Ravens In Norse Mythology

Ravens in Norse mythology: Your guide to the Viking raven

Ravens in Norse mythology are a powerful symbol of wisdom and protection. Viking ravens are perhaps some of the most important animals in the culture, connected to the all-father, and most powerful of the Norse Gods, Odin.

Even today, throughout various regions of Scandinavia, ravens maintain an important part of society. They appear in tattoos, art pieces, and symbols throughout various countries, particularly in Iceland.

While ravens in modern culture haven’t always had the best associations, they’re revered as a crucial mystical creature in Iceland. In many parts of the world, ravens are seen as scavengers, but Viking ravens were creatures of prophecy and guardianship.

Today, we’ll be looking at the stories of ravens in Norse mythology shared by Vikings, and held by Scandinavian cultures to this day.

The raven symbol of Odin: Exploring Odin’s ravens

Perhaps the most significant ravens in Norse mythology were those owned by the Norse God, Odin. Referred to at times as “Hrafnaguð”, Odin was known as the “Raven God”.

For Vikings, he was one of the most powerful entities in existence, associated with all aspects of life and death, healing, battle, and knowledge. Odin is even connected with concepts like creativity and poetry in Iceland.

Nordic ravens played an important role in Odin’s life. According to the scriptures, the God once sacrificed an eye in exchange for wisdom, which meant he was heavily reliant on his own pet ravens to assist him in watching over the world.

Odin’s ravens were named Huginn and Muninn, translating to “thought” and “memory”. Through these creatures, Odin was said to watch over everything taking place in Miðgarð, the realm we know as earth.

Odin has the power to transcend to the world of the heavens or the underworld using his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, while his ravens took care of what happened on earth, reporting back at the end of each day.

In Viking poems and Norse artwork, Odin is often depicted with one raven on each shoulder. In some cases, he’s also accompanied by other animals, such as the wolves Freki and Geri.

Odin’s ravens also played a role in the journey to the afterlife. According to Viking culture, Odin was responsible for selecting half of the warriors killed in battle to join him in Valhalla.

Huginn and Muninn were said to tend to different soldiers slaughtered on the battlefield, before Odin chose them.

Even the Valkyries, said to be responsible for guiding men to the afterlife in Valhalla, are sometimes depicted as ravens or swans in epic poems.

Ravens In Norse Mythology
Credit: Ludwig Pietsch

The meaning of ravens in Norse mythology

Though ravens in Norse mythology had a deep connection with death, they weren’t necessarily seen as a bad omen. Rather, the Vikings saw these creatures as animals of prophecy, capable of seeing into the future, and understanding all things.

Indeed, a Viking may have seen a raven on the battlefield and thought it to be a sign Odin was watching over him.

As winged creatures, ravens are often linked to the realms of thought and intellect. Their close connection with Odin also meant they were associated with infinite wisdom. This makes sense in the modern world too, as ravens are often considered to be extremely intelligent creatures.

In Norse mythology and Viking culture, there’s often a strong focus on the concept of the “cycle of life”. Vikings believe death and rebirth are constantly connected, in an infinite balance.

Even death didn’t mean the end for a Viking warrior, it was simply the beginning of a new journey, and a different kind of battle.

Ravens were often seen as symbols of this “circle of life”, and gave Vikings confidence in battle, reminding them of the glory awaiting after death.

What is the Norse word for raven?

The old Norse word for “raven” was hrafn or hramn. The title has certainly evolved significantly over the years, unlike other Norse words which seem to be very similar to the titles we use today.

However, an old English word for the raven, hræfn, does seem to come from Viking origins. This is likely to be a result of the Vikings invading England in the early centuries.

Interestingly, raven-focused names have also remained popular throughout Iceland and Scandinavia over the years. The name “Hrafn” is actually quite popular among Icelandic children. There are also a range of other titles which have emerged from this name, such as Hrafnborg, Hrafndis, and Hrafnar.

Hrafndis in particular is a name with feminine energy, intended to represent a Goddess or female deity with incredible wisdom.

Viking ravens: The Viking raven symbol

For the Vikings, ravens were an incredible symbol of wisdom, protection, and strength. They often gave warriors confidence in battle, to the point where the raven symbol was usually included on flags and banners.

Indeed, a raven banner known as a hrafnsmerki was a common form of flag flow by kings and jarls of Scandinavian in the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries.

Norse artwork from over the years shows these flags as triangular banners bearing the image of a raven. Outside of a symbol for the Scandinavian region, ravens were also seen as a tool of prophecy.

Many jewelry pieces were designed with raven images, intended to bring wisdom and foresight to the wearer. Viking ravens were considered to be capable of “seeing all things”.

There’s a good chance Vikings brought their mythology and beliefs about the raven with them wherever they went when exploring the planet. There’s even a raven on the coat of arms for the Isle of Man, which was invaded by Norsemen during the Viking age.

This island off the coast of England was ruled by a number of Scandinavian kings over the years.

The impact of the Nordic raven today

For people throughout the Scandinavian region, and other cultures influenced by the Vikings over the years, the raven remains a valuable symbol. The Icelandic Institute of National History, known as Náttúrafræðistofnun Íslands, uses a raven as its symbol.

What’s more, the institute also shares a lot of useful knowledge about the raven population in Iceland.

According to the Icelandic institute, there are around 2,500 “nesting pairs” of ravens in Iceland, and the population swells considerably during the Autumn season. Though ravens are adored throughout Scandinavia, they’re also considered a “vulnerable species” in the Icelandic region.

Many people throughout the Scandinavian landscape, England, and other parts of the world have continued to hold onto some of the symbolism of Viking ravens over the years. These creatures are still seen by many to be symbols of wisdom, and almost magical to behold.

The evolution of raven symbolism

Ravens in Norse mythology make up a huge part of the Viking culture, and the way this community viewed its birds of prey. Looking through Viking history, it’s easy to see animals played a strong role in the belief systems of the Norse people.

These communities often believed in spirit animals, and associated various animals with different gods.

For the Vikings, few animals were more meaningful than the Norse ravens. These creatures were a symbol of Odin, the most powerful of all the gods, and a reference to both life and death.

They signified wisdom and discovery, as well as prophecy and protection, making them an important part in many Viking battles.

Today, Scandinavian cultures with a knowledge of the Old Norse myths and legends still have a soft spot for the raven.

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