Crows and ravens as an omen of death

Here is the story of a recent event, a mystical experience if you want to think of it that way.

Ten days ago I and my wife Eliza arrived in Nairobi, a city that is remarkably full of trees and birds, with hawks and storks and pied crows visible almost anywhere, including from our hotel balcony. The first morning (Monday, March 5th) we were walking back from the hotel office to our building when we saw a gardener with a BC Ferries baseball cap. Eliza and I had both lived in BC for 10-20 years, had met there, and Eliza had been the Project Manager of the BC Ferry Terminal expansion at Horseshoe Bay. (And I still kept contact there with my ex-wife, and two kids, and my ex-sister-in-law, and my ex-mother-in-law Molly, among others.) But the gardener didn’t have any connection to BC – he didn’t know where it was, or what his cap was about. Fun!

Pied Crow, cawing.

Back in our rooms I opened my email, and the first I read was from the friend I first went to BC to meet, almost 40 years ago. I had met him in Quebec the year before, and I hitchhiked over to BC to stay with him and his wife in Vancouver. I ended up staying in BC for 17 years. I haven’t seen him in decades, probably hadn’t heard from him in 10 years. Nice!

The next email I opened was from my son in Toronto – and he was writing to say that his Gran in BC (my ex-mother-in-law) was is her final days. At age 96 she had stopped eating and drinking, and the doctors gave her not more than a week to live. The four other family members previously mentioned were coming over from Vancouver Island on the BC Ferries to be with her in White Rock.

A couple of hours later Eliza and I walked out to get some food. As we went along one of the driveways of the hotel, a pied crow (a big raven-sized bird) flew down onto a tree branch just ahead of us: “Caw! Caw!” It was a very loud, somewhat rusty noise. Then as we came up it flapped a little further away onto a fence: “Caw! Caw! Caw!” And as we came up closer, it again flapped a little further away onto a tree branch: “Caw! Caw!” And then, communication complete, it flew completely away.

I have been around crows in many countries, many times, but this has never happened to me before. In Kenya there are, apparently, no superstitions regarding crows or ravens. But with my northern European background I know many stories of crows and ravens being messengers of death. The stories include Odin and his two ravens, Thought and Memory, who fly throughout the world and bring him news, and Odin is a god of death. Celtic beliefs included the crow as an omen of death and conflict. The English have superstitions about a crow cawing three times as it flies over a house as an omen of death. And so on.

We walked on and talked for a minute or so, and then checked the time: 1:07 pm. “So that was about five after two in the morning in BC,” we said.

Molly indeed died that night – very peacefully, not even waking her daughter who was sleeping in the same room. She was not found dead until 8 in the morning, and the reports give her death as either 1 or 2 in the morning.

“Magical Thinking” – I’m always railing against accepting it as a physical reality. So what happens when something woo-woo occurs? I accept it, I enjoy it, I delight in the Universe being such a rich and mysterious and poetic place… and I speculate about where a physical explanation may eventually be found.

There was a time when the idea that animals knew an earthquake “was going to happen” was one of those woo-woo ideas. People swore they had seen it – a dog snapping awake and running out of the house, or other creatures behaving in a panicky mode a few seconds before an earthquake struck. Eventually, once we had developed good seismic tracking devices, it was shown that animals are simply able to pick up on the earliest beginnings of an earthquake, while we humans aren’t aware until larger, slower and more powerful signals arrive a little later.

So… could a subconscious awareness of death generate a chemical reaction in the brain? Is it possible that a crow can smell that chemical reaction in a human, and respond that they want a taste of the carrion? Is it possible that there could be some quantum entanglement involved between people who have known each other for decades, such that a change of state in one will register in the subconscious of the other?

Or was it all nothing but statistically insignificant chance?

Regardless, the Universe is a rich and mysterious and poetic place! Goodbye, Molly, I am glad to have known you, and grateful for all you did.

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6 comments on “Crows and ravens as an omen of death

  1. Or maybe it was just a total coincidence? Sure, maybe a crow or raven (or vulture) has a better sense of dead and dying than us. But a death relating to YOU, thousands of miles away? Maybe it was one of Odin’s crows.

    Having said that, I shall just add that I don’t poo-poo everything because I don’t know everything (and neither does anybody else). I have simply lifted a very sceptical eyebrow.

    • Yup, nothing here that rules out total coincidence. The first three unconnected BC events – coincidence. But that damn Pied Crow – it did what folklore says crows do, at (possibly) the exact moment of Molly’s death, and it isn’t anything I’ve ever had a crow or a raven do to me before. It wasn’t distant, some crow somewhere in some tree – this one came to us as we were walking, it was very up close and personal, and then it left. It was definite enough for us to check the time and comment on it, and the time appears to have been correct to within an hour at the outside.

      But I still want a mechanical explanation, without ghosts. I’ll settle for quantum mechanics if I have to, if someone can stretch entanglement to include all this…

      • Jay says:

        Are you sure confirmation bias doesn’t come into it? I’ve had crows and ravens do caw-ing type activities close to me, but no deaths were in the offing. You’ve probably had it happen, too, but since none of those occasions were invested with significance you either forgot them or just dismissed them. Were you carrying food on you?

        Late reply, I know, but I just found your blog and I’m archive binging.

  2. […] The Gospel According to the Romans has an nice read on birds as omens of death. […]

  3. Mike says:

    I’ve had a very similar experience recently. What appeared to be an injured crow in our garden, flapping around the lawn. It seemed to be having difficulty taking off, looked weak and acted strangely. To help (or to not want it to die in our garden and my young grandson find it, not sure which), I went into the garden, and persuaded it to hop onto the end of a broom so I could lift it over the rail fence into the fields beyond. It flew for over 200 yards close to the ground before landing, so I assumed it just needed more space to fly, and to regain strength after an injury or illness, but I felt happy to think it looked not too bad. I went back inside the house and an hour later I heard cawing, looked out of the window and it was back, doing the same stuff. Confused I went back out and shooed and clapped hands until it flew away. I repeated this at least 7 or 8 times over that weekend, a very odd experience and one that has never occurred before or since, but after the weekend all seemed back to normal.

    We bought this house 2 years ago, mainly for its huge garden. It was previously owned since it was built in early 1980s by a lovely lady who enjoyed the garden. She was here for over 30 years up to the age of 76, to the point were the garden was becoming just too much for her to maintain anymore, and her family moved her to a smaller home.

    I read in the obituaries a few days later that she had died that same weekend.

    As you can imagine, I was freaked out. Co-incidence? No way. My previous beliefs have become confused. I now think that there is a spirit/soul/aura that we all have, that moves on somewhere after we die, Maybe our aura leaves a trace of where we have been during our lives too, which is why the crow was here, I don’t know. Whereas before I considered death a total end of life, my views are changing. There must be something more to it, my experience leaves behind so many questions.

    • Thank you Mike, that’s an interesting story. Personally, I don’t want to believe in souls and spirits, but I’m also not going to deny events which happen. I’m still looking to things like quantum entanglement in order to it both ways, I guess! There’s certainly much more to learn about how the universe is constructed, we’re not there yet.

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