditions, Raven represents the sun - rising, noon and setting.

The intelligence and adaptability of Raven really makes Her an appropriate totem for any time or season.

Astral Travel

There are many chants and songs that can be used to invoke Raven.

A traditional Scottish chant to shapeshift into a crow (for astral traveling), while holding a crow or raven's feather: (From the witch trial of Isobel Gowdie)

I shall go into a crow

with sorrow and such and a black thraw

And I shall to in the Devil's name

Until I come home again!

To change back:

Crow, crow, crow God,

Send Thee a black thraw

I was a crow just now

But I shall be

in a woman's likeness even now

Crow, crow, crow God,

Send Thee a black thraw!

Prophecy and Divination

I have fled in the shape of a raven of prophetic speech.

- Taliesin

To invoke Raven as bird of prophecy, you can use the old English rhyme used to interpret omens by the number of ravens, crows, or rooks seen in a flock:

One for bad news,

Two for mirth.

Three is a wedding,

Four is a birth.

Five is for riches,

Six is a thief.

Seven, a journey,

Eight is for grief.

Nine is a secret,

Ten is for sorrow.

Eleven is for love,

Twelve - joy for tomorrow.

Keep a raven feather or artifact with your divination tools. Ravens especially preside over dark tools such as dark mirrors and onyx scrying balls, but can be used with any tool.

Dreamwork

Raven is an excellent dream guide. Most Native American craft stores will sell dream wheels (or you can make your own). Attach a raven feather or artifact to the wheel and hang it over your bed. Powerful and prophetic dreams will come your way.

Magic Circles

When drawing a circle using Raven imagery, clothe yourself in dark flowing robes. In the Morganian tradition of Wicca, the Raven priestess circles the perimeter nine times in honor of the nine priestesses of Avalon.

Adding raven feathers to your tools (for instance attaching the black feathers to your wand, staff, athame, shield, drum, pentacle) or crafting your tools in the shape of ravens is a powerful way to use Raven Magic. I have also worn a raven mask when drawing down the Raven Goddess, Morgan.

Trance:

Use Raven to guide you into trance. There are many poems and songs dedicated to Raven that you can use to guide you.

Invocation of Raven

by Susa Morgan Black

Morgana of the Dark Moon Night
Onyx bird, bold in flight

Raven, come to us now!

Keeper of the sacred well

Where the faerie spirits dwell

Raven, come to us now!

Guardian of the Blackthorn Tree

Home of the feared Banshee

Raven, come to us now!

Teacher of warriors, and of sex,

spells that heal and spells that hex

Raven, come to us now!

Bean Sidhe by the river bed

Washing shrouds of the newly dead

Raven, come to us now!

Twin birds of memory and thought

Who brought the knowledge Odin sought

Raven, come to us now!

Raven with his bag of tricks

Always getting in a fix

Raven, come to us now!

Stalwart guardian of the Land

The sacred bird of mighty Bran

Raven, come to us now!

Wise One of the Second Sight

Who foretells our human plight

Raven, come to us now!

Raven, Oldest of us All

Watch over us and hear our call

Raven, come to us now!

Healing

Bird whose magic is revealing

The hallowed mystery of healing

-smb

Both Celtic and Druid Slànaighear (Healer) and Native American shamans use Raven's spirit for healing, especially long distance healing. When doing a healing circle for an absent friend, the energy can be sent in the form of a raven.

If you are working directly with someone who is ill, you can use raven feathers to stroke their body, collecting and drawing out the negative energy, to be shaken out and cleansed later. Raven is powerful medicine.

Protection

The dead are lying in the field,

Oh, hear Her Kraaak and cry!

The gaping wounds, a raven's yield,

She comes hungry from the sky.

- The Morrigan by S. Black

In nature, Ravens will mob their enemies if they come too near their nest. Ward your home or business against malefactors with the spirits of warrior ravens, like Owein's Raven Army, the Morrigan, or the Valkyres. When you invoke their fearless spirits, nothing can prevail against you.

Owl

Owls are one of the oldest species of vertebrate animal in existence, fossils have been found dating back 60 million years, showing the bird to have changed very little in that time. Throughout the history of mankind, the owl has featured significantly in mythology & folklore.

