Ravens in Norse Mythology
Celtic and Norse mythology both heavily emphasize animals and birds. We are aware that the Celts valued the environment highly and still do. They revered nature, the elements, and the various animals that inhabited their country. The importance of animals and birds to daily life and welfare is reflected in art, literature, rituals, and religious beliefs. Recently, we discussed the role of horses in Celtic mythology.
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Numerous Scandinavian and Viking influences have persisted throughout the ages in the Celtic realm and may still be seen today. The 8th century saw the beginning of the Viking invasions of the Celtic countries. The Viking attacks had an influence on all six of the current Celtic nations. They transported their myths and sagas, the remnants of which may be seen in sculptures, literature, and folklore across the Celtic countries. Animals and birds played a significant role in Norse religious systems, much as they did for the Celts, and had an impact on daily life. The role that ravens, crows, and their relatives play in Celtic and Norse mythology is a major focus of this article.
The raven is a common character in Celtic mythology. This enormous bird, which feeds mostly on carrion and has a startlingly deep, raspy croak, is sometimes observed with a sense of dread because it may be a portent of impending death. Given that it exists on the border between the living and the dead and may thus be seen as a conduit between both, it can also be seen as a source of power. Celtic warriors must have found it terrifying to see ravens hovering over combat scenes, preparing to swoop down on the dead. It should come as no surprise that they were regarded as possessing divine power.
The core narrative of The Ulster Cycle, Táin Bó Cáilnge, portrays the war goddess Badb from Irish mythology. In fights with Ulster and the fabled hero C. Chulainn, she assumes the appearance of a crow or raven and terrorizes Queen Medb of Connuaght's warriors. It's also stated that when C. Chulainn passed away, the Morrigan, in the guise of a raven, was perched on his shoulder.
A unique position is given to the raven in Norse mythology. Odin, a deity of the Sir pantheon, is also known as the Raven God. This is because of his connection to the ravens Huginn and Muninn, who are mentioned in the Poetic Edda, an anthology of medieval Norse poetry assembled from earlier sources. These two birds travel the globe gathering data and bringing it all to Odin.
Geri and Freki, two of Odin's wolves, are supposed to sit at his feet, while Huginn and Muninn rest on his shoulders. Many of the carved Celtic stone crosses found on the Isle of Man (Mannin) include inscriptions and decorations in the early Celtic script known as Ogham. Numerous Norse crosses also have runic texts and pictures from Norse paganism. One of these is the 10th-century Thorwalds Cross, which shows Odin with a raven perched on his shoulder. Additionally, it depicts the wolf Fenrir biting Odin during the Ragnarök events, which portend the demise of Odin and other important Norse deities.
The Norse mythology tales of the Valkyrie also contain references to ravens. Those who decide who will survive and perish in war are feminine figures. Of them, they choose a few to travel to Asgard, the abode of the Sir Gods, and enter Valhalla (hall of the slain). Here, they would be ready to support Odin during the approaching battles of Ragnarök, which would see the end of the old world and the beginning of the new. In the ninth-century poetry Hrafnsmál, a conversation between a Valkyrie and a raven is portrayed in which they talk about the life and deeds of Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway (Haraldr hárfagri in Old Norse).
The number of times the raven's likeness appears demonstrates how significant the bird was to Vikings. It can be seen on longship carvings, armor, helmets, shields, and banners. The adversaries, who were preparing to engage in combat, would not have been unaware that the intention was to call upon the strength of Odin. Both the Norse Jarls of Orkney and several Norse-Gael chiefs kept using the symbol.
Hugin and Munin
In Norse mythology, two ravens named Hugin and Munin aid the spirits of the deity Odin.
Huginn and Muninn took off in the morning and flew back in the evening, reporting the inn all they had saw and heard. Typically shown or characterized with a raven perched on each shoulder, he may also occasionally be seen with the wolves Geri and Freki. Some Icelandic poetry includes references to Huginn and Muninn.
Huginn and Muninn took off in the morning and flew back in the evening, reporting the inn all they had saw and heard. Typically shown or characterized with a raven perched on each shoulder, he may also occasionally be seen with the wolves Geri and Freki. Some Icelandic poetry includes references to Huginn and Muninn. The Raven God himself put a great value on them, as evidenced by his fear that the Ravens may not be able to return to Dinn in safety.
Ravens are frequently used to refer to Odin in the skaldic poetry of the Viking Age, and vice versa. the "raven-tempter," or "the priest of the raven sacrifice" (this is undoubtedly a poetic way of referring to the person who decides who survives and who dies in combat as "sacrifices" to ravens and other carrion birds).
In a similar spirit, ravens are referred to as "Odin's hungry hawks," as well as his "swan," "seagull," and, indicating just how far the bird analogies might be extended, his "cuckoo".
Hugin and Munin's names are clues to this element of their kinship. Hugin derives from the word hugr, which means "thinking" in Old Norse. The term munr, which is more difficult to interpret but can include the ideas of "thinking," "desire," and "feeling," is where the name munin (Old Norse Muninn) originates. (In popular publications on Norse mythology, the names of the two ravens are frequently rendered as "Thought" and "Memory," respectively; "Thought" is pretty correct, although "Memory" is at most arbitrary and vague.) As a result, it is difficult to identify the two names clearly since they are so similar to one another. This reflects the lack of personality differentiation between Hugin and Munin in the sources. They represent the same basic concept in a duplicate form.
Their titles especially allude to the fact that they are real, visible representations of Odin's "mind." According to the Norse perspective, the self is made up of a variety of pieces that are each semi-autonomous and have the ability to separate from one another under specific conditions. These dissociated pieces are typically shown in an animal shape that is consistent with their fundamental nature. Hugin and Munin are representations of Odin's intellectual and spiritual talents that have traveled outside of themselves in the shape of appropriately clever and inquisitive birds that also resonate with Odin's responsibilities as a combat god and a death god.
Hugin and Munin engaged in a typical activity of historical Norse shamans and sorcerers: the sending forth of spiritual elements of oneself to complete certain tasks - in the case of Hugin and Munin, the collection of further wisdom and knowledge to add to Odin's already enormous stock. So it should come as no surprise that Odin, the god shaman and sorcerer, would act in a similar manner.
This also clarifies why Odin is concerned that Hugin and Munin could leave him. Every time a magician dispatched a portion of himself (or, more frequently, herself) on a mission, there was a chance that the parts would get separated from one another or that any harm done to the emissary would also harm the remainder of the magician. Even a deity like Odin wasn't immune to the risks associated with having such magical abilities.