Ravens

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Raveneye.jpgRavens (Corvus corax) belong to the genus Corvus. These large black carrion birds - they generally have a wingspan greater than a yard and a half - are familiar sights in our fields and woods and cause us little concern. For our simple forefathers however they held a more sinister fascination, as in pagan times the Raven was one of the three 'Beasts of Battle' which, along with the Eagle and the Wolf, was invariably associated with death in war.

In the uncouth poetry of the Dark Ages the Raven is often described as the waelceasega, "chooser of the slain". It was also a symbol of sacrifice, since it was ravens that consumed those victims who suffered under the unholy rites of unenlightened times. Two spectral ravens, Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory) were constant companions of the one-eyed god Odin, and as such were considered a source of wisdom and foretelling. Several Viking chieftains are known to have displayed the image of the raven on their banners, with a view to striking fear into the hearts of their opponents and promising victory to themselves.

The king of Northern England, John Uskglass similarly uses the raven as his device. It is perhaps one of the best-known pieces of heraldry in the world, though usurped of late by groups of disaffected radicals (see Johannites). Uskglass incorporated the bird's image on his helm as well as his banners and is thus frequently given the appellation of "the Raven King". In addition, he habitually uses a spell known as the Chaos of Ravens to announce his presence and to awe, confuse and disconcert his enemies. As Mr Norrell wonderingly remarked, having experienced this awful effect: "He used it often, you know - that chaos of black birds. I have been reading about it since I was a boy. That I should live to see it, Mr Strange! That I should live to see it!"[66].

Those in the habit of making pets of wild birds often assert the raven is remarkably intelligent. It is also surprisingly long-lived; some kept in comfortable conditions (such as the Ravens of the Towerin London) often attain forty years or more.

Jonathan Strange chooses to create ravens as his messengers when he re-awakens wild English magic, sending them in vast flocks to remind the rain, trees and stones etc of England of their old obligations to assist the Raven King's subjects. Christopher Drawlight witnesses this when he is obliged to visit Strange in Venice. His last view of the demented magician is of him striking at the wall while muttering magic, and a stone of the wall thereupon assumes the shape of a raven and flies away[59]. Later, as Mr Norrell returns from a brief stay in Brighton he observes through the windows of his carriage "great numbers of large black birds - whether ravens or crows he did not know, and in his magician's heart he was sure they meant something[61].' He is of course correct, though when he asks his friend Mr Lascelles whether he observes the birds are more numerous than formerly, that worthy neither knows nor cares. Later still, as Childermass rides through a field to ascertain whether the fairy road is now open, he rides through a vast flock of ravens and they fly up about him "with a great croaking and cawing[63].' One feels he might have spared himself the trouble of riding into the road to discover whether it is again a route into Faerie - for of course, it is.

Raven Heart.jpg

A Raven's Heart | A macabre relic the size of a Cadbury mini egg

Raven Heart 2.jpg

Drinking but a few drops of this tincture might open doors. Then again, one might go crazy!