The Symbolism Of The Crow And Raven In Art And Folklore

If you are considering commissioning a bespoke weathervane but want something a little more unusual than a cockerel motif, you may have selected one of Britain's beautiful wild birds for the design. A popular choice is the crow or raven. These are both birds of the corvid family, and hold a special significance in our culture and folklore.

The lustrous all black appearance and distinctive profile of these birds makes them ideal for representing in wrought iron, which is electroplated with zinc and coated with a durable black powder. Here’s a look at some of the fascinating ways these enigmatic birds have been woven into our cultural tapestry.


In Celetic mythology, crows had the ability to transmogrify, or change into people. The most famous example of this is Morrigan, an Irish warrior Goddess who could shapeshift into a crow or raven. She would appear on battlefields in crow form to urge on the warriors of her people, or sometimes as a foretelling of doom to her enemies. 

This has led to crows and ravens having a paradoxical reputation as both guardians and lucky symbols, and also as ill-omens and the harbinger of death. Ravens are particularly noted for their intelligence and playfulness, and in folklore they are often depicted as symbols of wisdom and secrets. 

In proverb

The word crow comes from the Old English word crāwe, which is derived from the German word Kräke or the Dutch word kraai. It means ‘straight line’, and this is where the expression ‘As the crow flies’ comes from. It’s a way of expressing a distance directly from point to point, as opposed to the diversions you would need to make to get there by land. 

The Brân and the Tower of London

Bran is the Welsh and Irish name for raven. It is also the name of the Welsh Celtic King and God Brân the Blessed, the son of the Sea God Llyr. Brân’s totem was a raven. He ordered his own head to be cut off after he was mortally wounded, and miraculously the head was still able to talk and guide his companions through the otherworld.

One version of the legend tells that the head was buried at Tower Hill in London, which is now the site of the Tower of London. This is why the ravens are still said to be the guardians of the Tower of London, and are protected by the Ravenmaster. King Charles II believed that if the ravens fled the tower, the kingdom would fall. 

In literature

In the plays of Shakespeare, the crow is associated with death and the afterlife. Crows are omnivores and will feed on carrion as well as plants, so this is why they are often seen as primal creatures who represent the cycle of life in both darkness and light. The poet Ted Hughes took this as the cue for his acclaimed “Crow” collection.