Friday, November 18, 2011

Crows Connection to Death

Crows for centuries have been closely connected with death. The main reason is this bird feeds on carrion-- the flesh of the dead. Because of this, many cultures associate crows with death and dying. Some cultures in the past believed that crows were messengers of death. How this reputation came about is certainly understandable but is unfair.

If we look at examples in history around the world, it becomes clear why so many cultures have a tradition of associating crows with death. In early times, mans'  bodies were not buried; it was a common sight to see crows feasting upon human corpses. 

For centuries crows during times of war have been observed following soldiers onto battlefields where they wait patiently for the battle to be over so they can feed upon the fallen. In medieval Western Europe, during an outbreak of the Bubonic plague, people noted crows feeding upon the victims’ stacked bodies.

Because of this association with death, crows over time gained a bad reputation. But not all cultures viewed them in this light. 

Some Native American cultures see crows as a positive symbol because they believe the crow acts as a communicator or liaison between this world and the next. They are viewed as assisters that help the deceased cross over. 

The Tibetans held a somewhat similar belief-- they once placed pieces of bodies on top of temples so that crows could carry them to the next life. 

The early Celtics viewed crows as the mediators between the human and spirit worlds. They believed that crows were oracles that god used to speak to them. This belief probably came about because crows can be trained to talk. So to some cultures, crows are spiritual or supernatural in nature.

Over time this belief that crows were connected to death was used to teach lessons.

In the 13th century Talmud, a vast collection of Jewish laws, there is a story where a crow teaches Adam and Eve to bury the body of their son. Adam and Eve, being confronted with this first dead body on earth after creation, did not know what to do with it. The story states the crow then kills another crow and buries it in front of Adam and Eve as a demonstration.

In an early Buddhist tradition, monks would sit in a graveyard and concentrate on decomposing bodies, again in time before bodies were buried correctly, later this was done through imagery and meditation. At one point during this guided meditation, the monk would see the image of a crow feasting upon his own corpse. The idea behind this was to keep death always in the forefront.

In a similar western tradition, the Benedictine monks founded by St. Benedict, who once claimed a crow saved his life by warning him about a piece of poisoned bread, believed death should always be kept before the living. 

The reason these two groups used the crow and its scavenging ways was to remind them that the presence of death is a part of the natural cycle of life. When we can see and understand the ephemerality of our lives, we learn to appreciate life daily.

The false belief that crows bring death has resulted in a variety of myths and superstitions being passed down from one generation to the next. One of the most prevalent of these myths is about crows in graveyards. People say they hang out in them because of their connection to death. After all, crows are big, black, and spooky. 

In reality, crows just find graveyards an ideal habitat. There is a lovely mowed expanse of lawn where they can easily spot earthworms to eat etc. There is abundant water with plenty of trees to keep watch from, and graveyards are quiet which crows like. There is another myth about crows flocking together in cemeteries; they do this for protection, not for any supernatural reason.

The Greeks felt that crows were a negative omen, often foretelling death. Because of this belief, they would say to the birds, “Go on your way, and bring me the good news.” One term used for a group of crows is “murder” this comes from Greek mythology as well. 

The Irish for generations believed that when a crow caws three times, they are announcing the death of an individual. It was also believed if a crow flew in a house and couldn’t get out, it was a bad omen.

Some superstitions state that a crow must fly into the house to foretell death. If the bird flies in a home in the morning, the person will die in a better manner than if the crow flies in at dusk. If the crow is covered in mud or injured, the person will have a long illness.

Today in our urban world, it is still almost impossible to avoid seeing crows near the highway picking at roadkill. This could be the reason why so many myths and superstitions persist about the crow being a symbol of death. 

In reality, crows are not to be feared. In fact, when they are observed carefully, people note they are vibrant and alive. They are always doing something creative, and they are very playful, which is an indicator they are intelligent. 

In a recent Nature episode entitled “A Murder of Crows” on PBS, it was shown crows make tools that help them retrieve food. Research recently indicates they are among the brightest animals in the world.

What is impressive is that crows seem to understand their own mortality. When one of them dies, people have observed the following phenomenon. They often fly around the deceased bird cawing; in fact, they seem to hold their version of a crow funeral. They are seen landing and forming a circle around the dead bird’s body. They stand still and silent for anywhere from a few minutes to over thirty minutes. 

The people who have witnessed this event state that it shocked them, for it was evident to them these crows were not just standing around.


GratefulToSee said...

When my father passed, I had heard a crow across the street and thought, "why can't the bird be an eagle?". I thought of bad luck, what friends have said about crows associated with death, however after reading your post, it had given me peace of mind that my father had crossed over, and is now with my mother in heaven. Thank you.

panthojon jahangir said...

Excellent and informative

Cowgirl7873 said...

I had to have my horse euthanized last week. Within 5 minutes of her passing, around 6-7 crows appeared at the back of my property, cawing and flying around. They stayed for about a minute and just passed on through. Please help me to understand this. I have not ever seen anything like this.

Virginia Lamkin said...

Sorry to hear about your horse. As for the behavior you observed I could not say for certain.

Unknown said...

I had a family member pass away. Yesterday at the funeral home a crowd kept circle the funeral home, but once the casket was loaded into the hearse the crow flew off. I heard there is some meaning to this but I don't remember what it is. What is the belief and meaning behind it?

Virginia Lamkin said...

Sorry to hear of your loss. One ancient belief was a crow can carry the soul to heaven. If I remember it right. But of course, I could not state this as "a fact."

Redeckco38 said...

They were there to help your horse cross over. Imo

The Dreaming Button said...

Soon after my father's death I found an injured baby crow. I took him home and cared for his injury. My father used to care for injured birds. As I went to release him in the wild through a wild bird care society, I realised the place was near the river where my father lived his childhood years. As I sat in the bus returning home on the chair next to me a man sat down. He looked much as my father. He smiled to me and as he stood up he wished me health and happy life.

WarriorPose said...

A crow followed me around the wastewater plant cawing at me. I called my mother immediately and asked if Grandma passed. She was stunned because she was just notified moments earlier. A crow a few years later perched on my window sill cawing away. I called mom again and my cousin hadphad just away. I wasn't close to these family members and I haven't seen them in years to decades. Why am I being visited by the crows about their passing to the next world? Why aren't their immediate family given the news? What am I to do with the information? "Sorry uncle for your loss, but a crow told me your son made it safely to the other side? Uncle the men in white coats aren't needed. Really a crow told me."

tgw999 said...

My wife had terminal cancer and I knew she had little time left. She was in bed upstairs. I had put a baby monitor in the bedroom so I could hear her when I left the room. I went downstairs to retrieve some laundry from the dryer and was sitting in the living room folding it. Suddenly I heard what sounded like a whole bunch of birds cawing. It struck me to the point that I went out to my back deck to see what was going on. There were dozens of crows (or ravens) on mine and my neighbor’s roofs, all cawing. After about a minute they all flew off. I went back in the house and noticed that I couldn’t hear my wife’s labored breaths on the monitor. She had passed away at the same time the crows were cawing. It was weirdly comforting on the worst day of my life.

Virginia Lamkin said...

Sorry for your loss.