How the white rave became black (047)

According to our earliest historical records the raven was a white songbird famous for its beautiful singing. In German mythology Wodan, the god of thunder and lightening, was kept informed of the goings on in the human world through the reports of two ravens. In those days ravens were thought of as intelligent and useful birds. Only much later did the raven get a bad name and became known as the bearer of ill fortune and death. Next time you are watching a film and things are taking a dangerous turn, notice how often you will hear the sound of the large and smaller ravens in the background. In this story the raven also does not do too well. Listen to this very old Christian legend about egoism.

For months on end Noah’s Ark floated around on the waters of the flooded world. After the endless period of rain and flooding the skies cleared and through the grey clouds every now and then patches of blue became visible in the sky above. Blue was the colour of hope. The hope of an end to the flooding, an end to God’s anger.

Was the water level already starting to drop? Was there already some dry land emerging? Noah asked the creatures who could fly for a volunteer to go out and scout around. The white raven immediately offered to help. This strong large bird flew eastwards and did not return for days on end. Everyone on board of the Ark feared for the life of  the beautiful white raven.
While everyone was waiting for the return of the raven, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. Noah was convinced that the people and the animals would soon be able to set foot again on dry land after living for such a long time on the small, small boat. The raven did not return and they held a remembrance service for the brave bird.
Noah asked for a new volunteer. A small brown bird that could fly very fast. But nor did this bird know how to cope with his newfound freedom. He forgot his mission and when he returned as a small blue bird, Noah banished it. So Noah decided to choose a reliable volunteer himself. Within a few days this bird returned to the Ark with a green twig in its beak as a sign that plants and trees were growing on the land again. It was true! The water was dropping! They had a future again.

A few days later the beautiful white raven returned, fat from stuffing himself full of food. When questioned on his whereabouts, the raven answered apologetically: “Quite soon after I left you all, I saw beautiful green earth appearing where the water had dropped. Well, being a  scavenger and seeing all those corpses, it did me a power of good to settle down to a good meal. That’s why I forgot to return straight away and tell you the good news.” The raven hung his head in shame. Noah was enraged by the raven’s egoism and to punish him he turned the strong white bird with its beautiful singing voice into a large black bird that could only croak. 

The Germans saw the raven as a wise bird and a messenger from the gods. Later on it became known as the harbinger of evil, probably due tot its habit of clearing up the remains of dead animals. The raven used to be common in The Netherlands and Belgium, but was wiped out in the 20th century because of its reputation as a bringer of ill fortune. In the seventies it was reintroduced in The Netherlands in the Veluwe. Today there are about 90 pairs living there. Ravens are big birds with a wing span of nearly 1.20 metres. They are highly intelligent. They remain with the same partner for life. They build their nest of twigs high up in trees and return to it for years on end. Ravens can reach 40 years of age. They are scavengers, but the meat they eat comes mainly from insects, fish, rabbits, birds as well as from the carrion left by larger creatures. These are mainly the victims of traffic accidents.
Wodan has white ravens.


© Els Baars,



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Els Baars