For centuries the corvids, ravens and crows in particular (Corvus corax is the Latin name for the common raven and corvus corone for the carrion and hooded crows), have had a special place in the mythology of various cultures. In modern times this fascination has barely diminished. From Edgar Allen Poe’s literary classic to the film of James O’Barr’s cult graphic novel “The Crow”, these birds still exert a powerful hold over the psyche of a significant fraction of the population. The Goths who paint their faces with white make-up and the weekend warriors who expect Raven to take them to the Otherworld to meet the dead do not see the same animal as the farmers who set up decoys in order to shoot large numbers of them every year in late spring. This is, howe ver, typical of a creature that presents a paradox wherever one looks.
Corvids are sociable birds. They tend to form social groups, and this can be seen particularly in the case of rooks, which stay in their flocks all year round. Ravens, the largest of the family, reaching as much as 3 feet from beak to tail, form groups as juveniles, pairing off into lifelong monogamous and extremely territorial relationships at around the age of three. The courtship can involve such fun and games as synchronised snow sliding, and, of course, the synchronised flight test. The corvids can be found all over the world, and are the largest of the passiformae, or songbirds. The common raven is widely distributed throughout the Northern hemisphere, and the adaptability and intelligence of this family has made it extremely successful.
The rest of this article by Samantha Fleming, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1998, can be read on the White Dragon website.
Unkindnesses and Murders : Crow and Raven
It was around the 5th century that a synod was called to bring Britain’s Celtic Christian Church into line with Rome. In Britain the church owed as much to Druidry (and by inference, paganism) as it did to Christianity. Rome was not pleased with our Isles and many hitherto honoured Gods and Goddesses were either Canonised – like Bridget – or, became the butt-end of nasty folklore, such as Wayland, Freya and Cerridwen. Much the same happened to our sacred sites. The most popular sprouted churches. The less popular, sprouted scary legends.
The oral traditions suffered much the same fate as god/desses and sacred sites and, though scribed in Medieval times, they were given a 5th/6th century back-drop. The tales were, of course, much older than either of these times and were probably of Druidic origin. (Perhaps coming from an age before Druids were called Druids – though this is pure speculation.) The Arthuriad, the Matter of Britain, was part of those oral traditions. It is possible that the Arthur of the 5th/6th century was no more than an inspired creation of Geoffrey of Monmouth, as some people claim. Maybe all that so-called history was just a re-telling of bardic tales, a modernisation of old stories, as authors such as Mary Stewart, Parke Godwin, Marion Bradley and Guy Gavriel Kay have done in our age.
Of course Arthur could have been a tribal leader or Roman soldier who lived in, or around, the 5/6th centuries. Who become the Ard-Ri (High King) of our Isles. Who did heroic deeds. Who married a Queen, had a sorceress sister and was advised by a wizard. He may even be the one who built Tintagel. And maybe not.
The rest of this article by Kate Westwood, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1997, can be read on the White Dragon website.
“Save Seven, None Returned” : Arthur, Kinship and Kingship