Audublog

The meaning of birds during Halloween

October 31st, 2011 · by Daniela Ogden

(Painting by Linda Apple) Birds provide some of Halloween’s major symbolic overtones. You’d be hard-pressed to walk into a holiday superstore and not find owls, ravens and crows in the decoration aisle. We at Audubon find these darkly-plumed creatures to be friends not fiends, so how did these birds become associated with evil?

Crows and ravens have ebony feathers, a color associated with death and sin in Western culture. Ravens and crows will eat carrion (dead animals) and in ancient times were observed eating the deceased humans on battlefields. Some First Nation tribes of North America believe the crow is a shape-shifter and lives in a void of time. Several European cultures nailed a dead owl to the front-door of their homes to keep away evil spirits.  In German mythology, witches didn’t ride brooms but ravens. Swedes thought the harsh song of the crow was the voice of the dead who did not receive a proper burial.
Perhaps the most well-known tradition related to ravens, are the six kept in the Tower of London. If anything were to happen to the birds, the crown of England is believed to fall to some terrible fate. The first ravens that lived in the tower are said to have been attracted by the smell of the Queen’s executed enemies left to rot there.
Do you know any other superstitions?

Categories: Audubon California

2 Comments so far ↓

  • JolieO

    Why were there 24 blackbirds baked in a pie?

  • Luisa

    Corvid superstition: if I remember right, someone addressed a Magpie in Goethe’s ‘Reynard the Fox’ like this: “Hail, noble bird, vouchsafe to light / As a propitious omen, on my right.” Much better in German, I’m sure…