Owls are one of the few birds that have been found in prehistoric cave paintings. Owls have been both revered & feared throughout many civilisations from ancient to more recent times. 

British beliefs about owls include the Welsh belief that if a owl is heard amongst houses then an unmarried girl has lost her virginity. Another Welsh belief is that if a pregnant woman hears an owl, her child will be blessed. In Yorkshire owl broth is believed to cure whooping cough, amongst other things (see entries for Barn Owl & Little Owl). Because of its ability to turns its head so far & its habit of watching things intently, it was believed that you could get an owl to effectively wring its own neck by walking in circles around it. 

In Welsh mythology, Blodeuwedd, the Goddess of Betrayal, is associated with the owl. According to the story in "The Mabinogion", Blodeuwedd was created from flowers by the magician Gwydion for the prince Llew Llaw Gyffes. She had an affair with Goronwy & they contrived to kill Llew. On his death, Llew was transformed into an eagle, but was healed & returned to human form by Gwydion. Llew returned to seek revenge, rather than killing Blodeuwedd, Gwydion turned her into a white owl, to haunt the night in loneliness & sorrow, saying "I will not slay thee, but I will do unto thee worse than that. For I will turn thee into a bird; and because of the shame thou hast done unto Llew Llaw Gyffes, you shall never show thy face in the light of day. And thou shall not lose thy name, but shall be always called Blodeuwedd." The word Blodeuwedd is still used in Wales to mean owl.

Collective Nouns
A Parliament of Owls
A Wisdom of Owls

 

Adder

As the only poisonous snake in the British Isles the adder has a reputation for wisdom, reincarnation, and cunning. The amulets said to have been carried by the  druids, 'gloine nathair' (the glass of the serpent), were really adder stones. If you see a snake while Faerie Vision Questing, be prepared for the power of transformation to enter your life. The snake represents the life-death-birth cycle. It was an adder which caused the Battle of Camlan; while the armies of Mordred and Arthur were drawn up during a parley in which the battle might have been averted, an adder darted out from the scrub, so startling one  of Arthur's men that he drew his sword to slay it. Taking the flash of his sword as an instance of Arthur's treachery, Mordred's army attacked. In the Highlands, the adder or serpent is supposed to represent the CAILLEACH'S power, which Brigit defeats with her lamb.

Goose

(or Gessa, plur. for Geis) Singular: Geas(gaysh), plural: Gease(gaysha).
Caesar said the goose was sacred to Celtic tribes and was not considered edible, because of her connection with the Sun-Egg. For similar reasons, medieval superstition forbade the killing of a goose in midwinter, when the sun was thought to be in need of maternal care to gain strength for the new seasons. Like other formerly sacred creatures, geese were said to contain souls of the unbaptized (pagans).It was associated with both Celtic and
Teutonic war gods, who were accompanied by a horse and a goose. In Gallic iconography epona, The Divine Horse, is depicted riding on a horned goose.
The Norse did not eat the goose.

A bronze figurine of a warrior-goddess at Dinéault in Brittany depicts her wearing a helmet with a goose crest. The Celtic Mars was associated with geese: he appears thus at Risingham in North Britain; and a goose was the companion of MARS THINCSUS (a Germanic deity) at Housesteads. The bird
accompanies the peaceful healergod Mars Lenus at Caerwent, presumably being

The violation of Gease  is such a sure omen of approaching death that it might almost be inferred that a hero is safe from harm while his gease remain inviolate. Then, as his time approaches its end, he finds himself in situations where he cannot avoid breaking them, just as Greek heroes unwittingly work their own undoing when their fated hour has come and their divine guardians have forsaken them. Nowhere is this process so dramatically depicted as in 'The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel, where in the course of the events which lead up to his death Conaire violates one after another the gease laid upon him, by the King of the Birds, before he was installed King of Ireland. These gease were:

1. Thou shalt not go right-handwise round Tara and left-handwise round Brega.
2. The crooked beasts of Cerna must not be hunted by thee.
3. Thou shalt not be away from Tara for nine nights in succession.
4. Thou shalt not stay a night in a house from which firelight can be seen after sunset and into which one can see from outside.
5. Three Reds shall not go before thee to the house of Red.
6. No plunder shall be taken in thy reign.
7. After sunset a company of one woman or one man shall not enter the house in which thou art.

