Crow Tattoo Meaning: Negative & Positive Symbolism Associated with the Bird
The crow has become a popular image for tattoos, but what is the symbolism attached to this creature that haunts ancient myths as both the harbinger of death and the revered messenger of the gods?
Crow tattoos are striking and bold and sure to catch the eye—but what is the symbolism, and what myths and portents surround this bird that is reviled and adored in different cultures worldwide?
Before incorporating the crow or the raven in your body art, be aware of the more profound and fascinating negative and positive symbolism attached to these birds.
Woman with a crow wing tattoo. | Source: Shutterstock
In many cultures worldwide, the crow, and their cousin, the raven, are potent symbols. In some cultures, the crow is the harbinger of death and an omen of catastrophe.
In others, like the Chinese, Celtic, and many Native American mythologies, the crow and the raven are blessed and endowed with the power of prophecy, benign messengers of the gods.
So what does it mean to take on the crow as a symbol, a totem, by having this powerful and controversial animal as a tattoo? After all, tattoos are a revelation of our inner selves and history, engraved indelibly on our skin for the world to see.
A murder of crows in flight. | Source: Getty Images
Crow Tattoo Meaning Explained
With so many meanings attached to the image of the crow, it's no surprise that there is a great deal of confusion and misconceptions about this highly intelligent bird. In the hit HBO series, the three-eyed raven, in the same family as crows, symbolized supernatural power and prophecy, and a tattoo depicting three crows or ravens suggests good health.
Just one crow is bad luck, five are fatal illnesses, and six are certain death. On the other hand, a crow flying with a skull is not negative as it may seem.
This depicts the crow as a psychopomp, leading souls out of darkness and into the light. A red-eyed crow symbolizes prophetic vision, and a crow with a red rose, in Asian lore, represents love.
A crow on a grave. | Source: Getty Images
How Is the Symbol of the Crow Associated with Death?
The crow and the raven are among the most intelligent animals and have been shown to have remarkable problem-solving abilities and are capable of abstract thought and tool manipulation, which are usually only seen in primates.
The great god Odin, who gave up his eye to achieve wisdom, is always accompanied by his all-seeing ravens.
But members of the Corvidae family are also highly successful predators and opportunistic carrion feeders. It is no accident that crows are associated with the Celtic goddess of war, The Morrigan.
A raven calling out. | Source: Getty Images
Where ever there is war, there is food for crows, and these intelligent animals were known to hover in their thousands over a battlefield, even before battle was joined.
This has created the crow's dark reputation as a profiteer in death, a bad omen, and in English, a group of crows is a "murder of crows." In the past, a soldier who saw a crow was sure he'd die in battle.
Crow Tattoo Options
Some of the most popular crow tattoos depict the fearless crow, signifying courage, the crow carrying a red rose, the crow with a skull leading souls through the darkness, the visionary crow, and the protective or guardian crow.
The placement of the tattoo and its size can also affect its meaning. For example, the crow with a red rose is best placed on the sleeve or the forearm; the guardian crow is usually tattoed head down on a finger to enhance its protective powers.
The crow in flight is a striking image, often placed on the back or chest, and is considered a symbol of power and majesty. The crow can be the trickster, the healer of souls, the oracle, or the speaker for the dead.
Odin and his ravens Hugin and Munin—7th-century helmet fittings found at Vendel, Sweden. | Source: Getty Images
The Symbol of the Raven in Various Cultures and Religions
In Norse mythology, the great god Odin, who gave up his eye to achieve wisdom, is always accompanied by his all-seeing ravens, Hugin and Munin. They inform him of all that happens in the world, making him all-knowing.
Among the native peoples of North America, the crow is revered. According to the Haida, who live in the Haida Gwaii archipelago of British Columbia, the raven stole fire from the sky, which enabled the Haida to survive in their arduous environment.
19th Century Haida knife hilt from the Northwest Coast of America depicting a raven. | Source: Getty Images
As a punishment for its audacity, the raven, which up until then had been white as snow, was turned black. In remembrance of this feat, the Haida often depict the heroic raven as white in their art.
In the Bible, the raven is included among the animals Noah took into the Ark but fails the test when released into the flooded world. Sent to find land, the raven feeds on carrion instead and does not return to the Ark.
Wise, malicious, benevolent, cunning, romantic, or all-knowing, the crow is a powerful symbol, and its beauty as a tattoo is undeniable.