5 Ways to Forge Communion with Crows

11 min read


Some 17,000 years ago, a human ventured deep inside Lascaux Cave in what is modern-day France, and painted a therianthrope (a human-animal hybrid) that some observers believe is a crow-headed shaman. It's the earliest evidence we have of how long crows and their cousins the ravens, part of the family of birds known as corvids, have enchanted humankind.

Crows and ravens are the most intelligent animals that most people will ever encounter, given that they are far more ubiquitous and „accessible“ worldwide than those very smart apes and dolphins, and far more intelligent than dogs or cats. Renowned wildlife biologist John Marzluff calls corvids, „feathered apes.“ And, crows and ravens are the most magical animals that most people will have a chance of encountering.

As evidenced in myths, legends, and even historical accounts, the uncanny abilities and behaviors of crows and ravens have led cultures around the world to regard the birds as supernatural creatures, as emissaries from the gods, goddesses, and Other Realms. Tales from the ancient Norse, Celts, Native Americans, and other cultures have revealed how those peoples forged mystical connections to corvids, while contemporary accounts from individuals tell of synchronicities, eerie encounters, and even magical manifestations involving the birds.

At the most basic level, just intently observing crows and ravens will remind one—whether you're a birder, amateur naturalist, or just taking a break in a park—that nature, the earth, the universe are more fascinating and mysterious than we realize.

For myself and others on a Pagan spiritual path, crows are sacred creatures: they are the living embodiment of an aspect of Gaia the great Earth Goddess.

There's more.

Corvids can offer us a way, in conjunction with various shamanic techniques, to wake us out of what British metaphysical-occult investigator Colin Wilson called the „robot mind“ of mundane consciousness, and stop the chattering of what the Buddhists call the „monkey mind.“ By attuning ourselves to the extraordinary, even supernatural abilities of corvids, we can better alter our consciousness so that we can open our Third Eye and access the divine realms.

All this while knowing that Gaia the Earth Goddess, in her joy and whimsy, has placed these creatures right there in our backyards.

Here are five ways—some practical, some magical—to forge communion with crows. (For a deeper dive, see my book, Crows and Ravens: Mystery, Myth, and Magic of Sacred Corvids.)

As noted by both science and anecdotal evidence, crows are more „human gregarious“ (my term) than their somewhat shyer cousins the ravens. Given that and the fact that ravens are not found in Florida, where I live, the followings tips are drawn from my experiences with crows. Still, I suspect that these practices apply equally to both corvids.

1. To quote the musical Oliver!: Food, Glorious Food!
Ok, duh. Of course if you feed them, they will come. However, crows offer a special case. A scientifically controlled experiment by John Marzluff demonstrated that crows remember specific human faces, especially the face of a human who has shown them a kindness, or the face of a human they perceive as being aggressive or harmful toward their kind.

It gets freakier: Crows can communicate to other crows the nature of a particular human, even if those other crows did not witness the initial behavior that caused a crow to mark said human.

So, whenever you feed crows, be sure to tilt your head toward wherever they may be, to give them the best chance to see your face and recognize you as their benefactor. I also speak a mantra out loud each and every I time I feed them. My mantra is, „Crackers for crows! Crackers for crows!“ The goal is to give the crows a consistent audio as well as visual touchstone.

As for food, I use dried corn for my rituals or magical workings involving crows, but for everyday feedings (my clan of five to nine crows visit me daily in the backyard of my Florida home) I use tortilla chips, popcorn, saltine crackers, or any brand of those big brown, round crackers. Crows are omnivores: they'll eat just about anything, but keep it simple.

How to attract crows initially and establish a feeding regimen? Years ago I began this way: each and every time I heard crows cawing in my backyard, I would take crackers and place them on the lower branches of the Chinese tallow tree that grows naturally at the edge of the woods behind my home. This became my „Crow Spirit Tree“ because the crows loved to perch there whenever they came to visit.

Whenever I approached the Chinese tallow to place crackers on the lower branches, any crows in the tree would flutter to its highest branches, but they would return to snack after I retreated to my back patio.

In the following weeks and months, I allowed the crows to „train“ me by taking them crackers each and EVERY time I heard them caw. If they said, „Jump!“ I said, „How high?“ After a few months I began tossing tortilla chips and popcorn on my lawn. The crows were skittish at first, but after a few weeks they overcame their wariness and began alighting on my backyard to snatch their treats. I also began to notice a crow high in a nearby slash pine, keeping a lookout for red-shouldered hawks or other possible menaces while his clan would feed.

2. Get to know your neighborhood crows— as individuals.
But how can that happen, you say, crows all look alike! True enough, and even discerning between male and female crows by sheer, casual observation is very difficult. Males typically are slightly larger than females, but even that is not a reliable indicator. I simply intuit whether a specific crow is male or female, and move on.

However, observe the same crow clan over a period of time and you will see that individual crows‘ behaviors differ, and can be downright idiosyncratic. (By the way, I'm not a fan of referring to a group of crows with the traditional term „murder,“ but feel free to do so if you choose.)

It's simple to see why I gave the name Rockette to one of my crow visitors from years ago: whenever she walked, one of her legs had a peculiar high-kick motion that resembled those famous show dancers at New York City's Radio Music Hall. I surmised Rockette's strange gait the result of some past injury.