The law of the geas(or geis): The tale of Conary introduces us for the first time to the law or institution of the geis, which plays henceforward a very important part in Irish legend, the violation or observance of a geis being frequently the turning-point in a tragic narrative. We must therefore delay a moment to explain exactly what this peculiar institution was. Dineen's 'Irish Dictionary' explains the word geis as meaning 'a bond, a spell, a prohibition, a taboo, a magical injunction, the violation of which led to misfortune and death,' (The meaning quoted will be found in the Dictionary under the alternative form geas). Every Irish chieftain or personage of note had certain geise peculiar to himself which he must not transgress. These geise had sometimes reference to a code of chivalry - thus Dermot of the Love-spot, when appealed to by Grania to take her away from Finn, is under geise not to refuse protection to a woman. Or they may be merely superstitious or fantastic - thus Conary, as one of his geise, is forbidden to follow three red horse-men on a road, nor must he kill birds (this is because his totem was a bird). It is a geis to the Ulster champion, Fergus mac Roy, that he must not refuse an invitation to a feast; on this turns the Tragedy of the Sons of Usnach. It is not at all clear who imposed these geise or how any one found out what his personal geise were - all that was doubtless an affair of the Druids. But they were regarded as sacred obligations, and the worst misfortunes were to be apprehended from breaking them. Originally, no doubt, they were regarded as a means of keeping oneself in proper relations with the other world - the world of Faery - and were akin to the well-known Polynesian practice of the 'tabu.' Rolleston prefer, however, to retain the Irish word as the only fitting one for the Irish practice.

Fish

In Celtic tradition spirits have been associated with springs and wells from the earliest times. In ancient Gaul the tutelary spirit was occasionally a god, such as Grannos or Borvo: more often the custodian of the healing spring was a fertility goddess, always beautiful, sometimes dangerous, and these female deities have metamorphosed over time into the faeries of popular tradition.

Sanctuaries were often erected at the holy site, as they were also in later, Christian centuries, and at them festivals were held. Because of their symbolic associations with fertility they played a part in the great religious feasts of the Celtic year, particularly Midsummer's Day, when the wells were visited and worshippers left votive offerings. This surely is the origin of the more recent, indeed, still current custom of dropping pins in the well or tying scraps of rag to a nearby bush. Water spirits in Gaul were known as 'Niskas' or 'Peisgi', possibly ancestors of Cornwall's degenerate modern 'piskie', though the word may derive from Old Celtic 'peiskos' or Latin 'piscos', both meaning fish.

Inspite of this possible fishy provenance Cornwall is, so far as I know, the only Celtic land in which the water spirit does not take animal form, though the 'merrymaids' of the Cornish coast are clearly diminished spiritual beings. Elsewhere:

"the spirit of the waters was often embodied in an animal, usually a fish. Even now in Brittany the fairy dweller in a spring has the form of an eel, while in the seventeenth century Highland wells contained fish so sacred that no-one dared to catch them. In Wales Saint Cybi's well contained a huge eel in whose virtues the villagers believed, and terror prevailed when any one dared to take it from the water. Two sacred fish still exist in a holy well at Nant Peris, and are replaced by others when they die, the dead fish being buried. This latter act, solemnly performed, is a true sign of the divine or sacred character of the animal. Many wells with sacred fish exist in Ireland, and the fish have usually some supernatural quality, they never alter in size, they become invisible, or they take the form of beautiful women." [MacCullach 1911]

The Manx Taroo Ushtey, or water bull, seems also to be a guardian spirit, though he has no particular association with wells. In Irish myth there are several wells containing 'salmon of knowledge', which acquire their mystic wisdom by eating the hazelnuts which drop into the water. In the ancient text 'Cormac's Vision' the hero sees a royal fortress with four houses in it, and a 'bright well' surrounded by ancient hazels. In the well were five  salmon, which ate the nuts as they dropped. In the palace Cormac meets Manannan the sea-god who reveals the Land of Promise to him and presents him with a magic cup and branch. Another hero/god, Diancecht, presided over a well whose waters healed the mortally wounded at the second battle of Moytura. In myth, as in much of the folklore material, wells and springs and the spirits which inhabit them are associated with healing, inspiration, and the ancient Druidic belief in metamorphosis, which perhaps was an expression of the transmigration of souls. Other water spirits, such as the each uisge, or water horse, the Manx Taroo Ushtey, the Cornish Merrymaids and the Goidelic Selkies are described as destructive, dangerous or ambivalent towards human beings.

