by Eric W. McBride,
Celtic Connection, October, 2007
Like most ancient cultures the myths and legends of the Celts contained those aspects describing the darker nature of the world around them. All-hallows-eve is a prime example of their interpretation of the demonic world. Sociologist refer to the creation of monsters as a cultural explanation of those aspects in life from which we fear. Of the 8 Celtic nations, each has stories revolving around some sort of monster; whether it is the giant Yspaddaden of the Welsh, Banshees of the Irish or Ankou, the personification of Death for the Breton’s; all Celts have some form of Ghost, Goblin or Ghoul. However, there is one demon that is consistent throughout the Celtic world and appears in the form of ordinary birds, more especially that of the Crow.
One has to remember the lifestyles of our ancient Celts to understand where the variety of Monsters and demon comes into play. Most Celts were simple farmers living very much alone in the country side. In addition to the dangers of the weather, scarcity of food, and the dangers of brigands, there was also the relationship of the Celts with the animals around them. One of the greatest sources of the existence of demons comes from the writings of hermits who in their reclusive abodes, could spend many hours in contemplation of the noises and bumps in the night. The cry of a lone wolf can do much to a person today, you can imagine how it sounded to a half crazed monk all alone in the wilderness.
The Manifestations of the Crow:
The Crow features prominently within all Celtic cultures as a symbol of death. As carrion birds they act like vultures of the Celtic lands and soon arrive in droves after every battle. In the warrior culture of the Celts seeing the crows flock to a battle site and attack your fallen comrades, does much to anger a survivor. From anger, fear is just a stepping stone away. An excellent example of the use of Crows in Celtic Myth is found in the ancient Irish epic Tain Bo Cuilnge, the story of the death of Cu Chulainn. Here the goddess Morrigu attacks the hero Cu Chulainn in the form of a crow in response to his spurning of her love. In Scotland the term “Hoodie” has been applied to that of a crow and described as a half man, half crow figure who abides his presence in one form or the other depending on day or night. It is possible that this may be the early version of the Irish Banshee. In some stories of Hoodies, they are described as drinkers of Blood and may also be the Celtic version of Vampires.
Possible Origins of the Demonic Crow:
If we look to the historical time line of the relationship of the Crow with the Celts we can see them not only being visible upon the battlefields but also attributed with the ancient sea raiders of the North.
From time innumerable there have always been ferocious and yes demonic sea raiders who have troubled the sea shores of all Celtic Nations. In pre Christian era they were first known as the Fomorii, by the end of the Dark ages they were known as the Vikings. As sea raiders the Vikings understood the ability to strike fear into your opponent, thus gaining the advantage. Somewhere along the line they began to use the crow or Raven symbol upon both their great sails as well as their personal banners. Two such examples of the use of Ravens by the Vikings can be found with the Hiberno-Norse King Harald of Dublin and Thorin Raven Feeder, who was not only a Viking and ruler of the Orkney Isles, but the half brother of the real King MacBeth of Scotland. It is very possible that the reason of the wide spread interpretations of the Crow being that of a symbol of the forces of Darkness can be directly attributed to the wide scale raids of the Vikings.