Taking on, or in other words, getting a crow tattoo can mean many things, ranging all the way from the profane to the sublime. It’s best to enter the tattoo studio well informed if you are seeking a crow tattoo.
We speak of a herd of horses, a school of fish, a pride of lions, a gaggle of geese, but crows? A grouping of crows is described as a ‘murder’ of crows. When it comes to this species of bird’s reputation, it seems the crow can’t catch a break. Perhaps it’s because in the West (or at least, the recent West), the Crow has long been considered a bad omen. Even within cultures where the crow is seen as the keeper of sacred laws, it is still symbolic of the ‘dark side’ – by which is meant ‘that which is unknown’.
Heckle and Jeckle, the comical cartoon duo of yesteryear, did their best to lighten the crow’s reputation, but even they played upon the bird’s dark and mischievous nature. Native Americans, however, had a different take on this intelligent bird, the First Nations of North America adopting the crow as a symbol of ancient wisdom and magic.
The idea of ‘crow as bad omen’ originates in Europe, possibly because it eats carrion, or because it has been observed neglecting its young. The Bible hasn’t helped, either, with its tale of Noah dispatching the crow in advance of the dove to search for dry land, and of the crow failing to deliver the good news by failing to return. The Dove went on to become a universal symbol of peace, and with an olive branch in its beak, the dove is a symbol of man’s covenant with God. (see, Dove) Greek myth speaks of Athena punishing the crow for delivering bad news, forbidding it from ever again visiting the Acropolis, and turning it from a white bird to black.
The crow is a member of the corvid family, which includes ravens, magpies and blue jays. In the United Kingdom, they also refer to crows as rooks or jackdaws. Omnivorous and adaptable, crows are very intelligent and can be taught to count and to communicate with humans. Known for being attracted to shiny items – and stealing them – this curious bird is actually quite shy. And the crow has the ability to recognize specific human individuals, cawing at and even dive-bombing those humans who tormented crows in the past, and warning other crows that here is a human who is not to be trusted. Even wild crows have to ability to count to some degree.
Speaking of counting crows, there is a nursery rhyme that ascribes different omens to the different numbers of crows, or magpies which fly past. “One crow means sorrow, two crows mean joy, three crows a wedding, four crows a boy, five crows mean silver, six crows mean gold, seven crows a secret that’s never been told.”
Throughout the world, the crow has long made its presence well known. To the ancient Celts, the crow was an omen of death and conflict. In England, seeing a solitary crow was a warning of ill fortune, while hearing a hoarse caw signified bad weather. A crow cawing three times as it flew over your house portended death. Seeing a crow in your tea leaves is interpreted as ill health. In Ireland, crows biding time in a tree’s branches without nesting there were viewed as souls from Purgatory. Encounter a dead crow? Consider it a sign of good fortune. In the Middle Ages, sorcerers employed the symbol of the crow’s foot to cast death spells, while in Russia, witches were believed to take the shape of crows.
In Asia, however, Chinese and Japanese myths chose to portray the crow as a loving symbol and an example of filial love and devotion. One Chinese legend recounts how a crow became a solar symbol – in fact, the crow became the sun itself. As a solar symbol, the crow represents the creative principle.
Academics have suggested that nomadic peoples, often hunter-gatherers, were positive about the crow, for the sight of crows in the sky on the horizon often indicated the presence of herd animals, much as gulls at sea often indicate large schools of fish. So the crow was often an indication of the prosperity and food associated with the possibility of a fresh kill in the near future. Academics also further surmise that the more sedentary agrarian cultures turned against it, probably for damaging their crops. Crows were notorious for following after farmers who seeded their crops by hand, picking up the seeds nearly as soon as they were flung to the ground. Thus was born the ‘Scare Crow’, a stick figure usually made up of clothes stuffed with straw in an attempt to scare off the crow.
At its very best, the crow is an omen of transformation. In Native American societies, Crow is an icon of supernatural talents, along with Coyote and Raven. All are revered as shape-shifting tricksters who have been entrusted with talents for teaching humans how to live. Some Amer-Indian tribes entrust the crow to protect the sacred writings of the Great Spirit.
Where the crow is attributed with magical qualities such as shape-shifting, the list includes bringing knowledge, eloquence, prophecy, boldness, skill and cunning, trickery and thievery.
Blessed with no sense of time, the crow can live simultaneously in the past, present and future. With such freedom, a being can freely navigate between the worlds of light and darkness. It takes such a mystical and cosmic perspective to ‘create the world’, which is what the crow accomplished in the belief system of the Athapaskan people in Alaska. His special talents are equally required to lead souls on their final journey through the darkness.
Taking a crow tattoo implies that you aspire to a mystical nature, or at least an expanded consciousness. But, most important – you haven’t lost your sense of humour.
Get inspired by some really amazing images and tattoos in our Crow Tattoo Gallery