The ambivalence of the fish symbol is of great antiquity and can be seen in many cultural contexts. Jewish tradition predicts a great battle between Leviathan and Behemoth, which will take place at the end of the world. As a result of this conflict the great fish Leviathan will be dismembered and served as food to the devout.

According to Jung, this dualistic split "corresponds to the doubling of the shadow (self) often met with in dreams, where the two halves appear as different or even as antagonistic figures. This happens when the conscious ego-personality does not contain all the contents and components that it could contain. Part of the personality then remains split off and mixes with the normally unconscious shadow, the two together forming a double and often antagonistic personality" [Jung 1959]

From this psychoanalytic standpoint the fish/monster represents the conflict between the light and dark aspects of the self. Christianity, interestingly, has emphasised the beneficent aspects of the fish symbol:
Christ made his disciples into 'fishers of men' and used fish to feed the five thousand. The fish was used by early Christians as a symbol of resurrection, and as such is still to be seen on rear windscreens. This
incorporation of pagan symbolism anticipates later cultural shifts in the Celtic countries. The pre-Christian holy wells were transplanted to a Christian context, a context which transformed rather than denied their spiritual force.

The association between the salmon and rebirth was present in the original myth. In an old Irish manuscript Tuan mac Carell describes the primeval invasions of Ireland, which he witnessed, to Saint Finnen. He also claims to have been incarnated successively as a stag, boar, eagle and salmon. In this last form he was caught and eaten by an Irish queen, who conceived him as a human child. Similarly the legendary Welsh poet Taliesin claims:

"I have been a blue salmon
I have been a dog
I have been a stag
I have been a roebuck on the mountain
I have been a grain discovered....
I rested nine nights
in her womb, a child
I have been dead, I have been alive.
I am Taliesin [Matthews 1991]

Fraser cites some interesting parallels from British Columbia where, among the Kwakiutl people, twins are believed to be transformed salmon, who are forbidden to go near water, for fear that they might revert to their original shape. Twins have the power to summon winds, make good or bad weather and heal the sick. Similar beliefs exist among the Nootka, who prohibit twins from catching, eating or even handling salmon. [Frazer 1922]

In conclusion, the sacred salmon represents the ancient sanctity of water, its power to destroy and create. At another level it may stand for the troubled human soul, in its perpetual struggle to reconcile itself to
itself.

Fish: Some cultures symbolized the Moon with a fish instead of a snake. Some Moon Goddesses were depicted with fish-tails, akin to mermaids.

Badger

Famed for its tenacity and courage, the badger has entered folklore as the most unyelding animal; significantly, badgerhead sporrans keep a Highlander's loose change safe. The story of Gwawl and Rhiannon shows how an ancient game 'Badger in the Bag' was supposed to have originated, but traces of this custom, called 'Beat the Badger' in Fife, show how it may have been a form of ancient ordeal, a running the gauntlet, where the player ran between a double line of boys wielding sticks.

Badger (Breach): tenacity and courage. The Badger will teach you perseverance and endurance in the face of adversity. The badger is a powerful protector of both material possessions and ideals held close to the heart.

Bear

Animal lore explains the saying that children can be ‘licked into shape’. It was once believed that bear cubs were born formless and were literally licked into shape by their mother. Shakespeare knew of the belief, for in Henry VI the crippled Duke of Gloucester is described as an ‘unlick’d bear-whelp’.