Lord Valient the Bold was an alpha crow who was noticeably larger than his fellows, and was the only one brave enough to come with yards of my back patio. Mr. Piggy was the first crow I ever saw who would pick up and pack five or six medallion-sized crackers in his mouth at one time.

Boga and Bacca, a crow couple I named after Hollywood lovers Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, would scoop crackers off my lawn and fly to my home's rooftop to munch on them. (By the way, crow couples mate for life.)

Like more than half of all bird species, crows are passerine, which means they have feet that are adapted for perching. While cardinals, robins, and Carolina wrens dart and flutter through my backyard, crows will perch and stay awhile on the branches of the Chinese tallow, slash pines, and bluejack oaks, thus rewarding human watchers—especially ones with binoculars.

And yes, as you can see, I name my frequent crow visitors.

. Compile a crow vocabulary list.
One of the fun aspects of crow encounters is crow talk! Yes, crow talk is communication. OK, that's true of a broad spectrum of animal vocalizations, but crows have an ample vocabulary beyond their common „caws“ and beyond that of other creatures. This brings up one of the best ways to distinguish between crows and ravens: Typically, a crow „caws“ and a raven „croaks“ or „gronks.“ (See the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's excellent video, „Caw vs. Croak: Inside the Calls of Crows and Ravens.“)

As you encounter crows, note how they converse with other crows nearby. Once you hear a crow call, listen for a reply. Sometimes the distance of their call-and-response is astonishing: a crow will shout a staccato burst of caws, and a not-too-faint reply will echo from several blocks away or far across a nearby field, park, or patch of woods.

Devise your own onomatopoeia for the corvid talk you hear. My own crow dictionary includes, of course, „caw“—the all-purpose, readily recognizable, stereotypical crow word . . . except that it's not. Spend some time with crow kind and you will quickly learn there are different types of „caws.“ The typical one is a muscular, robust, even jarring burst that is a bit raspy or guttural. But crows also frequently voice a less harsh sound that I call a „soft caw,“ and a third type that I call a „yip caw,“ which has a similar tone to a dog's lighthearted „yip.“

All these „caws“ are vocalized in any number of repeats, different rhythms, and/or degrees of forcefulness, thus creating an astonishing variety of crow communications.

There's more. My crow vocabulary list also includes a guttural, cat-like caterwaul (which I mistook for an actual feline the first time I heard it), the rarely heard but beautiful „dove-murmur,“ the „hoot-murmur“ (which I mistook for an owl the first time I heard that call), the „clicky-clack,“ and more.

As you begin to notice and catalogue various crow sounds, make note of the surrounding circumstances: time of day, how many crows are present, whether it's before or after you've fed them, the presence of other birds, etc. Soon you may be able to match particular vocalizations with specific conditions.

For example, I've noticed that a robust burst of three „caws“ is typically the first crow sound I hear coming from my backyard in the morning. I'm convinced that call means one of two things: either, „Come feed us, Rick!,“ or perhaps it's a summons for other crows to come join the impending feast.

4. Do a reading with crows.
The ancient Norse of the Viking Age (793–1066 CE) created raven banners to prophesy their success in battle. The ancient Irish and ancient Tibetans devised divination systems based upon corvid speech. Here's a way to bring Crow Spirit into your divination practices.

If I'm in the mood to do a tarot card reading, I often will seek an assist from my crow visitors: I will count the number of crows the next time they arrive in my backyard, or alternately I will decide to note the number of „caws“ the next time I hear a crow call nearby. Whether the number is one, five, seven, or whatever, that number becomes my „shuffle number.“ Let's say I heard three caws. After I complete a traditional shuffle of my selected tarot deck (usually Crowley's Thoth or the Morgan-Greer deck), I will count down to the third card in the deck and place that card in the first position of my chosen tarot layout, whether it's the Celtic Cross, a basic three-card spread, or another. Then I will count down to the third card of the remaining deck, and place that card in the second position. Count down three more and so on until all the layout positions are filled. Thus, the crows have provided the final shuffle for my reading.

As with all your tarot readings, keep a detailed journal of the cards revealed in the layout, your immediate interpretations, and any results that manifest, or not, in later days. After doing several „crow tarot“ readings, see if you can discern any repeated cards or other synchronicities.

5. Add Crow Spirit to your altar.
Several years ago, I was in the backyard of my Florida home and I heard a bustle high in a slash pine, and as I looked in that direction I saw a hefty branch crash onto my lawn and break into several pieces. A nano-second later I heard a crow caw. I looked up and in that very same tree I spied a crow.

No matter whether the crow physically caused the almost-dead branch to fall, I knew immediately that I had a natural talisman—one piece of the branch—to place upon my sacred Pagan altar. (I used another piece to create a Crow Spirit Wand, replete with a quartz crystal, an Apache tear, and crow images created with a woodburning tool, but that is a more involved process that I cover in my book.)

The piece of branch on my altar is a classic example of one of the most basic forms of magic: contagious magic, which holds that things once connected or associated are able to affect one another when separated.

No need to wait for a serendipitous falling branch. Find a tree favored by crows and, after asking the tree for permission, harvest one of the fallen branches, twigs, leaves, or needles that inevitably rest under the tree's canopy.

Even if you have no altar, place the branch or leaf in your home to serve as a palpable daily reminder of Crow Spirit.

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