Ravens in Native American Culture

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Raven is a Native American god called by many different names by many different tribes.

The symbolic meaning of the Raven in Native American  lore describes the raven as a creature of metamorphosis, and symbolizes change/transformation.

In some tribes, the Raven is considered a trickster because of its transforming/changing attributes. This is especially true for the  Haida tribe, who claim he discovered the first humans hiding in a clam shell and brought them berries and salmon.

Each  tribe had a name for the bird and because of its non-secretive habits, it is one of the most familiar birds to the casual observer. The Sioux tell the story of how a white raven used to warn buffalo of approaching hunting parties. The buffalo would then stampede, and the hunters would be left hungry. Eventually, an angry shaman threw the bird into the fire which turned it black.

Often honored among medicine & holy men of tribes for its shape-shifting qualities, the Raven was called upon in ritual so that visions could be clarified.  Native holy men understood that what the physical eye sees, is not necessarily the truth, and he would call upon the Raven for clarity in these matters.

Foremost, the Raven is the Native American bearer of magic, and a harbinger of messages from the cosmos.  Messages that are beyond space and time are nestled in the midnight wings of the Raven and come to only those within the tribe who are worthy of the knowledge.

The Raven is also a keeper of secrets, and can assist us in determining answers to our own “hidden” thoughts.  Areas in our lives that we are unwilling to face, or secrets we keep that harm us – the Raven can help us expose the truth behind these (often distorted) secrets and wing us back to health and harmony.

Although there is no evidence that Raven was ever worshiped, as such, it is said by some that the Northwest peoples did used to leave food out on the beaches for ravens. In this form he is capable of inspiring awe and terror, although always there is that twinkle in the eye and the knowledge that it can be only moments before he says something that will inspire laughter. His creative nature usually shows itself through circumstance rather than intent, through the desire to satisfy his own needs, rather than any altruistic principles, but he seems genuinely fond of human beings, as related in “Raven finds the First Men”, amongst others.

In his later, perhaps younger guise, Raven, or Yetl/Yelth, is often the butt of his own jokes; these are the stories in which Raven is often undertaking a position taken by Coyote in the desert and plains regions of the South. In this guise, Raven is at his most devious and tricky, is also cruel, with little thought for anyone or anything other than his own stomach. He will go to great efforts to satisfy his appetite, from tricking his cousin Crow out of his entire Winter’s food supply, to tricking Deer into leaping onto some rocks so that he may be devoured, and even tricking an entire tribe into being killed by an avalanche so that he might eat their eyes.

He is the Raven at whom the young Haida men are allowed to laugh, but is also the Raven of whom to be most wary. He can be much crueler than his demiurge culture hero self. This Raven will have you in fits of laughter while he distracts you from the fact he is tricking you into doing something for him you may not actually want to do, and which may cost you dearly.  Some of the stories do have Crow as the main character, and the main difference appears to be that Crow stories concern the themes of justice rather than greed, even if justice is not always seen to be done, as in the story of Raven and Crow’s Potlatch, mentioned above.

The only time at which Raven’s position in the Northwest coast culture bears any similarity to that in European culture is in his guise as one of the servants of the medicine lodge tutelary Baxbakualanuchsiwae, the Kwakiutl Cannibal Spirit, whose initiates practice ritual anthropology. This is a comparatively recent trend in the culture, and is not widely mentioned.


Haida Raven Mask

In Raven stories told by the Tlingit and other tribes along the Pacific coast and Canada, Raven likes to cause trouble for humankind, but his actions often end up benefiting us.

In the Haida legend “How Raven Gave Light to the World”, Raven wants to steal the boxes that hold the stars, Moon, and Sun for himself but the people ultimately benefit from his trick when the light is mistakenly released into the sky.  The Inuit tell a slightly different version in which the young girl swallows a feather and later gives birth to the raven, whom she later entertains by giving him her father’s relic. In breaking the relic, light is let into the world.

In our new column, Raven Lore, we will be sharing with you the wonderful stories passed down through various native cultures in America and beyond. We hope you enjoy them!


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  2. I was visiting for Christmas last year, the ravens there are big as dogs, there huge! we stayed on the outskirts of town, so I would have to walk 20-30 minutes to the local store. as i was walking there was a big crow in my path. I kept walking thinking he would fly away as i got close, but nope! i said well good morning Mr.crow, and you know what that bird said to me’ ‘F’ you.

  3. The Raven appeared to me today on the porch of my girlfriends house. He bowed to me twice, spreading his wings and said Hello. I shared my apple with him and although I asked why he was here, he would not answer. When I placed my hand out to him he gently nipped my finger as to say not yet. He flew away a little while later. It has been extremely windy and foggy here today and from what I understand, Ravens are not common here in this part of Massachusetts.

  4. That’s funny

  5. In the past thirty days I have seen three ravens together on three different occasions. I’m really not sure what to make of it.

  6. I was painting a house when I heard a voice say BIRD three times in a row. A year later I returned to the same home and on the doorstep saw several bird feathers appeared to be a ravens feathers at my feet.

  7. When I was a Child around twelve I believe I walked out of my father’s house and into the front yard and heard a loud caw and turned to look and there on the roofs edge was a raven. My father was at the door looking at me and then the most amazing thing as the raven turned and tilted its head from side to side looking at and looking at it, it flew from the roof and landed on the ground five feet or from me. I grouched to the ground and after a short period of time I was able to pick the bird up for a few minutes. It seemed fine, healthy and seemed as fascinated with me as I was with it. It hung around for three days and i never saw it again. My father said i was very fortunate.

  8. While out walking in the bush I saw what I thought was an injured Raven . The bird moved quickly out of sight …. That night I dreamt of that Raven but I can’t remember the story line other than the bird just being with me ….. My partner then told me there was a Raven stuck on my windscreen wiper of my car as he approached to help the bird he flew away .
    The Ravens are always taking my windscreen wiper rubber parts . One day I thought maybe if I asked them to please stop doing this they would stop and they did for some time .
    Thank You for your time

  9. I found an injured raven this morning and helped it to a sanctuary for help. I have a picture of it perched on my hand. I’m not sure what, if any, meaning is with my interaction with it, so if anyone can share some insight I am open to reading. Thank you.

    • IDK, but June 5 I was placed back in my body by a hand that was holding me. My story about it is on my FB page.

  10. bruh nice

  11. amazing info but need more bout it! 🙂

    • woah!


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