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The Black Raven

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The 1943 film "The Black Raven" doesn't have any birds in it, but its title sets the mood of this murder mystery by invoking the raven's reputation as a harbinger of death—a reputation solidified by Edgar Allen's Poe's famous poem. Yet the symbolism of this fascinating creature is more rich, varied, and ancient than many suppose.

In alchemy, the medieval precursor to science, substances with like properties were sometimes classified according to animals. The raven is said to have represented substances that could decompose others—an action sometimes critical to the process of transforming raw ingredients into the desired material.

Some Native American mythologies cast Raven as a shape-shifting trickster whose transformative powers enable it to accomplish clever feats, such as snatching the sun, moon, and stars from Grey Eagle's miserly clutches and bringing them to Earth. Raven is also credited with having access to arcane knowledge and the ability to reveal secrets and deliver divine messages to worthy humans.

Europe's Norse mythology connects ravens to the transmission of information as well, giving the shape-shifting god Odin (also spelled Oden and Woden) two ravens named Thought and Memory that would travel throughout the realms and return with information. Just as the raven is considered to be among the most intelligent of avians, Odin is known for his passion for learning, having sacrificed one of his eyes to gain mystic knowledge. (This was a good long while before the Internet.)

The Science

Roger Sweeney

Roger SweeneyRoger Sweeney, Curator of Tracy Aviary, discusses the difference between ravens and crows.


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Tracy Aviary

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