 In Celtic myth the bear is a lunar power, emblem of the goddess Berne; it also represents Andarta -'Powerful Bear', while the 'Son of the Bear' occurs frequently in Irish and Welsh names. The dual symbolism is also apparent in the Celtic association between the Bear and the Boar, with the Boar as spiritual authority and the Bear as Temporal Power. Although no longer native to these islands, the bear has remained one of Britain's totem beasts at a deep level. An old Gaelic proverb, 'Art an neart', describes a hero as a bear in vigour. Arthur's own name derives from the British 'arth' or bear. The constellation of the Plough or the Great Bear is also called Arthur's Wain.

Bee

In early traditions bees were believed to have originated in paradise and were known as "little servants of Gods". In Celtic lore bees have a secret wisdom derived from the Otherworld.

It was considered bad luck to kill one.

In Wales a bee buzzing around a sleeping child means the child will have a happy life and a virgin can always walk safely through a swarm of bees.

The Romans believed a swarm of bees was bad luck and that they were divine creatures which originated directly from the gods.

According to legend the first beekeeper was Bahus (god of wine), who domesticated them  during his travels in Frakia.

Jupiter was said to have been fed and protected by bees when he was hidden in a grotto by his mother Rea, on Ida Mountain.

Bees are symbolic of sexuality, chastity, fertility, purity and care. They are also considered to be an image of a human soul due to their natural ability to find their way home from great distances.

In ancient times it was believed that bees were attracted to the sounds of clanging metal and thus bees were associated with the love of music.

The Hindu gods Vishnu, Krishna and Indra were referred to as "nectar born ones" (Madhava) and were often represented as bees perched on a lotus flower.

The Egyptian sun god Re was believed to have created bees and humans from his tears. Burying the nobility in honey was a common practice in Eygpt as a form of embalming the dead. The Eygptians also placed bees and honey in tombs as offerings to spirits of the dead.

Mead or honey wine is one of the oldest alcolholic beverages in the world and was drunk in countries such as Ireland, Ethiopia, India, Germany and Greece. Because mead was believed to be the drink of immortality, bees were legally protected in Ireland.

A long believed myth about bees is that they do not sting at night, which in fact is incorrect ,they will sting at anytime for protection.

Bees, supposedly being capable of "virgin births" , became symbolic of the Virgin Mary.

St Ambrose of Milan is the patron saint of beekeepers and it was said that as a child,  his father found the sleeping boy covered in a swarm of bees.

Crow

'Crow' really means a family of closely related carrion-eating birds including the rook, raven, and carrion crow. One of the Goddess's archaic forms, the crone Coronis, was a 'crow' who was transformed into the virgin mother of the physician-god Asclepius; but other, similar forms appeared in myths as harbingers of the hero's death. The Goddess Badb transformed herself into a crow, Badb Catha, to confront the Celtic hero CuChulain and thereby announce his doom. The white crow appears in Celtic lore as Branwen, sister of Bran. Crows can be a form adopted by fairies, usually with ill intent, and are therefore dreaded. Like the raven, crow is primaily associated with battle and death. The Irish for 'crow' is 'badh', a name given to one of the battle-goddesses associated with the Morrighan. The crow exemplifies the function of assimilation and reintegration within the mythic structure.

Cuckoo

Cuckoos were thought to bring fine weather, although in Yorkshire it was said to be a sign of rain if they called repeatedly. They also brought good luck or bad luck, depending on what the hearer was doing on hearing the first call of the season. In Wales, it was lucky to hear a cuckoo call while standing on grass, but bad luck if you were on barren ground. Some people believed that if they turned over money in their pockets when a cuckoo called, and then spat on it the money would last till the end of the year. Other said that the hearer would continue to do what they were doing until the end of the year. So if he was in bed, he was probably fated to become ill. Before bird migration was properly understood, many people believed that the cuckoo turned into a hawk during winter, or hibernated in a fairy hill.

