Ynis Afallach Tuath


Avaloniana Path


The Wheel


Ynis Afallach Tuath



The Raven: between Lugh and Bran

(© Argante – Arc’Hant Afallon Alarch)


Black wings, sharp beak, a stern gaze. It flies over battle, caws in churchyards, covers Ireland’s green pastures and feeds on carcasses…what negativity in the Raven. Or so it seems…..

We are now accustomed to consider this creature as a harbinger of doom, or at any rate of mystery, of danger; but in truth, what we should read in its flight are enchantment, magic and a huge dose of power, of course besides battle fury and death.

A perfect dualism, an ambiguous symbolism….but related to light and not to darkness, related to that part of hidden light that animates our souls when we approach to the Journey. Raven and crow, though different, are often associated in attempts to explain their symbolism, especially in the Celtic tradition. To the raven and the crow are associated deities such as Bran and his sister Branwen (White Raven), but also as the Irish Morrigan and the bright Lugh, and the almost unknown Nantosuelta.

It is to Lugh that the legend of the raven’s black feathers is associated. The story tells that one day, having to absent himself, the god asked the raven, his favourite, to watch over a girl he had fallen in love with. The girl cheated on Lugh, laying with a shepherd and begged the raven not to say anything…the raven agreed, but Lugh, Lord of divination, discovered the lie and condemned the creature to have wings as black as the night and to obey him blindly.

Also in Greek mythology it was the god Apollo to make its  wings black as a punishment for having stopped to wait by a fig-tree for the figs to ripe instead of carrying out the tasks the God had assigned  (he, too, the God of Prophecy).

It stems from  here the association of the raven with prophecy, attribute over which Lugh presides.

To the raven is also related the foundation of the “hill of Lugh”, that is, the city of Lyon – Lugudunum – on whose site a flock of ravens stopped its flight, persuading Lugh to found his city on that hilltop. Moreover, it was these creatures who warned him of the arrival of the dreaded Fomors.

Linked to a positive symbolism is Nantosuelta’s ambassador raven. There is a depiction of this deity on a stone  bas-relief  found near the Mithraeum in Sarrebourg , in the territory that belonged to the Mediomatrici (France, Metz area). The Goddess is depicted with a divine consort and the raven stands below them.   The name ‘Nantosuelta’ may signify “winding river” and in all her depictions she is accompanied by a raven and by prosperity and healing symbols . Bees, sceptres, honeycombs seem to link the goddess to the hearth, while another symbol, the cauldron, identifies her as a goddess of regeneration, to whom the raven is well suited because, as a dead-eater, it speaks of death not as a ruthless event but as soul regeneration.

The confusion between raven and crow is probably due to the imagery connected to the two birds, it is very hard to tell one depiction  from the other. They are both dead-eater birds as earlier explained: could this be the origin of the grim fame of the raven? Maybe so. After all it is not only linked to Lugh’s light but also to the Morrigan’s battle horror, in the figure of Badb Catha (the battle raven). Its apparition in the Irish tale of Cù Chulain is yet again negative. Our hero meets the gorgeous Goddess Morrigan who offers him sexual favours, the young man spurns her and the goddess disappears, showing up later as a crow perched on a tree. From then on Cù Chulain is relentlessly persecuted and, at the moment of his death, the goddess will land on his shoulder in the guise of a raven.

Anyway, this creature is eventually linked to light as, even though dreadful, it leads the souls, it is a guide to knowledge and to the Otherworld.

Two more positive and bright deities related to the raven are Bran Vendigeit (Bran the Blessed) and his sister Branwen (White Raven). ‘Bran’ in Welsh means ‘raven’ but sometimes it can refer to ‘top, height, hill’ but more in the sense of ‘chief, lord’. Bran is the Lord who owns the Cauldron of Regeneration. It is a thoroughly positive god. An Earth King, a faithful companion, a Great Warrior, he is the One upon  whom  the nation is founded.  IN the Mabinogion (collection of stories where his tale is told) he is the king who cannot live in a house owing to his gigantic size. This really indicates how he can be a shelter and a protector. His sister Branwen is in the same way a wonderful creature, of unattainable beauty, love and earth goddess. She represents the Centre in the Avalonian Tradition.

How much  positivism then in this sharp-beaked, black creature… In Italy as in Greece, it is an emblem  of longevity .  By closely scrutinizing the myths of many countries, it appears how the raven  represents the dark side of the psyche which, if guided and listened to, brings to growing and to fruitful experiences.

Perhaps we could start again to watch its flight not with dread but with curiosity, after all the ancients used to foretell the course of future events by watching it…

Traduzione a cura di Abigail_derwen


© Ynis Afallach Tuath, 2008/2009
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