Before I swoop in with all the facts you need to know about the symbolism of these birds, let's briefly talk about the difference between a raven and a crow.
The Difference Between Crows vs. Ravens
According to the National Audubon Society, both birds are native to North America and look similar, but they aren't the same. Ravens are different from crows because they are larger and love to travel with one mate. Meanwhile, crows are smaller and prefer to hang out in groups. Ravens also have larger, curvier beaks—so that should help you set them apart.
Below, Jenelle Kim, DACM, LAc, the author of Myung Sung: The Korean Art of Living Meditation, explains some of the possible cultural meanings of seeing a crow or a raven in your neighborhood, and what your takeaway should be if one of these inky birds flies over your head or walks in front of you.
The Spiritual Significance of Crows and Ravens
Birds have different meanings in every culture. And thus, there's no overarching significance of seeing a crow. "To many, ravens symbolize death or bad fortune to come, but to others they symbolize rebirth and starting anew, serving as a positive sign," says Dr. Kim. In Norse, Celtic, and Druid mythology, crows and ravens are widely viewed as beacons of intelligence.
"Ravens appear in many ancient texts and mythology, associated with gods or serving as messengers to them, so many still believe these birds communicate messages from a greater power," says Dr. Kim. For example, in Celtic mythology, the warrior goddess, Morrighan, will manifest as a raven or crow, or show up with a group of these birds. Meanwhile, for the ancient Greek god Apollo, the crow acted as a symbol of prophecy.
If you feel deeply connected with a certain religion, it may be useful for you to look back into your ancient texts and see how ravens and crows are represented. What can you learn from their place in the stories of your belief system? What did they symbolize in the stories passed down by your culture or place of worship?
How To Interpret Crossing Paths With a Crow or Raven
Crows and ravens are both fairly common birds in the United States, so chances are you'll come across plenty of them in your lifetime.
If you do find yourself wondering how to interpret them (and maybe even learn from them) when they cross your path, Dr. Kim says you'll have to first decide what they mean to you, personally. "Any time we see a sign or symbol, it's an opportunity to pause and check in with ourselves. You can reflect on what this symbol might mean in the context of your own life. Often when we see signs, there is little we can do to change what might come, but we can be more aware and ground ourselves in our path and purpose so that we are ready for what does," she says.
So next time you see a crow or raven (and, hey, now you know how to tell the difference between them), stop and think: How can I be more aware in the coming days, weeks, or months? What wisdom might this black bird be trying to impart?
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