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Symbol of the Great Work: the Raven

Animals appear in great numbers in Greek mythology. Following Greek poets, sculptors, historians, and philosophers who expressed, and reflected upon, their myths and stories, we know Aphrodite’s chariot was pulled by swans, Hecate was the mistress of dogs and hounds, Poseidon, the master of horses, and Zeus, the great shape-shifter, was associated with the eagle, the bull, the snake, etc. As many comparative studies of mythology demonstrate, these symbolic relationships between animals and divinities are far from being arbitrary; they speak through deeply rooted human ways of relating to nature, and to divinity.

To approach the Gods and Goddesses, one can of course use offerings and perfumes, but magical images and symbols are also useful and fruitful to explore as ways to connect with, and invoke, divinities. Animal symbols can be used to this very end as representations on talismans, consecrated statues, and mental projections. Moreover, not only are these symbols allowing one to effectively approach a divinity, but they also belong to a larger hermetic language describing in lively fashion the dynamics of the Regeneration of the Soul.



The raven shares many important qualities in ancient mythologies across the globe. In the Greek and Roman tradition, it has mostly been a symbol of communication between the worlds, but also, as you will see below, of the darkness expressing the first steps of the Great Work.

Pindar and Ovid wrote on the raven. Pindar was a Greek poet from the 5th century BCE devoted to Apollo. Ovid, a Roman poet from the 1st century BCE, is one of the greatest authors of Western history as his works remained popular and influential in European culture from Antiquity to the late Renaissance. Pindar and Ovid told the myth of the raven through the story of Coronis. The first does so in his Pythian Odes, and the second, in his Metamorphoses.

The two accounts of the myth are fairly similar. The raven was once sacred to Apollo his master. In these times, according to the poets, the bird’s feathers were of a bright snow-white color. Coronis, a Thessalian princess, was Apollo lover. The raven caught a glimpse of her being unfaithful to the God by laying with another man. Wanting to serve Apollo well, and demonstrate his loyalty, the bird flew back to tell his master. Apollo, upon hearing the raven, went in an unusual rage. Angry at Coronis, he put his lyre and crown of laurels aside, bent his bow, and shot his lover.

Coronis, hit, slowly took the arrow off her heart, and as she was dying, told the God he should have waited for their child to be born before avenging her offence. Filled with sorrows and regrets for his love, Apollo tried every cure and every divine secret he knew to bring her back to life, but it was in vain. As the princess’ body burned on a pyre in her kingdom, Apollo finally managed to save the fruit of their union, the yet unborn child who would be known as Asklepios, the God of medicine.

Apollo took the child to the wise Chiron. He then looked at the raven, and as a punishment for his excessive zeal, turned the white of his plumage to darkness.



Many symbolic elements appear in this short myth. Keeping our eyes on the raven, we know he was for Ovid Phoebeia ales, or bird of Apollo. Moreover, the raven was a messenger, and a white bird turned black. This latter characteristic is fruitful if considered in relation with the death, and burning, of Coronis, and the birth of Asklepios.

To these elements, we should also add that the raven appears in Mithraic cults where he was associated with Hermes. Korax, or raven, was the first of seven Mithraic initiations, and it was related to Mercury. It is the reason why, to this day, the Ecclesia Ogdoadica honours Hermes with the image of a raven on the floor of its Temples.

Birds in general, and especially those with dark plumage, were often used to represent the souls of mortals in ancient Greek poetry and art. Upon death, it was thought Chthonic Hermes would charm one