Animals and birds hold a significant place in Norse mythology. Many have been mentioned in the different Norse sources. Furthermore, every Norse deity is associated with one animal or bird or more. One of the creatures associated with the most powerful Norse god, Odin, is ravens.
So, it goes without saying, ravens are among the important creatures in Norse mythology and to Vikings. But why are they so significant and what do they represent? In this article, we will answer these questions, by exploring what they are in Norse mythology and what they mean to Vikings and the modern-day.
Ravens In Norse Mythology
As we have mentioned the ravens were very important birds that held a sacred place in Norse mythology. This mostly had to do with their deep association with the almighty Odin, who was occasionally referred to as the Raven god. In many of his depictions in artworks and many attestations in literature, he is said to have one or two ravens perched on his shoulders. Aside from his infamous eye-patch and staff, ravens were one of the common things that identified Odin. If you think about it, there are not many birds mentioned in the myths aside from ravens. This is opposed to the animals like different types of horses and wolves mentioned in the Norse myths.
In the 13th century Poetic Edda, there are a collection of poems that talk about ravens in terms of the two pet ravens Odin was always with. The birds are also mentioned in other written alongside Valkyries, beautiful female creatures, tasked to guide souls of fallen warriors to Valhalla. In the poem Hrafnsmál in the 9th century, there is a narration of the discussion between a Valkyrie and a raven over the life and exploits of the first King of Norway, Harald Fairhair.
Who Are Huggin And Muninn?
Huginn and Muninn were the two ravens always associated with Odin. In many of his depictions, they are often shown perched on his shoulder and were one of the ways Odin was identified in ancient pictorial discovered. The two were, however, more than just his pets. Unlike all the other animals and loved ones connected to Odin, the ravens were the most significant. The all-father was said to be constantly worried about them the most.
The name Huginn meant “thought” and was derived from the word hugr. It is pronounced as ‘HOO-gin’. Muninn’s name, on the other hand, meant “memory”, and was derived from the word munr. You are meant to pronounce it as ‘MOO-nin’. In deeper Old Norse, however, the meaning of these two names overlap, so they aren’t that easy to distinguish. But based on the meanings, their names seemed to be associated with the roles they played on Odin’s behalf.
From face value, it was easy to assume that Huginn and Muninn were normal ravens. They were the usual large black birds with shaggy feathers around the throat area. Their beaks were curved in a bowie, knife-like manner. But do not be deceived by their appearance, they were not normal ravens. In contrast to other ravens, Huginn and Muninn were gifted the ability to understand and speak all languages. They flew faster than any bird in existence and could travel throughout the entire nine realms in less than a day.
There was, however, a reason behind Odin gifting them these abilities. It is common knowledge that Odin had a never-ending thirst for knowledge. He wanted to know everything there was to know. Huginn and Muninn helped in his quest for wisdom. Every morning they would be sent out across all the realms to listen and watch everything that was happening. After gathering enough information, they would report back to Odin. That explains why the birds were always depicted on his shoulders whispering in his ears. Because of their help, Odin was able to be a better ruler and especially in battle.
What Does The Raven Symbolism In Vikings?
As you may know, many Vikings revered and worshipped Odin, as the mightiest Norse deity. As a result, it is obvious, they saw ravens as sacred birds. Keeping this in mind, the first and obvious symbolism is that ravens were a representation of Odin. This is based on Odin’s numerous depictions with Huginn and Muninn. The Vikings, therefore, believed that they were a symbol of his presence, and so, they used them to worship Odin. If a raven happened to fly overhead them in battle, they took it as a sign that they had Odin’s favor and victory was guaranteed.
Aside from the raven’s association with Odin, they also played a significant role in the Vikings’ daily lives. The first role was survival. Vikings were also hunters and gatherers at some point, aside from being seafarers. The raven being a carrion feeder, would follow a hunter, looking for the game, and later invite itself to eat. Viking hunters also benefited in the same way from the ravens who would circle a particular area where there was ready game. The two depended on each other to survive and therefore created a deep bond.
Even on their sea voyages, the ravens still proved to be useful. Viking understood that seeing a raven in the sky meant that land was nearby, all they had to was follow it. In a way, Vikings saw it as Odin guiding them through the sea to safety. But the reasoning was also that it was rare for ravens to fly so far away from shore.
What Does A Tattoo Of A Raven Meaning?
There are both negative and positive meanings attached to the raven tattoos. The negative meaning refers to the birds association with war, death, magic, and secrets. This is based on the roles Huginn and Muninn played in Norse mythology and their association to the god of war and death.
The positive meaning is based on the seen as symbols of intelligence, wisdom, prophecy, inner self, and the future. Ravens are naturally intelligent creatures who plan ahead of time to survive. Huginn and Muninn also spent many days gathering a large mass of information and it is safe to say that they knew everything under the sun.
What Do Ravens Signify In The Modern Times?
While ravens were sacred and significant creatures in the Old Norse mythologies, the same can’t be said today. In the past, these birds were seen as helpers, way-finders, and birds of prophecy. They were highly revered as sacred symbols and valued for their intelligence.
Today, some groups may view the birds as a nuisance. After all, they are scavengers who eat anything and everything, including hatchlings. Their croaking call can also be irritating to listen to. What’s more, some hold the belief that ravens are a bad omen that brings about death or bad luck
In Norse mythology, it is clear that ravens were important creatures. Was it not for the information that Huginn and Muninn gathered for Odin, can you think of how things would have been? Still, even outside the myths, ravens are actually intelligent birds compared to most. It is no wonder, Odin chose them as his animal companions.