Dog

The dog or hound has ever been a faithful servant of humanity and this is reflected in British myth and folklore where the dog is frequently one of the helping animals of the hero's search. Arthur's Cabal is one such dog, and Fionn's Bran and Sceolan are others. The dog is important in Celtic myth and appears frequently with hunter-gods, such as Sucellos, the 'Good Striker', and with the Horse-goddess Epona. Dogs were the usual attendants of the Celtic Mother Goddesses. When a god accompanied the Mother, he often took the form of a dog. The Celtic healer god Nodens took on his zoomorphic aspect as a dog. Dogs are associated with the healing waters. Canines have long been associated with Moon deities, especially Crescent New Moon Goddesses. Managarmr (Moondog) was the mightiest of all dog-wolf supernatural beings according to a Norse story.

Dogs are also psychic animals and connected with divination and they are frequently metamorphosed people in Celtic lore. There are endless accounts of ghost, supernatural or enchanted dogs who could be either helpful or malevolent.

The hounds of the Otherworld or Underworld are always white with redtipped ears, and these are the pack which ride with the Wild Hunt. CuChulain was
named after he overcame Culainn's hound and it was geise for him to eat dog's flesh - a proscription he broke just before his death, since it was also his geise never to refuse hospitality offered to him: the Morrighan invited him to eat of a roasted dog.

Alternatively more recently many traditional beliefs about dogs stemmed from the fear of rabies. Insanity and a hideous painful death are almost certain qualities of being bitten by a rabid dog, and it was not until strict quarantine laws were introduced in 1901 that the disease was controlled in Britain. Even if a dog was healthy and bit someone it would probably be killed because it was feared that if ever the dog went mad then the victim would aswell. Another precaution was to take some hair from the dog, fry it, and place it on the wound with a sprig of rosemary. This is the origin of the saying, the hair of the dog that bit you’. Popular tradition credits dogs with the ability to see ghosts.

Birds

Birds serve throughout the entire Celtic tradition as symbols of divinity and as messengers and servants of the gods. There was a Celtic belief in malevolent otherworld flocks of birds, which came to bring harm and destruction to villagers in closely regulated season, usually Samhain. The druids used birds as a form of prognosis, the raven was one of great importance. The druids in Gaul fore told the future by observing the flight of certain birds and in Ireland the raven and wren were much used in augury. In Celtic folkore and mythology, birds are heavily associated with death and transformation. Many significant figures were said to not have died, but rather have been transformed into various bords. Some examples of this can be seen below:

Blodewed          Owl
Children of Lir   Swans
Eliwlod           Eagle
King Arthur       Raven
Llew Llawgyffes   Eagle

There is an ancient Celtic belief that the soul leaves the body like a bird dlying out of the man or woman dying. Within Cornish traditions, departed souls are belived to be `pisky,' which is a term used for both the fairies and the moths.

Night flying birds, or birds with dark feathers or an eerie cry, are mostly though to be ill omens. The mournful cries of a flock of birds called the Seven Whistlers - they may have been curlews, whimbrels or plovers - were believed to warn of an impending death or disaster. In Shropshire and Worcestershire, there were said to be six whistlers searching for the seventh; if they found it the world would end. In other places the Seven Whistlers were the grief stricken souls of unbaptised children condemned to roam the skies forever, or drowned sailors warning their former shipmates of danger.
Birds are usually used to represent prophetic knowledge, (Davidson, 91) bloodshed, and skill. In an omen, birds can be either the message or the messenger. For example, Morrígan came in the shape of a bird to warn the Brown Bull (Kinsella, 98). The interpretation of their calls and movements
can lead to knowledge of future events. Birds, especially ravens and crows, usually presage bloodshed and battle, when they are associated with it,
sticking with the theme of prophesy. Deirdre's dream of three birds drawing blood foreshadowed death and Lleu Llaw Gyffes was shedding rotting flesh
and maggots while in the form of an eagle. The Irish war goddesses were said to call the ravens down to battle fields to feast on the flesh of the
slain (Davidson, 98). Even normal, modern crows and ravens descend to feed on corpses along the road.

Birds can also be used to demonstrate a warrior's prowess by their method of capture. Lleu Llaw Gyffes was so skilled he could hit birds with a stone
without killing them outright (Ford, 101). Cúchulainn demonstrated even more prowess capturing birds skillfully, but his son, Connla was still more skilled. He could not only stun them with a stone, but also with only his voice (Kinsella, 39, 91).

