It’s only fair that the raven has a special place in horror. For centuries it has been a dark, yet spiritual symbol for so many cultures and it has inspired some of the best dark poetry the world has seen. Their mythical status is most likely rooted in their roles as mediators between life and death. As scavengers and carrion birds their reputation for connecting with the dead has grown extensively, giving them a dark sense of power and control. In some cultures they are considered good luck, but for the most part a raven represents death. Looking back on the history of ravens it’s obvious how they became such a big part of horror.
In Greek mythology the raven was regarded as good luck, but also as a messenger for the god Apollo. However, the color of ravens at that time was white. Apollo had sent a raven to spy on his lover Coronis. When the raven returned to present Apollo with the news that Coronis wasn’t being faithful he scorched the raven out of rage. From there every raven was black.
For the Jewish community the raven is better known as one of the three animals on Noah’s Arc that was punished for copulating while the flood was still brewing outside. Across the colorful spectrum of cultures all around the world the raven has some mystical place. There are cultures that believe the raven is the creator of the world, but in the same breath it is considered a very sneaky god. Kings used them in battle and some just regard them as dark messengers. In Yakut mythology a raven is considered as the spirit of violence and war.
Despite the neutral and, on occasion, good legend of the raven, people have come to regard it as an animal that belongs to the darkness. The general consensus of ravens is that they are in fact bad omens and if you come in contact with them then something dreadful is bound to come your way. In some cases it can mean death or it can be torture of some kind.
Ravens in Literature
One of the most well-known writers, namely William Shakespeare, made good use of the symbolic raven. More specifically, he used them in his great tragedies such as “Macbeth” and “Othello”. Even Charles Dickens implemented the raven as a crucial character, by the name of Grip, in his book “Barnaby Rudge”. However, the most popular use of a raven in literary works is by far that of Edgar Allan Poe. In his poem, which is simply entitled “The Raven”, Poe paints the raven in a very obscure, scary and dark light. As the main character of the poem starts to fade into certain madness a raven comes to visit him. This visitation inspires the doomed character to talk to the raven, and when the raven only replies with a singular line the character just becomes more frustrated. Ultimately the supernatural messenger intensifies the man’s descend into madness. Several filmmakers have made movies based on this famously dark poem.
Numerous other writers like Christopher Marlowe and Edward spencer also incorporated the raven into their works as representatives of darkness. Even modern writers still find a large amount of inspiration from ravens, as can be seen on Horror Palace. One poet in particular captures the image of ravens quite well when he writes “Their capes of black plumage will cloak me in death.” (Ivan Karhoff). In fact, the intro to the dark poems on Horror Palace incorporate the ravens as a symbol of warning that what the reader is about to experience should not be taken lightly.
Ravens in Cinema
A film by Alfred Hitchcock called “The Birds” had a great effect on culture when it was released. Out of all the birds that attacked the town, crows and ravens were remembered the most and this just reinforced their dark image. This can be seen in the movies that followed “The Birds” such as “Kaw”. Instead of all the birds in the surrounding area becoming malicious and crazy, a swarm of ravens attack the town.
The Psychological Aspect
Compared to other animals that are used in horror, the raven is rather unique. The one thing Hitchcock and Poe understood quite well was the psychological aspect and power of the raven. It’s not a muscular animal that goes on killing sprees. Instead, it’s an animal that tortures until breaking point is reached. Its association with death and the mythology from which it comes provide an unnerving image which writers and directors can easily utilize. In most cases the victims within the poem, story or film isn’t necessarily afraid of the raven, but what it brings with it. They all know that it’s bringing some kind of message or warning, but they never know what it is. This brings more intensity and atmosphere to the scenario. You might also notice that nobody really tries to kill the raven. For some reason or another there is no attempt or forethought to destroy the messenger. The raven doesn’t need anything to enhance its presence and this alone is reason enough why ravens have, and always will be a perfect fit in the world of horror.