I have spoken before of the raven in association with the cult of Apollon, often specifically in regards to Apollon Agyieus, or more generally the manifestations of Apollon as god of the boundaries. The raven is a peculiar bird, so dark in color and so closely linked with death as a scavanger. It is certainly not a fair or pretty bird in the sense that the swan is as a sacred bird of the god, nor like the fast-darting falcon. The raven, in comparison is rather crude in his appearance and utters a most crackling noise that is neither sweet nor awe-inspring. His inky feathers can seem almost unclean as he abounds amid waste, his shiny eyes taking in everything.
As someone who was raised in Alaska my first mythic knowledge of the raven came to me via native alaskan story telling. I recall when I was in the eighth grade, and I was spending the school year with my father in the southeast of Alaska, that we were watching a Tlingit or Haida dance in which one dancer portrayed Raven. I don’t remember much of the story of the dance, or really much of the dance, but rather being captivated by the dancer who performed Raven. Raven is clever, and intelligent, and he is also a solar animal by manner of the way that he delivered light to the world by stealing the sun. His black feathers nearly parallel the Hellenic account of the bird blackening because of being scorched. However, instead of being scorched by the rays of the sun he stole, in Hellenic myth he is scorched by the ire of the god for revealing what he spied. In Alaskan story telling he is goodly and most caring about humanity, more so than any other, but he is also not entirely pleasant in his manner.
There are, of course, those who would be quick to connect the raven to Hermes, though there is no evidence of any mythic or cultic tie with him. Those who would suggest that it is because that the raven is a bird of the dead would be making this suggestion as if Hermes was a god directly associated with the burial place and the rotting flesh, which is, as I have shown before in my post on the Rotting God, is part of the domain of Apollon. And while is almost easy to understand why so many cultures associate the raven with battleground and the final moments of the dying, the raven plays an important symbol role in association with the function of Apollon. He is the god who perceives what is hidden (as the Raven perceived the affair of Coronis), he is the lord of the cemetary, he is the lord of the laws of death that govern Thanatos (who is also incidentally called Paean). He is that which is utterly unperceivable, especially during the winter months when the sky is blackened by his retreat to Hyperborea and the ravens come once again in great numbers. Despite the wiley nature of the Raven in Alaskan legend, the raven of Apollon is not shown to be a wiley creature, but rather to be perceptive by far and guardian creature, and one that is beneficial in that natural order of things.
I personally have had experiences where seeing a raven has been as a positive experience for me. When I first moved back home and saw ravens it felt like it was a sign that things were moving in a positive direction for me. And then there is the fact that no less than three times over the years I have heard a peculiar call come from ravens. Something I haven’t found reference for in regards to raven calls online. The first time I heard it I thought there was a slim chance I was mistaken because the sky was darkening, but then the other day I heard it again and in broad daylight saw that it was the raven making the sound as he was seated above me on a lightpost. He warbles like a laugh ti ti taou. The end of the cry is almost like the sigh of an owl, and certainly quite out of character of the cocophonic caw that ravens make. But he sat above me repeatedly making this sound before disappearing when I turned my head to get into my car. The last time I had heard this it prooved to be an omen of good changes to come. So hearing it again all these years later I can’t help but to take it as another positive sign.
The raven of Apollon is the vehicle of positive change even as death brings change and transformation. He makes us aware that everything we experience passes away and deteriorates. This is the feast of the raven, these things that once were. He feasts on the old that we can become reborn as it were into something better. As a bird of winter he reminds us that winter too is passing just as death passes and is itself intermporary and the ending an illusion. He may not be the *prettiest* of Apollon’s vechiles but to me he is wonderful. And so on the hand of Apollon I have set a small ceramic raven seated on the golden citrine. Because the raven delivers the light, even if he must loose his white beauty for it.