Blackbird

The blackbird has ever been one of Britain's most melodious songsters and this is doubtless why the Birds of Rhiannon are said to be three blackbirds: they sing on the branch of the everlasting otherworldly tree which grows in the centre of the earthly paradise. Their singing entranced the hearer, ushering him or her into the Otherworld. They sing for Bran and the Company of the Noble Head, in their feasting between the worlds. The blackbird is also responsible for the finding of Mabon.

Boar

Brahan Seer. The wild boar, once commonly hunted throughout the British Isles is now only to be found in remote areas of Europe. The ferocity and cunning of the animal made him a dangerous quarry, yet the art and literature of Celtic peoples attest to his importance in their mythology. The Boar was sacred to the Celtic Goddess Arduinna, patroness of the forests of the Ardennes. Few animals are more important for the Celts than the boar; it was a sacred, supernatural, magical creature, symbolizing the warrior, warfare, the hunt, protection, hospitality and fertility.

It is the animal of Celtic ritual feasts and food for the gods, esteemed the fitting food for gods and heroes. He was sacrificed as the Yule pig with an apple in his mouth, and his blood begot gods both east and west, in the primitive times when men still believed that only blood could generate offspring because that seemed to be how women did it.  Figures of boars appeared on British and Gaulish altars and warriors of northern Europe crested their helmets and their swords with the boar's image. Britain still has a number of 'Boar's Head' inns and taverns, suggesting that in pre-Christian times the heads of sacrificed animals were preserved as oracular fetishes just like the heads of deified ancestral heroes.

Boars symbolise courage and strong warriors. There are many examples of supernatural boars and their adventures in the literary traditions of the Irish and the Welsh. The otherworld feast is supposed to be sustained by magical pigs which, no matter how many  times they are cooked and eaten, are alive again the next day to be cooked again.

The boar's head signifies health and preservation from danger, it contains the power of the life-force and vitality. The boar and the Bear together represent Spiritual and Temporal Power. The boar is often depicted in association with the tree, wheels and ravens.  Bones were found placed ritually in graves, the head, again, being of special importance.In Irish myth there are divine, magical and prophetic boars, and supernatural and otherworld pigs which bring death and disaster. In Celtic saga there are also the magical Pigs of Manannan and other legends (see Swine), according to which eating the flesh restored health and happiness. The boar was ritually hunted and slain and there are many accounts of a Great Boar hunted by a hero.

Twrch Trwyth was a king turned into a boar who appears in the MABINOGION as a devastating foe to Arthur and his kingdom eventually he was was chased by Arthur and his warriors across Ireland, Wales and Cornwall, where it disappeared into the sea. A Gaulish god is depicted with a boar and sculptures of boars are found in Celtic forts and in France and Portugal. Druids called themselves boars, probably as solitary dwellers in the forest.

In addition to representing fertility and wealth, boars symbolize courage and strong warriors (MacCulloch, 356) for they are strong, dangerous, and very hard to kill. Their appearance in dreams and visions also indicates warriors. Isolt's forewarning of the death of Tristan, a great warrior, came in a dream about the death of a great boar (Spector, 85-86). Statues of boars are occasionally found in the company of statues of armed warriors, (Powell, 176) further indicating an association between boars and warriors.

Great importance is attached to the bristles of the boar. Perhaps they are the distinguishing characteristic of the animal or symbolize its strength. For example, Fion is killed by stepping on a boar's bristle after breaking a geasa against hunting boars. Some of the extraordinary boars, that King Arthur fights in Culhwch and Olwen, have bristles that are gold or silver. Conversley, when Menw tries to steal treasures from Twrch Trwyth, he is only able to take a bristle. The pig herders at the start of the Táin, Friuch and Rucht, are named after the bristle and the grunt of the boar, respectively. It is the bristle of the boar, Friuch, that proves to have the most power; in the end, Friuch reborn as Donn Cuilnge destroys Rucht as Finnebach Ai. The bristles of the boar are mentioned many other times implying that they are an important part of the animal.

Bull

Originally the lunar symbol of the Great Mother with the horns representing the Crescent Moon, the bull later came to represent the Sun Gods. However, it was often still connected with a Moon Goddess such as Cybele or Attis.

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